Cooking with SliTaz – An Innovative (and TINY!) Linux OS

I just found a new toy. It’s a Linux distro running a complete desktop, Firefox browser, multimedia utilities, FTP/SSH/IM/torrent/email clients, and a custom package manager… in a 30MB ISO. That’s right, it’s even smaller than Damn Small Linux. It can be run from CD or USB, and once booted it runs entirely from RAM, so it’s VERY quick and you can remove the CD or USB device while the system is running. You can pop it out and free up that spot to read/play/burn something else. Combined with tools to generate your own customized live CD/USB remix, this makes for a very versatile little package. This is SliTaz, and so far it’s a lot of fun.

I’ll be using the testing branch for the info this article, which SliTaz calls cooking. The cooking and stable branches are both available for download from the SliTaz websites as ISOs.

Package Management

SliTaz uses its own homegrown package manager, Tazpkg, to handle software. It’s written in plain shell script but manages to cover just about everything you’d expect in a modern package tool, like online repositories and dependency handling. Some of the more useful Tazpkg commands are as follows:

tazpkg get-install (package name)    #To install a package from online "wok"
tazpkg install (package name)        #To install a local package
tazpkg remove (package name)         #To uninstall a package
tazpkg search (package name)         #To search for a package
tazpkg list                          #To list currently installed packages
tazpkg recharge                      #To refresh list of available packages
tazpkg upgrade                       #To run a system-wide package upgrade

Of the things that screenshot can tell you, there are two that I find surprising. One is that Tazpkg required a full “yes” or “no” on the question about replacing the symlink. I had previously just hit “y” and noticed afterward that it had gone to the default of “no”. The other surprising thing (to me at least) was that SliTaz didn’t already have bash. I guess when you’re squeezing things down to 30MB you’ve got to cut down even on the shell.

While there aren’t many packages in the SliTaz wok (package repository), it contains a few bonus scripts for adding in some of the more useful things like Flash, Skype, and Java that can sometimes be a pain on other systems. To see them all, enter the following at the command line:

tazpkg search get-

…and you’ll see some packages such as get-flash-plugin and get-wifi-firmware.

Generating “Flavors”

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, one of the more interesting features of SliTaz is that it’s set up to allow easy creation of remixes (or as SliTaz calls them, flavors). You’re provided with tools to create CD or USB images based on your desired config. You’ll find both the CD and USB tool in the System Tools folder off the main menu.

And remember, since SliTaz runs in RAM, you can remove the CD or USB device you booted from to create or test your new flavor.

Software Included

If you’re curious about exactly what makes up this 30MB wonder, here are some of the more notable packages:
version: cooking-20091104

  • Linux Kernel 2.6.30
  • X.org 7.4
  • OpenBox 3.4.7.2
  • Busybox 1.12
  • Shiretoko (stripped-down Firefox 3.5)
  • GParted 0.4.6
  • SQLite 3.6.16

Conclusion

With the fact that everything run in RAM and the low number of packages in the online wok, I doubt you’d want to install SliTaz as your main desktop OS, but I don’t think that’s what it’s for. I’ve used distros similar in design philosophy (such as Damn Small Linux) to do things like system recovery, partitioning and virus scanning, and that’s just the place SliTaz would shine as well. Grabbing some additional packages and rolling a new USB flavor could easily add some power to any tech toolkit.

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