back to article Damn Small Linux returns after a 12-year gap

Seventeen years after its last major version, an old favorite, Damn Small Linux, is back with a new 2024 release. An alpha-test version of a new release of Damn Small Linux appeared at the start of the month. The last major release, DSL 4, appeared in 2007, and the last point release, a development preview of DSL 4.11, was in …

  1. OffTropics

    "[...] entry on the application menu was spelled "brawsers", but fearlessly you dared it up.

    1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

      I think this is meant to imply that if the worst issue you can find with an operating system is a spelling mistake, then something impressive is going on.

  2. Autonomous Comrade
    Coat

    DSL 2024 is not as svelte as it used to be – but who is?

    If I had to hazard a guess, I'd probably say svelte...

    ...It's written in JS, nvm.

    1. spireite Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: DSL 2024 is not as svelte as it used to be – but who is?

      If only the main person involved was called Jason

  3. Nik 2

    "...entry on the application menu was spelled "brawsers". While the updare fixed that... "

    Oh, the irony...

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      risk it!

      updare is what you do when refreshing alpha-level software

    2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      [Author here]

      Whoops!

      I have notified the editors...

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Happy

        “…and had them fired, and now the rest of the article will be finished at great expense and in a completely different style by a completely different team?”

  4. werdsmith Silver badge

    We have Alpine now, to put in our containers.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Alpine?

      Alpine hasn't had a new stable update since June of '22 with ver. 2.26 ... and why would I want to put something that small into a container?

      Yes, I know what you meant.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Alpine?

        https://alpinelinux.org/releases/

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Alpine?

          https://alpineapp.email/

          https://repo.or.cz/alpine.git

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Alpine?

        Hi Jake, please stop peddling misinformation.

  5. keithpeter Silver badge
    Pint

    Hardy Heron...

    The desktop installation CD was a live ISO (although not hybrid I think). I recollect that the 5.0X Ubuntus had a live CD and an installer CD that were separate.

    Ubuntu 6.06 and 8.04 both came with a Desktop, browser, photo viewer, GIMP, music player (no mp3 codecs then cos patents in US). GParted and some other tools. In Hardy network-manager was sufficiently functional to automatically configure the wifi for supported cards.

    Good luck to this new-old DSL variant.

  6. John Robson Silver badge

    A CD you say... I'm sure I have a CD drive gathering dust somewhere...

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      I'm half-tempted to see if I can find that old 3.5" floppy with QNX on it - desktop, os, and browser in 1.44MB... I'm sure I have a floppy drive somewhere around.

      1. Mike007 Bronze badge

        I remember when I first started using Linux. I was annoyed at needing multiple floppies so found one that was usable for my needs (NAT router/web server) and only required one floppy! (no chance of remembering the name)

      2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        [Author here]

        https://winworldpc.com/product/qnx/144mb-demo

        Enjoy.

        Screenshot gallery:

        http://toastytech.com/guis/qnxdemo.html

        Adding extras:

        https://openqnx.com/node/259

        Adding features:

        http://qnx.puslapiai.lt/qnxdemo/qnx_demo_disk.htm

        Tools for working with it:

        https://github.com/audiophyl/qnxdemotools

        A tribute to its creator, the late Dan Hildebrand:

        http://web.archive.org/web/20011106140711/http://www.qnx.com/demodisk/how.html

        1. Kev99 Silver badge

          Just for fun I went to the WinWorld web site. It's amazing how many perfectly serviceable and functional applications there were that were under 5MB in size. Little to no bloat, just install and run. Then along came mictosoft windows and bloat, fluff, bells, and whistles became the norm.

    2. jake Silver badge

      DVD drives are supposed to be backward compatible and should support CDs. Cheap ones sometimes aren't.

      caveat emptor

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        They should... the CD drive I was referring to is actually a CD/DVD writer, but it's IDE and on a shelf in the loft gathering dust.

        I've probably got a couple of them in fact, but since there are now no (running) machines in the house which have an IDE port, it's not the easiest thing to get up and running.

