Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Open Source Linux

Unusual, Obscure, and Useful Linux Distros 221

angry tapir writes "Most people will be familiar with some of the big names when it comes to Linux — distributions like Ubuntu, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Debian, and Mandriva. Most of the well-known Linux distros are designed to be used as general-purpose desktop operating systems or installed on servers. But beyond these distros are hundreds of others either designed to appeal to very specific audiences or to fulfill the somewhat niche needs of some users. We rounded up some of the most interesting Linux distributions that you might not have heard of."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Unusual, Obscure, and Useful Linux Distros

Comments Filter:
  • Needs a mirror? (Score:5, Informative)

    by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @02:41AM (#32753792) Journal
    We need a new instant mirror site for slashdot. Any suggestions?
    "One of the benefits of open source software that many people are most familiar with is that it's free to download.
    This means you can grab great applications — such as Mozilla's Firefox Web browser, the office suite or the GIMP photo editing program — without paying a cent.
    However, the other major benefit of truly open source software (some "open source" software licences are more restrictive than others) is that you're allowed to modify a program and redistribute your altered version so other people can enjoy it.

    Linux is a classic example of this: there are hundreds (at least!) of different Linux-based operating systems. Most people will be familiar with some of the big names — distributions like Ubuntu, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Debian and Mandriva.
    Most of the well-known Linux distros are designed to be used as general purpose desktop operating systems or installed on servers. But beyond these distros are hundreds of others either designed to appeal to very specific audiences or to fulfil the somewhat niche needs of some users.
    We rounded up some of the most interesting Linux distros out there that you might not have heard of.

    Insecure by design: Damn Vulnerable Linux

    Damn Vulnerable Linux is "The most vulnerable and exploitable operating system ever" according to its Web site.
    It's designed for security training; it includes training material and exercises (as well as a whole bunch of flaws to exploit). As Mayank Sharma notes: "Damn Vulnerable Linux (DVL) is everything a good Linux distribution isn't. Its developers have spent hours stuffing it with broken, ill-configured, outdated, and exploitable software that makes it vulnerable to attacks."

    Indulge in paranoia: Tinfoil Hat Linux

    Tinfoil Hat Linux is pretty much the opposite of Damn Vulnerable Linux: it's designed for the paranoid among us.

    "It started as a secure, single floppy, bootable Linux distribution for storing PGP keys and then encrypting, signing and wiping files.
    At some point it became an exercise in over-engineering." According to its developers, a possible reason for using it is that that "Illuminati are watching your computer, and you need to use morse code to blink out your PGP messages on the numlock key." They're joking. Probably. (In case you want more tinfoil protection, there are some links to a site about aluminium foil deflector beanies and tinfoil suits.)

    CSI Linux: CAINE
    CAINE (Computer Aided INvestigative Environment) is probably one of the coolest niche Linux distributions around. It's designed for digital forensics (so sadly, no blood spatter analysis) and was developed at the Information Engineering Department of the University of Modena e Reggio Emilia in Italy. It includes software such as TheSleuthKit and Autopsy Forensic Browser for examining file systems, data recovery applications, steganography tools and utilities for securely wiping drives (you know, in case someone else has a copy of CAINE).
    Open source engineering: CAELinux

    Eminently embeddable: Zeroshell
    Zeroshell Linux gets its name from being designed to be solely administered through a Web interface. It's intended to be used on servers and embedded devices.
    Its features include load balancing, support for 3G mobile broadband connections and RADIUS support.

    Ditch Windows Media Centre: Mythbuntu
    Mythbuntu is not really a niche distribution, but it is designed for a specific task rather than being a general desktop distro.
    Mythbuntu is used to run PVRs and media centre PCs. As its name indicates, it's derived from Ubuntu Linux.
    However, it's ditched the Gnome and by default utilises the relatively barebones Xfce desktop environment.

    Damn Small Linux is damn cool

    Damn Small Linux (DSL) is actually quite a well known distribution. It's not nearly as small as the amazing MenuetOS (which is a non-Linux OS writ
  • Re:pfsense? (Score:4, Informative)

    by simoncpu was here ( 1601629 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @02:58AM (#32753846)
    Replying to undo moderation. pfSense is based on FreeBSD, not Linux.
  • by Clopnixus ( 1276606 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @03:04AM (#32753870)
    Can't get to the site but if your list is complete I'm surprised there's no mention of Scientific Linux. The distro created by the Fermi National Accelerator laboratory and CERN has to be high on the list of unusual and interesting Linux distributions. Actually, works pretty well as a standard desktop too...
  • Slashdotted (Score:5, Informative)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @03:14AM (#32753910) Homepage

    Coral Cache: []

    List of the distros:


  • Morse code on LED (Score:3, Informative)

    by LambdaWolf ( 1561517 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @03:15AM (#32753918)

    According to its developers, a possible reason for using it is that that "Illuminati are watching your computer, and you need to use morse code to blink out your PGP messages on the numlock key."

