Saturday, January 19, 2008

Damn Small Linux: Made Me Say, "Damn It!"

It's not as bad as my title suggests. Damn Small Linux (DSL) is, in fact, pretty good. I guess it works pretty well on other people's systems -- but not mine.

I have this 250Mb flash drive that's actually a non-functional MP3 player that died out on me. Luckily, it managed to retain its memory storage capability, so I decided to try installing dsl-4.2.4, which I got from's download page here using instructions I found here.

I followed directions to the letter, rebooted, failed a couple of times, then voila! It worked! By the way, I had to format my flash drive with "format h: /fs:fat" rather than use the /fs:fat32 switch because I couldn't boot with the latter option on my previous attempts.

I was all smiles until my problems began:
  • I configured our home LAN to use static IP addresses. DSL is configured by default to run with DHCP, so I had to reconfigure it. For some reason, the configuration was recognized only after I changed my IP address from to It took like 10 attempts. Maybe I should've rebooted, but it suddenly worked, and I don't know how it happened. I just found myself being able to surf the net. It would've been better if, at the beginning, I was given a choice to configure my Internet connection. I read later on that there were cheatcodes to do that.
  • The default window manager looked fine except that, because the only theme installed was mostly black and I usually set my monitor's brightness really low to reduce eye strain, it felt like I was trying to find my way in the dark. I finally installed a few desktop backgrounds and JWM themes, and then switched to FluxBox, which brought me back to the days when I used BlackBox with my Slackware distro. Doing all that tweaking gave me this really cool feeling, knowing that I was running a Linux distro from that tiny device in front of me.
  • After restarting, I found out that I could no longer boot into DSL, maybe because:
  1. I unchecked the option to back up. Because of the terse info in the message box, I didn't know what was being backed up. Well, I guess I didn't read enough, so it could've been my fault. I thought it meant backing up my session, so I thought that if I didn't do that, nothing bad would happen because I've tried not backing up my session in various Linux distros and nothing went wrong; I could still boot into the system.
  2. I installed various themes and desktop backgrounds. Maybe it could've filled my flash drive.
  3. I reconfigured my IP address, so maybe DSL tried to look for the configuration files that I failed to save.
  4. I could've overwritten or deleted the default configuration files.
  5. I played around with the swap file, creating a 60Mb and then later changing it to 128Mb. The window just closed, and when I went back to it, I saw that my swap file was 74Mb.
Well, I tried installing DSL to my flash drive several times, but I was able to boot only on two occasions; I was never able to reboot back into it. The first time, I got a boot error message, and the second time, the screen scrolled endlessly and rapidly with error messages I couldn't quite read.

I installed DSL for the third time just about an hour ago, and it refused to boot. I don't know what went wrong. Is it because flash drives aren't standard?

I sure would like to try burning a CD or installing from Linux, but I guess I'll do that some other time. Well, it was a short-live but fun experience that was frustrating for the most part. Based on my experience, it seems like DSL doesn't want me to go back. It would've been better if everything was intuitive and a simple reboot would bring me back to the system.

Oh, well, maybe it's better to buy their bootable USB drives. Yes, it's pre-installed with DSL, so you won't go through the difficulties I did. It's also 2 Gig and USB 2.0!