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Landfill Linux: the 4G FlashDrive TripleBoot

Jon Nileprecinct Feline
2012aug16

Introduction

Landfill Linux is todays 3 most powerful mini distros installed to a bootable 4G flashdrive. The distros are DSLinux 4.4.10, Puppy Racy 5.3.1, & SliTaz 4.0.

The Hardware

At this writing 4G of highly reliable flash memory is now under $10. A Hayes compatible modem can interface robustly via USB. & Dell Optiplex Pentium 4s are selling on eBay by the palletload for $40 a unit. You dont even need the harddisk but its handy to have.

The Partitioning

GParted is used to partition the drive, which then has GRUB 0.97 installed along with the Plop Bootmanager. One way or another, this flashdrive can bring up almost any legacy hardware, even machines whose BIOS doesnt support booting from USB. & Landfill Linux is fully viral: it can clone itself &/or install itself to any storage after performing any necessary repartitioning.

Disk /dev/sda: 4009 MB, 4009754624 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 487 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes

   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks  Id System
/dev/sda1             141         485     2771212+  5 Extended
/dev/sda4               1         140     1123526   6    FAT16
/dev/sda5   *         141         169      232911  83    Linux
/dev/sda6             170         273      833536  83    Linux
/dev/sda7             274         301      224878+ 83    Linux
/dev/sda8             302         443     1140583+ 83    Linux
/dev/sda9             444         484      329301  83    Linux

Landfill Linux: 4 Gig. 3 Distros.

/sda4 is the sole primary partition & is allocated FAT16 so its data can be easily shared on XP devices. Itz a legacy area & contains the application extensions for DSLinux as well as other core user data.

/sda5 is the boot partition & contains the GRUB97 install & the kernels & ramdisks for the 3 GNU/Linux distros, as well as the Plop Bootmanager.

/sda5: boot partition directory structure

/sda6 is allocated just slightly larger than a 700M ISO, & is used to store the current tripleboot ISO corresponding to the flashdrive. I find it most convenient to gen the ISO via a build area in a partition on a harddisk, but keeping a snapshot of it on flash means the LiveCD can be immediately recreated on any machine with a burner (eg a burner interfaced over USB via an IDE cable).

/sda7 is a partition dedicated to the SliTaz 4.0 user areas: the ${HOME} directory where the persistent settings reside & the application extensions mostly packaged into readonly cloops.

/sda8 is an enormous ext2 user data area where I currently store my image collection of some 10K pix.

/sda9 contains the two files constituting the Puppy install: the base squashfs for Racy 5.3.1 & the single fullspectrum persistence file which can migrate unchanged between media (eg moved to HD & back).

Finally, unallocated space is left at the end of the drive because of the variance in capacity among "4G" flashdrives. The drive can be cloned via dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb bs=4096 although when replicating to slightly smaller drives the partition table must sometimes be revalidated by allocating & deleting an extra partition after the copy.

The Boot

GRUB 0.97 remains the most robust & flexible general purpose bootloader for GNU/Linux booted from multiple devices (despite advances in extlinux & "GRUB2"). I find it easiest to install via the Puppy legacy GRUB installer, although of course I maintain the bootstanzas (see below) by hand. The Plop Bootmanager is an ideal companion to GRUB97, not merely because it can throw a handsome moving starfield in the absence of a splashscreen but because it has its own USB loader which when booted from CD can finish the init from flash even on machines which cant boot directly from USB.

the Plop Bootmanager

DSLinux & Puppy are "nosy" systems which locate for themselves the bulk of their boottime resources by scanning the visible partitions after a minimal 2-stage Linux init, getting the bootloader out of the way immediately. SliTaz however relies entirely on the bootloader for the init, & the Plop USB booter in this case is far faster than native GRUB97 for this purpose.

Landfill Linux: GRUB 0.97 menu.lst

The Distros

Each of the three installs has its own capabilities, application base, & idiosyncracies. This is what makes Landfill Linux so powerful.

              DSLinux 4.4.10   Puppy 5.3.1      SliTaz 4.0
------------- ---------------- ---------------- ----------------
kernel        2.4.31           3.0.25           2.6.37
glibc         2.3.2            2.10.1           2.13
mc            4.6.1            4.7.0            4.7.0
vfu           3.03             4.10             4.10
icewm         1.2.26           1.7              1.3.7
xchat         1.8.9            2.8.8            2.8.8
swf           7.73             10.x             (7.73)+
user browser  Opera 9.00       Opera 9.64       Opera 9.64
power browser Firefox 2.0      Seamonkey 1.1.18 Midori 0.4.4 
For sheer ease of use Puppy is certainly the winner, & an excellent distro to rely on when something has to work. Its voluminous tools & engaging interactive dialogues (eg its Xorg wizard & ffmpeg frontend) make up for its limited repository & its root-only execution mode. Its support for copious multimedia types & todays FlashPlayers (via the SeaMonkey browser) are capabilities often reserved for far larger distros. Puppy also has extraordinary hardware recognition & can enable most anything from WiFi to Skype.

Damn Small Linux remains the ideal choice for the most ancient hardware which current distros are beginning to leave behind, particularly VESA-only lowmemory units which run the highly stable 2.4 kernel exceedingly well. The recent 2012 4.11 release candidate fixes some trivial bugs & reactivates a project which continues to occupy a unique place in GNU/Linux deployment.

Finally, SliTaz 4.0 is my current daily driver with its modern Xorg & full ALSA implementation. Its GCC 4.5.2 produces properly linked glibc 2.13 binaries & it runs elaborate & demanding technologies such as LMMS, Stellarium, & Celestia 1.6.0.

SliTaz 4.0: the Final Frontier.

Conclusion

As a student of the history of computer science, I find the idea of multiple POSIX-compliant X11 installs I can carry in my pocket appeals to my academic & scholarly sensibilities. Yet Landfill Linux is also the ideal tool for anyone wishing to improve their workstation skills in the post-desktop era, from the most shadowy agency op to the leetest hipster running ubuntu in a vbox. & sure it might be useful to pirates, but after all, "to arrrr is human" (gpl:ftw).

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