Updated: April 3, 2009
When someone asks you to name a small Linux distro, under 100MB, names like Puppy and Damn Small Linux come to mind. Now, the featherweight category has another candidate, a 25MB fighter called Slitaz.
25MB sounds like an awfully little, so it begs a cliche questions: what can you possibly cram into 25MB of space and still maintain a functional distro? Well, the answer is - read on to find out. In this review, I tested Slitaz 1.0, the stable version.
Slitaz experience - like wrestling a badger
Badgers are known for being rather spirited and fierce for their relatively small size. Slitaz follows suit. The first thing you'll notice is a simple boot menu, written in French. Even though I don't speak French, it was rather easily to understand what the author intended. That said, I do think "neutral" distributions should go for English, as it is the most popular computer language around.
The boot is very fast. However, the boot will be slowed by a wizard asking you a few questions. Namely, you will have to configure your keyboard, language, screen resolution, and choose the sound driver.
Despite being small, Slitaz offers a broad range of resolutions and it did not have issues with my generic sound driver (in the virtual machine). Neither did it have issues with real hardware on my T42 laptop and picked up the native 1440x1050px resolution without problems.
In approx. 30 seconds, including the wizard configuration, you will reach the login screen. Please notice that Slitaz has several "special" users - console, exit, halt, and reboot. In other words, when you want to restart or shutdown your systems, you need to write down the names of these users into the login prompt and hit Enter. You won't find the conventional multiple-choice end-session button in Slitaz.
The desktop is simple, adorned in shades or dark red and maroon, with spots of orange and brown, feeling immensely retro-70.
Slitaz runs Joe's Windows Manager (JWM), a simple and lightweight manager also used in Damn Small Linux and most versions of Puppy. While the manager may not compete with heavyweight champions like KDE and Gnome, it is decent enough, with some modest 2D effects that add a pleasant depth to the experience.
After booting up and opening a few applications, Slitaz settled for approx. 40MB of RAM. This means that even machines with very little memory will be able to use the distro with excellent speed.
Like Damn Small Linux, Slitaz recognized the existing swap partition on the hard disk, belonging to a resident Ubuntu install, and mounted it, doubling its effective memory bank of 512MB.
Unlike DSL, Slitaz runs the new 2.6 kernel, which makes it more likely to cooperate with modern hardware.
Before I could test multimedia, I wanted to connect to a Windows machine and pull some files off it. Unfortunately, Slitaz has no Samba functionality yet.
Unfortunately, there was no Wireless. For now, Slitaz is a wired-only distro. This is one aspect of this distro that is truly lacking.
I wasn't unable to test the Windows audio and video compatibility. Flash was something I could check on Youtube, which I did. The Flash Player is not installed by default, so I had to manually install it. This turned to be quite a little project.
I downloaded the tar archive, extracted it and ran the installation script. It refused to run, complaining about outdated C libraries. Reading on Slitaz website, I discovered that Slitaz has a very handsome package management utility - we'll talk about it in greater detail soon.
The utility is used pretty much like apt-get, from the command line, against the list of available packages. The list for the stable version can be found on the official website. Among the offered choices was also the missing C library. So I installed it. I ran the Flash installer again, without success for the second time.
Reading some more, I found that Slitaz offers a package called get-flash-plugin, a utility that downloads and install the Flash plugin for the browser. So I had it installed first and then ran it in order to obtain the Flash Player itself.
However, neither did this help. Flash was not meant to be. And I could not check MP3 playback, because I had no Samba. A bit of a deadlock.
Slightly disappointed, I decided to check the repertoire (a French word) of applications included in the distro. Although Slitaz is half the size of DSL and a quarter the size of Puppy, it comes with a nice bunch of programs.
Multimedia packages include an audio player and a CD ripper. The Internet section includes Firefox Bon Echo (Firefox 2 essentially), an FTP client, an IRC program, and even a BitTorrent P2P app.
The office package is simple, luckily it can be easily fattened (soon).
Slitaz also has a device mounting utility called Mountbox, which can manually mount hard disks and USB disks. There was no need to mount the existing Ext3 partitions, though; they were mounted automatically during the boot.
Furthermore, when testing Slitaz on my T42 laptop, the Mountbox utility had no issues with a FAT32-formatted USB drive, mounting and unmounting it without problems.
There's also the powerful GParted utility.
The collection of program is small and useful - but not too useful. This is where software management comes into play.
Using the tazpkg utility, the user can quickly and easily install programs. For example, would you expect Skype to run on a 25MB distro? No, but there it is:
And here we have our first office program - AbiWord:
tazpkg is a very simple program. Just run tazpkg get-install against any of the programs listed on Slitaz website and you'll soon have a rich, fat arsenal of goodies. The command line use may not be for everyone, but 25MB kind of hush the critics really well.
Lastly, Slitaz uses a simple two-pane emelFM2 file manager. You can replace it with Thunar if you want.
Ah, yes, I owe you these. JWM with some basic 2D fun:
At 25MB, Slitaz cannot possibly satisfy every need. Slitaz is an incredibly light and fast distro, visually pleasing, stable, and well made. It has a solid, modest baseline of programs and a very convenient software management utility that makes it quite easy to expand. Other functions are lacking, like networking and automounting of drives. I'd like to see improved Wireless support, connectivity for Windows (Samba) and better multimedia.
Compared to DSL, it's approximately the same in terms of speed and usability, but it looks better. Puppy still leads, with wireless support and additional features that cannot be compensated for in such a tiny distro.
Overall, Slitaz has a lot of potential. It's a young distro, with an enthusiastic crew working on making it ever more fiercesome. You may also want to look into the Cooker version, the future version containing new stuff and improvements, while still remaining under 25MB.