4.25.2012

SliTaz 4.0 Review - Small but fierce


SliTaz is awesome. I've used it in the past during its 3.0 days, and since then I already found it fascinating. If you haven't heard of it, here's a short description of the distribution, provided by their website:


SliTaz GNU/Linux is a free operating system working completely in memory from removeable media such as a cdrom or USB key. It is light, speedy and fully installable on a hard drive



Sounds familiar? That's because Slitaz belongs to the minimalist family of Linux distros, which Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux are part of. Slitaz is a tiny ISO (~30MB) and loads into RAM on boot, making the Live session about as fast as a hard drive install. Although other distros could do the same, usually they're too big to fit completely. Slitaz, on the other hand, is small enough to fit even in 128MB of memory, making it the right match for that old computer sitting in the basement.


Slitaz 4.0 was released on April 10th, and I promptly downloaded it. Finding that no one (at least in Distrowatch) ever reviewed it, I thought I'd show my appreciation for this distribution and do it:


Booting:

The link above takes you to the "Stable LiveCD" download, which should be the one you're looking for, right? Well, as soon as I got and checked the sum for slitaz-4.0.iso, I proceeded to burn it to a USB stick, just to realize that it wouldn't boot. I didn't feel like using one 700MB CD for something less than 100MB in size, but neither Unetbootin or dd would produce a bootable medium: the stick would invariably encounter a kernel panic, leaving me to reboot. So, after about half an hour trying to crack it, I gave up and looked for help.

The Slitaz IRC proved to be quite helpful in spite of its popularity, and the answer came as downloading a different image. The standard one is a "4-in-1" image that reportedly caused problems when written to a USB, so I would have to find another one. Doing that, however, proved to be trickier than I thought. There are no clickable links pointing to the index of the page, so you'd have to find it manually. Don't worry, here it is for you. Unfortunately, the index itself is also quite crowded, but I found the slitaz-4.0-core.iso image to boot fine. So, after burning it to the stick, we're finally greeted with a nice boot screen:

There are the standard options plus CLI only boot, but an interesting feature is the last one: Web Boot. I read about it in its testing days, and apparently since the image is so small, it's possible to download an even tinier image just to boot, and let the rest of the process be downloaded from the Internet. Yes, the OS can be booted wirelessly. I didn't try it, though, as I had the full image right there.


After answering two dialogues prompting the user to pick a locale and keyboard layout, we're presented with a GNOME3-looking two-panel desktop:


Desktop and Usability:

Distrowatch lists Slitaz as having "Openbox" as its default desktop. It turns out that it could easily be labeled "LXDE" instead, since it also uses lxpanel and pcmanfm as well to display the desktop. The layout resembles GNOME3's fallback mode, with the clock displayed in the middle of the upper panel and logout options in the upper-right. The wallpaper is simple but elegant.

A huge upgrade from the previous versions, in my opinion, was the merging of all configuration tools into one, tazpanel, which can be found in the upper-left corner. There's something frustrating about not being able to find what you want, and a few times in KDE this happened to me. Tazpanel, however, has everything you need wrapped-up nicely in a graphical app.

Some settings are changed just like editing a file in CLI
This is not the best wireless setup wizard I've seen around, but it worked fine in my encrypted network. Also, some parts of tazpanel, especially networking, are just an embedded text editor to edit the configuration files and reload - not exactly what you would expect in a graphical app. However, tazpanel still solves the problem of scattered options; you can do anything from setting up wifi to performing a frugal install using this one app.

Applications and Package Management:

Minimalist distributions tend to be thin on the variety of applications, and Slitaz is no exception to this rule. It has rich Internet applications as you would expect, including a web server with SSH capabilities. The browser of choice is Midori, a webkit-based lightweight browser, but an image with Firefox preinstalled can be downloaded from the link above.


The thinnest side, however, has got to be Office apps. A glance in the menu shows no word or spreadsheet processors available, and the few applications inside this category are mostly viewers for pdf and images. Weird, since usually at least Abiword would come preinstalled for most lightweight distributions. You get a game of chess, which is alright compared to Puppy's Rubik's cube game, but wouldn't Solitaire or something be smaller (or at  least simpler without the AI)?


Well, as lacking as this category is I think it's made up by the package manager. With tazpanel, it's easy to look up a lacking app and install it, especially if you've used Synaptic before. Also, since the base system is so small, having another program installed in the memory won't slow down the system as much.


Here you can also download proprietary codecs and the flash plugin if you wish to use them while browsing. The process is as simple as searching, clicking and waiting. I was able to watch DVDs and YouTube without a crease. It's probably the best solution regarding a LiveCD, but installing a few lacking apps here and there did enrich my Slitaz experience significantly - at the cost of time spent.


