Thursday, July 28, 2011

antiX provides three great ways to build a Linux system to meet your needs

I have been an enthusiastic user and supporter of the antiX distribution since it became available in 2006. The antiX distribution is a lightweight, flexible alternative to its parent distribution, SimplyMEPIS, which is based on the rock solid Debian Stable technology. As configured when installed, antiX uses the Debian Testing repositories instead of the Debian Stable repositories, and it also has entries in the packaging configuration directory /etc/apt for Stable, Testing, or Sid (Unstable).

On my antiX M11.0 system partition, I use the original Testing repositories. In my alternative antiX core distribution, I use Sid instead.

That brings up another discussion point on antiX. Though it is a moderate sized distribution and it is a derivative of SimplyMEPIS and Debian, at each release it now comes with three distinct variations - the "full" distribution, which is the original antiX, equipped with IceWM and Fluxbox as light window managers, along with a full collection of software that features modest memory and system requirements. After the main or "full" distribution was created, a derivative called "Base" was created. In this derivative, the system comes complete with a graphical user environment containing Fluxbox as its window manager, and it contains a complete set of packaging and management tools, but no application software. With this version, you can install and set up the system the way you want it, adding or removing window management software and applications to suit your needs and interests.

If that's not enough, more recently anticapitalista, the originator of antiX, came up with the idea of a core distribution. This idea is quite similar to the idea that the Arch Linux developers came up with, but I like the antiX core idea, because it uses the Debian tools that are somewhat more familiar to me than the Arch tools, and there is a broader selection of software available at your fingertips. In the antiX core implementation, all you get is the core system and tools, no X server and no graphical display environment. Those things, with Debian, are just a single command away with the apt-get Debian packaging tool.

I created my initial antiX core setup with just a single apt-get command, including the core X server, two desktop environments, Xfce and LXDE, and a small handful of software. I got the initial setup working in ten to fifteen minutes. Over time, I changed it from a Debian Testing to a Debian Sid setup, added some window managers, applications, and I eventually added some heavier applications just to see how well they would work out. What resulted was a system that was very close in content and capability to the Debian Sid system that I had created from the Debian Live project, and it was almost completely the result of my own customization. I give a lot of credit, not only to anticapitalista, but also to Harold Hope (h2) for his smxi system management tool, which I added and heavily leaned on early in my antiX core customization process.

How do antiX M11.0 and antiX core compare? Well, because I eventually modified them using different Debian repositories, the M11.0 implementation is the more stable of the two, but both carry similar flexibility and features. I could undoubtedly go backward with M11.0 and strip software out of it and get close to where antiX Base and Core start at, and I could similarly modify antiX core to behave nearly identically to that of its parent. The fact that there is so much flexibility built into all three of the antiX derivatives speaks well for the design and for the upstream software upon which all of these efforts are based. I recommend one of the antiX distributions for anyone looking for a somewhat lighter system to start with. For those not familiar with many of the underlying Debian commands, I'd opt for antiX M11.0 "full". It has enough software to use it as is, and it has graphical system management tools for keeping it up to date. The Base and Core alternatives are fantastic for someone with a bit more experience and interest in making their system precisely what they want it to be, but all of them are first rate in what they offer. I wouldn't quite call any of them beginner distributions, but the primary M11.0 release is not too difficult for anyone to install or use who has previously installed any other system.

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