Tiny Core Linux is the smallest Linux distribution on the market with a big heart

The Tiny Core desktop is as minimal as possible while still being functional.

One thing that makes Linux special is that there is a distro designed for almost every use case imaginable. You have Linux for science, gaming, productivity, edge, cloud, containers, embedded, big data, networking, security… if you can think of a need, Linux can cover it.

SEE: 40+ open source and Linux terms you need to know (TechRepublic Premium)

Tiny Core Linux is a perfect example. This Linux distro is as small as it gets (the ISO comes in at 21MB), while still being able to offer a desktop, a full networking stack, and a package manager. In fact, the only thing you get with Tiny Core Linux is a kernel, BusyBox, an FLWM desktop, and a simple list of apps (like a terminal emulator). You won’t find a web browser, email client, or office suite installed.

To be fair, it’s not a Linux distro that’s going to become your daily driver. Tiny Core Linux involves reviving old hardware or deploying very minimal Linux for certain applications (such as kiosks). Once started, you can install applications (called “extensions”), which are downloaded via the package manager.

Although you won’t be using Tiny Core Linux as your next desktop operating system, it can serve many purposes. And given that it runs entirely in RAM (although there is an install option – more on that later), it runs very fast. The only thing to keep in mind is that anything you add or change to Tiny Core Linux will disappear on startup. This should give you another clue as to how this distro can be used.

Tiny Core Linux Use Cases

Before we jump into exploring Tiny Core Linux, you’re probably wondering what kind of use cases this minimal operating system can cover. Here is a short list of ideas.

  • Kiosks
  • Internet cafes
  • Revive old hardware
  • Educational environments
  • Temporary IT deployments
  • Guest computers

If you need a minimal PC, Tiny Core Linux might just do the trick. Tiny Core Linux can be used for business and personal purposes. It’s simple to use and can be deployed in such a way that users will only have the apps you add and nothing more.

How to Install Tiny Core Linux

I’m going to walk you through Tiny Core Linux through setup, as it will illustrate most of the concepts you’ll need to “get” this distro. I will do this via VirtualBox, running on Pop!_OS Linux. The only difference between a virtual machine installation and a bare metal installation is that you will need to burn the ISO file to a bootable USB drive for the bare metal route.

The first thing you need to do is download TCL ISO file. Be sure to download TinyCore or CorePlus (which includes Wi-Fi drivers). Once you’ve downloaded the file, create a new virtual machine (or burn it to a USB drive, insert it into the target machine, and boot).

Once you’ve booted Tiny Core Linux, you should end up on the minimal desktop (Figure A).

Figure A

The Tiny Core desktop is as minimal as possible while still being functional.

To install Tiny Core Linux, you must first download one of the application extensions, via the package manager. From the dock, click on the application launcher (fourth from the left). Once the package manager has downloaded the necessary information (which happens on the first run), click Applications | Cloud (remote) | Browse. Type tc-install in the search field, select tc-install-GUI.tgz, select OnBoot, click Go, then click Set (Figure B).

Figure B

Installing the installer for Tiny Core Linux.

Once the app is installed, you should find it in the desktop menu. Right-click anywhere on the desktop, then click Applications | tc-install(Figure C).

Figure C

The tc-install application has been successfully added.

In the resulting window (Figure D), select Frugal, Whole Disk, select the disk you want to use, make sure Install bootloader is checked, then click the right-pointing arrow.

Figure D

The first Tiny Core Linux installer window is ready to help you.

In the Formatting Options window (Figure E), select ext4 as the filesystem type and click the right-pointing arrow to continue.

Figure E

Selecting the file system type for installation.

The next screen (Figure F), allows you to customize bootloader options. You can skip this step for now and edit them manually in the extlinux.conf file later.

Figure F

Adding boot code options for Tiny Core Linux is optional.

Finally, you can specify where extensions are stored for installation (G-figure).


Configuring the location for storing extensions.

Click the right-pointing arrow, then when prompted, click Continue. The installation will start and should complete very quickly. Close the installer, then install the applications the same way you installed tc-installer. For example, you can install the Firefox web browser. The only thing to keep in mind is that when you install the extension for Firefox, what you’re actually doing is installing a tool that will download and run Firefox, so the app isn’t actually installed locally. . If you selected OnBoot when installing the extension, it will automatically be added to the /tmp/tce/onboot.lst file, so it should remain available even on reboot.

Draw a little conclusion

Tiny Core Linux has its place. Not only is this very useful for incredibly small deployments, but it’s a lot of fun. This distro will remind you of what using Linux was like “back then”. From software installation to window manager, Tiny Core Linux is everything I loved about Linux in the beginning. This small distro has a big heart and will easily win you over for specific use cases.

Is Tiny Core Linux a distro that will end up on your everyday desktop? No. But it serves a specific purpose, and it does it very well. If you need a Linux with an absolute minimal footprint, which can be completely wiped clean on boot, Tiny Core Linux is exactly what you’re looking for.

Tiny Core Linux isn’t perfect, and sometimes it can be a bit frustrating (especially as a virtual machine, as you’ll find the cursor can be a bit difficult to control), but once you get the hang of its system, exploitation, it can be a gem in the right cases.

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