As live CDs go, there is plenty to choose from, especially if you are a Debian
user, and to a lesser extent, a Red Hat or Mandrake user. But what if your
expertise lies in Slackware? Are there any Slackware-based live CDs to carry
around and use in case of emergency? Well, the Slackware installation CD
itself does serve as a bootable live CD, with basic rescue functions in
runlevel 1, but that's not much fun. Instead, Slackware users could consider
either SLAX or STUX as a full-featured live CD based on the original work of
Patrick Volkerding's famous distribution.
SLAX-Live CD (formerly
Slackware-Live and only recently renamed to SLAX, due to trademark issues
over the name "Slackware") is the better known product of the two. It is
developed by Tomas Matejicek in the Czech Republic. After perusing the
project's web site and the final product, it becomes obvious that a lot of
design effort has been expended to create an aesthetically pleasing
distribution. Similarly, much thought has also gone into the selection of
included applications, especially since the downloadable ISO image is less
than 200MB in size. This makes SLAX useful as a multimedia distribution - on
a computer with as little as 256MB of RAM, the entire CD content can be
loaded into memory, freeing the CD- or DVD-ROM drive to play media disks with
MPlayer (the libdvdcss library is included).
Choosing to copy SLAX into RAM is only one of the several available options at
boot time. Others include loading the IDE CD-ROM drive with SCSI emulation
enabled (for burning CDs), disabling probing for USB or other hotpluggable
devices and passing of other hardware and screen related parameters to the
kernel. The system then proceeds with a normal boot-up and hardware
auto-detection routine. As a proper Slackware-based system, it boots into
command line mode and awaits the user to log in. Once done, the user has a
choice to run one of the two graphical user interfaces: command "gui" will
start up a full KDE session (the latest version of SLAX comes with beta2 of
KDE 3.2), while typing "guifast" will launch Fluxbox, suitable for machines
with limited processing power.
Given the small size of the CD, the number of included applications is on the
low side, although the most common KDE applications, as well as KOffice, are
all present. Konqueror is the only available graphical web browser, while
Kopete is the default instant messenger. You won't find OpenOffice.org,
Mozilla, Emacs or Gimp on the CD. One of the more interesting aspects of SLAX
is that the author provides instructions and a set of scripts to build a
custom CD; these can be applied to any Linux distribution, not just
Slackware. The project's web-based user forum is very active, making it the
best place to seek help.
In contrast to SLAX, STUX
GNU/Linux is a fairly new project, created by Giacomo Picconi in
Italy. There are two live CDs on offer. The first one (called "STUX") is a
full-featured 650MB CD with a complete KDE (including all of the
internationalization files), GNOME, WindowMaker, OpenOffice and other major
application one would expect to find in a Linux distribution. The second
product (called "DINO-STUX") is a small CD reduced to 255MB of data with KDE,
KOffice, Mozilla, Samba and Xine, but not much else beyond the base system.
Like SLAX, the STUX project also provides tools for building a custom
bootable CD image from an existing Linux installation.
An interesting point of STUX is the availability of additional packages
directly from the distribution's web site. These can be downloaded from
within STUX, installed on a hard disk partition and executed from the main
menu. The current list of packages is not very long yet, but it should be of
interest to gamers as it includes the NVIDIA driver, WINE and a number of
free games or playable game demos: Quake I - III, Unreal Tournament, Doom,
and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The list of available packages is updated
frequently and the author welcomes suggestions for package inclusion.
While talking about Slackware-based live CDs, there are two other related
projects worth mentioning. The first is LinuxNetwosix, a specialist live CD
designed for system recovery, forensic analysis, penetration tests and other
security-related tasks. Created by a 17-year old Italian programmer Vincenzo
Ciaglia, LinuxNetwosix 1.0, with kernel 2.6.1 was released and provided for
free download last month. The second project is a Slackware-based live USB,
called RUNT (an acronym for
ResNet USB Network Tester) and designed to run from a 128MB USB pen drive.
Developed by the North Carolina State University, RUNT is a complete
Slackware Linux on a USB, capable of autoconfiguring networks via DHCP. A
boot floppy is required to load the USB kernel modules before loading the
rest of the system from the USB pen drive.
To sum up: with its good looks, relative maturity and an active user
community, SLAX is probably the most likely candidate for being that perfect
Slackware-based live CD to carry around in a wallet. It even fits on one of
those 80mm mini CDs.
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