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Brian Turner [reviews]

Book review: Official Damn Small Linux Book by by Robert Shingledecker, John Andrews and Christopher Negus [linux] [distributions]

Damn Small Linux (DSL) is my favourite GNU/Linux distribution. It's not the one I use the most, but to me it represents everything good in the Linux world. It's small enough to run on any old PC, powerful enough to solve most any problem. This is the distribution to use when proving just how useful GNU/Linux can be.

John Andrews is the creator of this amazing little "distro". I always appreciate when a developer takes the time to contribute as an author to their own project: it adds a certain air of formality for those of us who recommend these tools to management. We can walk into an office with a proper publication in hand, something of permanence. Robert Shingledecker has also taken the time to work as an author here. His contributions to DSL are very innovative, and really have increased the usefulness of the distribution. You might recognize the last author, Christopher Negus, already. He wrote the "Red Hat Linux Bible" series. Over a quarter-million copies have been sold, so I'm sure some of you have a copy on your shelf. This book is also a part of the Negus Live Linux Series.

The book’s cover

I was very pleased with the examples given in the book. It seemed a bit light on why something might work the way it does, but very thorough on how to make it work. For a 50mb distribution, there are a lot of applications just waiting to be put to use. It takes a book like this to showcase all of the functionality provided in DSL.

Light on theory, heavy on practical.

The contents

I'm willing to bet that a softcopy of this book is much larger than the distribution itself! The book is a typical 9.25 inches tall by 7 inches wide (23.4cm x 17.8cm). Its 448 pages are logically organized, starting with "Using DSL" and finishing with specific project examples. In between, you will learn about how to run DSL from different media, virtualize a DSL installation on MS Windows, and see how to remaster your own custom version of DSL. I can think of no better way to celebrate the freedom of GNU/Linux than to create your own custom configuration. The techniques used to produce DSL are documented for the Isolinux, Syslinux, Qeme, and VMware versions. Where else, except in the Linux community, are you going to find this level of detail?

Who’s this book for?

I find myself reaching for DSL when faced with older hardware. The book will help you determine the best method of running DSL (for example, it's common to find "old" hardware with 128mb of RAM: loading DLS straight into RAM runs blazingly fast...) If you haven't tried any of the GNU/Linux live CDs, this book will be a fine place to start: poking around 50mb distro is much easier than wading through 600+mb's worth of a tipical environment. Those willing to dive in the deep end will have the most fun: running the OS from a pen-drive, remastering a custom configuration for yourself, etc. This book provides the details needed to insure you are successful in whatever you attempt.

Relevance to free software

This distribution has to be one of the best examples of "why" freedom matters and what it allows you to do. DSL is the result of one man having a desire to create something new. With the freedom found in GNU/Linux, the creator and other contributors were able to modify, tweak, adjust, rearrange and add to existing works until they were "just right". This book is evidence of what can be accomplished when you have the freedom to make a difference.

This book will help you demonstrate the benefits of free software.


This book will start you thinking about new projects. It will show you new tricks for old hardware. I loved the section on dismantling an old laptop to create a digital picture frame. It's written clearly and sounds like the author had fun while doing it.


Obviously, the book is all about Damn Small Linux. While you might learn something new about live CDs or GNU/Linux in general, that is not what this book is about. This focus is certainly appropriate, just know what it is that you're getting - a great book on DSL.

Title The Official Damn Small Linux Book
Author Robert Shingledecker, John Andrews, Christopher Negus
Publisher Prentice Hall
ISBN 0132338696
Year 2008
Pages 448
CD included Yes
FS Oriented 10
Over all score 9

In short


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