        Even something like DSL - I can't imagine there are many situations where a CD would be the choice boot media over a USB stick nowadays - if any...

        1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

          There are a few, but they're a bit specialist.

          USB sticks generally take an ISO image anyway, but ISO images specifically are useful for workstation or server motherboards with network media redirection built in

          There may be instances where you need to boot a system but don't want to have USB enabled.

          The media redirection detailed above may require legacy USB support to be enabled, but legacy USB support can sometimes cause issues with PCI passthrough in virtualisation. I'd have to check if USB sticks themselves work without legacy support set to on.

          I'll grant that actual physical media use has dropped to the point that 'DVD' and 'CD' images do not always fit on an actual DVD-R, and most of the time a USB stick, or a Zalman VE USB CD/DVD emulator is a better idea.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            "There are a few, but they're a bit specialist."

            I'm struggling to think of many - as you say it's far more typical to have a pxe boot, or a management interface system which takes an image and fakes a CD - but those generally don't care all that much about size.

            I regularly boot machines that *think* they have a CD drive, but in reality they're just virtualised systems.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "A CD you say... I'm sure I have a CD drive gathering dust somewhere..."

      Odds are that copying the ISO image to Yumi or Ventoy will allow a USB pendrive boot. :-)

    4. PhilipN Silver badge

      CD-ROM - no less

      I remember those but refuse to feel old.

      1. Bebu Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: CD-ROM - no less

        "I remember those but refuse to feel old."

        I remember BSDI Unix for the i386 was available on CD-ROM or a shoebox or two 1.44Mb floppies and lusting after a cdrom drive which were at that time mostly scsi and expensive but then BSD/386 was something like USD995.00 back then (early 90s?) when you could still purchase proper operating systems. ;)

        When your first PC was an XT compatible with Hercules mga and two 5.25" floppies, CD-ROMs seem positively modern.

        Never occurred to me that my various notebooks and desktops with CD readers/writers actually had DVD drives not that most of them have ever been used.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Unhappy

    A "disagreement"

    Sounds kind of sad to split a team over a disagreement. Now we have Damn Small 12 Years After, and Tiny Core.

    Well, they were both competent, but they seem to both be flailing alone in the same general direction.

    I'm not sure this is a benefit for everyone.

  8. jake Silver badge

    Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

    I'm sure I can find a use for it somewhere around here.

    Thanks, Liam.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

      I'm not sure that I can find a use for it.

      For something small and (semi-)embedded, Tiny Core is brilliant.

      For anything else, particularly if you're looking for something with a window manager/desktop interface, you'll almost certainly have the space for a more mainstream Linux

      I fail to see the niche that DSL will fill these days. Possibly bootable recovery tools, but I haven't had to resort to one of those for a few years.

      1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        Re: Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

        I find myself resorting to bootable recovery tools more nowadays. Mainly because my "root disks" are now almost exclusively NVME and always die after about 18 months. Unlike rotating disks, when they die they seem to become completely useless with no warning at all (Btrfs DUP doesn't help because it looks like a whole chip dies) so I need to boot from a Ventoy stick to set up a temporary bootable partition on one of my rotating disks.

        Which reminds me, will this new DSL boot from Ventoy? And is it usable as a live CD?

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

        "I fail to see the niche that DSL will fill these days."

        Older, still working, kit such as netbooks etc, especially since this release is 32-bit only and some distros are reducing or eliminating 32-bit support nowadays.

        1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

          Older, still working, kit such as netbooks etc,

          Indeed. I've got an old WinXP netbook kicking around, which I think I need to finally admit is at the end of its useful life, so may be a candidate for installing DSL on. I'm not convinced that I'll have a valid use case for it once it's installed, so would largely be doing it for the heck of it, but sometimes that's sufficient justification.

        2. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

          Re: Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

          I'm honestly looking at my drawers, thinking about the old netbook sitting in there right now might well be a suitable victim experimental home for DSL...

      3. jake Silver badge

        Re: Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

        I have a pile of old corporate laptops that are perfectly good. I give them away to people who need them. This kind of distro is a good option to include with them.

