Sunday, 30 October 2011

Linux light - SliTaz GNU/Linux and SliTaz-Aircrack-ng

Once upon a time there was DSL (Damn Small Linux) which provided a full workable system in a 50 MB image. I used to have it on a small partition for repair and rescue tasks on my desktops. It was never or at least very rarely needed as I recall, but I liked the pre-set radio stations in XMMS and the backgrounds and conky config in DSL, so I ended up running it more and more over Zenwalk 2.6, which at the time was using a very half-baked early XFCE 4.4, if only to listen to internet radio on a geeky minimalistic looking box.

DSL is no more and has been superceded by TinyCore, which is only 10 MB in size. If that is too minimal for you there is another option, SliTaz GNU/Linux. It is a small distribution based in Switzerland that at exactly 30 MB in size sits somewhere in the middle and comes in French and English by default. You choose your language after booting. It´s been around for a while, I had a look at their 1.0 release in 2008 and was impressed. It is mainly intended as a live system but can be installed to hard drive. For being this small it includes a load of functionality, the Lighttpd web server for instance which makes it perfect for loading from USB stick or CD and running a website from memory.

SliTaz even has their own administration tools, a control center previously called Taz Panel and now Control Box, and a package manager. No prizes for guessing that the package format is .taz. If this sounds different it will also not surprise you that SliTaz is as an independent distribution not directly based on any other. The project is certainly one of the more innovating ones in the linux universe and has thus deserved their spot at the table.

I'm normally not fond of this because you could just go there yourself, but in this case I'm going to quote from the web site, because it says it all, neatly condensed in a nutshell:

--SliTaz GNU/Linux is a mini distribution and live CD designed to run speedily on hardware with 256 MB of RAM. SliTaz uses BusyBox, a recent Linux kernel and GNU software. It boots with Syslinux and provides more than 200 Linux commands, the lighttpd web server, SQLite database, rescue tools, IRC client, SSH client and server powered by Dropbear, X window system, JWM (Joe's Window Manager), gFTP, Geany IDE, Mozilla Firefox, AlsaPlayer, GParted, a sound file editor and more. The SliTaz ISO image fits on a less than 30 MB media and takes just 80 MB of hard disk space.--

This release uses LXDE by the way, so newly found minimalists who may have moved from their main distribution to another spin like Lubuntu or Fedora LXDE should not have too many problems. SliTaz is only available for the i386 architecture which in theory should make it well suited even for those really old machines in your basement or cupboard, and it runs entirely from RAM when not installed. I downloaded the latest stable image slitaz-3.0.iso which comes with a kernel. This means it is quite old by today's standards, and indeed it was released as far back as March 2010.
Unfortunately I found the project seems to be having some trouble lately. Earlier SliTaz versions booted up and worked well for me, but 3.0 just landed me at a blank screen after the initial boot sequence on my Acer laptop, and acpi=off which usually helps in those situations also did not work as the kernel option is not available.
SliTaz is a small project but very laudably with documentation in many major languages. Going to the German wiki though showed that it has not been updated in some time and the page is looking for a new maintainer. Then today the entire site at is down. This doesn't bode well and I hope it's just a passing occurrence. Update: Site is back up as of 01/11/2001.
The SliTaz project besides official releases also provides a Cooking channel, in which similar to Mandriva who I think coined this expression development takes place. Users can download development snapshots in live image format, just like the full releases. The latest Cooking image from May 2011 comes with a newer 2.6.37 kernel and Xorg 1.9.4 instead of 1.5.2. which might have worked better on my laptop. (Confirmed to run without problems on the Acer Aspire 5551.)

SliTaz boot screen
You get to choose your language and keyboard layout and a chance to pass additional options. Hitting F5 lists a short description and F6 explains the available boot options.

F5 menu
F6 - available boot options
This distribution packs an incredible punch for its small size. Using 'web' at the boot prompt allows us to update to the latest Cooker image or boot smaller (without X) or fuller images over the internet via PXE server.

Booting from PXE server
Web boot options

Although you can specify the language in the initial screen you are prompted for your desired language and keyboard layout again after the short boot process, and are then logged in straight to the desktop as an unprivileged user 'tux'. Running any of the system utilities requires the root password, which by default is also 'root', but can be set to something different via cheat codes in the beginning, just as the name of the unprivileged user can be changed like this from the outset.

The SliTaz-3.0 desktop

Next to access to your home folder and a text editor there's an excellent introduction on the desktop on how to accomplish most things that could be of more immediate interest, like configuring the network, with links to more in-depth information and the release notes. This should be enough to get most users started even if not familiar with the system.

