4MLinux mini-distribution


Article from Issue 162/2014

Many Linux distributions seek to be all-around systems, fulfilling the user's every desire on the desktop. The 4MLinux distro offers feature-oriented variants without the bulk.

Lean Linux distros for older hardware are a dime a dozen. Mostly, however, they offer only limited functionality because, instead of the usual standard programs, they come with less capable alternatives.

4MLinux [1] takes a completely different approach: The project divides the distribution into six different variants that cover different software priorities and thus avoids unnecessary ballast. Additionally, a Multiboot edition allows users to install four of the best-known Linux distributions retrospectively.

4MLinux takes its name from the focal points of its four variants: Maintenance (system rescue and maintenance), Miniserver, Multimedia, and Mystery (games). On top of this, an all-in-one edition combines all of these variants under one umbrella.

On the 4MLinux blog [2], you will find download links to the current versions of the operating system. Here, you'll find the Multiboot edition and an antivirus variant; the latter is also suitable for use in heterogeneous operating system environments and includes the free virus scanner ClamAV.


The Multiboot edition of 4MLinux offers users the option of installing Debian 7.3, Fedora 20, Slackware 14.1, or Ubuntu 13.10 from the GRUB boot menu (Figure  1). To do so, the routine calls specially developed scripts that download the required packages from the Internet and then dump the selected distribution onto the hard disk.

Figure 1: The boot manager offers four popular distributions for installation, but it needs an Internet connection to download them.

As a prerequisite, the computer requires a functioning Internet connection at boot time (i.e., a wired connection); a wireless connection will not work. The Multiboot edition therefore is primarily designed for rapid installation of the four distributions on a system if you want to simplify the cumbersome process of downloading and preparing an ISO image.

Additionally, the Multiboot variant contains the Rescue Edition of 4MLinux. This program initially starts in text mode and prompts you to enter a new root password as the first step. Then, you can log in at the command line. Typing startx opens a modern, unobtrusive-looking desktop with the wbar starter and the Conky system monitor.

The desktop itself is the lightweight JWM window manager, which also supports fast work on older hardware. The 3D On/Off entry in the main menu lets you enable and disable 3D effects. Right-clicking on the desktop takes you to the main menu, which is divided into the usual subgroups, but the Maintenance, Miniserver, and Mystery menus already hint that the distribution includes the full functionality of the all-in-one version.

The Maintenance | Backups submenu contains three backup applications. In addition to optical discs and USB sticks, network servers can also be used as target media. The Maintenance | Recovery menu includes TestDisk and Photorec, two tools that allow users to recover accidentally deleted files or partitions.

In Maintenance | Partitions, the Master Boot Record (MBR) and GUID Partition Table (GPT) menus offer numerous applications for partitioning of storage devices. The gdisk and cgdisk tools from the GPT menu are the modern counterparts to the older fdisk and cfdisk programs and thus are suitable for recent data media that use a GPT instead of MBR. Both gdisk and cgdisk can easily cope with hard drives of more than 2TB capacity.

Four in One

4MLinux provides four server services that you can enable by clicking on StartAll (Figure 2). Within seconds, the system enables FTP, HTTP, SSH, and Telnet servers. You can test these individually in the Tests menu using text-based routines. StopAll lets you stop the services again. The QuickHelp menu item under Miniserver gives users the opportunity to familiarize themselves further with the use of the servers and their syntax at the command line. Here you will also find references to the firewall, proxy server, and SQL database configurations.

Figure 2: You can start and stop four servers simultaneously at the press of a button.


Because 4MLinux does not have its own package management tool or software repositories, some restrictions apply when installing new programs. For example, proprietary programs that are only available as DEB or RPM archives and that are not available as source code cannot be used on 4MLinux in most cases.

Many programs listed in the submenus also are not included initially with the distribution: Although you can launch LibreOffice from the main menu, this step actually tells a script first to download the software from the network and then proceed to install. The same thing applies to many games and to the popular Internet applications Firefox and Thunderbird. The default browser is the very slim QupZilla, which is based on Firefox in terms of its interface and operations, but without achieving the same functionality.

Another surprise in this context is that when you call the installation routines for the Mozilla programs (Figure 3), the distribution does not retrieve the native Linux versions from the Internet but instead fetches the Windows versions. 4MLinux then integrates them using Wine, although the basic installation only contains an incomplete version of the Windows emulator. Before you can use it, Wine expects you first to download the Gecko and Mono packages and some free TrueType fonts.

Figure 3: 4MLinux loads Mozilla programs from the Internet – not as a native Linux programs – as Windows software, which it then integrates into the system using Wine.

This cumbersome procedure not only dumps non-free software on your system, but the detour via Wine also partly compromises any speed benefits the system might have on older hardware. For some games, you have no option for Linux integration, because they are only available as Windows or DOS versions.

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