More from the Little-Bitty Files

Maintaining my focus on little-bitty stuff, I forge ahead into the realm of little-bitty Linux distributions. I have been recently experimenting with the DSL distro, based on the Knoppix build familiar to computer techs the world over. Like Knoppix, DSL (which stands for Damn Small Linux) can be run straight off the CD or run from a RAM disk. Unlike Knoppix, DSL is small enough (<50MB) to be run (and includes a script to install) off a standard flash USB pen drive. 128MB is really the minimum effective size, though a 64MB drive can work as well, if you're not adding too many packages. The distro comes with all the various networking and web-surfing tools, though is lacking a spyware-removal program like Ad-Aware. Surprisingly, it contains not only your basic text/html/etc. editor, but also contains remarkably full-featured word processing and spreadsheet programs as well, bringing the DSL distribution into the realm of a serious office productivity and effective backup/restore emergency volume. Note: not all motherboards support USB booting, so check your manufacturer's website or BIOS settings for compatibility. HP has made available a formatting utility that will suitably format a USB 2.0 flash drive to make it available for booting. The utility supports most major flash drive manufacturers, but mileage may vary. Remember, if using DSL off a flash drive, the memory can only be re/written so many times before failure, so boot off the drive, then switch to the RAM drive or use the included script for making a DOS swap file for sustained use.

Links for downloading DSL are found at the official DSL site, along with forums and help files. As things become smaller and faster, who knows what can be done with them? A mini-ITX board and a flash-based DSL install could serve many purposes, from hardware firewalls and routers, to cheap email and web boxes, making Damn Small Linux certainly a “little monster.” [Britt Godwin]