Linux

DIY: Tiny Core Linux, a great kiosk and emergency platform

Tiny Core Linux is worth considering if you're looking for a kiosk platform, an Internet cafe OS, or an OS on a stick rescue tool.

Tiny Core Linux is one of the most fascinating Linux distributions I've come across in a while. Tiny Core Linux is a tiny Linux operating system that starts out as a bare-bones distribution, but it could easily make an ideal kiosk, cafe, or emergency OS. Unlike many of the other small-footprint distributions, Tiny Core Linux isn't based on another distribution. It starts with the 3.0 kernel and adds a lightweight graphical desktop (though you can download a CLI-only version) and just enough tools to make you dangerous.

Tiny Core Linux also includes one of the handiest package managers you will find. With this package manager, you can add applications to be used on demand or even once the image is rebooted.

Features

  • Insanely fast startup
  • Easy to use, unique package management
  • Lightweight/fast desktop
  • Networkable
  • Complete control over what is installed (even various servers, such as Apache)
  • Incredibly stable

Requirements

  • An absolute minimum of RAM is 46mb
  • Microcore runs with 28mb of RAM
  • The minimum CPU is i486DX
  • A recommended configuration: Pentium 2 or better, 128mb of RAM + some swap

This tutorial focuses on the process of installing applications on Tiny Core Linux (and the different "installation types") as well as how to install Tiny Core Linux.

Getting Tiny Core Linux and booting up

Follow these steps to get Tiny Core Linux up and running:

  1. Download the ISO file from the Tiny Core download page (download the TinyCore version).
  2. Burn the ISO to a CD (or put it on a USB drive).
  3. Put the CD (or USB drive) into your machine and boot up.
Within a very, very quick timeframe, you will be on the TinyCore Desktop (Figure A). Figure A

You can access everything either from the dock or from the mouse menu (click anywhere on the desktop).

By default, you have to install the installation extension before you can install the OS. The installation extension (tc_install) is an extension that is used only to install the OS -- not individual applications. Here's how to install the installation extension:

  1. From the dock, click the AppBrowser button.
  2. When the package manager appears, click the Connect button (Figure B).
  3. Enter tc-install in the search bar and hit [Enter].
  4. Select tc-install.tcz from the package listing in the left pane.
  5. Select Download and Load from the drop-down.
  6. Click the Go button.
  7. Once the download/install is complete, click the new TC-Install icon on the dock to start the installation.
Figure B

Clicking the entry will reveal all the details about the package.

For the different installation types, check out the Tiny Core Linux Wiki Installation page where you can learn how to install it the following ways:

  • To hard drive
  • On USB drive
  • USB installation on Windows
  • Install without CD/DVD drive
  • With partition for file sharing
  • Multiboot
  • VMware installation

Types of application installs

The way you install Tiny Core Linux depends on how you want to use it. There are three ways to install applications; all three methods are handled within the package manager. There are four ways to install a package:

  • OnBoot: If this option is used, the application will be loaded every time the OS is booted. You should use this for kiosks and Internet cafe machines.
  • OnDemand: If this option is used, the application is not loaded until you start it. This is ideal for applications you only need on occasion. The application will be there but not loaded into RAM.
  • Download and Load: This is for one-time usage. If you need to download, use, and release an application and not have it remain on the system, this is the option to use. It's a good choice for emergency tool usage.
  • Download Only: The application will be downloaded and that is it. The application will be in the /tmp/tce/optional directory. Once the .tcz files are downloaded, you can use the command line to install them:

  1. Open the terminal window.
  2. Change to the /tmp/tce/optional directory.
  3. Issue one of the commands below (depending on your needs):
  • Install an app and have it load at boot: tce-load -wi app_name.tcz
  • Install an app for OnDemand use: tce-load -wo app_name.tcz

Summary

Tiny Core Linux can be one of your go-to tools for a number of uses. Whether you're looking for a kiosk platform, an Internet cafe OS, or an OS on a stick rescue tool, Tiny Core Linux can do it all with lightning fast speed and unwavering reliability.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

3 comments
pcaughley
pcaughley

Did you really mean an absolute minimum of 46 millibits of RAM for the OS? Shouldn't it be 46 MB if you mean 46 megabytes? I know I am being pedantic, but not using the proper representations for units is sloppy and can lead to major issues. Otherwise, a very interesting little tool, with heaps of potential (I'm thinking of the likes of Raspberry Pi here). Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Anyone remember Damn Small Linux? When that wrapped up at the end of 2008, Robert Shingledecker went on to start up TinyCore in 2009 -- with lots of great ideas, newer kernels & code, and the advantage a fresh start. The result is brilliant! DSL was/is a great (and amazing) tiny installation, solid & capable, but it always seemed sort of klunky in appearance. TCL is more capable, and adds a nice, polished look & feel. It's a fun, "build your own" Linux. I've gotten it to run on hardware as old as a 1997 Toshiba P-II laptop w/ 48 MB RAM. On a more practical side, TCL in VirtualBox makes a great portable license server for apps that require one accessible over the network. That's allowed us to move development environments that would otherwise be tethered to our shop into laptops that can be taken off the net for field work.

jwesleycooper
jwesleycooper

I mean seriously, is it that hard to use the shift key? Not to be rude Jack, but you're not on an Instant Messenger, or in an Internet Relay Chat room ... a lot of us really do appreciate well-edited posts.

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