They say that good things come in small packages and so it is with Tiny Core Linux, a diminutive but powerful distribution. TCL weighs in at an incredibly petite 11MB when you download it. Yes, it really is that tiny. Tiny Core Linux is based on Busybox, the Linux 2.6 kernel, JWM, Fltk and Tiny X.
Before I get into this review, it’s necessary to explain a little bit about how Tiny Core Linux works. Here’s some background from the TCL site about the four different modes it operates in:
The First Mode: Cloud/Internet
The first mode of operation is the default boot mode of Tiny Core Linux. It is what I call the Cloud Mode, or the Internet Mode. Tiny Core boots entirely into RAM. Then using the internet and the Apps icon, a shortcut to our appbrowser GUI, one can begin to explore our application extension repository.
The Second Mode of Operation: PPR/TCE
The second mode of operation is the use of the boot option tce=hdXY, i.e., specifying a writable persistent storage partition and using our TCE repository of applications. This will become your Persistent Personal Repository (PPR). Upon further booting all TCE extensions will automatically be loaded into RAM. Any further downloading of TCE type extensions from the appbrowser (Apps) will persist in this specified location.
The Third Mode of Operation: PPR/TCZ
When using a PPR one has the choice of TCE or TCZ extension types. To maximize memory usage Tiny Core offers the TCZ extension type. These extensions are mounted from your PPR and therefore use significantly less RAM. TCZ extensions are cramfs or ziofs compressed mountable images of an application directory, which become symlinked into the root filesystem.
The Forth Mode of Operation: PPI/TCE
The fourth mode of operation literally installs extensions into a Linux partition or a loop back file. This provides a hybrid type of installation, where core is in RAM and the extensions are installed onto a persistent storage device. I call this mode of operation of Persistent Personal Installation or PPI.
For the purposes of this review I went with the first mode as that worked well for downloading apps and seeing how they worked in Tiny Core Linux.
New In This Release
Here’s a list of some of the new features from the changelog:
* New modutils results in much space savings.
* New changed from using initramfs to tmpfs for better support of df and mount bind option.
* New squashfs module to prevent spurious squashfs errors upon boot.
* New aterm for better interaction with appbrowser.
* New waitforX eliminates WM timing issues, update your .xsession.
* New busybox to 1.13.4 – command line history set to 150.
* New usbinstall, a command line tool to install to pendrive, usbhdd, usbzip, or usbext.
* New upgrade_tce.sh command line script, an extremely conservative batch upgrade script.
* New added modules hwmon & rfkill for better support of laptops.
* Deleted memdisk and mbr.bin as they are available in extensions.
As usual, I fired up Tiny Core Linux in VMWare to check it out. I had no problems loading it at all. Took less than a 30 seconds to get it going and running in VMWare.
I should be careful here to point out that running it in VMWare in first mode does not mean it was really installed. Rather it was simply running in RAM and apps were downloaded as I needed or wanted them.
Tiny Core Linux is not a distribution that you need to install in the same way that you’d install Linux Mint or Fedora or other, larger desktop distro. Think of TCL as a portable Linux that can be taken wherever you need to go so a traditional installation really doesn’t apply for this review. You can run it right in RAM and it will work beautifully for you.
I hope that clarifies this section a bit as I don’t want people to download it and try to install it quite the same way as some of the larger desktop distributions.
Desktop & Apps
The Tiny Core Linux desktop will never be confused with other rather bloated…er…feature filled… environments like KDE or Gnome. It’s bare-bones and that’s exactly the way it should be. TCL uses the JWM Window Manager for its desktop environment.
You can simply right-click anywhere on the desktop to access a menu with a list of choices including:
When it first loads you’ll notice a Dock-like panel (wbar) at the bottom with icons that get larger if you pass your cursor over them. An odd touch for such a minimalist distribution. I liked it though so no complaints. It reminded me of Mac OS X in a weird way which is not what I would have expected from Tiny Core Linux. Let’s face it, Mac OS X is not really known for being…er…lightweight at all.