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In Pursuit Of The Perfect O/S



A Review of The Incredible Puppy Linux System

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Antix. Small, but what potential

What is Antix? It's a small Linux distro created by the Mepis folks. Mepis is a custom Linux distribution based on the Debian archive. It provides an exceptionally easy to use version of Linux, easily adapted to by Windows users.

Antix with Fluxbox

Antix is the light version of Mepis Linux, built around a few compact window managers that provide the X11 interface. The Antix version I obtained installs with either ICEWM or Fluxbox. Both window managers are amazingly small, amazingly configurable, and amazingly functional. No matter what version of Linux I try, I usually end up using either ICEWM or Fluxbox in the end. Below is a screen shot of my initial Antix setup using Fluxbox.

Antix conky

Antix is a compact Linux distro, having a small footprint both in memory and disk. The 2.6.32-1 kernel version I installed initially took only about 850 megabytes of disk space. In the install is included a number of efficient and small utilities, like Conky (shown above), a minimal but useful system monitor. This handy utility can be turned on and off by way of the Fluxbox Menu, and configured by editing the .conkyrc file.

Antix Menu

Above you see the Fluxbox menu expanded. Note that it has entries that cover many typical user functions, each rather minimal in resource. The biggest resource hog is probably the iceape web browser. Smaller browsers are included if you need them, including dillo and links2. Editors include leafpad, nano, and Xedit. These small but functional applications show the flavor of Antix. Other than the browsers and editors mentioned, Antix contains the Rox-filer and midnight commander as file managers, and a small host of admin utilities.

Antix uses a text-based utility called Ceni-network for setting up your network connection, and it works rather well. I have an old RT2500 type Belkin wireless card in my desktop, which on other Linux installs has given me great pain to setup. But the Antix utility easily detected my card and setup my network connection. For a CD burner, Antix provides a minimalist Recorder utility that is a simple interface to cdrecord, mkisofs, growisofs -- primitives which do the actual work.

With these small and efficient applications, combined with the minimal footprint of Antix, the O/S makes a great distribution for older equipment. Out of the box, so to speak, Antix provides only the ICEWM or Fluxbox menu system for launching products. But the included Rox-filer file management utility can be auto-launched as a background task from the .fluxbox/startup file. By instructing Rox to run with its pinboard option, the user is provided a utility that manages desktop icons. To use Rox-filer in this way, simply edit the .fluxbox/startup file in your user directory. Toward the bottom of the file you'll likely already find a commented out reference to rox-filer as follows:

#rox --pinboard=Antix

Just uncomment this line and reload Fluxbox for a setup that will allow you to add launch icons to your desktop. When the pinboard operation of Rox-filer is used, Rox also becomes the utility to handle backgrounds for your desktop. Just right-click over any desktop icon and click the Backdrop selection, then using a launched Rox-filer, pick a background file from any of your favorite image files and drag it into the backdrop window. Issue a rox command in a terminal window and click the rox help icon to find out how to make the best use of rox.

Antix certainly isn't the only small Linux distro out there. There are a number of other very good small Linux distros, one of the more functional and popular being Puppy Linux. Go to Distrowatch to find the long list of small Linux distros that are available. There you can find which distros might be to your liking, and which are still being actively maintained.

As you can see from my Puppy Linux Review, Puppy Linux comes loaded with many more handy utilities than does Antix. One may go for some time with Pupply Linux without need of adding more software. Beware that some small distros offer very limited software selections or are no longer being actively maintained.

So how does this minimal Antix Linux compete with the distros that come packaged with larger selections of handy utilities?

What makes Antix compete very well is its Debian heritage, which leads to incredible after-install configuration flexibility. Though Puppy Linux has many of your favorite utilities in its archives, nothing compares to the depth of the Debian archive. Puppy Linux maintainers seem to realize this, and the version 5 derivatives of Puppy Linux can install many software packages from the Ubuntu archive, which is largely derived from Debian.

But since Antix is designed at the git-go from Debian, you might consider Antix the iceberg of small Linux distros. Small at the initial install, but sitting on an immense mound of selectable software packages. Virtually anything in the Debian archive can be installed using any of the Debian package management utilities, such as apt-get, aptitude, or synaptic.

So with Antix you can start small, then proceed to tailor your system in any one of several directions. You can even select from several different small or large window management or desktop environments to replace ICEWM or Fluxbox if you wish.

You can tailor your system for document making, adding OpenOffice, Koffice, TEX, LaTEX, aspell, many document format converters and viewers, and several presentation utilities. All for free, all from the Debian archive.

You can go graphical, with the GIMP, xpaint, imagemagick, and a host of other graphical manipulation or viewing utilities. You can set up to handle almost any graphical format -- all for free, all from the Debian archive.