There two apps that are unique to this distribution: the Sakura Terminal emulator and the TazWeb browser. I don't know why the developers felt like coding their own terminal instead of using plain xterm, but Sakura does have its quirks, making it comparable to LXDE's lxterminal. TazWeb is a single-tab webkit browser, rendering in the same fashion as Midori. Though unfit as primary browser, it's used to display the documentation and is the window which runs Tazpanel. Frankly, I don't see much use or uniqueness in either app, but some further development could yield interesting results.

Sakura resembles lxterminal in xterm interface
Tazweb: why yet another browser?
 And finally, I have to mention that despite the tiny size, the desktop does have its charms. A quick right-click on the desktop provides a menu entry that enables desktop effects - shadows and fading. They are actually just the xcompmgr program being activated graphically. This is the only distribution that I've ever seen with such options, even though they're fairly minimal. Either way, it looks awesome.



Conclusion:


I place Slitaz as #1 among the minimalist distributions, though it may not be the case for you. I hear that it does have less hardware compatibility compared to Puppy Linux, but it worked fine on the machines I've tested so I can't answer that. It does have a very thin selection of apps to choose from by default, but installing extra software is an easy task. I wouldn't exactly recommend it to a beginner, as the configuration can be a little tricky, but for a fairly experienced user, it can be a quite powerful tool.


Final Score: 8/10


April 2012 by K. Zimmermann
Contact me.


Edit - Apr 27th




This humble site received over a 500 views in less than 24 hours,  coming mostly from Distrowatch. Even though I didn't even request to be listed there, I guess I owe 'em some thanks!

25 comments:

  1. 4.0 boot is slower than 3.0 i guess.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is what I did...

    http://scn.slitaz.org/members/gimix/activity/1437

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ... or - as I stated already in the post - just download the core ISO and burn it to the USB. How hard can it be?

      Delete
    2. My bad. I didn't see the link that you'd posted to the core ISO.

      Anyway, the 4 in 1 ISO is useful and *should* be the default if you're booting solely from a pen drive, especially if you need to boot up an older machine < 256 MB RAM (rarely the case, though).

      It's just that the 4 in 1 is intended to be the way the Slitaz team wants us to have it available. Your method is obviously easier.

      Delete
  3. The Universal USB Installer from pendrivelinux.com will install SliTaz 4.0 to a usb hd as Easy as 1 2 3...

    http://www.pendrivelinux.com/universal-usb-installer-easy-as-1-2-3/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Easy as 1 2 3" if you have some version of Windows higher or equal to XP.

      Real computer users who are doing this from Linux will follow my instructions and use Unetbootin or dd, as specified here:

      http://badalhocando.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-to-create-linux-liveusb-without.html

      "Universal" installer MY ASS.

      Delete
  4. 300mhz 128mb ram gateway computer. I loaded SliTaz on the 13 gb hd. Works like a charm. I was going to throw this computer away because it had XP on it and it took 10 minutes to boot up. Now it soars.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fale do AntiX também, e faça comparações entre eles mais o DSL e o Puppy. Até!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think this is the OS that every beginner should start with.
    it deals with basics !

    ReplyDelete
  7. Can I navigate the web without installing the program in my HDD?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi there! Did you make all the settings of your site on your own or you turned to professionals to receive help?

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've tried many lightweight distros, SliTaz is the most beautiful distro I've ever worked with!!!

    I can't understand what makes SliTaz so beautiful, I just love it!

    Why should lightweight mean "ugly" (XFCE, LXDE, Fluxbox, ...)?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Today, I installed SliTaz 4.0 to an EeePC, & so far, so not very good at all.

    It looks pretty good, & the documentation is excellent, but apart from that:

    Connman network manager does not work at all.

    The alternative, Sakis 3G is ridiculously slow to start & involves setting up every time.

    The package manager is also ridiculously slow, & freezes the system with every reload, which happens every time I look at a package's details.

    The packages are very out of date, e.g. Firefox 10, & there's simply not enough of them.

    And why does it have 2 deskbars/panels?

    As Openbox distros go, Slitaz, for all its small footprint, isn't a patch on MadBox or Crunchbang.

    I do not recommend it to anyone who depends on mobile broadband.

    ReplyDelete
  11. SliTaz looks great, and should be better than Puppy, because it does not run as root by default.

    However, it does not seem to be installable (it cannot find any installation medium, even though it's running live from a live usb), and it does not seem to be able to save changes to the live usb.

    Is this yet another distro that is intended to turn people away from Linux?

