Damn Small Linux (DSL) is a lightweight GNU/Linux distribution designed to breathe new life into old computer hardware by offering a full desktop operating system that runs on a wide range of hardware, but which takes up as little disk space as possible.
The original goal of DSL was to keep everything under 50MB, and version of the operating system released between 2005 and 2012 stuck to that size limit. But more than a decades since the last release, developer John Andrews has released a public alpha version of Damn Small Linux 2024. This time the operating system has grown in size, but it’s still small enough to fit on a single compact disk.
Instead of sticking with the 50MB size limit, Andrews says the goal is now to keep the operating system image below 700MB. This allows users to burn the image to a CD and use it to boot and/or install the operating system on computers so old that they may not even have a DVD driver or support for booting from a USB drive.
The increased size allows DSL 2024 to include drivers to support a wider range of hardware as well as a number of basic free and open source applications including a web browser, email client, word processor, PDF viewer, spreadsheet application, media players, and graphics editor.
The operating system is based on AntiX 23 i386, which in turn is based on Debian 12 Bookworm and features a Linux 5.10-based kernel. DSL 2024 ships with the Fluxbox and JWM window managers and support for apt, which means that it should be easy to install other applications compatible with Debian’s default command-line package management tools.
While the operating system is specifically designed to run well on older computers with x86 processors, it also has the benefit of being a rather zippy little operating system for modern computers (or virtual machines) thanks to its compact size and low memory requirements.
Just don’t be surprised if major updates are few and far-between. DSL is largely the work of a single developer and DSL 2024 is the first major update since 2012.
Meanwhile, folks looking for a lightweight Linux distribution that’s more actively maintained might want to take a look at Tiny Core Linux (which is distributed as disk images as small as 17MB), Porteus (a distro that’s less than 300MB and designed to run from a CD or flash drive), or Puppy Linux (500MB or less).