Story 2014-10-03 2T2T Friday Distro: SliTaz Linux

Friday Distro: SliTaz Linux

in linux on (#2T2T)
story imageMy current fetish, if you can call it that, is lightweight distros. Once you decide you don't need a heavyweight desktop like Gnome or KDE, down the slope you go, asking, "How light a system can I really get?" Depending on how much you're willing to compromise, the answer is, "pretty far!" And well at the far end of lightweight is SliTaz Linux. It's a marvel of engineering. What you get is a full graphical desktop, web server, Firefox, and database tools, all configured to run in less than 256MB of memory with no need to even hit the hard drive when running! The whole distro fits easily on 30MB on a (small!) USB stick.

The compromises aren't that drastic, but you need to know them. But one is that the distro is built on busybox, which is a reduced set of basic *nix utilities. You get the JWM window manager, the lighttpd webserver, SQLite, Firefox and Midori. You don't get stuff like LibreOffice or much selection of graphical software. There's a packaging system, but it uses a custom format (TazPKG) with repositories that are a bit lean. But the idea isn't to be your new desktop. Put SliTaz on a USB stick and you can quickly get to a command prompt to shell into your servers, FTP some files around, set up quick HTTP access to some files somewhere, listen to some music (it's got ALSAplayer), or browse the web. And you can do so without much script fu: when the system boots you're sitting at a JWM desktop (or openbox, if you want). And not only does it boot quickly, but your machine is super-fast when running since the entire system can run in memory &emdash; and not much memory, at that!

Increasingly, this kind of system has huge appeal to me. All my stuff is on network storage, and my mail and calendar are on hosted internet services. I don't need much in a desktop box a lot of the time. Naturally, it runs on a Raspberry Pi. Want to check it out? Read another review at Dark Duck or check out the DistroWatch page. There are some screenshots at
Reply 15 comments

30 MB is pretty impressive... (Score: 2, Informative)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-10-03 22:45 (#2T2W)

Considering that a simple base "A" set of software from Slackware runs about 100 mb, and that's before even throwing an X server in there.

Damn Small Linux is a full 20 mb more.

It is kind of sad that we got here though. Back in 2000, I had Floppix, which ran on 2 3.5" 1.44 MB floppies. Don't expect to see this any time soon again though; the kernel has gotten a bit obese in the last 14 years. Still waiting on the microkernel revolution to come and save us from this madness.

Re: 30 MB is pretty impressive... (Score: 0)

by on 2014-10-04 03:32 (#2T30)

Why EXACTLY is that impressive? Are you dumpster diving hardware from 1993? Even the cheapest POS tower I have in the corner of the shop so I have something at every price point including below $100 has a 160GB HDD in it so frankly stripping an OS down that small to brag about seems not only stupid but a serious waste of time,especially when its supposed to be a desktop as opposed to an embedded platform.

Re: 30 MB is pretty impressive... (Score: 5, Insightful)

by on 2014-10-04 04:09 (#2T31)

Why EXACTLY is that impressive?
It's impressive because it is a challenging feat.

Riding a unicycle across a tightrope isn't exactly a viable mode of transportation... But it's still impressive.
stripping an OS down that small to brag about seems not only stupid but a serious waste of time
I don't see anything stupid about it, off-hand. Maybe it's lacking some features, but that remains to be seen.

Basically anybody making their own Linux distro should similarly be accused of wasting their time. It's just so much quicker to use whatever else is already out there. Most of those open source developers over the years have wasted profound amounts of their time. Your comment, similarly, a waste of time.

USING (rather than building) a tiny distro, meanwhile, doesn't require wasting any of your time. In fact it's guaranteed to save you at least a little bit of time. And on an ongoing basis, the smaller it is, the faster it'll load and run, saving small amounts of time, multiplied by however many users the system has, and multiplied by however many times they launch each application or reboot.

Re: 30 MB is pretty impressive... (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-10-04 17:06 (#2T37)

A system that fits in less than 128MB could be very interesting practically, as it would fit entirely within the eDRAM cache on certain Haswell CPUs.

Of course the 30MB is compressed data, which gets decompressed to RAM; the 256MB figure is more relevant, but still a factor of two high. But it's very conceivable that that some upcoming processor could keep this whole distro in cache, which should eke amazing responsiveness from even firefox.

Re: 30 MB is pretty impressive... (Score: 1)

by on 2014-10-04 18:54 (#2T38)

This isn't about hard drive space. The impressive thing is that it runs completely in RAM. I can appreciate the maintainer(s) effort in creating a usable distro with that small of a footprint. Great work!

Back To The Mainframe? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-10-04 00:28 (#2T2Y)

You paint a very appealing picture, Zafe. But.... With that light and underfeatured a system, relying so much on external services, might one/you be better served by a fixed appliance/terminal? No chance of corruption, everything in Da Cloud, etc. All the real action happens on your and other remote servers.

'Cause it sounds like that's what a superlight distro is accomplishing anyway, only with the vagaries and vulnerabilities of normal PC hardware.

