Live CDs are great. If you are on the road an unable to access a Linux box, you just pop it in to the drive and away you go. You can use them as restore discs, play practical jokes and install a full operating system from them. One of the more interesting areas in Live CDs are the minimal (or business card) distributions. Designed for older machines, these can be a lifesaver if you are visiting your parents and using an old computer. Over the next week I will be reviewing them and decide which one is the best.
One of my favorites is Austrumi. It is under 50mb in size and surprisingly full featured. It will run with 128Mb of ram or less. When Distrowatch Weekly mentioned version 1.4.0 was out, I was interested in trying it again.
A big change in this release is the switch from enlightenment to Metacity + LXPanel. They have added a MySQL client and server (?!) and the bittorrent client Transmission. The kernel is 184.108.40.206. More details are available on the project’s home page.
So what do you get on a 50Mb Live Cd? Austrumi has made interesting choices.
* File Manager - emelFM2 and Midnight Commander
* Web Browser - Firefox 1.5
* Email - Web-Mail (Uebimiau)
* Graphics - GIMP, Inkscape, GQview and the Ghostview Postscript/PDF Viewer
* Audio/ Video - MPlayer, Sweep and SimpleCDR-X
* Development - Bluefish Editor, QEMU
* Games - Atomix, Ltris, Mines, GtkBalls, Icebreaker and XBoard
* Office - Abiword and Gnumeric Spreadsheet
* Accessories - Calculator, Terminal, Stardict and Partimage
* Networking - Transmission, DC++, Linphone, XChat and vqcc-gtk Chat Client
You get a good amount of programs for such a small distro. You also have the option to install to disc or install to USB.
I booted into Austrumi. You are given four choices at the boot prompt:
1. al nocache (don’t attempt to cache CD) for systems with less than 128Mb Ram
2. al union (read-write filesystem)
3. al text (run text mode)
4. al noddc (for old monitor)
I simply hit enter and booted with no problem. The default language is Latvian. I changed this by clicking the menu, then Istatiejumi (Apparently the Latvians use a lot of letters in their words) and choosing valodas to change language to English. This restarts the X server. This could be made easier. The look of Austrumi is striking. The Wallpaper chosen gives it a sophisticated look. This distribution has a reputation of being very fast. It lived up to its reputation for me.
I clicked Firefox and found out my internet connection was not set up. Clicking the Connection Manager icon in the upper right corner opened Netconfig (a connection dialog.) I chose DHCP and I was online in less than a minute. This couldn’t have been simpler. You can set up a printer via the Cups web interface. The selection of printing drivers is minimal, so you may need to download your own.
Austrumi is not without its problems. Web-Mail did not work for me, it gave me a blank Firefox browser window. Install to hard drive did not recognize a disc, so I was unable to test it. As I mentioned earlier, it would not hurt to make the language switch more intuitive. If I remember correctly, in past editions you just clicked a flag on the toolbar. One program didn’t make the translation to English, Ugunsvarti. It is a firewall/router program. The program runs in English, though. I couldn’t connect to MySQL. Install to USB was not working. This is listed as being fixed as of version 220.127.116.11, but as I mentioned below I was unable to download it.
The website is a bit lacking. There are mentions of newer versions (up to 18.104.22.168), but the link on the download page only lists version 1.4.0. You won’t find a lot of information on the site, mainly a link to Slackware, some screenshots and an outdated list of programs. The history page only goes up to version 1.2.0. There are no English forums, there is a Latvian forum. To be fair, most distros do not provide Latvian forums and this is a Latvian distribution.
One great feature is that you can remaster and create your own Live CD from within Austrumi. You are able to remove the Live CD and burn a new one. The screenshot shows all of the steps you take. It is remarkable to me that you are even able to test it using QEMU before burning. I give them a lot of credit here. This is cool.
If you load Austrumi into RAM when you boot (which is done automatically do unless you have less than 128Mb) you can eject the disc to burn CDs as well. The provided program, SimpleCDR-X, is a nice and simple CD burning program that I was previously unaware of. I also had not heard of the audio editor and player Sweep. It looks like a very interesting program, one deserving of its own article. (Note: The Sweep website mistakenly lists the last update as February 2006 instead of 2007.) MPlayer uses the old skin, which I hadn’t seen in years, and runs fine.
The games are simple and entertaining. This is Linux, and a 50Mb Live CD, so don’t expect the latest and greatest. What they lack in fancy graphics they make up for in challenge. Atomix is a game where you have to put molecules together and drive yourself crazy in the process. Icebreaker is similar to Kbounce, where you trap the bouncing penguins in increasingly smaller blocks of ice. Similar to what is going on right now in Antarctica. LTris is, you guessed it, a Tetris clone. If you are looking to waste a little time, Austrumi comes through.
Austrumi is good at what it does, which is provide you with a reasonably full featured Linux Distribution that will fit on a 50Mb business card and run on an old machine. I recommend it. The small size makes the download painless. If you are stuck using an older machine, Austrumi is a good way to go. It is not without its bugs, but overall I found it worked well for me. It could use a bit more polish and attention to detail. Overall, I give it a 7.5 out of 10. Next up: Puppy Linux.