    Nice. For the uninitiated, this is (spoiler alert) an allusion to one of the coolest (realistic) hacks in all of fiction, which occurs in the novel Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Required reading for computer and cryptography geeks.

  • Puppy Linux Arf Arf (Score:5, Informative)

    by oakwine ( 1709682 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @03:31AM (#32753974)
    My favorite, but no longer obscure. Puppy is now v. 5.0 and # 10 in page hit ranking on Distrowatch. Puppy is arguably the cutest distribution, the most sincere distribution, and the most beloved distribution. Not to mention very compact, very capable, very easy to install or run live, and very extensible. Try some now! Try some today! Puppy is good for you! Everyone should know about it!
  • Re:Gaming distro? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 01, 2010 @03:43AM (#32753992)

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA(aaah...snif.) Man, you're funny.

    Anyway, absurd overstatement aside, it /is/ a nice selection of Linux gaming. Such as it is.

    The site is /.'d of course, so here's the game list from google cache:

    The following games are included on the most recent release of live.linuX-gamers

    Games that are bold are only contained on the "big" release. The genres are provided in brackets.
    armagetronad (tron-like)
    astromenace (shoot-em-up)
    blobby2 (beachball)
    chromium-bsu (shoot-em-up)
    extremetuxracer (down-hill racing)
    foobillard (billard)
    frozen-bubble (puzzle)
    lbreakout2 (breakout)
    ltris (tetris)
    neverball (balance puzzle)
    neverputt (minigolf)
    osmos-demo (ambience puzzle)
    pingus (puzzle, lemmings-like)
    smc (jump-and-run)
    teeworlds (action)
    worldofgoo-demo (puzzle)
    xmoto (action, balance)
      [bold startz]
    fretsonfire (music)
    glest (real time strategy)
    hedgewars (artillery, worms-like)
    lincity-ng (city builder)
    maniadrive (action driving, stunts)
    nexuiz (first person shooter)
    openlierox (action)
    openttd (industry planner)
    sauerbraten (first person shooter)
    scorched3d (artillery)
    supertuxkart (kart racing)
    tremulous (first person shooter)
    urbanterror (first person shooter)
    warsow (first person shooter)
    warzone2100 (real time strategy)
    wesnoth (turn-based strategy)
    widelands (real time strategy, settlers-like)
    worldofpadman (first person shooter)
      [bold endz]

  • by Lexical_Scope ( 578133 ) <dave.one40db@com> on Thursday July 01, 2010 @04:30AM (#32754118)

    Surely BackTrack needs a mention. One stop shop for Penetration Testing, Ethical Hacking, Security Analysis and pretty much anything else security-related. It might not qualify as a fully-blown "distro" depending on your definition, but it's a lot more customised than your standard "Clonebuntu" variants.

    If you are even remotely interested in Network Security or Penetration Testing, it's a really invaluable tool.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 01, 2010 @04:30AM (#32754124)

    " Damn Vulnerable Linux unknown"

    It's based on Debbian and Knoppix. See:

    " Tinfoil Hat Linux unknown"

    Not listed on Distrowatch, or at least I couldn't find it :(

    " unknown"

    It's based on Arch, see:

    " Tiny Core Linux unknown"

    Independent (self-rolled). See:

    If you want details about Linux Distributions there's no better place I know of, or more comprehensive, than Really surprised Tinfoil is not listed!

  • by grantek ( 979387 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @04:38AM (#32754154)

    ... the live CD you have with you.

    Which is ALWAYS System RescueCD - I've never come across a better emergency disc.

  •   Thanks.  Since the only one left is tinfoil, I grabbed it, and did a little poking around.  Just based on the mentions in the readme.txt, it may be a self-rolled distro.  It to be Busybox based.  I was thinking of rolling one of those up myself, except busybox annoys me when it can't do particular things because it doesn't understand posix flags (my biggest annoyance is with cp).  That can be corrected easily enough with some select static binaries, rather than symbolic links to busybox. :)

      The busybox "cp" flags are:

      cp [-a] [-d] [-p] [-R] Source ... Target

      The posix "cp" flags are:

      cp [-f] [-H] [-i] [-p] [-r | -R] [--] Source ... Target

      There are others, I've just had quite a few occasions to boot to a Busybox based CD, and then my commands don't work.  Or worse, a script on the machine doesn't work because the flags don't work.