        I'll also look at it as the supervisor for several ATMega328 controlled greenhouses.

        Normally I use a cut-down variation of Slackware in these kind of rolls, but having a backup OS "just in case" is always prudent.

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

      I'd like a Linux that runs acceptably on a Thinkpad X32. In Ye Olde Days it ran - at various times - Windows XP, OS/2 (eComStation) and Ubuntu quite happily and is now crawling along with AntiX.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

      Ass kisser.

      Drop dead.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Cool, a new toy to fiddle about with.

        "Ass kisser."

        Thanking somebody who pointed out a distro that I missed is ass kissing in your tiny little mind? You poor, poor thing.

        "Drop dead."

        After you, Sweetpea.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Small?

    My Osborne 1 ran CP/M-80:

    - From a 192K floppy

    - Using 64K of RAM

    The CP/M OS occupied approximately 5K at the top of memory, leaving the rest for applications.

    Of course, some applications (dBase-II comes to mind) needed more space than 59K, so dBase-II used overlays which were brought into an "overlay space" as needed.

    Yup......now that really is small!!!!

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Small?

      Back in the day.... (a long time ago), you could configure an RT-11 kernel to run in 1.5kB.

      We could run a full avionics simulator on a 56kB PDP-11 using RSX11-M with enough ram left over for other users to edit and do Fortran compilations.

      Now we have simple apps using 200Mb just to get going. Madness.

      I had to increase the Virtual memory of one app earlier today to 1.5Gb because it ran out of ram with 1Gb. More madness.

      1. DrBobK
        Headmaster

        Re: Small?

        Indeed. I ran a very small RT-11 setup on a hand-me-down 11-73 that was somewhat resource limited. Enough for me to learn DECUS C on and to use to control experimental hardware and log data using a hand-me-down CED card with digital and analog I/O. No GUI though :-)

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Small?

        "Now we have simple apps using 200Mb just to get going. Madness."

        Most modern apps probably use more RAM for graphical assets than the entire code base of VisiCalc :-)

      3. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward Bronze badge

        Re: Small?

        Not to mention the terabytes of storage required.

        A pox on bloat.

        Speaking of which, SymbOS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SymbOS and http://www.symbos.de/facts.htm) for the Z80 also looks good, when compared to the bloatedness that is called Windows.

    2. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Small?

      And I suppose your CP/M had a GUI on top of a multitasking OS kernel, access control, plug & play peripherals, and a network stack? I watch these 8-bit restoration channels on YT and all I can tell myself is how eternally grateful I am that the days of struggling with those clunkers are over.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Small?

        On the other hand, consider that I can create and print a document using Wordstar or create and print a spreadsheet using Visicalc (both running on DOS 3.3) MUCH faster than I can perform the exact same task(s) using anything that Redmond is currently pushing. Using DESQview I can even run them simultaneously, side by side, with copy/paste between them possible, on just 4 megs of RAM.

  10. train_wreck

    I run Alpine on my router, and the whole install of base environment with no GUI and various network daemons like nftables/DNS/DHCP/IPSec comes up to 390MB. I will say that Alpine has been a joy to use, and helpfully can operate with read-only root similar to Cisco IOS . I’ve been an Arch user since 2007 but they are far from being a small distro. One of the best parts of Alpine has been (rejoice!) no systemd!!

  11. CommonBloke
    Pint

    Here's one for SliTaz

    Whose image is still hovering around 52MB, complete with a GUI. Once loaded from the LiveCD, you can eject it (or the USB stick) and everything will keep working. Too bad it sorely lacks built in network/wifi drivers, I've only ever got a working wifi on one computer, out of a dozen or so that I tried it on.

  12. Long John Silver
    Pirate

    A trend to set?

    I have fond memories of MS-DOS, CPM, and Torch's CPN. Each was obliged to be compact in order to work with limited RAM and simple processors. Optional bells and whistles had to be provided from elsewhere. Early MS Windows piggybacked on MS-DOS.

