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A Closer Look at Damn Small Linux

The take-along operating system

Saving Other Data
Other files that you download or create should be handled with care. You'll want to make sure to save on the permanent storage of your keydrive rather than a transient directory elsewhere. This is where your /myfiles subdirectory comes in handy. Save to this directory and you can count on finding your files again on the next reboot, even if you boot up on a different computer next time.

Taking it Along: Everything-To-Go with MyDSL
Restoring Customization and Saved Applications
Everything you tucked away on your keydrive will be available next time you boot up. This happens in part because DSL makes a backup of some important system files and directories when you shut down. To make sure this happens properly it's a good idea to do a manual back up before you shut down the computer.

To back up, choose the following from the DSL main menu: System | Backup / Restore. Next enter just the device name where you want your backup saved. If you booted from a CD and have a keydrive inserted, use: sda1. If you have a bootable keydrive with a second partition for data use: sda2. Click "Backup" and wait for the program to finish before shutting down. This creates a compressed archive file called "backup.tar.gz" in the root directory of the filesystem.

When you boot up next time, DSL will search for and discover its backup archive on the keydrive and restore the files and settings back to the way you last saw them. Now any computer you boot up with your take-along CD/floppy/keydrive will seem like your very own.

Other Uses for DSL
Internet Kiosk
Let's say you want an inexpensive way to convert some old PCs into a collection of Internet kiosks for an art gallery, business directory, or school project. Running DSL with Firefox would make this easy.

First, you can make Firefox start up automatically at boot time. Just edit the file called ~/.xinitrc and insert this command:

/usr/local/bin/firefox http://your.home.page &

For a kiosk it would be good to disable extraneous menus and applications and limit the scope of the browser. For more information on building Linux-based kiosks, there are a number of how-tos available (Google: "linux kiosk"). Once you've got one kiosk working, it would be easy to duplicate the contents of its keydrive onto others to create more kiosks.

Web Server (System | Control Panel | MonkeyWeb)
For fun I turned my bootable keydrive into a portable library of e-books hosted on a Web server. It runs a MonkeyWeb server - included with DSL - to serve out electronic books that I downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org). First I copied a number of classic e-texts into the /dsl/Share directory. Then I started up the MonkeyWeb Web server (included with DSL) from the System | Control Panel menu. Now users can access these books from any computer on the network by browsing to With a few changes this machine can be configured to automatically serve out e-texts from a better-named URL every time it boots.

Remote Desktops
Another handy trick is to make DSL available remotely from another computer. To do this I downloaded VNC (called "vncserver") from MyDSL. VNC is a remote desktop program. Many client programs exist for Windows and Mac. I use the popular "Chicken of the VNC" (Google: "vnc chicken") for OS X to access my "headless" DSL (i.e., no monitor). Once you've installed "vncserver" from MyDSL, select MyDSL | vncserver | vnc4x0 and connect to your DSL machine using its DNS address, e.g. When running full screen, the PowerBook appears to be running DSL.

In summary, I've found this take-along operating system to be a great companion for doing most of what I need from a computer. Once your keydrive is configured the way you want, it will seem like you can take your computer everywhere without really having to take your computer anywhere.


More Stories By Russ Ethington

Russ Ethington is an enterprise software architect and developer with 15 years of experience in numerous programming languages on Unix and other platforms. His technical interests include distributed computing, programming languages, and music synthesis.

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Most Recent Comments
manmathsahu 09/09/07 11:47:48 PM EDT

DSL is a good minimalist distro. If you are looking for a more usable distro you should try a lighter PCLinuxOS versionsuch as PCLinuxOS Junior or PCLinuxOS TinyMe.

charles 08/27/06 03:11:52 AM EDT

this is grait but what if you want to use a disk on chip?

Linux News Desk 07/11/06 03:01:15 PM EDT

In this article you will learn how to turn a blank CD and an inexpensive USB keydrive into a powerful, portable, take-along operating system complete with modern applications like Firefox, a Web server, and multimedia tools. All this can be done using free Open Source Linux software.

Linux News Desk 07/11/06 02:00:26 PM EDT

In this article you will learn how to turn a blank CD and an inexpensive USB keydrive into a powerful, portable, take-along operating system complete with modern applications like Firefox, a Web server, and multimedia tools. All this can be done using free Open Source Linux software.

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