      So the distro tally is up to:

      Damn Vulnerable Linux     Debian
      Tinfoil Hat Linux         self-rolled (?)
      CAINE                     Ubuntu
      CAELinux                  Ubuntu
      Ubuntu Christian Edition  Ubuntu     Arch
      Parted Magic              Ubuntu
      GMusix GNU+Linux          Debian
      Zeroshell Linux           self-rolled - LFS methods
      Mythbuntu                 Ubuntu
      Damn Small Linux          Debian
      Tiny Core Linux           self-rolled

      Ubuntu (5)        41.6%
      Debian (3)        25.0%
      Arch   (1)         8.3%
      Known Distros (9) 75.0%
      Original (3)      25.0%

      That's still a long way from a list of distros to check out, unless you like checking out the same thing over ... and over ... and over ...

      BTW, sorry for the code formatting.  I wanted to keep my columns straight in the data parts of the post, and I don't know of a better way on here to do it.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @06:35AM (#32754750) Homepage

    I think some already are, like MythBuntu. I might be wrong, but I think it uses the same mythtv package you can install on plain Ubuntu, the distro just drops many of the standard packages and makes you boot directly into myth. The latter might be good reason to have a separate distro, what a "sane" detault is probably depends on whether it's a dedicated appliance box or not.

  • Ever heard of unetbootin []? In some cases it's even easier than burning a distro to a CD, because it will even handle downloading the ISO for you. Just stick in a formatted fat32 flash drive and within 15 minutes you can have a liveusb stick working.

  • by arndawg ( 1468629 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @08:24AM (#32755474)
    Tinfoil is gentoo hardened.
  • Re:mod up (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tacvek ( 948259 ) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @10:59AM (#32757450) Journal

    Debian patches are usually kept to a miniumum, as long as upstream is still active. (Debian has become the de facto upstream for some packages, including a few GNU packages.)

    The most common changes include adding a manpage if one does not exist, and tweaking the install paths so the system conforms to the FHS. Now sometimes larger changes do occur, but usually that is because upstream has not yet accepted the patch, or is sometimes a cherry picked back-ported patch from the development branch, but we try to keep these to a minimum.

    Let us look at Debian's apache2 patches for an example.

    The first patch adjusts "httpd --version" to display LSB_release information (i.e. identify the build as a Debian patched build).

    The next patch changes an example script's she-bang line to use "/usr/bin/perl" instead of "/usr/local/bin/perl".

    The next patch tweaks configuration include globbing so as not to include extra files that dpkg may create in /etc/apache2 while asking the user if they want to use the the shipped configuration file (if it has changed since the version installed, or use the customized file the user has created, or merge the changes.) This is clearly specific to dpkg-based distros.

    The next patch tweaks the apxs script to not bother checking if Apache was compiled with shared library support, because Debian always configures it with shared library support, and Debian allows apxs to be used even when the "httpd" binary is not installed.

    The next patch tweaks the config.layout file (which is explicitly designed to be customized by distributions!) to conform to the FHS. It also adjusts the configure script so the correct directories are used, and finally adds a #define to that specifies the location of the default PID log.

    The next patch further adjusts the apxs script to use httpd.conf rather than apache2.conf, tweaks the permissions it uses, and a few other path related adjustments.

    It patches unixd.c to work correctly is suexec is built as a a shared library module.

    The next patch changes the dbmmanage script to support both hash and btree based DBM files.

    The next patch tweaks how the apxs script calls libtool to keep it from issuing an inappropriate warning.

    The next patch tweaks so that LD_LIBRARY_PATH is not propagated, since Debian has no need to for that, and copying in the building user's personal LD_LIBRARY_PATH is undesirable.

    The next patch fixes prevents a buffer overflow attack on the htdigest executable.

    The next patch changes suexec.c to use the close-on-exec flag for file descriptors, allowing the resulting error to be logged, which the existing code does not properly support (despite the claimsin the comments). This patch has also been comitted upstream.

    The next patch tweaks the usage message to exose the -X flag.

    The next patch tweaks logresolve to support line lengths greater than 1024 bytes. Many distos have this patch, but I am unsure if upstream has fixed it. I don't see any bug for it in Apache's bugzilla database.

    The next patch is one for the configure script to permit the option "--enable-modules=none" to build an httpd with no optional modules enabled.

    The next patch fixes a known security vulnerability (CVE-2007-1742) in suexec.c

    The next patch fixes a segfault caused by inaproprtiately freeing memory in ab.c. This patch has been accepted upstream.

    The next patch disbabled mod_deflate for HEAD requests to mitigate a ptential DOS attack.

    There are more, but I am getting tired of typing them up.

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton