Reaching way back: Bonzai Linux

Here and there, where I can, I have come across some workable distros that will run on a 150Mhz Pentium with only 32Mb of memory. It’s a rarity though, and even more unusual to find one that will boot and install, in that small a space.

In fact, more than ever it seems the issue I have to confront is not a lack of processor speed or even hard drive speed, but simply memory overhead. That’s my limiting factor.

I get around it by installing from a live CD to a virtual machine, and then writing that image to the host drive with dd. (dd is quickly becoming another of my favorite tools.)

That was the case with Bonzai Linux, which I am reaching way, waaay back into the past to show off.


“Show off” is kind of an overstatement though. Unless you’re an old-school KDE fan or someone who also has a very low-end machine to resurrect, this is a bit plain.

As I understand it, this was one of the earliest efforts to put a complete graphical desktop on a bootable ISO, dates back as far as 2003, and is using Debian Woody as its backbone in the final release. I could be wrong on any one (or all) of those points though.

And while it couldn’t install straightaway from the ISO, it had no problem with the bait-and-switch installation style, and actually booted on the Mebius.

After that, I had a nifty full-color, proper resolution KDE 3.1 desktop, floppy access, graphical file managers, browsers, etc. Kernel is 2.4.20, and the entire business had no problem fitting into a 1Gb drive space.

On the other hand, a kernel that old lacked some of the modules I am accustomed to seeing in the 2.6.3x series, and sound was also an issue. And the screenshot you see above is much nicer than what I was actually seeing on the screen — bad artifacts, fractured dialog boxes, mouse trails and so forth. … :(

But it worked. It booted on 32Mb, gave a full graphical desktop in that distinct KDE style, and while definitely not perfect, it’s one of the “winners” in recent days.

So you can, if you have to, reach all the way back six or seven years in the history of Linux desktops, and occasionally come up with a working machine. Just more proof that old applications don’t die. :)

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7 Responses to “Reaching way back: Bonzai Linux”

  1. 1 anon 2010/08/27 at 5:59 AM

    How much memory does it use? And processor?

    I’m going to test it on my 64 MB box, but if it’s speedy I might run it on my other, much older and slower box.

    • 2 K.Mandla 2010/08/27 at 8:25 AM

      I didn’t check the exact memory usage, but that machine has only 32Mb and a 150Mhz Pentium MMX in it, and it was running without too much stress. I am fairly confident it’ll do fine on 64Mb. This is, after all, a distro that had its last stable release in 2005.

      • 3 anon 2010/08/27 at 7:20 PM

        Ahh. I was thinking if it runs well that box, it should run well on the old box with 28 MB RAM.

        I run BeOS on both (and legit Windows 98), but the 64 MB box might get it though, solely for the laughs of trying out such ancient distros.

        Who knows? I might upgrade a box and give it a resurrected version of your GTK1.2 remix… maybe with Lucid.

        Now I’m just rambling though.

  2. 4 Marcus Moeller 2010/08/27 at 4:04 PM

    As the original author of Bonzai Linux I am glad that the distro is still somewhat ‘alive’ :)

  3. 5 twitter 2010/08/27 at 9:51 PM

    Knoppix from 2003 would detect “low ram” and switch over to a lower resource demanding window manager.

  1. 1 Links 26/8/2010: Red Had Reaches Year Highs, Droid Incredible to Get Froyo | Techrights Trackback on 2010/08/27 at 8:55 AM
  2. 2 Reaching back again: ByzantineOS « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2010/12/08 at 9:08 AM

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Some recent desktops

May 6, 2011
Musca 0.9.24 on Crux Linux
150Mhz Pentium 96Mb 8Gb CF

May 14, 2011
IceWM 1.2.37 and Arch Linux
L2300 core duo 3Gb 320Gb

Some recent games

Apr. 21, 2011
Oolite on Xubuntu 11.04
L2300 core duo 3Gb 320Gb

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