DSL – Damn Small Linux 4.4.10 review

a potential saviour that'll only cost you 50MB of space
Photo of DSL – Damn Small Linux 4.4.10

As part of a survival toolkit, Damn Small Linux could be something of a saviour. Earlier this year, this writer used a previous release of the distribution to excise a couple of gigabytes of files from an otherwise-locked-down Vista installation, and while it didn’t save the machine concerned from complete reinstall, it did rescue an awful lot of data. It did it with no fuss, utter simplicity and earned a lot of appreciation as a result.

Unsurprisingly, that’s one of the key assets of Damn Small Linux, and version 4.4.10 continues the tradition. It weighs in at a 50MB ISO file that can be written directly to a disc or flash drive. Then when necessary, you simply boot off it and arrive at a Linux desktop in a matter of minutes. The distro utilises Knoppix/Debian technology, and when it does boot to a desktop it also now offers some outline system monitoring on its right hand side.

We did, to be fair, have a little trouble using it as a live distro. While the wireless Microsoft keyboard on our test rig was easily and effortlessly detected, the mouse was not. Thus we dug out a USB wired rodent, and the on-screen script and dialogue as Damn Small Linux was booting up reported that the mouse was detected. It still wouldn’t work, though. In the end it took a PS/2 mouse from the back of the cupboard to save us relying on fiddly keyboard shortcuts. But that was as much trouble as we had with it.

Just because Damn Small Linux lives up to its name in file size, this doesn’t mean that it’s bereft of a few tools. Recovery software is bundled in by default and it detected both internal and external storage with little effort. USB support is good, although we understand that PCMCIA detection is still on the way, as it was lacking when we came to test.

A web browser, media playback software and some office and graphics tools are among the other inclusions, and naturally enough you can install it and use it as your main distro should you so choose. It’s got just enough for you to be able to get away with it.

That doesn’t strike us as a particularly good idea, though, unless you have a very modest system and very modest demands. While Damn Small Linux is in useful shape in version 4.4.10, it is still best seen as a tool to call on in an emergency rather than something you’d want to rely on day to day. It’s not that it’s not capable; it’s just that when set against the swathe of alternatives it’s a little too restrictive, unless you have an early Pentium or something of that ilk that you want to put to good work.

On the plus side, though, it is extremely useful in its place and potentially invaluable. With well chosen tools and a very small footprint, it’s 50MB worth of insurance policy at the worst and an intriguing, well-put-together distro at best.

Company: DSL

An excellent tool to have around, even if it's not best suited to being a first choice OS. Keep it handy in case you need a rescue disk should your main PC operating system decide not to boot.