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The Swiss Army Knife of Linux?

Cliff posted more than 11 years ago | from the bloat-free-desktops dept.

Unix 39

e8johan asks: "I recently found the BusyBox project that combines tiny versions of many common UNIX utilities into a single small executable. It provides minimalist replacements for most of the utilities you usually find in GNU fileutils, shellutils, etc. The utilities in BusyBox generally have fewer options than their full-featured GNU cousins; however, the options that are included provide the expected functionality and behave very much like their GNU counterparts. As I look through the list of products and projects using BusyBox I find that most installers use it (RH, Slackware, Mandrake, Gentoo, etc.) As the footprint of this is very small, I came to wonder, are there any other smaller versions of common linux software. I found TinyX and the small linux project but I lack a proper desktop. Does anyone has a small desktop solution (like KDE or Gnome) to recommend. What I'm looking for is a proper desktop solution with common configurations tools, standardized IPC and common look-and-feel, not just another window manager."

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First pooostt!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4687151)

You motherfuckers.

Swiss army knife?! (5, Insightful)

dacarr (562277) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687167)

There is already a swiss-army chainsaw. It's called Perl. Why get a knife? Isn't bigger better?

Re:Swiss army knife?! (5, Informative)

flikx (191915) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687232)

You don't even understand the question.

When you need to fit a full featured unix system on an install disk / rescue disk / embedded system / light hardware / etc., you need something like busybox. Sure, /usr/bin/perl is about 10K, but what about the rest of it?? And who the hell would write a full set of system tools in perl??

And furthermore, the submitter is asking about a light desktop system. My answer: IceWM, "just another window manager".

Re: Perl Power Tools (4, Informative)

sICE (92132) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687550)

PPT [] :-)

SiCE []

Re:Swiss army knife?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4695137)

um, right
sam@krypton:~$ ls -lh /usr/bin/perl
-rwxr-xr-x 2 root root 948K Sep 14 12:06 /usr/bin/perl*

Re:Swiss army knife?! (1)

flikx (191915) | more than 11 years ago | (#4697656)

<(flikx[0]@screamapillar ~)>
{2:1009 ->}$ uname -a
Linux screamapillar.localdomain 2.4.19 #1 Sun Sep 29 18:01:23 MDT 2002 i686 unknown unknown GNU/Linux
<(flikx[0]@screamapillar ~)>
{2:1010 ->}$ ll -h /usr/bin/perl5.8.0
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 10K Sep 6 15:41 /usr/bin/perl5.8.0*


[flikx2:~] flikx% uname -a
Darwin 6.2 Darwin Kernel Version 6.2: Tue Nov 5 22:00:03 PST 2002; root:xnu/xnu-344.12.2.obj~1/RELEASE_PPC Power Macintosh powerpc
[flikx2:~] flikx% ls -l /usr/bin/perl
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root wheel 20344 Nov 12 09:48 /usr/bin/perl


{flikx(0)@sub2 flikx}$ uname -a
FreeBSD 4.5-RELEASE FreeBSD 4.5-RELEASE #0: Mon Jan 28 14:31:56 GMT 2002 e/GENERIC i386
{flikx(0)@sub2 flikx}$ ls -l /usr/bin/perl
-r-xr-xr-x 3 root wheel 10224 Jan 28 2002 /usr/bin/perl

Re:Swiss army knife?! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4687445)

You may be interested in this thread, in which Jim Thompson (a real smart guy you've probably never heard of) explains his difficulties in fitting a tiny perl onto linux device with a small amount of flash space, for the purposes of running NoCatAuth. Jim lists all the files on his setup, and you can see how much bloated crap came along with perl. l/000003.html []

Re:Swiss army knife?! (1)

saintlupus (227599) | more than 11 years ago | (#4689164)

Jim Thompson (a real smart guy you've probably never heard of)

Sure I have. He wrote _The Grifters_, right? And _The Killer Inside Me_?

