Linux is useful

Linux secondary systems for special purposes

Hermann Apfelböck

Linux secondary systems also perform productive tasks beyond repair tasks: They work as an independent surfing system, as a mobile multimedia station, as a portable software collection or as an admin tool case.

Secondary systems usually only have a serving role and should therefore be fast and lean. This is all the more true if you want to start portable on USB (also 2.0) or DVD. The focus of this article is therefore on lean systems. Of course, a second Linux system can also be useful as a large desktop system in multiboot on hard disk, but such use is not the focus here.

If you search for “lightweight linux” or something similar on the Internet, you will likely get more results than you wanted. There are many Linux lightweights out there, and that makes it difficult to see the differences and special benefits. This article aims to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Tip:The ideal repair stick for PC emergencies

Second systems: live or installed

Before choosing a second system, the basic question about the preferred technology arises:

Pure live systems: All distributions listed in the table run as a live system or exclusively as such. Live systems offer a productive working environment, but are technically frozen: installations and system changes do not survive a restart. This also applies if they run on a writable data carrier. Typical live-only systems therefore require at least the German keyboard layout to be set each time they are started. Network passwords, browser settings or user interface adjustments are also lost with every shutdown. Pure live systems are therefore only suitable for occasional emergency use.

Live systems run much faster on USB. In most cases, a raw copy of the ISO image with dd, gnome-disks under Linux or the Win 32 Disk Imager under Windows is sufficient for transferring to a USB stick. In rare cases (4Mlinux, Porteus) the ISO images do not contain hybrid boot equipment that can boot on DVD and USB. Then it is necessary to first burn the ISO image to DVD (Brasero, Infrarecorder) and - started from there - to install it on to USB.

Live systems with persistence: “Persistence” memory makes live systems more flexible by permanently saving configuration changes and even installations in a separate file and integrating them when they are started. Live distributions such as Puppy Linux or Porteus bring such persistence with them. All Ubuntu-based distributions can be upgraded with persistence using the Unetbootin tool. To do this, you only need to enter an MB entry in the Unetbootin window next to the option "Space to keep files between reboots". 2000 to 4000 MB are sensible to generous values, depending on the capacity of the USB stick.

Second systems installed: Except for Tiny Core, Slax, Puppy, Porteus and Watt-OS / Microwatt, all of the distributions listed in the table can be properly installed - be it on a hard drive or on a USB stick. The live classic Knoppix also offers this via "Knoppix -> Copy Knoppix to Flash".

Such an installation first requires writing the original ISO image on DVD or USB and then installing it from the live live system. Whether the installation is already offered as a boot option or - as with Knoppix - as a menu or desktop link in the live system, differs depending on the distribution.

From our point of view, a proper installation on a USB stick is the most convenient option for second systems. The system can then be adapted as required and kept permanently up-to-date via updates.


independent Linux with economical JWM window manager, takes getting used to, but with classic games like Doom and others.


slim, pragmatic all-purpose system with core focus on older hardware

Bodhi Linux

very fast, very slim, suitable for all purposes, but with an idiosyncratic moksha surface

Bunsenlabs "Helium"

puristic, very fast all-purpose system without specialization; simple operation, adjustments for advanced users

Kanotix Steelfire

Undemanding, classically operable and very fast all-purpose system without specialization, LXDE desktop


Live system with installation option and classically simple LXDE desktop: comprehensive software equipment

Linux Lite

still slim all-purpose system with XFCE desktop (without advantages compared to Lubuntu / Xubuntu)

LinuxWelt surf system

see Porteus Desktop plus German-language Mate desktop and browser selection


Undemanding all-purpose system with LXDE desktop and small software equipment


Undemanding all-purpose system like Lubuntu, software equipment somewhat more extensive


Pure live system, Ubuntu-based with minimalistic i3 window manager, only hotkeys for browser, terminal, file manager

Peppermint OS

Ubuntu-based system with very slim XFCE and web specialization (Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft), suitable for all purposes

Porteus Desktop 4

Pure live and surfing system with persistence option and browser selection: fast, small and - for advanced users - expandable

Porteus Kiosk 4

Pure live system with pure browser, no system access, detailed setup via installer image

Puppy Linux Xenial

Ubuntu-based puppy live system with persistence option (without persistence, mini setup at every start)

Puppy Linux Slacko