You can create an incredible programming environment with scripting and compiling languages aplenty. Scripting languages like awk, gawk, perl, Python, Ruby, tcl, TK, just to name a few. And compiling languages like assembly, C, C++, Java, and FORTRAN. And with these programming languages are countless available libraries for doing file I/O, mathematics, graphics, and text manipulation.

Or you can set up a system to be a powerhouse for doing scientific, engineering, or modeling work. There are several matrix languages with extensive libraries for solving science, engineering, graphic, and statistical problems, including Octave, PDL, Yorick, Scilab, and Euler to mention but a few.

The Debian archive houses thousands of software packages, and Antix is a quick install, small resource requirement gateway into all of those packages. If the limited list of possibilities interests you, read on.

Obtaining and Installing Antix

Antix can be obtained from the Antix Repository. If you have a DSL or faster network connection, downloading takes but a few minutes. Once you obtain the iso file of your choice, just make a single CD copy of the iso, and prepare to install.

Antix is a live CD, so when you boot from the CD you end up in a functioning operating system. This lets you try it out for size before you decide to install. If you choose to install, simply click the Install selection on the initial Fluxbox menu.

Antix installs in a pretty conventional way, requiring a disk partition in which to reside. Even if you hunt down on the Antix website the procedures for doing a frugal install, you'll find it still requires a partition. So it would seem that a classic install is the best option.

Having said that, it's worth noting that Antix installs in just a few minutes and takes up little space compared to many of today's typical operating systems. The version I installed took up less than 850 MB on my hard drive. When Antix installs the grub boot manager (at your discretion), it does a good job of finding other installed operating systems and adding them to the GRUB configuration menu.

During the install procedure, you select a partition, check whether your computer clock is UTC or not, and select the GRUB install option. Then you're ready to reboot. Once you reboot, you should see in the GRUB menu any other operating systems you had on other partitions, including any Windows or Linux installs. Pick Antix (the default) and see how quickly it boots. Impressive, no?

Beefing Up Your Antix Install

After you've installed your initial Antix, you'll likely wish to add more utilities, like many those listed above. To begin, know that installed and ready to go is the simple command-line apt-get package management utility. So once your network is setup with Ceni-network under Admin/tools -> tools menu, type in:

sudo apt-get update

This will cause apt-get to update its database of what's already installed and what's available. Then sudo apt-get install any other utilities you want. You can put several on a line, such as:

sudo apt-get vim aptitude gimp

This command would install the handy editor vim, the more user friendly package manager aptitude, and the gimp graphics editor. Another user friendly package manager is synaptic. If you decide to install either aptitude or synaptic as your choice of package manager, do an update with the one of your choice from its menu as the first command. Then, use it exclusively and don't mess with apt-get anymore. Jumping back and forth between package managers can goof up their respective databases.

Now with your favorite package manager at your disposal (I just stick with apt-get), you're ready to install any applications you may desire.

How do you know what you might want? Check Migrating From Windows for some Linux software by category. Also check out the package list at Debian Packages. There you can browse through the packages, or you can use handy search engines at the bottom of the Debian page to find specific packages you might be interested in.

Once you install a few packages, you'll appreciate the easy to use Debian package manager system, considered to be one of the best of any O/S. It's a pretty smart system, in that installing a package generally causes all supporting libraries and packages to automatically be installed.


Antix is the small Linux version from Mepis. It's provided on a live CD which gives you the chance to try it out. It installs easily from that live CD, needing only a partition in which to reside. It initially needs about 850 MB of disk space for the OS, plus a couple of gigabytes for expansion as you add utilities. It boots quickly, runs well on old equipment with a much smaller load than something like Ubuntu or Mepis. It likely is missing tools and utilities that you need or want for your work, but it can be expanded via the Debian archive to do about anything you might imagine.

When is something like Puppy Linux better? When you want more initial utilities so you don't have to install more right away, or you want something that can run well from a frugal install. That is, an install that can exist as a few files on a partition without needing to own the partition.

The major strength of Antix is it's initial smallness and efficiency, yet with virtually unlimited expansion potential by way of the enormous Debian package library.

In the past I used to install Debian by downloading the Debian collection of CD images. But as Debian grew to be over 10 CDs, I switched to downloading only the Debian install disk. This install CD boots to a minimal system and installs the rest of Debian directly over the internet.

Now, I start with Antix. It installs easier, and doesn't load up my computer with loads of stuff I don't want or ever use. Then I use a package manager to move precisely in the direction I want to go. Few other small distros would give me that easy expansion capability.

If you choose to use Antix, you can add low-resource functionality to the fluxbox version with dockapps. Check out the Fluxbox Review for some dockapp examples and how to use them. If you like extending your window manager with dockapps, see the Review ICEWM for how to make use of dockapps with ICEWM.