My work laptop is a little bit on the heavy side. It works well as a desktop replacement which is how I use it these days. I hardly ever use it without an external monitor mouse and keyboard. I’m actually considering buying either one of those mini notebooks or perhaps a macbook at some point in the future – a machine that I could actually drag around with me everywhere. But that will have to wait since I just got my gaming monster PC recently.
Besides, most of the time when I need to use a computer one is readily available for me. For example, when I’m at school I have a PC on the desk in the adjunct office. And since I tend to keep most of my school related files synced with Dropbox they are available to me via the web interface. That said, it is nice to work in a familiar environment using the software you like without worrying about key loggers that other adjuncts doubtlessly installed on the shared office computer. Yeah, I do usually carry a Knoppix CD in my book bag but that doesn’t really cut it. What I’d really like is my own comfy, lived-in environment – not a pristine Live CD boot. You know what I mean?
So lately I decided to do something new. Believe it or not, but in all my years with Linux I have never created a bootable USB type thing. I used countless live CD’s in the past, but it actually never occurred to me to try something more persistent. So I dug out my old 2GB stick and installed Slax.
Why Slax you ask? Oh, I don’t know. It’s small, clean, easy to use and actually designed to work off a USB drive. It’s a minimalistic OS and yet it runs a lightweight version of KDE making me feel like home. I have tried many different desktop environments but KDE was always the one that just felt right. So I’m naturally inclined towards systems that use it.
Not to mention that the installation itself is almost laughably easy. You download a tarball, extract it to your USB stick and then just run an included shell script to overwrite the devices MBR. It literally takes 5 minutes, including the download time (well, depends on your bandwidth, but you know what I mean).
The USB version of Slax is persistent – it will actually write changes to the disk, and allow you to set up your environment the way you like it and keep it that way. If you mess up, you can even reset it to a default state at boot time. It boots around 10 times faster than a Live CD and is quite responsive.
I particularly like how Slax resolved the whole package management conundrum. For example, you can “temporarily” install software with one click of a button. You just go here find your module and click “Activate”. This will download an install the package, but only for the duration of the current session. Once you reboot the package will be gone. Of course you can download the package and permanently install it as well – it’s just that the temporary option is kinda neat.
Of course, it is mostly a toy operating system. I wouldn’t recommend using it for mission critical stuff. I wouldn’t make it your primary OS. But if you want to carry your own customized environment and software in your pocket, it is perfect. Just plug it in, boot the machine and enjoy. I highly recommend setting one up for yourself if you know you will need to use some public/shared machine somewhere. Naturally competent admins of shared machines will probably disable all the bootable devices other than the HD and password protect the BIOS. Thankfully, competent admins are quite rare.
So yeah. Give it a whirl if you are in the market for USB based distribution.