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If you look at distrowatch you'll probably be amazed at how popular Damn Small Linux has become. It is number 6 in this year's page hits ranking and only preceded by Ubuntu, SUSE, Mandriva, Fedora and Mepis! In fact it has gathered more attention than famous distributions such as Debian, Knoppix, Gentoo, Slackware or PCLinuxOS. As version 3.0.1 was released a few days ago, I decided to give it a look.

DSL - The Biz-Card Desktop

The "Damn Small" concept

As its name suggests, Damn Small Linux (DSL) is a damn small distribution! The ISO is just 50MB and it fits on a business card CD so you can carry it with you wherever you go. It also acts as a Live CD so you can run the system without installing it on the machine. The idea is to access your Linux environment from any computer, thanks to a tiny CD that would fit in your wallet. Traditional Live CDs are great, and so is DSL, but they don't fit in your wallet! :)

Thanks to its small size DSL can also be put on a bootable USB key. Of course, depending on the size of the key it might not fit in a wallet that way, but the device could be writable and give more flexibility than the small CD.

Finally, and this is a real innovation: DSL can boot from another operating system, so you can run it directly from any Windows box when you're not at home.

The Debian Heritage

DSL is based on Knoppix and therefore Debian. From these distributions it inherited a very stable system with efficient hardware recognition. From the Live CD, you can install DSL on your hard-drive and enjoy a full Debian system.


DSL can run fully in your computer's RAM and this makes the system really fast. Speed is often a problem when it comes to live distributions, but since this one is small it usually fits entirely into the memory. The DSL website claims that performance is good on a 486DX with only 16MB of RAM.

I downloaded both the embedded and the CD versions in order to make an opinion of my own.

Running DSL 3.0.1 from Windows

You can download the embedded version of DSL 3.0.1 from here: http://ftp.heanet.ie/mirrors/damnsmalllinux.org/current/dsl-3.0.1-embedded.zip

The ZIP file contains the QEmu emulator and an embedded version of DSL bundled together. It also contains a Windows .bat file and a Linux shell script which make it easy to launch the emulation under these two platforms.

A look at what's in the Embedded DSL folder...

In Windows, you can simply double click on the .bat file, and a QEmu window appears on your screen with DSL booting inside it. If you're not familiar with virtualization, think of it as a virtual computer running inside one of your windows.

Embedded DSL 3.0 booting in QEmu

The embedded version of DSL is configured to automatically use the place it is stored in for saving and restoring data. For instance, I extracted the ZIP file on my USB key, and ran the embedded DSL 3.0.1 under Windows 2000 directly from the USB key. Once in DSL 3.0.1, I created a file in my home folder and changed a few things. I then rebooted the embedded DSL, and was happy to see that my file and settings had automatically been saved and restored. In fact they were saved on the USB key itself. If I moved the embedded DSL folder to my hard-drive and ran it from there, DSL would use my hard drive for saving and restoring data. In fact there is a "harddisk" file in the subfolders of Qemu. I suspect it's using that file as a hardware storage device.

Embedded DSL 3.0 running within a Window.

Inside DSL 3.0.1


DSL is using Fluxbox by default and this makes it extremely fast. The embedded version of DSL is fast as well despite the fact that it runs within QEmu. And if you're running from the CD, you can tell DSL to load itself into your RAM by typing "dsl toram" at startup. The startup phase was reasonably fast: On my machines the embedded version of DSL took 36 seconds to boot from the BIOS to the desktop, the CD version took 1 minute and 23 seconds.


It's hard to be objective when it comes to artwork. You can decide for yourself by looking at the screenshots. I personally thought DSL was horrible looking. The first thing I did was to change the background and the Fluxbox theme.

The Boot Menu, from here you can decide to use mydsl, toram or other handy options

The Boot process, Knoppix Style

When you start DSL, Dillo shows you how to get started with the distribution

The default DSL 3.0 desktop

Hardware Recognition

DSL is based on Knoppix which is quite famous for its hardware recognition. However, on a Centrino laptop it didn't recognize the IPW2200 wifi card and it didn't manage to show X in full resolution (1280x768 on an Intel 855 card).

