SliTaz GNU/Linux: The Extremity of Lightweight

My old desktop was just lying around, and I decided to equip it with a minimalist distro — something just enough to run a web browser. I wanted to use that machine because its screen and keyboard are positioned at just the right elevation.

So I started looking for lightweight distros that would start-up quick, respond within milliseconds, and shut down real fast. I suddenly remembered SliTaz, a distro that had once helped me rescue my XP during my dual-boot days.

It was just the right one — no bells and whistles, no claims to pack everything in a small ISO, and a usable desktop. There’s a reason I prefer SliTaz over Puppy or DSL — it has LXDE, which is far more user-friendly than JWM or IceWM or Fluxbox. What’s more, it’s got GTK+, for which there are plenty of themes available. Look at the screenshot above; I’ve applied Siva Flat Darkest theme with Abel font, and it looks so 2014!

Note, though, that it doesn’t have Murrine engines pre-installed, so it won’t be able to run Greybird or Numix out of the box. You’ll have to install the murrine package for that.

Installation

So I downloaded the SliTaz 4.0 core flavour (a whopping 34.4 MB). For some reason, the default flavour won’t work with UNetbootIn.

[Siderant: The default flavour does work with Linux Live USB Installer and Universal USB Installer, but not UNetbootIn. What I don’t understand is why the former two are available only for Windows.]

Without playing around in live mode, I ran the installer. It’s pretty straightforward — asks you the usual questions about the user, password, host name and partitions. (The keyboard layout and system language are asked at the first boot instead.) It took hardly a minute to install.

Performance

The boot-up and shutdown are both text-based. No Plymouth. But I don’t mind that; do you? Took roughly 25 seconds to boot and 3 to shut down on my desktop. As always, your mileage may vary.

Once booted, the first thing I did was fire up the task manager (LXTask) and check the RAM usage. With just the task manager running, it shows around 42 MB of RAM usage, out of which 7-8 MB was being used by the task manager itself. So theoretically, this kid can run with just 35 MB of RAM!

Browsers

Believe it or not, SliTaz comes with three web browsers packed into that tiny ISO.

One is Midori — perhaps the most popular browser among lightweight distros. No surprises there.

The second one is TazWeb, a homegrown browser, with no features. You read it right – no features at all. All it has is Back, Forward and Home buttons, and an address bar. End of story. No tabs, no history, no bookmarks, no nothing. And for a good reason. Basically, TazWeb serves the purpose of an SSB, so it doesn’t need those features anyway.

The third one is Retawq, a command line browser. I’m not particularly fond of those, so didn’t try it out.

Other apps

The usual ones:

  • A text editor (Leafpad)
  • An image viewer (Viewnoir)
  • A file manager (PCManFM)
  • A terminal (Sakura)

Nothing new there.

Interestingly, SliTaz also includes a lightweight HTTP and FTP server. And if you prefer a GUI on a server, it also has this nifty admin panel called SliTaz Panel.

Repo

The repo has some 3300+ packages for the stable version 4.0. Just for fun, I searched pkgs.slitaz.org for “browser”, and whoa! It’s got some browsers I had never heard of, and which aren’t available even in the SolydXK repo!

Conclusion

SliTaz is great for installation on secondary machines which you don’t use very often. It also makes a lightweight server. The repo has some rare software. And the performance has no match.

The only con is that its community doesn’t seem to be very active. The last stable release was somewhere in mid-2012, and there’s no predefined release cycle. Shouldn’t matter much on secondary machines though.

All said and done, I’d rate it 8 out of 10.

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