DSL 4.2: A Good Thing that Comes in Small Package

DSL (Damn Small Linux) is a minuscule distro that is based on Knoppix. It has a business card size of around 50MB (48.5 MB to be exact). The main aim of DSL is still pretty much the same when it first started, and that is to provide those with ancient computer hardware a highly functional and capable desktop loaded with just the right amount of essential software applications.

My last peek at Damn Small Linux was with version 3.4.3. So I decided that it is about time to have a look at the latest release which is 4.2.5 and see what’s up. I downloaded the ISO image, and then tested it on VMWare. I used only 128MB of virtual RAM which is lower than what’s recommended. It is said that DSL can even run on machines with only 16MB of RAM. You can get DSL from its project’s download page HERE.

Here’s my in-depth look at DSL 4.2.5:

There are plenty of ways to run DSL. You can use it as a live CD which is ideal for rescuing a broken system. For those who travel a lot, DSL can be installed on a USB stick. You can also install it directly on your hard drive. You can even run it within a Windows operating system through virtualization.

Once the ISO image is loaded, you will have a choice to begin or see the boot time options. I didn’t have to add any parameters and just did a normal boot. In a blink of an eye, I was taken to DSL’s main desktop. Up to now, I’m still amazed at the super fast boot speed and wished that bigger or regular-sized distros can do the same.

Look and Feel:
DSL 4.2.5 is utilizing Joe’s Window Manger (JWM) by default which I find user-friendlier than Fluxbox Window Manager (FWM). However, you can quickly switch to FWM if you prefer. JWM is not really as customizable especially when you weigh it against XFCE or Gnome. But, I love the default dark look and I wanted to keep it that way. The desktop theme looks a lot better now compared to before. The default wallpaper has a modern feel to it and there’s now a desktop system monitor. DSL has really no flashy eye-candy whatsoever. The overall look is just plain and simple and just what I expect for in an extremely lightweight distro.

Software/Package Management:
Damn Small Linux as always, crammed as many useful software applications as possible. Here is a long list of pre-installed packages:

*Dillo and *Firefox web browser *Netrik text-based web browser *Ted word processor *Sylpheed email client *Xzgv picture viewer *Xpaint image editor *emelFM file manager *Naim instant messaging client *VoIP Gphone *Beaver GUI text editor *Scheme In A Grid spreadsheet *Xpdf PDF reader *XMMS audio and video player *Vim *Assorted Xbase utilities (Xcalc etc.) *ssh, sshd *betaftpd *Sqlite *Nano *MS Office Viwer *Postscript Viewer *AxY FTP *Telnet client *Microcom *Midnight Commander *Bash Burn, CD Burning App *Fast and Light GUI Admin tools *Monkey web server *VNCviewer *Rdesktop

…and more!

Amazing list isn’t it? The only downside is that some of these programs are still in their older versions. Like Mozilla Firefox is still in version 1.0.6.

You can also use Debian’s Advanced Packaging Tool if you want to get or download additional packages.

Stability/Hardware Support:
DSL handled my Virtual hardware quite well. It properly detected the audio, video, and USB. Ethernet was already working without the need for additional configurations. I also had no problem switching to different screen resolutions. I find DSL Control Panel very handy for setting up several key hardware and software components.

I've encountered minor problems in DSL 4.2.5, like the occasional failure to switch between window managers. Though, I still think that the general stability and security of DSL is exceptional based on my overall evaluation after using and testing it for an extended period of time. Its speed and responsiveness is also very noticeable despite using lesser RAM.

I have used several versions of DSL already and I would say that there are significant progresses in each and every release. Version 4.2.5 is no different and had some noteworthy improvements over its predecessor. However, in spite of all the changes made, Damn Small Linux is still Damn Small Linux; fast, dependable, efficient and very much valuable. Hats off to DSL!


  1. Interesting and good review. I like smaller distros also like Zenwalk but I've never used DSL before. Does it do well when installed on a hard drive? I mean, I want to know if anyone is still using it as a full desktop OS?

  2. @ mike: DSL runs good when u install it on a hard-drive. and its easy. i'm using it on an old laptop which became kinda fast when i dumped windows 98 and installed DSL!

  3. I've done several "frugal" installs that all work wonderfully, resurrecting four old laptops (all pentium 1, 28MB/48MB/48MB/80MB or ram) and playing around on Virtual PC.

  4. On my commodity P3 desktop, I'm running a frugal-toram DSL (dual-booted with Debian Etch). I've modded the fan out of my power supply and also cool the undervolted 566 MHz CPU passively with a Zalman CNPS-3000+. After the PC finishes booting DSL, it ceases to produce any noise after switching off the last moving part, which is the HDD. That also reduces this silent PC's consumption to around 31 Watts - which is pretty neat, I must add! :) I operate another P3 that has the same system as above, but this one runs at 25 Watts, must be because of the lighter graphics (again with DSL).
    Note that I'm typing this very message from DSL on that box right now! =)

    So YES, it _is_ a very useful distro indeed!

  5. How to download it