Use Linux’s famed malleability and streamline it to power everything from old computers to IoT devices – Mayank Sharma explains how
Straight out of the box, the typical Linux desktop distribution is a fairly well-oiled machine. The developers at every stage of the distribution assembly line, from the kernel upwards to the individual apps, put in a huge amount of effort to ensure that the different pieces of software make best use of available hardware resources. But the mainstream distributions have to appeal to a wide audience and ensure compatibility with a range of hardware. The downside to this approach is that most popular distributions aren’t optimised for your specific hardware.
This leaves plenty of wiggle room for optimised solutions, which are tailor-made for specific applications, devices and usecases. This feature is all about such finetuned, purpose-made distributions, and over the next few pages we’ll help you find one – whether you want it to run your old workhorse or your IoT-enabled smart home.
Perhaps the most well-known application for lean Linux distributions is to revive ageing hardware wasting away in the attic. The pace of hardware developments combined with the voracious appetite of modern resource-guzzling apps is rendering hardware obsolete almost as soon as you take it off the shelf. Distributions that bring these back to life are of use to a large number of users.
Also in vogue are distributions made for a particular type or class of hardware, such as netbooks and Chromebooks, as well as renaissance devices like the Raspberry Pi. ChromeOS worked well for the first generation of Chromebooks; it was responsive and did what it was designed for. But it doesn’t do justice to the newer, more powerful Chromebooks. We’ll help you find solutions that enable you to squeeze every last bit of performance from your Chromebooks to deliver an experience reminiscent of a traditional desktop Linux.
One casualty of the rise of the Chromebooks are netbooks. The netbook fad evaporated before vendors could ship devices with adequate resources to power the newest line of software. If you’re still holding on to one of these underpowered laptop-wannabes, we’ll help you put them back into active use, with distributions that will chug along nicely in these hardwarelimited environments.
Another device that wasn’t conceived as an everyday desktop is the Raspberry
Pi. The ARM-based device is a perfect educational computer, of course, but it can be a lot more than that. There are distributions that’ll turn the puny little device into an optimised server or help you build smart IoT devices, and we’ll look at some of these too.
Perhaps the most wellknown application for lean Linux distributions is to revive ageing hardware wasting away in the attic