Monday, 16 May 2011

9 Slackware Based Live Distributions

A while ago I read a question as to why there are so few live distributions around based on Slackware when compared to other systems.  The answer is simple: there aren't. You only need to follow this link to a query on distrowatch to see that there are actually quite a few around, and probably more that are not in the site's database. I'll go through a few here that are my personal top choices.

The spiritual successor to Slax, which is not actively maintained any longer, it follows the same design principle. It comes loaded with the KDE 4 and LXDE desktops and is available for i486 and x86_64, giving you a fully functional rescue system in an under 300MB download. Media codecs and most wireless drivers, even for somewhat difficult Broadcom chips, are already present from the start. Excellent for a light yet functional system on the go.
Porteus logs the user in as root by default which allows to immediately mount the drives and make the necessary modifications to the system. It is to me the Knoppix of the Slack world, although it does not come with the wealth of applications it is easily extensible via modules. For people who are concerned about security, wish to add an extra layer to remind themselves or mainly wish to use the system for surfing and email on the go, a restricted user account can easily be added with the usual commands, and a login manager set up. 

Kongoni GNU/Linux
As you can probably tell from the naming convention Kongoni GNU/Linux subscribes to the values of the Free Software Foundation and only includes free/libre software. It is an installable live CD that can be updated via a ports system and comes with an easy to use Ports Installation GUI.
Version 2011 is currently in beta. Kongoni GNU/Linux usually stays close to the upstream Slackware release and features the same kernel, in this case, but a newer KDE 4. Whereas the latest Slackware is at KDE 4.5.5, the beta currently includes 4.6.2. It is only available for 32 bit (i486).
It is not so much a rescue system but could appeal to people looking for the above characteristics. 

The Salix team also offer installable live CD's of all their desktop editions, with the main one including a full Xfce environment and standard application set with the Firefox browser, archiver utility etc. Since then live images of all their other desktop releases with KDE 4, LXDE, Fluxbox have also been made available, all in 32 bit (i486) only. They are mainly intended to introduce new users to Salix and to give existing users a means of carrying with them a version of their favorite OS to show off and install on a friend's machine, however they can also make a good rescue tool although lacking many of the more specialist applications. Still, similar to the first two, if all you need is Vim and Gparted or to re-install a boot loader, they can do the job.
SalixOS is basically a stripped down Slackware with some user friendly tools, thus you get the same kernel and package versions. It even pulls all the core packages from the Slackware repositories. This may be the best bet if you want a Slackware live CD. It also has a graphical installer. With a new version 13.37 just around the corner you may want to hold off for a few weeks. 

Zenwalk Linux
The Zenwalk Linux live CD is basically a live version of their main offering based on the Xfce desktop. The live version has a slightly older kernel with, and Zenwalk does not stick as strictly to upstream as Salix does, but in some ways they are quite similar. The live image can be transferred with the install scripts under 'System Installation', but in the new 7.0 one has to use cheat codes at the boot prompt to set a password for root in order to start the installer or indeed anything that could modify the system. Good for security, and the developers state they reacted to feedback on this, but it involves an extra step if just wanting to get something done. Partitions are not mounted automatically. If deliberately choosing to boot in text mode, the old password for the root account 'ZenLive' is still accessible. A happy medium between convenience and security.
Zenwalk 7.0 Live is 32 bit only (i486, i686 optimised) and has only just been released earlier this May. It has the Gnome disk tool Palimpsest on board. For me personally it seems most suited to demo the sleek looks of the Zenwalk desktop, but on disk there is also a neat guide on how to build your own live image from Slackware-live-scripts, and it includes "a full set of development libraries and interpreters". 

Vector Linux
The Vector Linux 6.x series is quite long in the tooth now, and with the new VL 7 still in testing it will be  a while until a new live version is out. At present there are a Light version with IceWM/JWM and a live 'KDE-Classic' edition using 3.5.10 available, 32 bit only (i486), with a 2.6.27 kernel. At this point there seems to be no standard Xfce based live version around any longer. In the past with a bit of digging I still found old versions of Vector 2 and 3, but current archives only seem to go back as far as 5.8. An old Vector Linux 5.9 Xfce live can be found here.
The password for all users is 'Vector', you can perform system maintenance in the root account. Years ago I rescued my system by editing xorg.conf from Vector Live quite a few times, before finding Slax. These days I rarely have a need for rescue tools, or just do some light editing in text mode. Vector Live also includes Gparted, but I feel rather than being a rescue CD its main purpose is also to demo the system and give devout users a chance to carry their OS with them. Being this old the live CD does not support ext4 which may severely limit its usefulness. 

Perhaps the best thing about this distribution is its small size of just around 200MB, so a quick download if you just need to get up and running. Despite this it even comes with Skype pre installed. The latest Austrumi 2.3.4 was just released on the 27th April and features a kernel. The desktop is a nicely styled FVWM with various themes included (screenshots). Although a Latvian distribution, a choice of many major languages is available.
Austrumi is 32 bit only (i386) and can also be installed to the disk of your choice. It is billed as a rescue and live system. 

Last updated 25th April 2010 CDlinux is slightly older but has a lot going for it. Again, it is 32 bit only, but optimized for i686, and the current version uses a slightly older kernel. The desktop is Xfce based and the distribution comes in several editions, all of them relatively small which should allow it to fit into any pocket, or rather USB key. The standard edition is just 65MB, the community edition 225MB and the mini edition 30MB which provides a console only. The community edition even provides DOSBox, Wine and Java.  If you're planning to do any development work a devel-module can be downloaded separately. CDlinux is also multilingual and has a basic installer, or can be extracted to hard drive and booted with an additional entry in the boot loader of your choice. 

And last but not least there is of course the Slackware DVD/CD itself. How this? Slackware does not offer a graphical live system for CD or USB stick as we know it, but the install disks have had a live mode for quite some time from which repairs can be carried out. After booting it is easy to mount drives and edit files from here, even the instructions on how to mount your partitions are provided. Need to reinstall the boot loader? Start the installer, assign mount points, skip the package selection and go straight to the post-install step where it asks if you want to install Lilo. Follow the prompts, exit, reboot. No graphical installer in my experience is as flexible in that it actually allows you to skip ahead like this. The install disk is also a repair disk. 

For serious system recovery needs I should mention Recovery Is Possible (RIP), a 5.8MB image that comes with Grub2 in the latest 12.4 incarnation, command line only. It has support for most filesystem types one would encounter (Reiserfs, Reiser4, ext2/3, iso9660, UDF, XFS, JFS, UFS, HPFS, HFS, MINIX, MS DOS, NTFS, and VFAT) and is all about system recovery. Support for several types of wired networking is built in.

If it's a Slackware-based ready to go server you're after, I should probably mention the Superb Mini Server SMS and the SLAMPP projects.
SMS is purely text based and includes anti-spam and anti-virus filters and is around for 64 bit as well. It can be administered from another machine via Webmin and can run either from CD or installed. If you're running from CD and get compromised, just reboot. 1.6.0 just came out 29th April and is using the same kernel version as the latest Slackware release. Where SalixOS is a stripped down Slackware for the desktop, SMS seems to do the same for the server space.
SLAMPP is using Xfce and prides itself in providing an easy to use instant on home server. It is actually based on Zenwalk, what used to be the Zen Server community project, and as such is i486 only. With the last update being in 2009 the current version has an older kernel. Not sure if the project is planning a new release.


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