Jim Thompson rocks. And I'm really glad to finally use something from that English degree here on Slashdot.


Re:Swiss army knife?! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4689836)


seems to have lots of minimalist X utils and apps

wm,fm,web browser, ssh/ssl, games (about different 6), terminal, taskbar, popup menus, dialogs, gfx stuff, all based around Xaw widgets, and the vesa X window system all compressed down to around 1.7Mb

theyre site seems b/w capped so problems occur if more than a couple of ppl want to download per day.

happy slashdotting ;-)

Re:Swiss army knife?! (2)

dougmc (70836) | more than 11 years ago | (#4695035)

Last time I used Slackware (and yes, it was a long time ago -- it was a nice step up from SLS) it's installer used perl4, and it fit on a floppy. I don't think it was the full perl4 install, but it was enough and it worked well. Very well, actually.

perl5 won't fit on a floppy anymore. Yes, the main executable will --

-rwxr-xr-x 2 root root 797972 Feb 20 2002 /usr/bin/perl
but all the modules won't, and perl isn't *nearly* as much fun without the modules. Yes, I guess you could still use perl4, but it's hard trying to write anything for perl4 now.

But if you do want your basic *nix utilities written in perl, search for `ppt perl power tools' and you'll find lots of them, already written for you. I wouldn't really call it a good way to save disk space, but I have found them useful in the past (mostly as examples, because I do most of my programming in perl.)

Putting an installer on a single floppy is hard. In fact, putting anything useful on a single floppy is hard (and kudos to those that have done so!) but I hope the floppy dies out soon. I hate floppies. Hate hate hate. Don't hold squat, and are so unreliable -- my daughter (age 1.5) takes a while to destroy a CD, but a floppy she ruins in 15 seconds flat :)

I highly recommend (4, Funny)

DeadMeat (TM) (233768) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687226)

this versatile entry into the 1988 IOCCC [] .

Some user configuration is required, of course.

In my day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4689438)

and wes liked it!!!

Re:In my day (2)

Mdog (25508) | more than 11 years ago | (#4695260)

in *my* day we used PR #'s damnit!

Midnight Commander (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4687491)

I'm not sure exactly what your expectations of a "common desktop environment" are. But there is a floppy bootable linux that contains midnight commander, and midnight commander contains a lot. A syntax highlighting editor, the ability to use ftp servers as a virutal filesystem, compare directory trees, etc. []

I was going to look at your homepage [] to see what type of background you came from, if you might mean only graphical stuff as a desktop environment. However, I was immediately confronted with a warning that "The contents of this page may not be copied without my written permission." As looking at your page in a web browser makes a copy of it, I hastily hit the back button and cleared my cache. Please don't sue me, and I'm posting AC just to be sure.

Oxymoron (5, Funny)

Linux_ho (205887) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687532)

Does anyone has a small desktop solution (like KDE or Gnome) to recommend.

Heheheh. That's a good one.

Re:Oxymoron (5, Informative)

Bastian (66383) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687801)

Not entirely. There is xfce (, a CDE-like desktop environment. I used to use it on my old P133 w/ 16mb of RAM, and it worked much more nicely than Gnome or KDE, which kept my computer in a pretty constant state of swapping.

Re:Oxymoron (1)

McCarrum (446375) | more than 11 years ago | (#4692897)

I have to pipe up here, and second this recomendation. Whilst I use KDE on the desktop machines here at my work, we've moved to using xfce on our servers (where we use a WM anyway). This WM has really grown on us; it's fast, stable, and works well enough to expand its funcionality WITHOUT adding too many bells and whistles for their own sake. Do yourself a favour and take a lookskie.