Default Set of Applications

For the distribution to fit on a 50MB CD, DSL had to rule out big applications. Firefox is included but it's an old 1.0.6 version. XMMS 1.2.8 is here as well. There are a lot of small applications as well: Beaver, Siag, Sylpheed, VNC, Microsoft Office viewers, XPDF, GPhone, a collection of games.. etc. To be honest, the selection is not impressive at all. Fortunately you can extend it by using "mydsl". DSL packaged some applications which are not included in the distribution by default. You can get these packages and place them in the root folder of the CD and that way they become part of it. At startup you can also define a partition on which DSL will find extra applications to include. For instance, if you stored MYDSL packages on /dev/hda you can type "dsl mydsl=/dev/hda". The MYDSL repository is available here http://distro.ibiblio.org/pub/linux/distributions/damnsmall/mydsl/ and you can use it to download applications such as Thunderbird, Xchat, Skype...etc.

Multimedia Support

Although DSL 3.0 comes with MP3 support by default, the Flash and Java plugins are not installed and it doesn't play DivX files or DVDs.


In the DSL Control Panel, you can find something called Netcardconfig. It provides basic functionalities to setup your network using DHCP or static IP addresses. You can also select the DHCP client in order to renew your IP address in collaboration with a DHCP server. I got some error messages when I used it first and the Control panel interface is not intuitive at all. In fact I found these tools very poor.

The DSL Control Panel

Also, the default user doesn't have the permission to use ping, so you have to become root by typing "sudo su -" just to make sure you can ping google.com (you can also use sudo of course). It's only a detail but I found that annoying.


Damn Small Linux is a very interesting project and it brings an entirely new way to use Linux. If you're always on the move DSL is made for you, may it be in your USB key, as an embedded operating system running under Linux or Windows, or even as a business card Live CD that you carry around within your wallet. The concept is great, it's all about mobility and it works very well. Then come the problems. The default DSL has a poor selection of software, an ugly design and lack good configuration tools. But it's configurable. If you give it a bit of time you can learn how to remaster the CD and use the MyDSL extensions. Then you could potentially make it a really nice distribution, maybe a little bit bigger than the original, but still very interesting.

