DSL revisited

I caught myself endorsing Slitaz over Damn Small Linux the other day, not realizing exactly how long it has been since I used DSL, and whether or not it has improved in the past year or so. Slitaz scooped me up quite easily after relying on DSL for many years — so easily in fact, that I never looked back.

But when I suggested it over DSL again, I figured I ought to take another look, to be fair. After all, I think the last time I used it was when it had just crossed to 4.0, and as we all know, point-oh releases are never quite right.

To be honest, I don’t see much on the surface of version 4.4.10 that appears to have changed.

Or I guess I should say, the changes that I first notice are mostly aesthetic. JWM is still the window manager with Fluxbox as an option, but with a different “look” here and there — new wallpaper, different desktop font, and so forth.

The application array seems similar to what I remember from a year ago. Probably one of the strong points for DSL is the choice of office software that comes in so small a bundle — things like the Siag suite; Word, PDF and postscript viewers; dictionaries and so forth.

And a round assortment of games and Internet appliances are there too, including chat programs and FTP clients. Sylpheed is on board, along with a short list of browser options — the old Dillo, Firefox 2.0, and some others.

And it’s nice to see some fundamental improvements in the way DSL manages itself. I don’t remember a MyDSL Browser before — something that makes picking out software a lot easier. I could swear I had seen something very similar running the show with Tiny Core though — perhaps it was borrowed from that project.

And once DSL is up and running, you have the option to install a lot more fun stuff. Most of the commonplace applications you would expect in something like Arch or even Ubuntu are ready to download and run.

So I certainly can’t fault DSL for being established, well-rounded and extensible. And it manages to find the hardware on my Inspiron without a fight. So why do I still, even after this second look, prefer Slitaz?

It’s hard to put my finger on it. DSL does a great job, but Slitaz feels cleaner, slimmer and faster. DSL still seems absorbed by unusual assortments of GTK1.2 software, mixed in with a few extra programs which don’t seem to mesh well, appearancewise.

I don’t hold any grudge against outdated software — after all, I regularly rely on text-based applications I dug out of the corners of the Internet — but I wonder why the 2.4 kernel is still preferred (answer here). I wonder why a newer version of Firefox isn’t in there by default … if Firefox is going to be in there at all. And I wonder why, after all these years, someone hasn’t managed to come up with a slick, cohesive look for DSL — rather than two or three vaguely connected themes (particularly in the GTK1.2 category) and a somewhat-matching wallpaper or two.

Okay, okay. I apologize. I know full well that those are superficial points. I should be more enthusiastic that DSL starts up and runs fine. I have met distributions that couldn’t accomplish that.

But I can’t help noticing all these little points and wondering what’s holding DSL back … particularly when I start up Slitaz again.

So that’s my impression. I will always like DSL, and I admire it for its loyalty to outdated machines. But so long as Slitaz can do much the same thing, in less space, with fresher software and a cleaner, faster look, I will continue to choose it over DSL.

And that’s what it’s all about: choice.

8 thoughts on “DSL revisited

  1. JakeT

    Those two screen shots are enough to sell me on Slitaz hands down.

    DSL’s Gtk1.2 look has always made me want to punch it in the face. Slitaz+OpenBox (I assume that’s what it is) just feels so much more natural to me.

    1. Shae

      Yeah, I think that GTK 1.2 applications become more and more antiquated looking while GTK 2 alternatives are becoming fast enough to use. It seems that Siltaz is using LXDE, which is becoming an interesting project. I really hope that it gets to be a bit more bug-free compared to other solutions. I seem to always have problems with the panel’s settings GUI, but that is another story.

      I personally think that appearance is not as superficial as some things could be. If you are going to be looking at the application while you are using it, its appearance can make your experience more plesant. If you are looking mearly at whether it can get the job done, it may not be that important, but once you get past that appearance is important.

