Aggregated DSL 4.0 Posts

Here are the posts I made about DSL 4.0 on my other blog site. The other host’s issues with uptime and configuring MySQL present too much difficulty in exporting. Too bad, but their problems are why I moved the blog here in the first place.

DSL 4.0 (alpha1): Initial Impressions

I didn’t know what Robert Shingledecker had in mind for the next version of DSL beyond a major kernel upgrade and changes that would affect (improve) user-friendliness, but DSL 4.0 now available in alpha. This version now uses kernel, and it has some major interface changes that should make it more user-friendly for people coming over from other operating systems.

My initial impressions are mostly positive.

The biggest change users will first notice is that it boots into JWM by default with a dfm desktop in place of xtdesk icons. JWM will probably be appreciated more by people less familiar with Linux because it has the more traditional menu button on the left and task bar across the bottom. Users who want to use fluxbox can designate that at boot (desktop=fluxbox) or switch from JWM to fluxbox by clicking exit and choosing switch to fluxbox.

The choice of dfm over xtdesk means DSL now has a drag and drop desktop. That’s quite an accomplishment for a 50 MB distro. I’m not a big fan of dfm, but it fits in very well with the DSL ethos. It’s light and functional, and it just gets the job done.

My only doubt about dfm in DSL is how it’s also replacing emelfm. One of the things I’ve appreciated about DSL versions prior to 4.0 is how emelfm can be configured as users see fit. A user can personalize emelfm by setting up function buttons. I set mine up with everything from encryption/decryption tools to opening files in applications launched in particular ways. Users can always create their own scripts and then launch them from the desktop or from dfm filers (or whatever they’re called; I’m used to rox terms for that), but I don’t know what the reaction is going to be by people who prefer double-paned managers like mc (still included with DSL 4.0) and emelfm.

Using dfm as a desktop manager means that right-click menus (used by both JWM and fluxbox) are defunct so long as dfm is running. Instead, right-clicking operates the dfm menu. I don’t like anything that takes over the entire desktop. This is one of the reasons I stopped using gworkspace in GNUStep-based environments, which would be my second choice behind rox if there weren’t a 50 MB restriction on DSL. You can quit dfm and regain access; I added entries (one for normal user, the other for opening as root) in .jwmrc to restart dfm from the menu.

It’s not all bad. One of the nicer things is that dfm’s MIME-type handling allows DSL to be configured so it’s point-and-click. That includes MyDSL extensions. Open up the filer window where your extensions are, double click, run. It can’t get much easier than that.

The base icons really don’t have much aesthetic appeal, especially considering the current trends in bloated desktop experience. The rationale of using these particular icons fits in with what DSL is. And what it’s not. This isn’t Ubuntu or some other distro that uses heavyweight libraries and has tons of eye appeal. Some of us sickos actually like old school icons, though. User experience should include getting things done, not being mesmerized by flipping 3D virtual desktops and gobs of transparency that all ends up requiring more RAM than do the applications included with the distro. It shouldn’t be too difficult for users to throw together icons to customize their systems. I’m going to try to convert a couple sets I have for rox to xpm some time this week and package them for DSL 4.

DSL can still be extended and customized very easily to fit in with the user’s demands rather than the crazy aesthetic ambitions of developers, graphic card vendors, and shops selling RAM upgrades.

Overall, I think this is a very good direction for DSL to take. It adds function and convenience without adding bloat. That means it remains accessible to people with the hardware they already have, even if it’s pretty “old.” Old DSL fans shouldn’t feel too betrayed by the substantive changes, and new users should feel more “at home” with them.

Damn Small Linux 4.0 – Day Two: Reconfiguring

I haven’t had much time to play around with DSL 4.0 beyond getting it set up to suit my tastes. I did a standard hard drive install on a 450 MB partition. The install uses about half that.

What changes do I make? First, I hate booting straight into X — I like to start X when I’m ready. So I edit /etc/inittab so it starts in run level 3.

The second set of changes is security-oriented. I edit ssh_conf and sshd_conf to prevent root log-in and password log-ins. If you use ssh, you should know how to set up and use keys. Otherwise, you may as well use telnet (telnet-ssl is more secure than ssh because it uses signed certificates instead of keys but that’s a topic for another day). If I’m not going to use SSH, I reassign its port to something much higher than 22. I also configure my firewall.

Third, I change the intervals for tunefs.

Fourth, I change the host name. I don’t have anything against the default “box,” but I often have three or more computers running simultaneously. Each partition gets its own host name.

Finally, I edit configuration files. I don’t like scroll bars on my terminal windows and I like them tinted so they don’t absorb colors from any background (I usually use a solid color or something with very little distraction in it). I also change torsmo’s colors to they don’t jump out at me.

Still on my to-do list: Copy my AppRun wrapper scripts from rox for use in DSL 4. Bundle alternative icon sets. I also need to check out the tripl-frontend version of loopaes in Testing, but I need to check if it’s compatible with the new kernel.

Damn Small Linux 4: Tweaks, Etc.

I’ve had a little more time to get my DSL 4 test partition set up the way I want. I’ve been adding MyDSL extensions to see what works and compiling stuff while away and while I sleep. No major problems so far.

I’ve made some aesthetic changes. I don’t like bottom task bars and menu buttons. Fortunately, DSL 4 updates JWM so the tray can be moved and resized. I put my tray on top (where I believe it belongs). I also changed the colors to something a little “happier” than my standard shades of grey solid colors. dsl 4.0 done up lucky-style

Then again, I’ve compiled screen-4.0.3 so I don’t have to run X at all on the poor old Pentium Pro. Amazing how much more responsive it is in the console regardless of how many apps are running.

edit: If anyone wants to change the tray to appear on top, edit the line beneath “additional tray attributes” that has x and y coordinates so it’s like this:
<Tray valign=”top” halign=”center” height=”24″>


update: 25 July 2007 – More updates on DSL 4 to come, including a better quality video.


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