Also not a joke: XFCE on 39Mb

Since we’re on the subject of eyeball-popping lightweight desktops, here’s another one for you.

And no, your popped eyeballs do not deceive you: That is an XFCE desktop with the standard array of controls and gizmos, running on an astounding 39Mb of space.

Very little in the way of outside software is installed, but only htop is running. Plus scrot and xfce4-terminal, of course. πŸ™‚

Not Debian this time — although Debian could probably put up a fight when compared to this. No, this time it’s Alpine Linux, which you may or may not have heard of. Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t.

As I understand it this is intended for embedded systems, which might be part of the reason why I hadn’t run across it sooner.

With much of the distro anchored in uClibc and BusyBox, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the desktop needs a paltry 39Mb to get started.

Having said that, actually putting this into place took a little effort, if typing a few commands can be called effort. Arch users will think it trivial; Ubuntu users will develop a look of shock and fear on their faces. πŸ˜‰

There is (was?) a skeletal tutorial on the Alpine Linux web site that got me started. I did run into a few obstacles.

After you boot the 2.1.2 ISO, you can arrange the system with setup-alpine and then install it to an internal disk with setup-disk.

But after reboot you need to add the online repositories to the /etc/apk/repositories file. In short,

echo "" >> /etc/apk/repositories

or your attempts to install things via apk add will fall short. Use apk update to refresh your package lists, and then add xorg, xfce4, sudo and so forth, plus the xf86-video-vesa driver. And maybe even xf86-video-fbdev.

For the record, the xf86-video-intel driver wouldn’t run for me; X complained about kernel modesetting.

One more thing: Run X -configure to get a workable xorg.conf file, then edit it for the vesa driver. And I had to reach way, waaay back to 2008 for that AllowEmptyInput setting, or I got the infamous dead desktop that I hated so much.

That’s more or less everything you’d need, given that your hardware plays well with the Alpine superstructure. I’m lucky to have Intel-based network and video, so short of that video card problem I mentioned, everything was fine out of the box.

Start times are electric, jumping to the login prompt in a meager 13 seconds on my core duo. With Midori as a browser I rarely see the entire memory profile arc over 92Mb, even with two or three tabs open at a time. Firefox is overrated, you know.

But like I said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone — least of all me — that an embedded Linux does such a fantastic job keeping itself lean and trim. That is, after all, the point.

And even if this technically isn’t intended for ancient hardware, but you can probably guess what my plan is next. … 😈

P.S.: PekWM is in the repos. Jump for joy! πŸ˜€

17 thoughts on “Also not a joke: XFCE on 39Mb

  1. ricky

    XFCE is usually my choice on barebones installations such as Arch Linux / NetBSD etc.

    Even though i have 3gigs of ram, i’d still prefer XFCE. On my computer a typical OS running XFCE weighs in at 70mb memory with a x86_64 base, leaving a whole lot of room for ram eaters like firefox.

    I’m pretty surprised to hear it boots to 39mb though.

    Its good stuff. πŸ˜‰

    1. CountDuckula

      Gotta try that Debian build – he’s even running Conky too which runs up the memory usage!

    2. anon

      Got it down to 25 MB with PekWM and XFCE panel. That’s with several xterms, irssi, ace of penguins, and netsurf.

  2. Pingback: No joke: A full Gnome desktop on 105Mb Β« Motho ke motho ka botho | Don Bishop's Blog dweb98

  3. yoshi314

    i was actually looking for something uclibc based and usable.

    gentoo can do it, but it’s not easy.

  4. anon

    as for your raeg towards intel driver, intel appearantly went on an obsolete binge. I Do know that ubuntu doesn’t support the 82845 GFX card once you update, which before worked fine in maverick, even the normally always broken plymouth worked perfectly.

    and if alpine had a mode that didn’t run from ram I’d like to run that. I like my ram running distros, but tinycore dominates that. but I’d still give it a shot.

    1. CountDuckula

      Couldn’t get my Intel 830 graphics chipset to fire up X under Alpine Linux no matter what I tried but anyway was still impressed that it only took 8MB of RAM to boot up the console – who needs a GUI πŸ™‚

  5. Pingback: Links 2/12/2010: Red Hat Climbs 6.28%, Linux Mint 10 Receives High Marks | Techrights

  6. Armor Nick

    Ah, Xfce. The last (ancient) environment following the traditional desktop paradigms. It’s comforting to know that there’ll always be a old-style desktop left πŸ˜€

  7. Pingback: Three mediocre attempts « Motho ke motho ka botho

  8. CountDuckula

    Just FYI, I did three distro installs on my dual core desktop last night. These were base installs, no X or any other garbage and following is their memory usage after a reboot,

    Alpine Linux: 21MB
    Arch Linux: 27MB
    Debian: 24MB

    So, Alpine is the winner but not by a screaming margin. Was surprised that Arch was the worst performer based on the above readings. On an older machine the results may be different…

  9. James

    I’ve just tried this distro for a particular project. Alpine looked promising for my project because an older machine will be in use (P3 with only 128 MB RAM). Alpine ran pretty well and I didn’t find it terribly hard to set up–though I am a fairly seasoned Linux user. But in the end I couldn’t make use of Alpine. As you might expect it’s something of a crippled distro: the one application I really needed to run–vlc–was compiled to run without a gui (remote control mode), which was NOT going to work for my project. You see, I have clueless users who need pretty pictures in order to interact to some degree with the computer. And I’m not going to get involved in attempting to compile a complex program like vlc on this hobbled distro–sounds like an exercise in extreme frustration to me. A bit sad I couldn’t use it since it seemed just right for the job in all other respects.


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