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 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
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
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
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
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
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,
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:
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
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
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.