“At 25 MB, it has to be the smallest desktop distro ever created”. These were the words of Ladislav Bodnar in the most recent issue of Distrowatch Weekly when he announced this fresh and minuscule distribution as a new addition to the waiting list. Its name is SliTaz, and I was so intrigued about it that I tried it out.

The smallest distribution that I’ve used so far is Geexbox at 8MB. But, it can’t be considered as a complete “desktop” distro since it only specializes in playing multimedia files.

So what about SliTaz? As described in Distrowatch, SliTaz GNU/Linux is a mini distribution and live CD designed to run speedily on hardware with 128 MB of RAM. SliTaz uses BusyBox, a recent Linux kernel and GNU software. It boots with Syslinux and provides more than 200 Linux commands, the lighttpd web server, SQLite database, rescue tools, IRC client, SSH client and server powered by Dropbear, X window system, JWM (Joe's Window Manager), gFTP, Geany IDE, Mozilla Firefox, AlsaPlayer, GParted, a sound file editor and more. The SliTaz ISO image fits on a less than 30 MB media and takes just 80 MB of hard disk space.

I didn’t hesitate to get SliTaz because I wanted to compare it to the slightly larger and most popular micro distro DSL. By the way, you can get SliTaz GNU/Linux 1.0 from its download page HERE.

So, here is what I found out about this ridiculously “petit” distro:

SliTaz can be loaded as a LiveCD which I did, or through a bootable USB media. Once I fired up the LiveCD, the traditional boot options menu screen first appeared. The instructions are still in French so I didn’t care to dig further and just went on by pressing ENTER. Next was the local configuration or the language options, followed by kmap setup, soundcard selection, X configuration, and Login screen. The default user name is: HACKER and the root password is: root.

In no time, I was inside SliTaz’s desktop which utilizes JWM (Joe's Window Manager). The desktop is pretty simple and uncluttered, and also incredibly responsive. JWM is still fairly limited in functionality, like you can’t instantly edit the panels or add shortcut icons on the desktop. The good thing is that it’s extremely fast and lightweight, and I know that’s what SliTaz is aiming for. To my surprise, there was this “Desktop Effects” option which added shadow and fade effects to windows and menus if enabled. That was a cool feature I think, but not really useful.

When testing a distro, the software application that I always open first is a web browser. In SliTaz, I found out that I was already connected to the internet when I ran Firefox without having to configure anything. The audio is also properly configured and my screen resolution was correctly set.

At 25MB, SliTaz includes some amazing list of free/open-source software applications out-of-the-box. To name some, there’s ePDFView (PDF Viewer), ISO Master, Burnbox (DVD/CD ISO Burner), Leafpad (Text Editor), GPicView (Image Viewer), mtPaint (Image Editor), Asunder (CD Ripper), Alsaplayer (Audio Player), mhWaveEdit (Audio Editor), Geany (IDE), and a few games.

Additional packages can be downloaded and installed using the text-based Tazpkg manager. Tazpkg will also let you list, remove, extract, pack, search, repack, upgrade, or get information about available or installed packages. Using the Tazpkg Shell, I encountered difficulty when I tried to download and install Python or just about any other packages that were available from the repo. I just can’t find a way to make it work. Then I opened xterm and tried to install Python there. It worked (as shown on the screenshots below).

Another important feature that I would like to point out is the option to install SliTaz on the hard disk. “SliTaz Installer” can be accessed inside “System Tools”. One problem with the installer is that the language used is still in French. Anyway, I think the installer is still pretty much under development so the language issue is not really a big deal for me.

After having extensively used SliTaz GNU/Linux 1.0, I can honestly say that it is a highly capable distro with a bright future ahead. It is ideal for rescuing a broken system, and even for full desktop usage especially when employed on older computer machines since it is fast and ultra-lightweight. I just hope that those minor bugs that I’ve encountered will be fixed by the next release version. Despite those slight troubles, I’m keeping my SliTaz GNU/Linux LiveCD just in case. DSL should watch out, because this new distro on the block is surely here to stay.

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