Thursday, May 22, 2008

First Impressions of DSL

For those of you just joining us, DSL is Damn Small Linux. Click the link for more information.

Linux advocates often cite smaller size as one of its greatest advantages. This enables it to run more quickly than other OS's, as well as run on some older hardware that might not be able to run the latest offerings from Microsoft or Apple. And they are absolutely right. The whole startup CD for DSL was around 50 MB. To give you a comparison, the version of Microsoft Office that I have on Lucy is over 500 MB.

How do they achieve such ruthless efficiency? It's the eternal trade-off between speed and user-friendliness. Imagine a spectrum with efficiency at one end and ease of use at the other end. The most efficient programs usually make significant sacrifices in things like slick interfaces and idiot-proofing. On the other end, programs that are slick and easy to use tend to be total resource hogs.

As you can probably guess, the applications that come with DSL are generally crude, but there are ways to add applications. The support pages suggest activating apt-get immediately after installation, but I haven't found it to be that useful. DSL does come with its own package retriever called MyDSL. Obviously, you're not going to get cutting-edge apps, but you can get stuff for what you need.

One really cool thing about DSL is that it has a system resource monitor built into its desktop. In other words, you can see at any time how much memory and CPU power you're using, just by looking at the desktop. No special keys or commands are required. It also shows how much free disk space you have and your IP address. I love this feature.

Dillo, the default browser in DSL, claims to be adequate for browsing most sites. It does render most pages, but the formatting may not be what you're used to; it's often similar to mobile phone browsing. That doesn't really bother me, but some people might be freaked out by that. Dillo supports multiple tabs, which is nice. And, as advertised, it is very fast.

Firefox, of course, renders pages better, but system performance suffers on a machine like Lazarus.  If you're one of those people who likes to have several browser tabs open at once (like I am), it can be a tad frustrating. Then again, maybe I need to exercise a little browser discipline anyway.

One thing I have discovered (and kind of figured from the outset), is that for long-term use, I really need to upgrade the RAM. A swap partition can only do so much. But at least I've proven that I can achieve the functionality I wanted with the resources I have. Next time, I'll get down and dirty with the details of various applications.

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