Edit: Unfortunately, the images originally included in this post are gone, because of hosting problems in late 2009. My apologies.
I’ve been getting a lot of links back to an offhand post I made about three months ago about SliTaz, but I realize now I never really “reviewed” that distro, if you can call these random notes “reviews.” Since I have the ugly laptop on hand for Hardy testing, I thought I’d give it break from suffering under Gnome and allow it to run an ultralight system.
And those are the best words for SliTaz — both “ultralight” and “system.” One of the beautiful things about this teeny little distro is that it all fits in under 25Mb. Now that’s ultralight.
But it doesn’t skimp at all. You get all the major applications you would want from a full-figured distro — yes, even Firefox, although I abhor it still — and enough secondary utilities (like Web servers, bittorrent clients and so forth) and tertiary utilties (like a toolchain) to at least build the ones you don’t get. There are even composite effects, with handy shortcuts in the menu to manage them. And all that in half the space of a business-card CD.
So don’t assume 25Mb leaves you at a terminal prompt. This is, in every sense of the word, a complete system, with enough software to mollify even the most finicky Linux user.
And a lot has been added just in the three months since I first tried it. Early versions I used didn’t support a lot of higher screen resolutions, but now I can use SliTaz on my Inspiron at 1600x1200x16 as well as 1024x768x16 on the ugly little laptop (the best it will do). (I don’t know if there are many exotic resolutions it can handle; you’ll have to test your own machine and see what happens.)
SliTaz is not MachBoot, so there’s a little more time required to start. This is mostly spent arranging the keyboard, video and audio components, which means that it’s probably a good thing. And prearranging a live system is nothing new — Puppy Linux does that, and DSL also requires a little premeditation, albeit mostly at the boot line.
Performance on the K6-2 is quite good. Start times are around three minutes, which includes the time it takes me to select the appropriate configuration and tap the enter key twice, to sign in. That’s not bad for a live CD — remember that I’m working from a 24X CDROM, on top of all the other shortcomings of this machine. Just the initial kernel load can take 20 or 30 seconds. 450Mhz was a long time ago, friends.
JWM is still the window manager, with LXPanel added by default — they work well together. I will probably always be partial to Openbox, but JWM is a good choice for me. And LXPanel, as well as GPicView, are perfect for this system. They look good, work fast and don’t weigh things down.
You can install SliTaz to a hard drive — I didn’t, mostly because one of the nice things about working with a memory-resident system is that there’s no penalty for using an old hard drive with crappy performance. Firefox can ignore the 4200rpm drive and start as soon as it rolls out of bed … which is about 13 seconds, believe it or not. Other applications are also quicker, with a terminal opening in a fraction of a second, and emelfm2 (one of two available file managers) in less than a second or two. Shutting down takes less than 12 seconds on this machine, and yes, that’s quite good.
The scary part about working with distros of this “mini-tude” is hardware support, and the scary part of hardware support is networking. With video you get the fallback options usually, but networking support is either there or not … with very little in-between.
Lucky for me, SliTaz likes my Xircom card now (thanks guys), and all I needed to do to get the network running was to make sure the PCMCIA bridge had a module inserted, and the interface showed up in ifconfig. From there SliTaz has a handy network configuration box, which had it up and online in seconds.
There are a lot of little perks like that in SliTaz — perhaps the developers are taking the hint from Puppy, which tries to make as many ease-of-use popup boxes as it can (which I like, actually), or maybe it’s just more intuitive way. Regardless, it’s convenient to have a mount box, a network box, and so on.
As a final note, package management is done through a nifty little utility called tazpkg, and if you’re familiar with apt from the command line, or maybe pacman or even prt-get, it’s a breeze to use. Packages are stored at TuxFamily (home to the current Ubuntulite incarnation as well), and I had no difficulty upgrading one package (Firefox — wouldn’t you know it?) from there. And there’s lots more software to pick from, if you want to try some new stuff.
This is easily my favorite live CD now. I admire DSL for being versatile and fast, and I do like the way Puppy Linux has evolved. But it’s hard to beat a pretty, usable, complete system that ducks under the 25Mb mark, and does it so well. Fatter distributions (and I’m thinking of Xubuntu, et al., here) would do well to notice how much can be done with so little.