Back to Damn Small Linux to Make a Point

I read a bad review of DSL 4.0 yesterday.

I took strongest exception to the part the reviewer wrote about “as hardware becomes obsolete and new hardware takes its place, Damn Small Linux is falling further behind the curve.”

I’ve written before that  I don’t believe functional computers are obsolete simply because new versions of operating systems have excessive requirements. DSL fills a niche for those who want a continually-developed operating system without having to run out and buy new computers or make upgrades just to “keep up.” DSL doesn’t require a super fast processor — it will run on a 486. DSL doesn’t require much RAM — 16MB for console, 32MB or more for X, 128MB or more and you can run the distro in RAM.

The other point I took strong exception to was about MyDSL applications being “outdated.” Part of the reason for that is by design: many projects have completely abandoned support for GTK1 so newer versions require heavier graphics libraries to even compile. MyDSL allows upgrade to GTK2 so newer application versions can be run. I’ve always viewed the modularity of DSL as a strength, not a weakness, and lobbied for even more modularity.

I’ve written elsewhere about the changes in the release candidate cycle. I’ve noted that I’m impressed how DSL continues to evolve in usability and user-friendliness. The latest significant change is making the desktop drag and drop via dfm (not my choice, but its low overhead is perfect for DSL’s no-bloat philosophy). This is an improvement over xtdesk’s icons that merely allow applications and/or scripts to be executed from the desktop.I’d downloaded and burned the latest ISO, for DSL 4.0 release last week. I installed it this past weekend. It took me less than an hour to set everything up “just right” for my tastes. I still have some reconfiguring of jwm menus to do — as you can see below — but I got everything loaded and working perfectly in no time at all.

I re-installed DSL on a 20GB hard drive (with 256MB swap). I also loaded up my favorite DSL extensions — again, one of the conveniences of using those “outdated” MyDSL extensions is I can burn my favorites onto a CD and not have to worry about updates. I basically do two things when setting up DSL. The first is to load .dsl and tar.gz extensions because they stay persistent on hard drive installs (the difference between the two is the .tar.gz extensions are self-contained and write to /opt). Rather than do this individually, I copy them over (and reset the correct permissions) to a /tmp directory and run:

#for mydsl in *.dsl; do mydsl-load $mydsl; done

Then repeat for the tar.gz extensions.

The UCI extensions I  like require a little more tweaking since they’re mounted ISO files. I run the same command, go to /opt, then

#cp -Rp mountedappname mountedappname-new

Go back and re-run the same for-do command to unmount the UCIs, then back to /opt

#mv mountedappname-new mountedappname

and then all my UCIs are, in effect, persistent tar.gz self-contained apps that don’t have to be un/remounted every boot.

Once I had that all set up, it was time to fix the aesthetics. I don’t switch window managers so I edited .xinitrc to start with the apps I actually use. I won’t use dfm (I prefer rox, mc, and emelfm — though mc is no longer in DSL) so that’s out and I prefer conky to torsmo. I edited jwmrc to change the colors and move my tray to the top (if bottom menus are “good,” why do applications stick them on top instead?). I also edited it to include my own menu at the top (second pic). I also added an autohidden tray with more launch icons in the bottom right corner (mouse over in pic below).

dsl 4.0

just a menu!

Overall, I’m impressed. DSL works with all my hardware except one old webcam that isn’t even supported fully in XP. I’ve bought my hardware with the primary criterion being, “Will it work with Linux or BSD?” That keeps me from having some of issues the reviewer experienced, and it means I don’t have to look for distros that ship proprietary drivers (another of her reviews considered it a “pro” that another distro does that — if you want closed code, just stick to Windows or get a Mac).

It’s improved in many ways from previous versions of DSL. How can it be compared to other distros? Not so easily because it’s apples and oranges. DSL doesn’t try to keep up with Ubuntu. It just reinvents itself to add extra utility and user-friendliness while not making demands for more RAM or video cards just to handle the user interface. It’s a niche project and it’s probably not for those who want the latest spinning window manager or who buy hardware without nary a care if it will work with whatever operating system they choose.

DSL is about choice. And it’s a damn good choice.

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