We round up some top small Linux distributions

Conclusion

As I mentioned at the start, all the small distributions in this article have their uses. Some will help revive an old unused computer, and some will help you get the maximum performance out of an adequately equipped machine, while others will help you carry a familiar environment in a portable medium. (See Table 1 for a comparison.)

Table 1

Small Distro Roundup

 

Porteus

Puppy Linux

Slax

SliTaz

Tiny Core

Based on

Slackware

None

Debian Stretch

None

None

Installation

Involved

Straightforward

Involved

Involved

Involved

Desktop Environment

Various

JWM

Fluxbox

Openbox

FLWM

Package Management

Graphical

Graphical

Text

Graphical

Graphical

Ratings

Bundled Apps

2

5

2

4

2

Usability

4

5

4

4

4

Support

3

4

3

4

3

Documentation

3

4

3

4

4

Ratings are based on a five-point scale with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest.

Tiny Core Linux is the leanest of the lot. You can use Tiny Core on the most resource-strapped computer, but it does have its shortcomings. For starters, the distribution doesn't ship with any real applications, and you'll have to spend time with its quirky tools, converting the basic installation into a usable desktop. You'll have to download the installer as well, which doesn't ship with the recommended Tiny Core variant. You'll also have to familiarize yourself with Tiny Core's way of doing things.

SliTaz is slightly less esoteric. The distribution does ship in a more usable shape straight out of the box; you'll still have to spend some time with the package manager to tailor the environment to your requirements. Also, in order to get the most from the distribution you'll have to read through the documentation and spend some time familiarizing yourself with some of the custom tools.

In my opinion, Puppy Linux is still the top dog when it comes to pressing old computers back into active duty. On the plus side, I particularly like Puppy's default software collection, which is simply unrivalled by any other distribution in this article. Unless you have very particular needs, it'll be quite a while before you fire up Puppy's package management app. On the flip side, Puppy might offer too many options for a new user.

Although all the options in the article can run from a USB, I personally recommend Porteus and Slax as the best options if you're looking to take a familiar environment with you. Porteus scores over Slax, because it ships in a more ready-to-use state than Slax's bare-bones environment. Another deciding factor between the two can be your familiarity with the underlying base distro. Debian users might prefer Slax, but with the graphical USM package manager, Porteus' use of Slackware will appeal to many users. You can, of course, use the customization tools to spin custom versions.

Note however that while you'll have no issues getting both Porteus and Slax to boot on older machines with BIOS, getting them to work on newer UEFI-equipped computers is a little tricky. Porteus now supports UEFI firmware, but to get it to boot on such machines, you'll have to disable the SecureBoot feature. On the other hand, the developer of Slax has promised to add support for UEFI firmware once the project gets 50 patrons on Patreon. Several users on the forum boards of both distros have suggested workarounds, but I haven't been able to get them to work reliably on all my machines. I would caution against disabling the SecureBoot security feature unless you know what you're doing.

The Author

Mayank Sharma is a technology writer, and you can read his scribblings in various geeky magazines on both sides of the pond.

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