A guided tour of some notable and peculiar Linux distributions

The Dear Little Things

No problem, there are also Linux distributions for old resource-challenged systems. One of the first, H. J. Lu's Boot/Root [27], ran on 5.25-inch floppy disks in 1991. To start the Linux from the hard drive, the user still had to readjust the master boot record by hand. The popularity of Boot/Root was therefore limited.

MCC Interim Linux [28], on the other hand, may be a concept familiar to a few Linux veterans; MCC stands for Manchester Computing Centre. The diskette collection provided a rudimentary Unix environment from 1992 onward. It's been a long, long time, but even in its smallest variant, the kernel would likely hardly fit on a floppy today.

This is probably the reason why Freesco [29], which promises to launch from a floppy disk with 1.44MB of space, relies on an old kernel. Freesco has nothing to do with the SCO Group [30] – the name stands for "Free Cisco." Freesco seeks a firmware alternative for commercial Cisco routers. To start the system, you just need to copy the fresco.version_no file to a floppy disk.

Freesco uses a really old 2.0 series kernel; the last version 0.4.5 comes from March 2014. Since then, incidentally, the main developer has been seeking a successor [31] to modernize the underlying library.

Slightly larger, but still puny as ever, is Tiny Core Linux (TCL) [32], whose latest 64-bit variants are available as Core Pure (12MB) and Tiny Core Pure (24MB). The latest editions bear version number 7.2 are from July 2016. TCL does not consider itself a stand-alone Linux distribution, instead, offering only a kernel with BusyBox and a basic FLTK desktop (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Tiny Core Linux is modular and needs very little space in its simplest variant.

Damn Small Linux [33] really is damn space-saving with its 50MB images, although the last release 4.4.11 dates back to September 27, 2012, and the website has not been accessible since.

The bootable image of the easily configured eisfair server system [34] with kernel 2.22.0 weighs in at only 54MB, but the system is still under active development. The ISOs of the latest versions of its successor, eisfair-ng, from February, already take up 260MB (64-bit) or 190MB (32-bit). Several different eisfair editions exist today, including a version for the Raspberry Pi.

The Austrian distribution Grml [35], pronounced "grummel," is conspicuous by its name and its popularity with admins. Grml is a Debian-based rescue system, whose small 64-bit variant is 230MB in size. The latest version originates from November 2014. The developers posted an announcement in January 2016 declaring that Grml is still alive and explaining that a new release has been on hold pending resolution of a udev issue that "is visible only if you do not use systemd" [36].

The best-known mini Linux still goes by the name Puppy (Figure 11). Puppy Linux [37] is not a Linux distro, write the developers, but a collection of different Linux distributions. Distros include:

Figure 11: Puppy Linux, which is one of the classics among the Linux pipsqueaks, is named after a developer's chihuahua.
  • Official Puppy Linux distributions, which the Puppy team maintains
  • Alternative Puppy Linux distributions built for special purposes with the Woof distro-building tool
  • Unofficial derivatives (called Puplets), mostly newly mastered by Puppy enthusiasts.

The ISOs vary in the low 200MB range. Usually, they offer a complete Linux desktop, albeit with very rudimentary programs. Puppy can make an old machine completely reusable. Incidentally, the name of the distribution is based on the cute little chihuahua of lead developer Barry Kauler, which, sadly, disappeared into the wilderness one day without a trace.

Gettin' Down on Friday

To avoid all this descending into deep sadness, Listing 1 shows some excerpts from a cheery little song called Friday.

Listing 1

Friday

 

The 13-year-old's song went viral, and the accompanying video [38] received the most negative reviews of all time. Friday was alternatively referred to as the "worst song of all time," "bizarre," and "awkward." That did not stop Nerdopolis, a fan of both of display manager Wayland and Rebecca Black [39], from giving his Wayland test distribution the name Rebecca Black OS [40].

The Debian-based compilation is available for 32- and 64-bit systems, and it boots to a live Wayland session. As well as Wayland toolkits and applications, Rebecca Black OS provides some Wayland-based desktop shells and compositors, such as Hawaii, Orbital, Papyros, and the Weston example desktop. The last version (4.7.16) appeared recently. The whole thing is really quite useful.

Bieberism

Useful is not the word for Justin Bieber Linux [41], aka Biebian, which was dedicated to the singing teen star (Figure 12). The nameless inventor of the distribution explains freely that his Linux is a joke. The idea originated on the 4chan board [42]. The sole difference between this distro and the normal Puppy Linux is that it includes some Justin Bieber wallpaper. Part of the joke was that the distribution is based on Puppy Linux Lucid 525, the developer explains. In the distribution year, 2011, Justin Bieber was just 17 years old, so a pup himself. There were never any updates for the distribution.

Figure 12: The website of Justin Bieber Linux, which is based on a 4chan gag.

Biebian, however, was not the first distro that was dedicated to a teen star. The makers of Biebian cited the purple-tinted Hannah Montana Linux (HML) as its role model.

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