My desktop OS: Damn Small Linux plus pendrive equals portable paradise
I'm a student who does freelance PHP coding and pixel art. I've always wanted a dedicated computer for my work, but that would take a considerable investment on a student's income. I found the perfect solution in the pairing of an older Compaq Deskpro and Damn Small Linux (DSL).
Damn Small Linux is a great match for older hardware because it's loaded with lightweight software. My machine has a 166MHz Pentium CPU with 32MB of RAM and a 1.2GB hard drive, and it runs extremely well with DSL. I've always favored simple applications that do one job and do it well, so the stripped down nature of the programs included with DSL doesn't bother me. However, if I need the extra power of more complex programs, they're a breeze to install.
The best thing about Damn Small Linux is that it flat out flies. I use Joe's Window Manager instead of the default Fluxbox, but they both give a great amount of functionality in a small footprint. The only application I use that lags at all is the memory-hungry Firefox. The rest are more responsive than most of the programs I use on Windows on my much more modern other computer.
I recently acquired a 256MB USB pendrive that I use for storing personal documents and work-related stuff. As a Linux fan who wanted to make the most of his new toy, I went looking for the simplest, smallest distro I could find that could boot from a pendrive. I found Debian-based Damn Small Linux, whose long list of bundled applications fits into a meager 50MB. The more I use it, the more I like it.
You can test DSL in a variety of ways: you can boot it from a business card CD, install it on the hard drive, run it from a USB pendrive, or even run it from within Windows (using Qemu). After a quick search on the project's wiki, I found the section related to booting from USB. The simplest way to create a bootable pendrive is to burn DSL to a CD, run a live CD session with it, and choose the desired install option from the desktop menu. I decided to download the .iso and instead try to install it directly on the pendrive. For guidance, I used the excellent guide on the Debian wiki.
The installation finished without problems. I had to play around with the various USB boot devices in the BIOS until I found one that worked.
DSL offers a variety of boot parameters, and some of them are quite handy.