    The various iterations of MS Windows (I know nothing of macOS) accumulated bloat; this may be its eventual undoing. The Linuxen started off slim. The Kernel, common apart from tweaks amongst Linux flavours, defines the OS. Everything else in a particular distribution is an add-on designed to serve well some category of Linux use and/or users.

    Linux Kernels have increased in size considerably, but this seems in part a necessity for accommodating a huge variety of base hardware products. However, the developers have some choice over what goes into the core, and what might be relegated to distribution designers to incorporate, or not.

    Early versions of openSUSE (perhaps other distributions also) contained a powerful text-based utility enabling relative novices such as I to tune and compile the kernel according to taste, e.g. for a particular specification of central processor. Thereby, kernel size was reduced, and perhaps more clearly targeted operation enhanced its efficiency. Obviously, devotees of the internal complexities of the OS can do this off their own bats.

    Nowadays, most Linuxen are aimed at IT support technicians and/or at individual users, wishing to deploy them 'out of the box'. Fast central processors, cheaper RAM, and peripheral storage, rapidly accessible and potentially of enormous capacity, abound.

    If Linux is to gain greater foothold amongst office workers and home users, then acceptance of bloating may be necessary. However, Linux, amongst major OSs, is unique because of (mainly) open-source development involving divers private enterprise and independent operators. Thus far, the kernel development team has maintained a good grip, and is not under commercial imperatives to rush through novelty whilst neglecting to trim legacy code. The worst outcome for Linux would be a pathway split in Kernel development resulting in incompatibilities, rendering it difficult for end-users to take software off the shelf.

    1. Bebu Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: A trend to set?

      《Early versions of openSUSE (perhaps other distributions also) contained a powerful text-based utility enabling relative novices such as I to tune and compile the kernel according to taste, e.g. for a particular specification of central processor. Thereby, kernel size was reduced, and perhaps more clearly targeted operation enhanced its efficiency. Obviously, devotees of the internal complexities of the OS can do this off their own bats.》

      I am surprised there isn't a tool for this. Boot a generic (everything + kitchen sink) kernel run something like Tru64's doconfig to configure and build as custom kernel tailored for your hardware as detected/probed by the generic kernel. You would probably also explicitly configure hot pluggable hardware that you might use.

      Certainly in pre RHEL days I recall building minimal tailored Redhat 7.2 (2.4?) kernels without modules which I think also didn't require initrd support. Then hardware became cheap (both senses) and life is short. ;)

      Perhaps future security concerns might lead to revisiting this.

  13. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

    Moved on

    I've moved on and have settled on Linux Mint (for now). Small size isn't a unique selling point if we have Terabyte hard-disks and Gigabytes of RAM memory in our laptops.

    People simply expect certain features to be present and they aren't on a small Linux distro like DSL.

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Moved on

      People simply expect certain features to be present and they aren't on a small Linux distro like DSL.

      DSL is now much bigger than Ubuntu (let alone Lubuntu) was ten years ago. I really can't think of any features I use now which I didn't use then.

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Re: Moved on

        > I really can't think of any features I use now which I didn't use then

        Yes. Whenever I hear about a new release of anything: O/S's, apps, browsers ... anything, the only question I have is what will I be able to do, that I cannot already do?

        And far too often the answer is nothing.

  14. Blackjack Silver badge

    Old versions of DSL could run with only 256 of ram but that was a really long time ago.

    I am happy to see this back but I will wait for at least a Beta.

    1. jake Silver badge

      "Old versions of DSL could run with only 256 of ram"

      If you go back far enough, Linux ran in 2megs of RAM, 4megs (at least) if you wanted to compile stuff for yourself, and 8 if you wanted Xwindows. It could be run from a single floppy drive, booting the kernel from one disk, and then swapping that out for the root file system.

      1. Blackjack Silver badge

        Yeah but it was text only and umm... early versions of Linux weren't noob friendly.

        1. jake Silver badge

          "Yeah but it was text only"

          Did you see where I mentioned the X windows system?

          "and umm... early versions of Linux weren't noob friendly."

          We were all Linux noobs back then. Strangely, none of us whined about it being "too hard".