    ReplyDelete
  12. @Klaus Zimmermann is not my real name,
    You make me laugh really,
    All you guys care about is firefox and notepad++

    "Real computer users", you say,
    Linux is useless for REAL computer users, still, years later, no Asio!, no nothing, best suited for binned old hardware or servers,
    Real Computers users need Asio for our DAW, and GFX need Adobe & 3D etc etc etc...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That'll be why cities in Germany, the French secret service, the Italian police, NASA, the US military, a state or two in India, the DPRK, several universities worldwide, et al, use Linux, not to forget the fact that almost all supercompters run Linux; and when Ubuntu-Kylin is adopted nationwide in PRC, that may well make Ubuntu the biggest operating system in the world, much to the chagrin of the Linux fascisti.

      Of course, none of the listed are 'real computer users'.

      You obviously have never tried one of the big Linux distros, otherwise you'd know that 'etc., etc.' is either available for Linuxen, or can be run in VMs or emlators.

      If you have an Android cellphone, then guess what, you're running Linux.

      Delete
  13. Whats the best Photo editor for Slitaz??? Any comments...

    ReplyDelete
  14. I think of SliTaz as a distro for developers, students, & power-users, & for people who love to hack aboot.

    It's a great little system, & much more useful for old hardware than most of the 'more UNIX-like' distros, that tend to be massive & KDE-focussed.

    I'm going for frugal install, in a netbook with 2GiB RAM. It should fly.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Slitaz 4.0 is the best if you want a lightweight Linux and yet still be able to watch youtube videos on an old pc. I had some initial difficulty installing it eg. it doesn't recognise a one tetrabyte sata harddisk. On another pc which had 2gb RAM and an old motherboard with bios setting of memory hole set to 16mb, Slitaz LiveCD couldn't run. I disabled the memory hole setting and Slitaz was working. This is the best Linux distro in terms of speed and doing something useful like what you would do on WinXP. I have tried almost all the Linux distros and this one really stands out if you want to use it on an old pc.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I installed SliTaz 4.0 to an old 4GiB netbook, and with a full update and a load of applications added, it still has 3.5GiB free. Compare that to so-called 'light/lite' distros!!!
    10/10

    I really like TazPanel. Using an HTML browser for everything important, almost all administration tasks, is much cleaner than having to open several different applications.
    10/10

    You complained about the lack of office applications, but they're easily available from the package manager. My complaint with most erroneously named 'lightweight' distros is how bloated they are. Really, how can a distro call itself 'light', when it comes with LibreOffice and GIMP as standard components. Most Openbox distros are heavily overloaded, which defeats the object of being 'lightweight'. SliTaz is genuinely light. It's surely better to build from a good base than have to strip down from a bloated install (e.g.: I can get rid of at least 256MiB of bloat and cruft from certain other 'lightweight' distros, after installing, before updating!!!).
    10/10

    My only complaints are the lack of firewall, and SliTaz's inability to mount encrypted drives, but it's easy enough to convert/install other binaries (.rpm/.deb/tar.gz/tar.xz) using the TazPkg alien-conversion utility. Why doesn't every Linux distro just stick to using the same binary format, i.e. source packages, and Keep It Simple Stupid?
    5/10

    One of the best things is the excellent documentation that's included in this tiny distro, something that most other distros neglect, badly. SliTaz reference is available 'offline'.
    10/10

    I see SliTaz as a great distro for learning how to build a distro on, and this seems to be its main purpose, given the toolkit included, unlike most other distros which are often little more than replacements for MSW, and often as bloated, and therefore useless on older hardware.

    Forget about Raspberry-Pi and all that stuff that demands new and expensive hardware. Dig out that old netbook and get weaving!!!

    Overall: 9/10

    ReplyDelete
  17. 1. "Slitaz belongs to the minimalist family of Linux distros, which Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux are part of."
    It derives from debian, puppy,...?

    2. Last time I tried I had problems. How to boot from iso saved in HD?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. Slitaz (AFAIK) is a 'from the ground up' one off, not based upon any other distro. It encourages users to build their own versions ('flavors') and includes the tools to do that.

      2. It's best to install to HDD. I'm not sure what you mean by 'How to boot from iso saved in HD?'.
      SliTaz can also be installed to and run from a live usb.

      SliTaz is still a work in progress, and fine if you just want to surf the net or learn more about Linux-based sysems, but it is severely lacking in available applications.

      Puppy would probably be a better alternative, as it has access to the massive software repositories of either Ubuntu (Precise Puppy) or Slackware (Slacko).

      Delete
  18. I have 4.0 on my 300mhz 128mb machine (when I install I borrow another 128mb from another machine and then remove it after installation). It takes a PC computer that was a "paper weight" and turns it into something useful.

    ReplyDelete