Microwave Biscuit

Small Distro Round Up

Posted in Linux, ubuntu by microwavebiscuit on March 12, 2007

I posted that I had gotten a DVD (courtesy of Linux Magazine) with a handful of small distro’s on it. I have now booted the live CD version of each and here are my results:

Note: All testing was done on VMWare using a basic VM with 256MB RAM (Shouldn’t need more with these little distro’s right?). The order of these reviews is based on the boot choice order of the DVD.

Backtrack 2.0
I have used Backtrack 2.0 before so I have already formed opinions on it. However, the live cd version that is on the DVD I have is nice. Boot time is “medium” – maybe 60 seconds or so. Part of the time taken is in hardware detection so depending on the hardware you have, you may have quicker or slower boot ups. By default the system does not boot into an X session but you are given clear instructions on how to (type startx) and I got an X session up right away. When X finished starting I was in KDE and immediately got a “no sound” error. Internet works right away. Backtrack is a specialized distribution that is geared towards intrusion detection. I suppose nefarious people could use it as a “hax0rs” distribution. It has many exploits, sniffers, etc. configured and accessible via the “Backtrack” menu. In past experience, I found that if you don’t know how the “Backtrack tools” work already, you will spend some time trying to figure out how all of it works.

Damn Small Linux 3.1
DSL boots super fast into the live cd. Total boot time is ~30 seconds. On boot-up, I get an X-Window session, Internet connection, etc. Sound is unknown – No errors reported with the sound system but I haven’t found any media files to “test” on the distribution. It uses FluxBox window manager by default and also has jwm installed. This is a completely usable Linux system probably not for newbies but definitely cool. It is proof that full featured doesn’t mean big. The whole distro fits on a 50MB CD. Apparently there are quite a few things that you can add to the system via repositories but I’m just testing the default “live cd” versions.

Gobolinux 013
Gobolinux goes into X Detection and then never returns. I’m sure it’s hardware compatibility issues with VMWare or something but I couldn’t get it to boot up so that’s that.

grml 0.9
GRML is “Linux for users of text tools and System Administrators”. By that definition, it does not boot into an X session. Console only, but on purpose. Internet works. Sound is unknown. You can start an X Session with a variety of window managers. I choose fluxbox as I have some familiarity with it. It seems to have a ton of software on the system but I would recommend grml only for advanced users.

gparted 0.3.2
As with Gobolinux, it starts X Detection and never returns. Yes I could drop into a shell and attempt to debug it but that’s not the point of this post. It’s default live-cd booting in a VM.

Puppy Linux 2.12
When it boots (which is also quite fast) it offers a choice of xvesa or xorg. If I choose xorg it doesn’t work so this review is based on xvesa. Internet is not enabled by default. You need to go through a wizard of sorts to load drivers and test out your connection. I was able to do this on the third try. It uses JWM by default. Sound does not work. It seems that Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux are pretty similar and they are both full featured systems that could be used every day. The only advantage the DSL has is that I had an internet connection right away without having to run any wizards.

Sabayon Mini Ed
Sabayon took FOREVER (think 5+ minutes!!!) to boot. I honestly thought it was hung up several times during long pauses in the boot sequence. Every time I was tempted to just kill it, something would happen to let me know that it was still working. I’m not sure why the boot time was so long – could be hardware related or could be that it would like some more memory. When it does finally boot, it boots into an X Session with KDE and a very beautiful desktop. As soon as it boots it asks if you would like hardware video acceleration vi AIGLX or XGL. Unfortunately, the default VMWare video card doesn’t support either of them so it’s No acceleration for me. I may have to boot this live cd on a more powerful “regular” machine to see what kind of eye candy is available. When the boot process is finally complete and I logged in, I was presented with a KDE “no sound” error message. Internet works right away which is nice. There are a TON of programs available under KMenu as well. A small annoyance is that “KOrganizer” is located under “Lost and Found”. Seems to me that they could probably move that menu item to a better location before packaging up the cd. Overall, Sabayon is the most full featured “normal” distribution of the bunch and outside of the boot times it would be the coolest to show off to your non-linux friends.

So, to wrap up, there are a couple of very specialized distributions, a couple of really small distributions, a couple that didn’t work for me and Sabayon. I don’t have a particular closing opinion other than to say I want to boot Sabayon in a more powerful machine to see what it’s capable of in terms of eye candy. I’m guessing a lot. The specialized distros would be good at their respective areas of expertise and the small distros would be great on older hardware and/or configuring them to boot from a USB drive, etc. Lastly, none of them will make me switch from Ubuntu!!!!

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