Re:Oxymoron (2)

ameoba (173803) | more than 11 years ago | (#4697554)

A while back, I had a system running on an old 486DX2-50 and 24MB of RAM. To squeeze everything needed onto it, I ended up going with an old (pre-GNOME/KDE) Slackware distro. One of the more interesting bits of software I ran into was a suite called TkDesk [] . It provides a desktop, app launching bar, file mangler & a number of small utilities (like the emacs-clone text editor), all written in TCL/Tk, and it ran like a dream on that anemic old beastie.

Swiss Army Chainsaw... (0, Redundant)

diablo-d3 (175104) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687580)

Why not just use Perl? Its the answer to everything! Even operating systems are written in it!

well (1, Redundant)

fault0 (514452) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687674)

the story author really should have put in a url to busybox.. here [] it is.

There are limits (4, Interesting)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687803)

Trying to fit a memory-intensive desktop system into a small space is going to be difficult because they're opposite goals. System 6 and prior MacOS did it, but only by using black-and-white graphics and not providing most of the tools you'd expect nowadays from a graphical desktop. I think even GEOS needed several disks worth of data to load its desktop. And if the goal is to allow novice users to operate small distros, they'd take one look at that desktop and go "ew! Linux sucks!" and switch back to Windows.

Re:There are limits (1)

nickos (91443) | more than 11 years ago | (#4690187)

Hmm. Off the top of my head, the Amiga 1000s operating system (including GUI) fitted onto a 880k floppy. Also note that the number of colours used really has very little to do with anything apart from video memory usage. Or do you really think that it's much slower for instance to draw a grey rectangle than a white one?

Re:There are limits (2)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 11 years ago | (#4690888)

If you're writing 8 pixels for each byte of data you transfer to the video adapter, then yes. But speed isn't the question; it's all the nice, antialiased fonts and window effects and code libraries that users are now familiar with and used to. If you don't believe me, do some work on an old Mac SE. Or even that Amiga, running the old OS. You'll find the windowing system laughable and grating.

Re:There are limits (1)

LoonXTall (169249) | more than 11 years ago | (#4694565)

The Amiga GUI--in OS1.3--is still better than Windows 9x. Death to auto-raising! However, the superior configurability of FVWM2 makes it better than the Amiga, because now I can determine size, position, and depth from any point along the window border.

Windows always makes me feel like I'm trying to use a brick designed as an answering machine for a calculator. It's just inconceivably stupid.

Then again, all that's purely subjective, so both of these posts are a complete waste of time.

Re:There are limits (1)

LUN!X (621212) | more than 11 years ago | (#4704001)

I believe this [] might be of some help, since the request was phrased Does anyone has [sic] a small desktop solution (like KDE or Gnome) to recommend. ? Of course you'll trade blinding speed for a lack of programs. It's totally different from Linux and it's not for everybody (yet!!) but it all fits on one floppy with a meg or so to spare so check it out.

Embedded/Small Systems (5, Interesting)

MonMotha (514624) | more than 11 years ago | (#4687999)

There are many efforts to putting Linux (and other UNIXes) in places with limited amounts of space. [] is all about running Linux on ipaqs. Space is a concern, of course, so various things are done. The conversion to Busybox has recently been made, saving almost 2MB of space as I recall.

There's also uClibc [] . The smallest I've ever seen glibc is about 1.5-2MB. uClibc clocks in at about 200-700kB. That's small. This is used when you just don't have space available, such as on the TuxScreen [] with only 4MB of bootable flash and on many rescue disks and floppy based Linux systems.

Remember you don't want to cut corners all the time. On your desktop, it's probably best to run the full-blown GNU utilities. They have extra options that, while not commonly used, have obviously proven useful enough times to be included.

However, if you only have 16-64MB to work in, and you want to have lots of other stuff, busybox is a very viable option that I would reccomend if you have trouble fitting stuff in. Don't use it when you've got gigs of hard drive space to play with though.