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Comments about this article
Damn Small Linux
writen by: radiotoronto on 2006-07-02 21:59:28
I installed DSL 2.0 on an old first generation 233 MHz. Pentium with 64 MB RAM and a 4 GB hard drive. I used a "magazine" copy of DSL 2.0 because this old clunker's CD-ROM drive has trouble reading CD-R's. Anyway, for what it's designed to do, it's fine for the most part. It does lack a decent word processor...Abiword would have been nice...but then again I understand that the DSL folks were trying to keep the distro very small. I also found that having "Dillo" open up at boot a bit irritating after awhile.
RE: Damn Small Linux written by radiotoronto:
Damn Small Linux
writen by: doobit on 2006-07-04 10:29:22
Damn Small Linux 2.0 was a different kernel from the one in DSL-3.0.1(2.4.26), and also a slightly different selection of apps. For most people v. 2.3 or 3.0.1 are best bets. Many good applications are available for download from the myDSL repositories, even AbiWord and Open Office are there. You can keep Dillo from popping up very easily by commenting out the dillo line in the hidden .xinitrc file. Get involved in the Wiki and the DSL forums to stay on top of the rapid evolution of the best small Linux.
RE: Damn Small Linux written by doobit:
Dillo at startup
writen by: Clement Lefebvre on 2006-07-05 10:27:41
You can comment out the line refering to Dillo within the /home/dsl/.xinitrc file. By the way, this is indicated within Dillo at startup, and I strongly recommend you read it before making it disappear :) Clem.
RE: Dillo at startup written by Clement Lefebvre:
writen by: rd on 2006-10-09 21:55:19
I've been using DSL for a while now. The folks have done exceptional work with it. It is the easiest distro to install onto a USB flash drive that I've found. It is very functional and the ability to add more functionality to it certainly exists. I highly recommend it! rd
RE: consultant written by rd:
I love DSL
writen by: Justin Gordon on 2006-11-10 21:00:24
I have a dialup internet connection, so when looking at Linux for the first time, my first concern was size, so DSL really worked for me. It may not have all the features of a mainstream distro like Ubuntu, but it filled my needs and I've never looked back. Since that time I have tried other distros, but I always end up back @ dsl. It was my first, and so far, best.
RE: I love DSL written by Justin Gordon:
why not puppy?
writen by: erwindehoop on 2007-01-09 05:40:52
I personally prefer Puppy Linux because it's easier to use and configure. Nevertheless DSL is a good Damn Small Linux!
RE: why not puppy? written by erwindehoop:
none really
writen by: jon on 2007-01-17 11:00:34
RE: none really written by jon:
writen by: Luis on 2007-03-03 03:32:09
RE: But written by Luis:
How do you install Flash/Macromedia? I'
writen by: Bryan on 2007-05-25 01:04:21
RE: How do you install Flash/Macromedia? I' written by Bryan:
dsl-n in german
writen by: eric on 2007-06-01 22:59:10
I ried booting up dsl-n on windows 98. and the partition part was all in german. Im new, please help me
RE: dsl-n in german written by eric:
DSL is amazing
writen by: Lionel D on 2007-06-25 01:36:58
I don't know what you are complaining about, folks. DSL is just great; it is build with a main goal: small and run on low performance machines. And this is achieved very well. Abiword or others??? then use DSL-N!!! DSL is just 50Meg, you can not have full gnome applications within such a smell size OS. The tools provided with the panel and the MyDSL repository are too me very intuitive. Of course all is perfictble, but DSL is to me just a great linux system if you can remember what DSL means.
RE: DSL is amazing written by Lionel D:
writen by: Sulaxn Thakur on 2007-08-17 06:12:45
how can i run mp3 files on dsl small linux thru pen drive plz tell me
RE: thakur written by Sulaxn Thakur:
how to install PHP server
writen by: varun on 2007-08-24 04:27:19
i am doing project on DSL . in my project to support one application i need PHP server. how to install PHP server in DSL
RE: how to install PHP server written by varun:
crystal reports
writen by: varun on 2007-08-24 04:31:16
i am working on sqlite3 database on DSL 2.0. to write queries is there any crystal reports for sqlite3 on DSL
RE: crystal reports written by varun:
Using dsl-embedded
writen by: Yazi on 2007-08-27 12:03:36
on a pen drive, but I didn't install it, I just copied the dsl-embedded folder from my hard drive to the pen drive. I've been using dsl for awhile now, and like it most of the time. I know Linux fairly well, but there are some things I don't understand in dsl... How do I get it to either boot directly into the user account I created, or ask me for a login (preferred, even though it's on my pen drive)? As it is, dsl automatically boots into some generic account.
RE: Using dsl-embedded written by Yazi:
I can't connect to my network using Damn
writen by: Rod on 2007-09-02 16:06:03
