We study some lightweight Linux distributions

Less is More

Article from Issue 274/2023

Are you ready to escape the bloat of mainstream Linux? We look at four lightweight, but general-purpose Linux distributions: Puppy Linux, Tiny Core Linux, antiX Linux, and Alpine Linux.

Quick, name three Linux distributions: You probably thought of some of the big players, such as Ubuntu, Debian, openSUSE, or Red Hat. What they have in common is that they target current desktop and server hardware, and they provide huge (yet similar) selections of current Linux applications, covering all categories, including office, multimedia, development, and gaming. Typically you download a large DVD ISO image and write it to a USB stick – or burn a DVD if you still have a DVD drive – then boot it and launch the installer. All of these modern general-purpose distributions let you reassign disk space and create a boot menu from which to select the new OS from a menu of systems installed on the hard disk.

If you think of Linux as one of these big, sprawling distros, get ready for something different. This month, we focus on small Linux alternatives. Many of these small Linux distros are live systems: You boot them from a USB stick when you need them, and you typically don't install them on a hard disk; however, some of them do have regular installers. This article examines some general-purpose small distros that attempt to give you a full Linux desktop experience (or server experience, in the case of Alpine), but that cope well with limited hardware resources.

Another article in this issue describes some special-purpose distributions that turn your computer into a media player, a retro-gaming machine, or a rescue system. In a third article, I discuss a few small Linux distributions for the Raspberry Pi.


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