Tiny Core 4.0 Put Together Your Own Desktop

The traditions of small size and speedy operation that were established in previous versions of this distro have been upheld in the new release, and believe it or not, improved upon. I’m not exaggerating when I say that you could be staring at a fully loaded desktop ten seconds after you boot from the 12MB ISO image.

We’ve covered Tiny Core a couple of times in the past, and in use, this new version runs along much the same lines. As it's so similar to previous versions in concept and execution, I'm just going to give an overview of what's changed rather than a full distro review. Check out the previous coverage if you've not encountered Tiny Core before.

As before, you begin with a largely blank desktop and then add applications via the package manager. The end result is almost a kiosk style Linux desktop that is simple to use, conservative on the resource usage and super fast. Although it looks very similar to older versions, 4.0 been updated under the hood. For example, it now includes version 3.0.3 of the Linux kernel and Firefox 7.

A nice fresh desktop. Time to start cluttering it up...

The package manager has been improved and can now search based on partial names, and you can also search for keywords associated with packages. This makes it possible to, for example, find all of the web browsers on the system.

One thing that disappoints me about Tiny Core 4.0 is that the devs have made the decision to remove the installer from the ISO image. The reason given on the forum was that some files had to be pulled from the repository before an installation could proceed anyway. Unfortunately this means that you have to have some past experience with Tiny Core in order to know how to go about installing it. It doesn’t help that the instructions on the website have now fallen out of date.

tip: Incidentally, the installer can be located using the package manager (AppBrowser). The package is called “tc-installer”. Once that is installed, the instructions from the website can be followed.

Time for a fork?

As with previous versions of Tiny Core, I find myself being dragged in two different directions when trying to assess it. On the one hand, I love the underlying technology and the user interface. On the other, I feel that the potential of this system, to create slick, Linux-powered desktop appliances, just isn’t the primary focus of the developers. Sure, you can use it that way, but the difficulty of accomplishing it just doesn’t scream “turnkey”.

Version 3.6 introduced the long awaited GUI installer. It’s still accessible, but strangely, the ease of carrying out a HD installation has taken a step backwards again with the release of version 4.0. As GUI installers go, it's slightly more techy than some.


Tiny Core is a great and unique distribution. However, my love/hate relationship with it continues. On the one hand, the underlying technology and basic idea behind the distro continues to be a testament to how adaptable Linux can be.

Back in the pre 3.6 days, before the GUI installer existed, it was scandalous that such cool technology was being kept locked away from the masses. Things are better now, but I can't help feeling that there is a class of computer user who could get a lot out of Tiny Core but won't because the installation is still too difficult.

That said, it's still a great niche distribution for those with the skills needed to wrangle it.

The Tiny Core Linux website

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