Here are network configuration of windows and Damn Small Linux: i already did that, but still i can't ping gateway or other network address in my network: I used Damn Small Linux inside windows using QEMU software. ipconfig of windows shows this Windows IP Configuration Host Name . . . . . . . . . . . . : server Primary Dns Suffix . . . . . . . : Node Type . . . . . . . . . . . . : Unknown IP Routing Enabled. . . . . . . . : No WINS Proxy Enabled. . . . . . . . : No Ethernet adapter Local Area Connection: Connection-specific DNS Suffix . : Description . . . . . . . . . . . : VIA Rhine II Fast Ethernet Adapter Physical Address. . . . . . . . . : 00-13-8F-19-6D-C9 Dhcp Enabled. . . . . . . . . . . : No IP Address. . . . . . . . . . . . : Subnet Mask . . . . . . . . . . . : Default Gateway . . . . . . . . . : DNS Servers . . . . . . . . . . . : and from my Damn Small Linux #vi /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth0 DEVICE=eth0 IPADDR= NETMASK= NETWORK= BROADCAST= GATEWAY= ONBOOT=yes and for the /etc/resolv.conf nameserver nameserver after this i tried to ping the gateway but stil can't connect to my network and DNS. what are the problem with my network setting in DSL.Thanks
RE: I can't connect to my network using Damn written by Rod:
Try lighter PCLinuxOS versions
writen by: manmath sahu on 2007-09-09 22:49:29
Try a lighter PCLinuxOS version such as PCLinuxOS Junior or PCLinuxOS TinyMe. Your problem will be solved.
RE: Try lighter PCLinuxOS versions written by manmath sahu:
How to install DSL 3.0.1
writen by: F A Talukder on 2007-12-17 03:14:59
I never used Linux system before, so this is the first time for me. Recently, I received a copy of the DSL 3.0.1 with a magazine. The disk contain only one file name as "dsl-3.0.1.iso". I have computer with Pentium III processor and Windows 2000 operating system. I would like to format the computer with this DSL 3.0.1, so that I can install and use only the DSL 3.0.1 (Linux system only). As I am completely new, I need step by step help, such as (i) Is the "dsl-3.0.1.iso" file is enough for formating the computer. (ii) How to boot the computer with the "dsl-3.0.1.iso" file, (iii) How to format the hard disk with the DSL 3.0.1 (iv) How to install the DSL 3.0.1 in the hard disk It would be highly appreciated if any Linux expert / user can do me this favour. Farid
RE: How to install DSL 3.0.1 written by F A Talukder:
changing network config in DSL
writen by: sam on 2007-12-29 21:55:04
RE: changing network config in DSL written by sam:
one more thing
writen by: SAM on 2007-12-29 21:59:22
Forgot to mention that I ran Netcardconfig in System/Net Setup. Still trying to figure out how to make these network settings static. They were lost when I rebooted.
RE: one more thing written by SAM:
I can't typing unicode(utf-8)in the abiw
writen by: ha on 2008-01-01 02:19:42
I'm can't typing unicode(utf-8)in the abiword I'm seting chaset=utf-8 but can't typing unicode in the abiword & openoffice 1.1 i'm typing unicode very good in firefox 1.1 or 2.0.0x and gaim 1.5 support gtk Help me Thank contacts mail ducthvn@gmail.com
RE: I can't typing unicode(utf-8)in the abiw written by ha:
writen by: osama salm on 2008-01-15 16:54:46
RE: libya written by osama salm:
Nice an useful distro
writen by: Andrius Bartulis on 2008-02-14 05:01:30
I like DSL!!! I use it on my 8GB flash disk and it is working fine. Only problem is that it does not play DVD movies :(
RE: Nice an useful distro written by Andrius Bartulis:
writen by: shady on 2008-03-02 04:03:33
sanks sanks sanks sanks sanks
RE: 123 written by shady:
DSL great but wifi problems
writen by: luis on 2008-04-20 04:22:43
hi, i installed DSL in old Toshiba laptop, Pentium II 233 MHz and only 32 MB ram and only DSL works faster (for installation and for using) but i have the problem with my USB wifi adapter DWL-G122 ver. C1 (D-Link), I finded the HOW-TO in wiki-DSL but doen't work... somebody works with this adapter? thanks...
RE: DSL great but wifi problems written by luis:
DSL without X window
writen by: Ravi Phulsundar on 2008-09-16 09:33:54
Dear All, Can Anybody tell me how much minimum space required for DSL without X window. I have SBC Wafer 4823 with 8MB Flash and 2MB RAM ? Whether I can install DSL on this SBC.
RE: DSL without X window written by Ravi Phulsundar:
DSL - Step by Step
writen by: SSH -l Sam on 2008-11-07 14:10:42
RE: DSL - Step by Step written by SSH -l Sam:
writen by: Anonymous on 2008-12-12 08:44:49
RE: written by Anonymous:
what next after extraction to USB stick
writen by: on 2009-05-21 18:15:42
http://s577.photobucket.com/albums/ss219/worthamtx/ The URL has a screenshot of the extracted files merely for clarification. My grandson has expressed an interest in Linux and since he does not have a computer and will use mine or his parents with the USB stick I desperately need direction. What must I do initially BIOS wise to get the stick recognized and boot from there. Does it make a difference that my PC has no windows and his parents PC has no Linux Thanks Allen
RE: what next after extraction to USB stick written by :
How to install Java/Macromedia
writen by: on 2009-06-11 15:59:50
I've got DSL running great on an old machine. got it working on my wireless network fine. But, I can't seem to figure out how to install Java/Macromedia for all sorts of web applications. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
RE: How to install Java/Macromedia written by :

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