When it comes to building supercomputers, Linux is usually the first choice of operating system. But while Linux powers the biggest hardware, it is also well suited to smaller hardware and there are many versions of the operating system that have minuscule footprints. We look at three of these.
Damn Small Linux
Damn Small Linux (DSL) was one of the first ultra-compact desktop Linux versions. At all of 50MB, DSL is compact enough to fit on even the smallest storage devices but still has enough features to make it useful as a desktop operating system. Damn Small Linux is based on the Debian Linux version but strips it down to its base elements. Which means that users get a window manager and a selection of core applications. Unlike many other lightweight versions of Linux, DSL is a fully-functioning desktop. Damn Small Linux is ideally suited for older or under-powered hardware. DSL can be run on a 486DX – for those that remember them – with just 16MB of memory. And with 128MB of memory the entire operating system can be run in memory so DSL works as fast as possible.
Tiny Core Linux
Tiny Core is a relatively new entrant to the lightweight Linux fold. Until Tiny Core was released, Damn Small Linux was one of the smallest Linux desktop versions around. Tiny Core, however, has taken lightweight to new extremes. A full download of Tiny Core is just 10MB, which can be run from a CD, USB Flash drive or as a lightweight hard drive install. Tiny Core runs entirely from memory so it is blazingly fast on just about any machine. But, unlike Damn Small Linux, Tiny Core doesn’t actually include any applications by default. Apart, that is, from a system admin tool and an application manager. But, using the application manager it is straightforward to install just the applications a user wants. Like Damn Small Linux, Tiny core can be run on a 486DX CPU but requires 32MB of memory to run as the entire system runs in memory.
Tomato Linux is not a desktop operating system, but if you want to squeeze a little more power out of your Linksys router then Tomato is worth a try. The Linux-based OS is based on the original Linksys code but adds a number of new features to it. With Tomato, users can do stuff like monitor bandwidth usage, manage quality of service and access control, and use newer wireless features such as WDS. Because it is a full operating system running on the router users can use tools such as SSH and Telnet to connect to the router and add their own scripts, applications and tools. Although Tomato doesn’t run on all routers, it does run on most Linksys devices and from experience is extremely reliable.