Friday, July 13, 2012

Finnix, a fast and light Linux LiveCD (and many others)

By Vasudev Ram

I recently had a need to get a Linux Live CD for emergency use on my PC. So I googled for "Linux Live CDs" (or some such term).

And out of the results I found (there were many), I decided to first try out Finnix (Wikipedia) (since it was among the smaller ones - just about a 100 MB download, though there probably are smaller ones):

So I downloaded it from the Finnix site, burned the ISO onto a CD and booted from it. It booted fairly fast.

Since it is on a CD, each command you run has to be loaded from the CD, which makes things slow. But you can use the "toram" (to RAM) option at the boot prompt, in which case it loads the entire OS into RAM. Then the commands load and run really fast. Using the toram option also causes the CD to be ejected after Finnix is loaded into RAM, freeing up the CD drive for other uses - a useful feature.

One limitation I found - at least on my hardware - is that the default text font is a bit too small. But it may be possible to fix that by passing a different value for the "vga=" parameter, other than the default.

Here are the Finnix docs.

It was interesting to read that Finnix is one of the oldest Live CDs still in production. It was first based on Red Hat Linux 6.0, and is currently Debian-based, according to the Wikipedia article linked above.

Finnix is available "for the x86, x86-64 and PowerPC architectures, and paravirtualized (User Mode Linux and Xen) systems. Finnix can be run off a bootable CD, a USB flash drive, a hard drive, or network boot (PXE)." - Wikipedia article.

Here are some other lightweight Linux distributions I found that may be of interest:

A meta-site by Ben Gross - lists many such distributions, both for Unix and Linux (got to check this one out more later):

Ben Gross - Small Unix Distributions

Damn Small Linux

Bodhi Linux

Tiny Core Linux

If you're interested in Live CDs, Linux rescue / recovery work, etc., you may like to read my older article, How Knoppix saved the day, on using Knoppix to rescue a client's Linux system:. It was first published in Linux For You magazine.

- Vasudev Ram - Dancing Bison Enterprises

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