Minimal Linux distros


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There are a number of Linux distros which attempt to strip Linux down to a minimal set of elements that can run on computers with reduced capabilities. Some of them are targeted at old computers. Some are targeted at so-called embedded systems which are built into machinery, vehicles, home appliances, PDAs and mobile phones.

Available for OLPC XO

  • PuppyLinux Engineered for broad compatibility and hardware support. They have put up a page describing how they adapted Puppy to an NTAVO low memory system. See the PuppyLinux page for pointers to an active forum on OLPC.
  • Tiny Core Linux a nomadic ultra small desktop booting from USB drive, runs primarily in RAM, extra packages obtained on demand or preinstalled. An OLPC volunteer team provides builds of Tiny Core and Micro Core for XO-1 and XO-1.5, see Tiny Core Linux.
  • Ubuntu
  • Xubuntu is a complete GNU/Linux based system with an Ubuntu base. It's lighter, and more efficient than Ubuntu with GNOME or KDE, since it uses the Xfce Desktop environment, which makes it ideal for old or low-end machines, as well as thin-client networks. Instructions for XFCE ontop of the XO's RedHat installation can be found here

Not known to be available for OLPC XO

  • simpleLinux is a GNU/Linux distributions that uses LZMA compression to compress its system files. simpleLinux is a Slackware-based distribution that comes in both Live CD or Persistence version that can be installed to a medium. simpleLinux GNU/Linux comes with KDE 3.5 desktop manager as well as with many essential apps in a lightweight environment.
  • Simply Mepis ideal for new users to Linux ,it has a simple desktop user interface. Lean enough to be installed on old hardware, and based on a Debian core. The writer has installed sugar on the Simply Mepis OS sugar on Simply Mepis, on a 1999 Intel Pentium II although recommended minimum is Pentium III.The distro has a spin off called Antix which is even leaner.
  • Arch Linux, a lightweight and flexible Linux from Scratch that is highly customizable and has a great package manager. Its friggin' fast!
  • DreamLinux, a modern and modular Debian-based and -compatible Linux system, that is very lightweight, features MacOS look and can be run directly from a CD/DVD/USB Stick.
  • Absolute, a light-weight modification of Slackware Linux, works very well on very old computers Pentium 100's, K6's, etc...32meg ram 1.8 to 3gig hd space used...this thing is FAST FAST FAST
  • Zenwalk, an OS that strives for simplicity. Based on Slackware.
  • OpenEmbedded Not a distribution, but a tool to build lightweight distributions for various architectures, which includes the Zaurus
  • Crux Linux is an advanced Linux distribution that is as big or as small, as sparse or as comprehensive as you make it. It runs very smoothly and quickly on the XO; boot times approach 30 seconds and OpenGL works with the newest AMD driver. Be prepared to compile software if you decide you want to try it.
  • Buildroot A cross compilation framework for building root file system images. A large number of packages are provided to add useful programs. Suited for embedded development.
  • DeLi(cate) Fork of Deli Linux 0.8 targeted at very old computers, min=(i386/9MB RAM/300MB HDD),rec=(PentiumMMX 233MHz/64MB RAM/4GB HDD),max=(Pentium III ?)
  • DeliLinux "Desktop Light" Linux. It is a Linux Distribution for old computers, from 486 to Pentium MMX 166 or so on
  • BasicLinux targeted at very old computers including 486es
  • FeatherLinux that takes under 128MB of disk space. Minimal requirement for X is 24MB.
  • ucLinux targeted at embedded systems with low memory and no hard drive (like OLPC)
  • Zaurus this is a Linux-based PDA that uses busybox. It is similar to the OLPC except that it has a PDA-size 640x480 screen.
  • Damn Small Linux - less than 50 MB! Boot from CD, PXE, USB. Can boot through PXE on a diskless client. According to Wikipedia, latest stable release 4.4.10 on November 18, 2008.
  • Recovery Linux creates a bootable USB disk containing FreeDOS and Linux, in only 2.5Mb of space.
  • SLAX is a small Linux distribution based on Slackware Linux. Boots from USB-Stick or CD-ROM and has many modules to choose from for an individual flavour. Good auto-detection of hardware. Runs on a read-only filesystem, but can be easely transfered on the harddrive, and can then be run from harddrive or loaded in memory.
  • STX Linux STX Linux is a desktop Linux distribution especially targeted to older hardware. It also works quite well on new PC's. From the Distrowatch entry [1], appears to have migrated and changed names to SaxenOS. Not sure if STX still exists in it's previous versions.
  • u-lite is an unofficial derivative of the Ubuntu Linux distribution. It is intended to be used on much older hardware than the official old hardware distribution Xubuntu and should run on a Pentium 200Mhz with 64MB RAM. A minimum of 50MB hard disk place is required to install and run it.
  • CrunchBang Linux CrunchBang Linux is a Debian based distribution featuring the lightweight Openbox window manager and GTK+ applications. The distribution is developed from a minimal Debian install and has been designed to offer a good balance of speed and functionality.
  • Edubuntu: Linux for Young Human Beings - "Ubuntu" is an ancient African word, meaning "humanity to others". The Edubuntu Linux distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to schools, through its customised school environment. The current version of Edubuntu is aimed at classroom use, and future versions of Edubuntu will expand to other educational usage, such as university use. See Edubuntu for information about Edubuntu on the XO.
  • Debian's bootstrap image is pretty darn small. See Installing Debian as an upgrade for more information about Debian on the XO.
  • MuLinux, a distribution that runs from a floppy
  • IPCop firewall and network sharing on minimal PC hardware, work with 486, 16MB memory, installable on flash disk (mini 128MB), usb or network boot,28 languages
  • OpenWrt is a distribution for Wireless APs like WRT54G, nice Konfiguration Interface like kernel menuconfig (ncurses?) for build process
  • Trinuxand Ubuntutrinux - a small ramdisk-based distribution especially suited for network monitoring
  • TomsRtBt Toms Root an Boot floppy is a 1.7MB floppy for rescuing purposes. It is possibly not maintained any more. Uses bz2 compression for kernel
  • GeeXboX CD/USB/PXE bootable distro focusing on multimedia, using mplayer. Based around a linux kernel plus custom patches. Uses uClibc C library and busybox for it's core utilities. Around 22MB in size.
  • ttylinux: 5-10MB Linux system, runs even on 386's.

Please add other minimal Linux distros to this list. In the end, it is unlikely for OLPC to adopt any one of them but it is quite likely that OLPC will borrow good ideas from some of them, such as the busybox from ucLinux.

  • GentooXO is a complete GNU/Linux based system with an Gentoo base. It has GNOME as its desktop and various wireless tools and games.
  • Ubuntu JeOS is a specialised installation of Ubuntu Server Edition with a tuned kernel that only contains the base elements needed to run within a virtualized environment. 300MB installed footprint, minimum memory 128MB and includes specialised Kernel optimised for VMWare and KVM environments. Can also be used as a base server install on standard hardware.
  • SliTaz SliTaz is a free operating system, working completely in RAM and booting from removable media such as a cdrom or USB key. SliTaz is distributed as a LiveCD, and weighs less than 30MB. The system is quick and responsive, clean and robust. Also avilable low ram version, perfectly working on PIII 128MB.
  • Lubuntu - Lightweight in comparison to Ubuntu. Lubuntu 11.10 requires a minimum of 128 MB of RAM to run. Package Manager:Synaptic
  • Alpine Linux is a security-oriented, lightweight Linux distribution based on uClibc and Busybox.
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