Not so long ago, IBM, in its ads, made a bold claim that read “Linux is everywhere”. While a Windows-crazy fanboy would be quick to repudiate that claim, any levelheaded IT guy would tell you how true that is. Linux can run on almost any kind of device, be it a gigantic supercomputer or a tiny mobile gadget.
When it comes to normal desktop computers, every user is not privileged enough to use a Quad core beast for their daily computing needs. This is where lightweight and tiny Linux distributions come in. They are distros that use very few resources as opposed to traditional Linux-based operating systems like Ubuntu and Fedora. Such distributions are useful if you are stuck with a low-spec'ed computer or are planning to blow the dust off that Pentium-II rotting in your attic.
So, without further ado, here's a list of tiniest Linux distributions that will help you resuscitate your dying PC:
Damn Small Linux
Damn Small Linux or DSL is a Linux distribution that is exactly what it says on the tin. It is a fully functional distro that comes packed in a Live CD taking up just 50MB worth of space. DSL is specially designed to run on older machines and has a ridiculously low set of requirements. All you need is a 486 or higher processor and a RAM greater than 8MB. DSL comes loaded with popular applications like Vim, XMMS, Firefox and naim. A few years ago, Damn Small Linux was one of the most popular distributions. However, due to infighting among the project's originators and main developers, there haven't been any new releases since 2008. Also, it appears like the future of this project is uncertain; so don't expect to make this your primary distribution.
SliTaz, which stands for Simple Light Incredible Temporary Autonomous Zone, is a Linux distribution with a root filesystem. The tiny distro boots from a CD or USB device into an Openbox desktop. Moreover, much like Tiny Core, SliTaz can also be booted from the computer's RAM. The project is new, actively developed and is quite similar to DSL. To run SliTaz, all you need is a 16MB of RAM and an x86 or i486 processor. The latest stable release of Slitaz is version 3.0 that was released in March 2010.
Puppy Linux is a lightweight Linux distribution that can entirely run from RAM. Upon booting, users can enjoy a fully functional ICEWM desktop with popular applications like AbiWord, Firefox and Mplayer. Puppy Linux comes in a cute little ISO image that weighs just 100MB. As with other lightweight distributions, it has a modest set of requirements making it a great resuscitator for those old Pentium machines. The open source project is actively developed with its last release being in April 2011. To run the puppy you need at least 128MB of RAM; however, it is possible to run it on a computer with RAM as low as 48MB.
Tiny Core Linux
Tiny Core Linux is a minimal Linux GUI desktop based on Linux 2.6 kernel, BusyBox, Tiny X and Fltk. The fully functional yet minimalistic distribution comes packed in an itsy-bitsy image of 10MB. The minimum requirements to run Tiny Core are 48MB RAM, and an i486DX processor. If, however, you have a PC with specs lower than that then don't worry, there's an even tinier version of Tiny Core called Micro Core. Micro Core Linux is a stripped-down variant of Tiny Core Linux with a graphical desktop and requirements being as low as 36MB of RAM.
The real unique thing about Tiny Core is the fact that it is an operating system designed to run from the RAM rather than the hard disk. Tiny Core loads itself into RAM from storage, then mounts applications on storage, or installs applications to RAM from storage. Hence, besides being fast, you get a clean system on every reboot. Tiny Core Linux, according to the developers, is a “nomadic ultra small desktop capable of booting from CD ROM, Pen drive, or frugally from a hard drive.” Despite being designed for such a niche audience, Tiny Core is actively developed, with the last release being on June 18, 2011.
BasicLinux or BL3 is a Linux distribution specially optimized for old PCs with very low configurations. The Slackware-based distribution uses a small-kernel and BusyBox to provide a low-RAM Linux, capable of performing basic tasks like web browsing and email. BasicLinux also includes MagicPoint a minimal presentation tool similar to Microsoft Powerpoint. The minimum requirements for using BL3 are -- an Intel 386 processor, 3MB RAM (yep, that's not an error), and a floppy drive or DOS. The latest version is 3.5 which can be downloaded from HERE.