Re: Back To The Mainframe? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-10-04 19:28 (#2T39)

Maybe - but imagine an internet kiosk that boots from a read-only flash card, and runs from memory. You get a clean system with every boot, and if that gets you a reasonably good-looking desktop and an up-to-date version of Firefox, you've met the needs of 90% of your clients. Imagine a kiosk in a hotel lobby, for example.

Imagine a call center or database entry place where you can re-purpose some dirt-cheap, low-spec hardware. That's useful.

For me, on a more philosophical level, this is also interesting because it shows it can be done. The world would be a different place if developers were forced to be miserly with resources and think carefully about their constraints. Give everyone a new macbook with 5G of RAM and a top-speed hard drive, and you get akonadi/nepomuk (barf).

Re: Back To The Mainframe? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-10-05 14:45 (#2T3Z)

Thanks, but still not seeing it. Going to the trouble of putting up a kiosk means that sub 100 MB or sub 1 GB storage is not a problem. Ditto for older hardware. Can't most distros still get running on a 486 or so?

I get that it's an interesting exercise, and I hate bloat more than most anyone, but I'm still not quite seeing the real world appeal. I guess embedded devices maybe, or something to contribute to wearables?

Re: Back To The Mainframe? (Score: 1, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-10-06 02:04 (#2T4D)

A. No, you don't hate bloat "more than anyone." Otherwise you'd see more than zero use in getting rid of it.

B. Everyone (by which I mean, power nerds) loves running linux on all kinds of stuff, so what's wrong with running linux on old or embedded systems? Seriously, if you have nothing to contribute besides insults then don't even comment. You're selling keystrokes for hatred, and that's a crappy waste of everyone's time.

C. No, most distros don't run on a 486 anymore, at least not without a hell of a lot of customization. Many are compiled with optimizations so they don't run natively on anything below a PII or so. Also, most require a lot of work arounds to run on anything under 256 or 192 MB of RAM, so "runs on a 486" vs "runs on a 486 with an amount of memory that a 486 would have" becomes a concern.

Re: Back To The Mainframe? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-10-06 19:08 (#2T50)

Don't read very much do ya, AC. Try it again. Then apologize for twittery.

Tiny Core Linux is a 12 MB graphical Linux desktop (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-10-06 08:24 (#2T4Q)

"The whole distro fits easily on 30MB on a (small!) USB stick."


"Tiny Core Linux is a 12 MB graphical Linux desktop. It is based on a recent Linux kernel, BusyBox, Tiny X, Fltk, and Flwm. The core runs entirely in memory and boots very quickly. The user has complete control over which applications and/or additional hardware to have supported, be it for a desktop, a nettop, an appliance or server; selectable from the project's online repository."

How bout them apples?

So much for the size of SliTaz Linux. IMO what a STUPID name for a distro!

Re: Tiny Core Linux is a 12 MB graphical Linux desktop (Score: 2, Insightful)

by on 2014-10-06 20:43 (#2T55)

Yes, you've found a distro even lighter weight than SliTaz. Congrats! Looks pretty interesting to me. If others are interested maybe I'll give it a spin for an upcoming Distro Friday. Agree with you SliTaz is a pretty awful name. I poked around to figure out the origin of the name and didn't find an obvious one. Make up your own acronym day? There are many contenders for the 'worst distro name ever' title, I'm afraid.

I'm not sure if your post is intended to offend or you're just not a clear writer. I'll assume the best, in hopes I'm not just feeding an anonymous troll here - of which there are either suddenly more, or the existing ones have suddenly gotten more verbose. Yawn.

Re: Tiny Core Linux is a 12 MB graphical Linux desktop (Score: -1, Offtopic)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-10-07 13:39 (#2T5V)

When a person contributes actual useful detail to a conversation, how can they be a troll just because they have a lousy attitude? It drives me nuts how thin skinned some of the user-level moderation seems to be. I'm not the AC who found the 12 MB distro, and he comes off harsh, but who cares? Glad to see Zafe here is made of sterner stuff. :)

Never heard of SliTaz but it just sounds like the nicknames of two authors.

Re: Tiny Core Linux is a 12 MB graphical Linux desktop (Score: 1, Funny)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-10-07 14:14 (#2T5W)

And he left out the best part.

"Tiny Core Linux (TCL) is a minimal Linux operating system focusing on providing a base system using BusyBox and FLTK, developed by Robert Shingledecker"

Shingledecker! The developer's name is Shingledecker! That might be the best name ever. :)

Also, the desktop is reputed to have an OSX look and feel, which is amusing (or distressing). I don't think I'd bother with SliTaz, but I might like to play with TinyCore a bit.

Robert Shingledecker (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2015-05-30 17:04 (#A2VB)

Excuse me for replying to an old thread like this one but I believe that I can't leave the above comment unanswered!

I don't know Robert Shingledecker but I have used his work (Tiny Core Linux) and for that I thank him. I found impolite the way his name was made fun of.

Anyway, I got here after trying to find something on a search engine. For those of you who don't know TCL try this interview first...