AliXe 0.11b -- Linux Bilingue Québecois

by Caitlyn Martin

Over the past year or two I've been drifting away from Fedora, Ubuntu, and Mandriva towards distros derived from Slackware for desktop use. The reason is simple: these distributions tend to have the best performance I've found, particularly on older or limited hardware. Slackware itself lacks some graphical tools and user friendly features that more popular distros have but is outstanding in terms of stability and reliability. A number of Slackware derived distros retain those benefits while offering the ease of use many of us have come to expect. AliXe is such a distro, albeit one designed to be small and compact, making it particularly suitable for older hardware. True to it's Canadian heritage, AliXe also offers full support for both French and English despite it's small size.

AliXe is designed to be run as a live CD. Those burdened with slow connections will be pleased to see that the iso image is less than 340MB in size. An optional installer (not included in the iso) is available for a conventional hard drive installation. The AliXe website warns that this is for "experts only", in part due to an utter lack of documentation. AliXe also offers the option to run entirely cached in RAM provided you have enough memory. AliXe is built with the Linux Live scripts so a frugal install, similar to Damn Small Linux, where the iso image is installed directly to the hard drive and is booted read-only, is also possible. You are then effectively running the Live CD with the speed of a conventional hard drive.

The AliXe code base is a heavily modified version of Slax 6rc6, which in turn is based on Slackware 12. Unlike Slax, which uses KDE for the desktop environment, AliXe uses the smaller, lighter, but still powerful Xfce. In order to remain small AliXe offers just one of each type of application it provides, including the desktop. I tested AliXe on my five year old Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204, which has a 1GHz Intel Celeron processor and 512MB of RAM.

9 Comments

Johnny Hughes
2008-01-03 05:55:50
Why would a slackware derived distro be any faster.


All linux versions are using the same code, compiled by the same gcc compiler.


There are possibly differences in the gcc tags used and maybe some differences in a couple programs "configure" options, but by and large, there is not any real difference in how fast a binary will run on a given machine. The possible exception to this is with gentoo and using some specific gcc flags to optimize the entire distro to the specific processor. Other than that, I can not see any distro being significantly faster than another with the same software versions installed.


Where am I going wrong here????


The only real thing I can see different is what type of package management system is in use, what software actually comes in the distro, what are the default configuration files setup up for, and how long is there going to be security updates provided for the distro.


Also key is how many mirrors are there to provide updates to the users at release time and what kind of community is there to find help in forums, mailing lists, wikis, IRC, etc.

Steven Rosenberg
2008-01-03 12:13:02
I'm glad to see such a long piece on a distro I previously hadn't heard of. On your recommendation, I did run Wolvix Hunter for awhile; I'm very impressed with its tools for configuration and installation.


My question for you: Have you considered running Debian? I was surprised to find out that Debian runs on my old hardware about as well as Slackware, with Debian being much easier to maintain with apt.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-01-05 12:25:25
@Johnny Hughes: There are HUGE performance differences between distros. Linux distributions DO NOT use the same code. Red Hat (including Fedora, Centos, Whitebox) is well known for using highly customized kernels, for example. gcc compiler options can make a huge difference as well. There was a discussion I can find if you like on the Vector Linux developers forum that measured differences in Seamonkey and Firefox load times with different compile options. Some of the differences were day and night. Similarly, Vector Linux has customized init scripts that are noticeably faster in booting a system than vanilla Slackware. There are whole books written on performance tuning for Linux and different distros have very different defaults.


A Slackware derived distro is NOT automatically faster than a Debian derived distro or a Red Hat derived distro and so on. SaxenOS is a great example of a Slackware derived distro that is painfully slow. However, testing I've done shows that some Slackware derivatives are the fastest distributions out there. Obviously I've only worked extensively with a small fraction of the ~500 Linux distros out there but my experience, so far, is what I am reporting.


