If you are looking for the smallest Linux possible and want to add just a few applications, then you really need to look at TinyCore.
11MB of disk, 64MB of RAM (perhaps less), 2.6.xx kernel, X11 or not, your choice. What more do you need to know?
Small Footprint in Disk AND Memory – 11MB
Do you have 11MB of Disk and 64MB of RAM? TinyCore Linux will work for you.
Most of us don’t consider the amount of storage that an OS requires until you have hundreds or thousands of OS images to manage, backup, and patch. This becomes really important when you deal with virtual machines too. The base OS is 11MB.
This distro can be placed on USB Flash disks, CDs, DVDs, whatever. With 10MB of storage, that means those small free USB flash drives that vendors give away aren’t worthless either. I have a few 32MB USB flash drives that weren’t very useful. Now they are.
When an OS is this small, it will be fast, even on 5+ yr old equipment. Fast is an understatement. After loading Firefox (the repository had the latest version released just a few days ago), I needed to load NoScript and AdBlockPlus. Each of those extensions requires a restart of Firefox to install. Normally, on a Core i5 system, that requires about 10 seconds. On this system running inside a VM, it was about 0.5 seconds.
It is in your power to avoid bloat. You control what applications get loaded, not some other distribution maker who believes that 2GB disks are common for the OS.
TinyCore has some different behaviors than the other distributions. Mainly, applications and user data is not stored as part of the bootable OS, even after you install to a hard drive or other similar storage device. Obviously, the more applications that you install then the more storage and RAM will will require, but with TinyLinux, YOU HAVE CONTROL over the bloat.
For any changes made during a session to be stored, you need to backup the settings. There is a backup and a restore capability built into TinyCore. If you use the icon to shutdown the system, a checkbox will be displayed that defaults to saving (i.e. backing up) your apps and settings. After loading a few apps and all the dependencies (automatic), the storage required was 120MB. There are other small Linux distributions that are half that size, but they don’t include the poplar applications that I’ve loaded. They use 1-off applications for email and web browsing.
No disrespect for Puppy Linux or DSL, but the Linux 2.4 kernel has been out of date for some time guys. TinyCore is not running the very latest kernel, but is it fairly current; 2.6.27.
While any list here will not cover some application that you use, their appear to be hundreds, perhaps thousands of applications listed in the repositories for download. A short list:
and many, many others. A few screen shots to wet your appetite.
Mac-Like Application Launcher
TinyCore has the OSX-like Launch Bar. See the bottom center of this link . When you move your mouse over an installed application, the icon grows larger. Selecting it launches the app with a nearly immediate display of the application window. As you install other applications, they are automatically added to this launch bar.
Is TinyCore perfect? No. It uses an new/different package manager that takes advantage of loopback devices to load the applications. Also, I was able to corrupt the X/Windows startup by changing the HDD from IDE to SATA (for performance reasons). Still, There is a place for this distro when you don’t want anything more than what you want.
Why Did I Bother?
I find myself with a Via C7 system that only has 512MB of RAM and a 512MB (not GB) IDE flash drive that I’d like to turn into a media playback system. 512MB isn’t much for most distributions. Further, the form-factor of the case prevents adding a 3.5" disk. It can hold a 2.5" disk, but it already has the SSD. For a media center, being silent and low power is ideal too.
I really intended to use XBMC, but due to limitations in the on-board graphics, XBMC isn’t an option. The 1U case and only PCI (no AGP or PCI-E) prevent using a different graphics card that is compatible with XBMC. ;(
Thoughts for Hosting Providers
If you are a hosting provider, supporting lots of applications, lots of users with as much of the OS and Apps being identical can really reduce your storage requirements. When it comes time to patch, as the hosting provider, you can patch 1 file and cover perhaps thousands of virtual machines.
If you are an enterprise and do not want users keeping corporate data on their local disks or any devices outside your data center, TinyCore can be setup to use remote storage for the user settings too. Think about that for a few minutes. You control the apps, you control where things can be stored AND everything is small and fast. You may have just eliminated all desktop HDD troubleshooting from your enterprise and virtualized the desktop hardware without really virtualizing anything. Nice. I can see many, many uses inside enterprises. Perhaps best of all, it isn’t MS-Windows and is completely FOSS under the GPL v2.
Try It Out!
If you already use a virtualization technology, just create a new VM, give it some RAM and point it to the ISO file to boot. No need to add a virtual HDD at all unless you want to save some settings and downloaded applications between boots.
Check out the TinyCore forums for more use-cases, tips and techniques that I haven’t mentioned here.
Ubuntu has a low memory install, but not a low disk space install. They say you can install Ubuntu to a 600GB disk here. Nice. I’d prefer 600MB.
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