Slax: boot into a portable Linux on a USB

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Slax is a Slackware-based Linux operating system that can be run on Live CD, booted from USB, or run from RAM.

It is small in size yet highly customizable and comes with a full range of pre-installed applications.

Slax is a USB-bootable Linux that allows you to take a portable desktop environment with you wherever you go.

You can run your USB-borne Linux from any computer that will allow you to boot into USB, instantly delivering a complete operating system that includes everything you need including applications, email, and personal files.

Despite the title of this blog, there are frequent times when my knowledge of the software I am reviewing is less than I would like it to be. This is especially true when writing about Linux and is true in this case. I should note that my interest lies mainly in the USB-bootable Linux rather than the LiveCD. I am aware that most Linux builds offer LiveCDs and USB bootable versions, but there are a number of reasons why Slax is noteworthy, as follows:

  1. Easy USB install: compared to my previous experience attempting to install Knoppix on a USB, installing Slax on a USB and making it bootable was a breeze. All you have to do is literally de-compress the TAR archive to the USB and run an executable. Yes, really. Moreover, unlike some other distributions Slax works on U3 flash drives without requiring a U3 uninstall.
  2. Small size: at 188 megs, Slax is considerably smaller than most Linux builds yet manages to provide a fantastic user experience and to pack a wide number of applications. I installed it on a 1-gig USB.
  3. Look and feel: is just tremendous. Slax is feature rich and highly customizable. It looks and feels good and provides built-in applications to handle most computing needs.

Here are more notes on this software:

  • Accessing the hard drive: once booting from USB I was able to instantly access and work with the files on my (Windows) hard drive
  • Applications: these run the gamut from a web browser, IM client (which supports most protocols), media player, PDF reader, CD/DVD writer, Office apps, email, games, etc. I am continually amazed at the sophistication of the default apps; for example the media player played MP4, FLV, AVI and SWF files right out of the box, and the “print” option for apps had a built-in print-to-PDF option, etc. The Office app on offer is K-Office rather than Open Office, which may or may not be due to size considerations; what I’ve found is that K-Office is much less compatible with Office 2003 files (specifically Powerpoint PPT and Excel XLS files) than Open Office.
  • Installing software: two things to say here (1) you can download application “modules” from the Slax website that can be easily installed or incorporated into the build, and (2) with respect to compiling/installing apps, the section of the Slax website that offers instructions to do this is (unfortunately) still under construction. Is it just me or is installing software on Linux way more complicated than it should be?
  • Multilingual: available in 28 different language.

The verdict: I really like this one because you can get it booting off a USB in no time flat and is very well done in terms of look-and-feel and user experience. If you are curious about Linux (and have USB with a little bit of free space) this is a great place to start; alternately, if you are an advanced user and would like to put a complete bootable computing environment in your pocket you will probably love Slax as well. A keeper!

Version Tested: 6.0.7

Go to the Slax home page to download the latest version (approx 189 megs).