Applications and Tools
You'll find a plethora of small applications in the menu and I won't list them all here, but the listing is a bit deceptive. In no particular order there's an IRC program, Gparted, Burnbox for burning CD's, a paint program and several media players. Clicking on the Twitter icon revealed it's just a link to their main page and not an actual client. Trying to Watch Video started the package manager which, after authenticating, downloaded Mplayer including codecs, Flash and the gecko-plugin for Firefox. Similarly, the Write Documents entry tried to download Abiword. Osmo is your personal time manager, ISOmaster is included as well as Asunder for CD ripping, an audio editor, the Transmission Bittorrent client and more. Tools to install to hard drive or to USB can also be found in the menu. A local port scanner is provided for your convenience.
On the panel you'll find links to a terminal (xterm), Midori as the browser of choice (which starts up incredibly fast and has a custom SliTaz home page with Wikipedia and Google search boxes), and as usual in LXDE the PCman File Manager. To the right you find volume, network, battery and clock applets on the panel and shortcuts to the control center and the package manager, making access to important administration tools a breeze.
The Control Box lets you set such details as time and language and administer users in a graphical environment, allows to change timeout and color of the Grub boot loader if installed to hard drive, administer login details (default user, auto login yes/no) and window managers (openbox, jwm) and more interestingly also provides an interface from where you can load modules, check which daemons are running and even check a partitions file system.
In Netbox Manager you can edit your connections and add scripts, configure an IP address and set a host name.
All that in 30 MB, but there's more. The original image came with 202 packages installed. Downloading repository data only took around 10 seconds (Recharge lists as SliTaz calls it), and the package manager then revealed 2293 packages in the repositories. This may not be a huge number, but it may well be enough. Xfce is available for those who want a more complete desktop environment, but no GNOME or KDE. Abiword and Gnumeric are encouraged in the spirit of keeping it light weight, but there's a script in the repo that downloads OpenOffice (get-OpenOffice3). Spell checkers and the Apache web server can be found, several media players and the necessary codecs, tools like bootchart and wireless drivers like the broadcom-wl package of interest at least to me. Even Claws-Mail with plenty of additional plugins is here. Proprietary software like Flash and Opera and larger downloads like Eclipse can be added via get-scripts. More such scripts that will fetch non-free firmware are in /usr/bin, for example for Ralink USB devices.

I'm getting the impression that most common usage scenarios are actually covered, despite the relatively small numbers. If that is not enough there is Tazwok, a command line tool to configure and compile packages from source. It can also create packages ready to be installed with the SliTaz package manager which reminds me of several Slackware derivatives and their custom tools to make installing from source easier for their users.
The last tool in SliTaz I would like to mention is Tazlito. Tazlito can generate a distribution, read your personal spin-off,  from a list of packages that have been downloaded into a directory. It can also extract a LiveCD and then rebuild the ISO, but you already have ISOmaster for that anyway. The provided image is a hybrid that can also be extracted and run from USB.

SliTaz Aircrack-ng
With Slitaz Aircrack-ng there's also at least one specialist spin-off that even has its own forum. Basically it does what it says on the tin and contains wireless drivers patched for injection and other related tools. You can read a short description here. At 54.7 MB it is still a relatively small image. If all that you want is do some penetration testing of your networks this might be good enough and you won't need to download the full Backtrack or Network Security Toolkit distributions, which both are rather heavy at nearly 2 GB and 1.3 GB respectively.
Unfortunately it's rather old now and no longer supported, but there are good tips and hints on the site. If you've got some older hardware and a card capable of passive mode it can still do the trick. Read more about what Aircrack-ng suite does here and here if you just had no idea what all this was about. Would be nice if somebody put out an updated spin with Aircrack 1.1 and newer kernel.

I would not recommend SliTaz to Linux newcomers, but it's an innovative and unique little distribution whose strength lies in its small size, low resource usage and ability to run entirely from RAM, and in its general versatility and flexibility. It appeals to the part in me that likes to start with a minimal base, but with the X server included if possible, and build up a light system from there with minimal dependencies.
It also is great for distributed computing and booting a network of machines that are using the same image via PXE from a central server, all running in memory, with a complete flush just a reboot away. Seems ideal if somebody took the time to customize it for internet cafe's for example. There's a lot to like about SliTaz and I hope it isn't going downhill fast. It's also extremely fast, installed or live, and sure to please those speed freaks among us who can't stand any lag on their desktop.

Check out some screenshots at once the site is back up.
For further reading and information on installing to hard drive which I did not cover see Jesse's excellent review of Cooking from June 2011 on Distrowatch.


  1. LXDE is hardly "minimalistic", it's a whole DE. if i remember correctly slitaz used to use openbox as default, which made more sense, considering.

  2. I have a lot of fondness for SliTaz, though to be honest I rarely use it. I installed it to an old pc (K62 cpu) and it runs ok on that, though less well than e.g. Windows 2000. I have to agree LXDE is quite a step back from their openbox aesthetic. One of the things I liked about SliTaz was the artwork and the whole, minimalistic look and feel, which set it well apart from the usual suspects. Some really great, retro-looking wallpapers and stylings.

  3. I've used SliTaz recently whenever I need to boot from a CD, because it's FAST. I like the whole approach. Much cleaner and more straightforward than other mini-distros I've tried.

  4. I use Puppy Linux which runs in ram with good update support. Runs nicely off a flash drive. I have used it to delete a file or two on a neighbors win machine when nothing else would do it. Also it will see any hidden file on a windows machine. I think I will try SliTaz to increase my knowledge of Linux,

  5. @istok
    To be fair, it isn't the full LXDE and I should have mentioned that. Where before you had JWM and a panel you now have Openbox and LXpanel. PCmanFM is there but xterm replaced LXterminal, and Tazweb is the web browser in use, not Midori (although that's an Xfce component anyway I believe). It's very close in look and feel to previously, and still very light.

    SliTaz will definitely increase your Linux horizon. It's enough for what you want to do. You should also try SystemRescueCD which just had a new release, or the Dr Web live CD, for rescuing other people's Windows boxes. You can search for the latter or find a link to an article in the right column near the top of this page.
    I'm trying Puppy-5.3 'slacko' release just now. Never used Puppy but this one looks good. Of course, it's based on Slackware! An article coming soon.
    Thanks everybody!

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  7. How to configure the network connection after installation of slitaz ?

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