Tinycore Linux – a light and nimble distro

Tinycore is an extremely small graphical linux distro, available for x86 systems. Tinycore consists of pretty much the bare minimum required for a graphical linux environment (namely a Linux 2.6 kernel, Busybox, Tiny X, and Fltk) clocking in at just 10mb. TC runs entirely within RAM, saving its self to disk when the ‘sync’command is used, or at shutdown.

TC is essentially a blank canvas. functional enough to use from the get go, but with enough potential to make a very handy machine.

TC has two main modes of opperation.

1. Cloud – Non-persistant, suited to users who wish for an uncluttered system – simply boot up, select the app you wish to use, it will be downloaded and installed from the repo. after a reboot, system will have returned to default.
Personally, I cannot get my head around why users would prefer this mode over a persistant install. this requires software to be redownloaded after every boot. also, if any configurations and other personal settings are required, these will be lost. not to mention any files saved locally (althoug you could still save to mounted devices outside of the route file system, e.g. /mnt/sdd1/myfile

2. Mount mode – Offers persistance. ‘boot’ dir on storage media is loaded into ram at boot. all installed exentions will be loaded from ‘tce’folder. in adition, a any other directory (such as home) can be set as persistant by editing te relavent script.

I installed TC on to my eeepc 900 as i was looking for a quick and nimble distro with fast boot and capable enough for everyday usage – Wifi, browser, documents, video, audio.

The tinycore team have developed their own ‘exention manager’ (called appbrowser) to handle the installation and management of new software, the ‘appaudit’ to handle dependencies, and various other graphical tools to handle system admin. making this a fairly easy to expand distro.

The graphical environment is very fast and nimble, but will require some adjustment for users familiar with other, more integrated desktop environments.

For example, by default, there is no system tray or file manager. You must either use the ‘wbar’ menu at the bottom, or right-click to access the FLTK menu. Some could argue its not a user friendly system when it takes 3 mouse clicks to check the time/date!

But ofcourse, you are perfectly at liberty to add those features, and most users most certainly will add a file manager, and various other ‘essentials’.

One thing that must be taken into careful consideration when using TC, is what extentions to add. Thanks to the active community, there are 100s, perhaps 1000s of great extentions available through the appbrowser, but not all would be smart installations. for example:

1. openoffice is available, but at 90mb, its already 9x the size of the OS itself – adding serious bulk to what was previously a slim sleek distro

2.Many exentions will have a list of dependencies as long as my arm, meaning, to use that software, you need to install a buch of other software too – again fattening up your system considerably.

3.Some games and media players reccomend the use of Xorg as opposed to Tiny X. Whereas this is technically possible, it does seem like a step backwards for a distro with lightweight asperations.

I have installed the following extentions to give ordinary functionality

1. midnight commander – console based file manager
2. opera – web browser
3. beaver – text editor
4. mplayer – video, audio player
5. abiword – wordprocessor
6. gnumeric – spreadsheet
7. pidgin – instant messenger
8. various utils, zip, rar, conky

TC on the 900 handles all of these applications very nicely. All apps load very quickly, and can be swapped between with lightning speed. certain apps (such as pidgin) would certainly benefit from a system tray – which can be installed. other than that, usage is very good.

One complaint would be the unorthodox window decorations (rather than the typical minimizing, maximizing, close it uses ‘maximize width’ and ‘maximize height’, with minimize at the top left). this often forces me to shift a maximised window aside so that i can right-click in order to select another window.

aditionally, when opera gets busy, with multiple tabs, i did wittness the occational hang up, which is easily remedied by closing some tabs.

another annoyance is the unreliablity of the appsaudit tool and the appsbrowser (on poor connections). i’ve had all my TC exentions broken by dependency errors when trying to delete software and failed installations requiring manual installation of dependencies to make them work. the whole proccess can be a bit ‘hit and miss’.

So, in conclusion, TC is a very promising distro, and has an enthusiastic community and dev team. i think this distro has a lot of potential for the future, and i will definitely be following its progress. if you are a linux newbie, avoid this distro – its probably a bit too hands on for you, and you will definitely struggle if you run in to trouble. but for everyone else, dive right in. its a refreshing change.

I hear that TC 2.10 is now available, and touts significant improvements to appsbrowser/appsaudit amoung others. defintely a fast moving distro!

4 out of 5

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