Don't believe me? Load Xubuntu and Vector Linux on the same machine side by side. I chose Xubuntu rather than Ubuntu since I wanted an apples-to-apples comparison on desktop environment, meaning Xfce in this case. Time how long it takes to boot, connect to a network, and open Firefox. There's a very measurable difference.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-01-05 12:31:25
@Steven Rosenberg: I haven't reconsidered Debian recently (I have run it in the past) and I am unlikely to unless I take on a customer that runs Debian in their offices. FWIW, the same is true of vanilla Slackware. I have come to really like something that Ubuntu repopularized: issuing a single CD iso. I don't need to download lots of things I'll never use with multi-CD or DVD distros and I tend to end up with less cruft when I start small and add just what I need. In addition both Debian and Slackware lack some nice tools that some of their derivative distros offer.


Once upon a time apt was a compelling reason to consider a Debian based distro. I'm of the opinion that yum (for rpm packages) or slapt (for Slackware packages) have improved and matured to the point that the choice of package manager is no longer, in and of itself, compelling. FWIW, I still prefer rpm packages, probably because I've worked with Red Hat for so many years and I have a high comfort level with and in depth knowledge of rpm packages.

Sylvie Migneault
2008-01-06 13:00:55
Hi all,


@Caitlyn
Thank you for this review. This is a good start for the year 2008. :-)
In 2008 my time will be divided into two projects: AliXe and ZenEee (Zenwalk on EeePC). To follow the development of this project, look here:
http://forum.eeeuser.com/viewtopic.php?id=7074 (in english)
http://tuxeee.org (in french)


Happy New Year!
Sylvie Migneault

Robert Pogson
2008-01-18 19:54:16
While it is a good idea to retain older PCs for their operational life, trying to cram a modern operating system into an old PC is not the best use of hardware. In many cases, the old PC has been acquired years ago and still works. In any organization that expands, however, it is better to acquire a newer PC to do the expansion. Then you can have two, or more (with multiseat-X), seats and put the old machine to better use. An old machine with 64 MB and a 100 mbits/s NIC, even without a hard drive is often quite suitable to be used as a thin client. If it has a hard drive, it will likely hold the base install + x-window-system + gdm. Configure gdm to connect to an X-session from your new machine and you are good to go. You get a login screen from the new machine on the monitor of the old machine! All your apps run on the new machine which has no problem with multiple simultaneious users/sessions. All you need to do on the new machine is run gdmsetup to configure gdm there. A user on the old machine only needs 50 MB or so of RAM on the new machine. There are distros like K12LTSP, EdUbuntu, and SkoleLinux that set up a new machine to do even more with thin clients, booting them over the network from the new machine. GNU/Linux is great.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-01-23 12:17:57
@Robert: I find your comment, at best, very tangential to my review. I also strongly disagree with it. Here's why:


AliXe is designed as a desktop/live CD OS, not as something ideal for corporate or institutional use. LTSP implies at least two machines, one of which is new. AliXe is clearly targeted at the individual user.


Not everyone can afford a new PC. That's true in the U.S. and it is certainly true in the developing world. Extending the life of an existing PC and allowing it to continue to do useful work without being tethered to a specific server is very valuable indeed. It's also environmentally sound. My five year old laptop still does about 99% of what I need to do effectively. It has 512MB of RAM and a 1GHz processor. That's enough for a large percentage of users running a Linux distribution that performs well.


Green PCs (think Asus Eee PC and both Nano- and Pico-ITX technology) can be brand new and still have less horsepower than my old laptop. Writing efficient code can allow us to achieve the same results as we can achieve with bigger, badder hardware with less waste and less energy consumption. Throwing away a PC or using a thin client isn't the most efficient answer.


Caitlyn Martin
2008-01-30 13:08:27
@Sylvie: Thanks for all your hard and excellent work on AliXe. I certainly wish you all the best on your Eee PC project. I'm seriously considering one myself. Question: Why not just create a version of AliXe with an installer based on the Slackware installer rather than work with another distro? It seems to me that AliXe would be an excellent choice for the Eee PC.
alisou
2008-02-01 04:03:51
Hi all,
@Caitlyn
Currently Arch Linux works very well on my eeepc (Correct resolution, LAN, WLAN, sound, webcam and hotkeys are functionals). With Zenwalk, I have a problem with the asus_acpi (hotkeys). I am working to fix this problem. As for AliXe, it is certain that I will try to install it on my eeepc. :-)
Greetings!
Sylvie