      One important note would be that that 2.4 kernel would really hold back any distro anymore as it seems that most work driver-wise is on the 2.6 branch and it could easily delay your upgrading of the kernel. One major concern would be with ATI and NVIDIA once Redhat no longer has a supported version with the 2.4 kernel.

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  3. lucky

    A few things about DSL. First, it’s no longer under active development. At least not publicly, AFAIK. John Andrews wrote late last year that he would resume development but last time I looked there’d been no updates or progress reports. Robert (roberts) had been developing Tiny Core at the same time he was continuing to develop DSL; initially they weren’t intended to be separate projects. Andrews apparently didn’t want TC to come under the same umbrella. Any similarities between DSL and TC you may have noticed are because Robert was leading the development of both. (In fact, there’s some dropbear stuff in /etc in the last release of DSL. DSL doesn’t use dropbear, but TC does.)

    Second, DSL isn’t about aesthetics and never was. If you want to get stuff done and use your computer, it should more than suffice — particularly with older hardware of a Win98/Linux 2.4 era vintage. If you want to dress it up with all kinds of stuff, including GTK2, you can do that yourself; there wasn’t room in <= 50MB for GTK2 and (accordingly) larger apps. There also was never any pretense about competing with any other distro, especially any which puts a bigger emphasis on aesthetics than stability and function.

    Finally, I've nothing against Slitaz but its goals aren't the same as DSL's. While both are "small," DSL was about packing as much utility in 50MB; that's quite obviously not the goal of Slitaz. One of DSL's goals was to remain a viable option for users of older hardware; accordingly, DSL didn't jump on the LZMA or similar compression format bandwagon like other "small" distros (tighter compression = greater strain on CPU) or adopt every new filesystem (older hardware can only manage a certain number of inodes), etc. Many concessions were made to improve DSL without violating those kinds of things, and that includes the choice of dfm (over rox filer) to integrate desktop file management via MIME/type associations. I've never thought it fair to compare DSL to most other distros, including other Live CDs or "small" distros, because DSL wasn't in a race with them to provide "eye candy" or tighter compression or run as root-only, etc.

    1. The Real Dave

      I agree to a certain extent. DSL was the first ever Linux distro I touched, after reading an article about a $72 PC. Reading the website, I thought that it was amazing, how much they packed into 50Mb, and still do. Not many OSs can do that. I use DSL on some of my older hardware, and it runs like a dream, fast as anything. I agree that Slitaz looks better than DSL, but like I said on Ubuntu Forums, my experience with Slitaz was marred by downloading the French version. Also, I don’t particularly mind that DSL looks the way it does, not when it run’s how it does. It definitely is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

      Also, from the moment I saw it, I fell in love with DSL’s sidebar, info display thing. I’ve been using Conky ever since.

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  5. JonathanD

    I am by no means a Linux Guru (In Windows land I hand edit the registry and know 10,000 hacks do what ever…) but I too am a Slitaz lover 🙂 I have an older notebook that has 256MB’s of RAM and I was about to pitch it in the dump, but then I decided ahhh why not use it as a test machine for Linux since usually it requires less hardware then the doze. After trying almost every single distro out there all of them had some problem or another and I learned tons from each one, I happened on Slitaz and found that it worked nearly perfectly out of the box AND was fast. (Sound took me like 8 hours to figure out how to get working but like I said I am no Linux Guru so everyone LOL at the noob lol)
    I guess what I am saying that where it not for Slitaz I would have given up on this notebook and probably pitched it. Now its working great for web pages uTube and just generaly good fun. Now if only I could figure out how to play Divx or Xvid movies…. (codec issues that I am clueless about and seems even harder to fix then the sound issue) Gateway MX3230 FTW lol

  6. bmni

    I’ve tried to configure the wifi on Slitaz 2.0 stable, but no luck so far.
    The eth0 works like a charm, and this distro is simply the fastest (faster than DSL and/or Puppy) and it looks good too!
    Anybody has suggestions on how to get the wifi to work in SLitaz 2.0 stable?


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