Picking the right Linux distribution for a new task often
comes down to comfort level. We all tend to lean toward things we’re familiar
with. So we go with the latest Ubuntu release and make it fit even though it
might not be the best choice for the job. You can bet it will have a lot of
extra baggage you don’t really need for something simple like a home file
Tiny Core Linux (TC
Linux) takes a minimalist approach to the base system and then lets you add
just the pieces you need to get your job done. Once you have it configured like
you want it you can then save the configuration to local storage. The core distribution,
based on the Linux 2.6 kernel, is a mere 10 MB. In the end the goal of TC is to
have an ultra small Linux desktop OS capable of booting from CDROM, USB disk or
a minimal sized hard drive. The latest release (1.2) fixes a few bugs and adds
a few new features as well.
Modes of Operation
Tiny Core offers four basic modes of operation with varying
degrees of persistence. The default mode is to boot into RAM and download
applications over the Internet when you need to run them. Everything runs from
RAM so nothing is left behind, including any settings or configuration
information. Minimal hardware requirements include an i486DX processor (486
with math processor) and 32MB of RAM. A Pentium 2 or better processor with 128
MB of RAM is recommended.
Modes two and three consist of using a Persistent Personal
Repository (PPR) with either compressed or uncompressed extensions. The
difference comes from loading applications from RAM (TCE) or from a compressed
file stored in the PPR (TCZ). TCZ extensions use either cramfs or ziofs to
minimize the storage requirements in the PPR. Another advantage of using the
TCZ option is the ability to run applications when you don’t have a network
The final mode is called Persistent Personal Installation
(PPI) and uses the TCE extensions saved to the local drive. Additional
extension codes (l or m) will automatically download and configure libraries or
modules as required along with the dep extension for dependency resolution.
This mode works well with either USB or fixed hard drives. For extra security
you can choose to encrypt the home directory using an encrypted loop back file.
A backup / restore option makes it possible to save your
settings and personal files to a separate device. You’ll need to edit the file
/opt/.filetool.lst to add or remove files and directories to save. You can also
explicitly exclude files using another file /opt/.xfiletool.lst. The default is
to backup the entire /home/tc directory unless excluded.
The biggest part of setting up a Tiny Core Linux system is
deciding how you want to configure it. Choosing your media and operation mode
is half the battle. Once you have that figured out it’s a pretty simple
procedure to get everything installed. The Tiny Core installation page
takes you step-by-step through the whole process and includes pictures.
There’s a Tiny
Core Linux FAQ with a handful of answers to help you with the most common questions.
It includes things like how to mount Windows shares, how to cut and paste text,
and a list of the supported boot codes. The answer to the question on how to
get Flash working basically states that they support version 9 but not 10. The
procedure is a little involved but can be accomplished if you follow the
A fairly active user
forum along with an IRC channel on Freenode (#tinycorelinux) gives you
additional avenues to get your questions answered. You can use the search
feature in the forums to find out if someone else has asked a question similar to
yours before you post. The wiki site has a decent amount of information and
basic guides / how-tos but could use additional user content.
Setting up a Web server based on Apache would be trivial
with Tiny Core Linux. Couple that with an FTP server and you have a really
simple way to serve up HTML content. You’ll need to install vsftpd to get an
FTP server up and running and make a few changes to your config scripts per the
instructions. There’s a Samba extension if you want to talk to Windows-based
file shares. It also loads CUPS for printer sharing with Windows networks.
There’s a TC Terminal Server option that’s part of the
default distribution to provide a boot point for other Linux workstations. This
would make it really easy to set up a small classroom environment with diskless
workstations booting from the main TC system. You would have complete control
over what each system had access to and wouldn’t have to worry about students
corrupting the individual machines.
For Web browsing there’s Opera 9.6. While it might not pass
muster on every site you visit, it does the basics quite well including the
full gamut of Google sites like calendar, docs, mail and reader. If you want to
view Adobe Flash content, you’ll need to install the getFlash9 extension to
take care of the necessary libraries.
Tiny Core Linux runs great on minimal hardware and might be
just what you’re looking for to put that machine gathering dust in the basement
to good use. The Opera browser provides a solid foundation for a simple
Internet machine you could remote boot without even installing on a local hard
drive. Other scenarios for utility computing require only a little research to
get the right modules loaded and running. All that’s left now is for you to
drag that old machine out and give it a spin.
This article was first published on Linux Planet.