Re:Embedded/Small Systems (2)

MonMotha (514624) | more than 11 years ago | (#4688050)

Hum, Looks like I forgot my conclusion :)

The idea was to look at what these guys who put Linux in sub-64MB spaces and see what they use. These people spend a lot of their time making the system to making it fit in a reasonable amount of space. If size is a concern, chances are a project has addressed it before.

Re:Embedded/Small Systems (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4688108)

I believe the project at has a glibc that is 400k on it. Download and boot and ls -l /lib/

Re:Embedded/Small Systems (4, Informative)

grammar nazi (197303) | more than 11 years ago | (#4688225)

My Iopener has a 16MB flash chip. All of the following fits with 1MB to spare (check out the JAILBAIT linux distribution at sourceforge)...




email client (i forgot which one)

Netscape 4.72 (that's right!)

USB ethernet drivers


I forgot what else, but their were a few other cool things.

Build your own? (5, Informative)

Raleel (30913) | more than 11 years ago | (#4688400)

Well, i don't knwo if this helps you, but I recently put together a desktop set up for some lower end pentiums. It consists of

1) IceWM
2) RoX
3) gnumeric
4) abiword
5) opera
6) gnucash
7) gaim
8) gimp
9) sylpheed

I also used redhat 8's backgrounds, although the actual software was mostly from mandrake 9.

Honestly, i'm not sure this is what your looking for anyways.

Re:Build your own? (1)

nesthigh (447909) | more than 11 years ago | (#4688945)

I use IceWM with Rox.. quite nice.. and very light.. but you lost me after that.. gnucash for example has some crazy requirements.. like and if you are going to have all the gnome cruft for gnumeric why not just run Galeon. Opera is either static (yeah, that's light), or you need to have qt and openmotif (for plugins). Links2, with it's new gui mode, is really nice and light. It's only 2.7MB here, and that's with svga/X, ssl, and cookies. =)


Check out UPX, a binary packer. (5, Informative)

kcurrie (4116) | more than 11 years ago | (#4688480)

UPX [] , the Ultimate Packer for Executables is great when you don't have alot of diskspace available. It uncompresses binaries on the fly VERY quickly, so fast in fact that after compressing large programs you'll find that they are up and running FASTER than if they are not packed, simply because it can uncompress faster than it takes to load unpacked code from disk. It apparently can do something like 10MB/s decompression on a P133. ..anybody remember PowerPacker and the ilk on the Amiga? Those programs were worth their weight in gold when working on a floppy based system.

Re:Check out UPX, a binary packer. (1)

O (90420) | more than 11 years ago | (#4688887)

Yeah, it decompresses it to /tmp and exec's it. If you don't have enough temp space to hold the decompressed binary, it won't work. I'm not sure how it works on windows.

I've run into this problem before, and couldn't figure out what the problem was. Then I ran strace on it, and saw it was execing a file in /tmp.

Re:Check out UPX, a binary packer. (2)

Per Wigren (5315) | more than 11 years ago | (#4690754)

The development version decompresses direct to memory! It can also compress linux-kernels and make them bootable with any bootloader, as if it was uncompressed.

smallest X window distribution? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4690717)

has lots of stuff

"Desktop Environment" and "Small and Efficient"... (1)

Heretik (93983) | more than 11 years ago | (#4692935)

... Are mutually exclusive.

If you want a small graphical system, just run a window manager. All of the extra (unneeded) crap that comes with a "desktop" is always going to be larger. Always. There's more there, therefore larger. So don't argue. :)

I have a vested interest in efficient software (2)

JessLeah (625838) | more than 11 years ago | (#4693321)

And would love to create a central list of "smaller alternatives to common software". (Also a central list of "freer alternatives to common software").

Anyone up for creating a Yahoo! Group to discuss? Or does anyone have a better solution like some free mailing-list server?

We could chat as a community, and build a list...

I thought.. (1)

domninus.DDR (582538) | more than 11 years ago | (#4694387)

This is exactly what Linux from scratch [] was for.

Re:I thought.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4696733)

You thought wrong.
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