DeLi Linux: A light Linux distribution, done right


Author: Stefan Vrabie

Perhaps one of the best Linux distributions tailored for older hardware is DeLi Linux. It’s simple, and performs well enough to run on hardware as old as a 486.

In fact, DeLi Linux runs on anything better than a 386 with at least 4MB of memory, though if you have only 4MB, don’t expect stellar performance. Things get decent at 8MB, 16MB is smooth, and 32MB or more is perfect. I tested DeLi Linux on several machines, ranging from a 66MHz 486 DX2 with 8MB of RAM up to a a Dell Pentium III system with 256MB of RAM. The 486 system struggled to open anything, taking several minutes if things got too complex, such as when I was running a window manager, the X server, and AbiWord. However, DeLi Linux surprised me by turning the old 486 into an usable system, provided I had patience to spare. What’s more, the Pentium III was extremely responsive, being even faster than my main AMD64 system running Fedora Core 6.

DeLi Linux installation is simple if you can boot off a CD-ROM. Otherwise, you need to make some installation diskettes and just use the CD-ROM to copy the files from. Alternatively, you can install over a LAN or the Internet instead of using the CD-ROM. There is also the option of installing via a serial cable. Most methods are explained on the DeLi wiki, with screenshots for the bootable CD-ROM method. However, the text mode installer, while simple and straightforward, had two peculiarities that confused me. First, you have to remember that the current selection in all dialog boxes is in red. I thought different, so I couldn’t get past the “Do you wish to format?” dialog box, until I figured this one out. Secondly, and on a more serious note, while the installer doesn’t ask many things, what it does ask comes preselected with the first option. That makes the default keyboard format “azerty” and not English US, so you need to scroll down and select the right option. It also makes the default language something from Africa, if I’m not mistaken, but in any event, it’s clearly not English, so, again, you must scroll down and select whichever is appropriate for you.

DeLi Linux bundles a kernel and a careful selection of packages. The older kernel has both advantages and disatvantages; though it’s not extremely well suited to more modern hardware, such as anything newer than a Pentium 4, it is appropriate for older hardware, such as a simple Pentium. Since DeLi is expected to run on older hardware, this is a good choice, especially since support for a lot of old hardware has been dropped in the latest 2.6 kernel.

Packages wise, expect XOrg-Xserver 7.1 or tiny-Xserver 20060121cvs X server,
fluxbox 1.0rc2 and IceWM 1.2.28 window managers, gtk1 1.2.10 and gcc 3.3.6 for development. On the office side, you get AbiWord 1.0.7 as a word processor, Siag 3.6.0 for spreadsheets, xpdf 3.01pl1, and also Beaver and xelvis editors. Online, you can count on Dillo-i18n 0.8.6 as the Web browser or links 2.1pre23 as an alternative text mode Web browser, guiftp 0.1 for FTP access, the excellent Sylpheed 1.0.6 as the email client, plus a Samba client and Ayttm 0.4.6-17 to cover instant messaging needs. Multimedia is a little on the short side, but considering the target systems for DeLi, this is understandable. Only GTKSee, XPaint, and XMMS are provided, and XMMS doesn’t work well on a 486. As a nice touch, DeLi Linux also includes some games — Minesweeper, solitaire, taipei, and a few others — and utilities such as Midnight Commander, which works great as a file manager when you’re not using X.

If you need more applications, Firefox, Gnumeric 1.0.13, and VLC 0.8.6 are available in an online repository created for systems with 32MB of RAM or more. Sadly, for the moment, this special repository contains only these three packages. I don’t recommend you attempt to run Firefox on anything lower than a Pentium 166MMX with 32MB of RAM, and even then, be patient.

Overall DeLi Linux has a pretty good selection of light packges, but should you need extra software, you may use the Crux-style ports system that DeLi Linux uses. There is no GUI tool for managing installed applications, but the DeLi Linux Wiki tells you how to use the command line tools. You may compile your own applications, should you wish to do so, but bear in mind that DeLi doesn’t use libc, but rather uClibc, for lightness reasons, which means some complex applications might not work that well without small tweaks or without a recompile. However, this minor annoyance, and is actually for the best, since uClibc is a lot lighter than the standard libc.

The DeLi Linux wiki covers most common questions and tasks. One of the nicest contributions to the wiki is the Sound without sound card (but with PC speaker) page, which tells you how to use pcsnd with DeLi.

Another plus is that DeLi is up to date, and hasn’t been abandoned, which doesn’t hold true for all light distributions. Another nice touch is the upgrade script included on the DeLi Linux 0.7.1 CD-ROM for DeLi Linux 0.7 users — while not of use to new users, it comes to show that DeLi Linux won’t leave users hanging in the future.

DeLi runs smooth and surprisingly fast on old hardware, and even faster on newer hardware, though you should probably not go further than a Pentium III, since although it’s fast, DeLi is also light. It might just be your chance to restore an old system to its former glory. As far as lightweight Linux distributions go, DeLi is one of the best.


  • Linux