antiX is a very light weight Linux distribution meant to be used on very old hardware or as a portable live session. It’s based on Debian stable and is systemd free. I have always liked the idea of having Linux on a stick so I went ahead and made my own “to go” version with antiX, version 17.
Their website has a wealth of information on the system and on how to produce a persistent live USB drive. One can be almost overwhelmed by the amount of information and options available. They have also made a very handy YouTube video explaining the process in detail and I recommend checking that out before you proceed. It’s a bit older but still totally relevant for the subject at hand.
Now, in order to accomplish our task, we will need to actually run antiX in order to install it onto a thumb drive. Either we use two thumb drives: One for running an antiX live session, that will let you create the system on another connected drive or as I did, use a virtual box. I went ahead and downloaded their “base” 64-bit version which has all the basic software but no office suites or other bloat. I am increasingly questioning the need to bundle office suits with distributions by default. I’d imagine only a small percentage of users actually make use of these regularly but maintaining them up to date is becoming increasingly frustrating. Small version bumps are frequent and result in excessive downloads during each system update. Anyways, now that my rant is out of the way, let’s get back to creating our Linux to go.
So, I fired up my downloaded ISO in Fedora Boxes. You will have a bunch of text based options to select from before booting into a somewhat customized desktop. There are several window managers to choose from. Remember this is a very light system so there are no full featured desktop environments like KDE or Gnome. If you have a HiDPI screen, choose an enlarged font size like 1.3 or higher. These options can be modified again once the system is booted so don’t let it overwhelm you.
I chose Fluxbox as my window manager. It behaves much like Openbox if you’re familiar with that.
Once we finish booting into our live system, we open the menu by right clicking anywhere on the desktop and look for the Live USB creator tool. It’s within the antiX tool’s sub menu. As with all Live USB creator tools, you need to have a USB thumb drive in one of your USB ports and access to your downloaded ISO image. If you’re in a virtual machine, make sure you allow access to the thumb drive otherwise the system won’t see it. Same goes to wherever you have the downloaded ISO image stored. You will be presented with some options. Choose Full Featured Mode and if you’ll be using it on the road I suggest ticking the Encryption option as well. Then just hit OK and let it do it’s thing. It doesn’t take too long on a modern system using USB 3. When finished, reboot your machine and choose to boot form your freshly baked USB drive. You’ll be guided through some simple text based settings before you get into your desktop for the very first time.
Keep in mind that software will take a little longer to launch, depending on your USB speeds and there is a longer wait at shut down when the system saves all the changes to the thumb drive. A lot is handled in RAM during usage to keep things snappy.
Once fully booted, my system was only using 166mb of Ram at idle. I don’t think I’ve ever gone that low! It also looks decent enough. There are some usability limitations, however, and that is to be expected from a system slimmed down to this degree. My volume and brightness controls didn’t work although I had chosen the correct keyboard from the settings. Interestingly, volume control did work within the video player but not globally. Taking a look at the nifty Control Center, it’s clear the people at antiX have been hard at work. It has a very light weight approach to setting up all aspects of the desktop experience. Brightness and volume control, for example, are adjusted through Terminal scripts – very cool! Then there is antiX’s own trimmed down Package Manager that has a neatly categorized menu for all major software you might need on a day to day basis. It also includes more desktop environment options. All in all, I must say this is a very complete solution, nothing feels half-baked here. The whole experience has a nerdy, geeky touch to it that I enjoyed very much. It is certainly not for absolute beginners, but with some patience it’s not too daunting either. If you want to check it out, I suggest reading through their website and watching a few of “runwiththedolphin” videos on YouTube.
If you want your Linux to go with some cream, you can do the same exercise with their sister distribution MX-17 that comes with a fully featured Xfce desktop. MX-17 actually has an app image of the Live USB Maker tool you could download from their website and use with your current Linux install. If that works for you, then no need to use a virtual machine.
Any suggestions for other suitable Linux distributions on a stick? Let us know in the comments below!