          1. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward Bronze badge

            We were all Linux noobs back then. Strangely, none of us whined about it being "too hard".

            Plus there was no Google to help you out when you got stuck...

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: We were all Linux noobs back then. Strangely, none of us whined about it being "too hard".

              And netsplits always seemed to happen just when the one person who could help finally got onto IRC ...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Jake nobody cares about the old days you ancient tart

  15. LateAgain

    Damn

    (Joke intended)

    DSL was TINY.

    Nowadays I the smallest ISO I boot is systemrescuecd.

    That has stayed "one CD" size.

  16. ldo

    Waiting For “Damn Small BSD”

    Well, some people seem to think Linux is getting too big for its boots, don’t they ...

  17. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    I used to like DSL, so perhaps this will be a usefully shrunk version of AntiX which I have running on a couple of old Thinkpads but which is horribly slow to the point of unusable.

    Bloat is a real problem in Linux. I used to run Lubuntu on an original EeePC (the woman on the beach one) with a 4GB SSD.

    1. Blackjack Silver badge

      Ubuntu used to have a install online only minimum install, unfortunately that has been dead for years. I think it even used a lighter that usual Windows manager?

  18. Geoff Campbell Silver badge
    Linux

    What problem is this solving?

    Yeah, I know, Bloat is Bad(tm). But I can put together a Raspberry Pi with a good fraction of a terabyte of fast storage for, I dunno, a bit over £100. I priced up a Pi5 with a 128GB of refurb'ed NVMe storage the other day when embroiled in a similar conversation, and it was significantly under £100, in fact - I think £89, but I might be misremembering the exact figure

    It's nice to be able to keep really old hardware running, sure, I get that. But let's not pretend that it's a productive use of time. It's a hobby that is a fun way to waste some of a weekend, and if I'm reconditioning a twenty-year-old machine, I'll be using a contemporary OS on it, because I'm weird like that.

    Anyway, go ahead, downvote me all you like. It's your own time you're wasting.

    GJC

  19. nightflier
    Linux

    Memory lane

    I had to dig out my old Toshiba Libretto with a Pentium 120 and 32 MB of RAM with DSL on it. Yup, booted right up like it was 2005 again.

    1. Bebu Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Memory lane

      "booted right up like it was 2005 again."

      Careful what you wish for - 2005 Bush II second term, YouTube, new pope, Katrina and silly buggers in Gaza and a variety of other ghastlies.

      Sadly actually not all that different from 2024.

      [Insert the Dylan lyric.]

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Memory lane

        "[Insert the Dylan lyric.]"

        Lads shouldn't 'ave t'play in a place like this.

        Kids shouldn't 'ave t'grow up in soot and muck.

        From a 1942 British Ministry of Information film, scripted by Dylan Thomas.

  20. vincent himpe

    where is the time

    a bootloader had to fit in the first 512 bytes of a floppy.... now something is considered "small" if it "only" needs 3 gigabyte of storage.

  21. Grogan Silver badge

    Wow, that's nice news. That was an awesome little swiss army knife distro, I used to keep that handy. They even made it look nice, for being so light weight.

    I found an old screenshot, I don't know the date but it's named dsl23.png, so version 2.3? It uses Linux 2.4. Using 23 Mb of RAM booted up with a decent GUI. I remember this being my favourite release, I loved the ringed planet and colour scheme. That's fake transparency though, it's the desktop bgimage. I positioned it so the rings match :-)

    Damn Small Linux - dsl23.png

  22. Grunchy Silver badge

    Meanwhile, the Kolibri OS fits on a single 1.44MB diskette, and the entire system can be downloaded as a 40MB iso CD image.

    (Sneer if you want, but I am super impressed! It is technologically similar to Win95 yet works just fine on my 3800x Ryzen.)

  23. bernmeister

    Small?

    I had to double think here about the meaning of "damn small OS". Remember early systems? Just looking at Windows 3.1 requirements makes you wonder why we are so used to bloat that a 3.3G OS is called damn small. There is a real opportnity here for the development of a genuinly small OS with a friendly GUI and interfaces.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like