10:23:17 Running a Laptop off a $1 Thumbdrive

My last post was about a quest to buy a $1 USB thumbdrive. I'm getting closer: three for less than $5, even if one of the three was defective & a sure dustbin-bound useless -- if intricate -- piece of electronics.

[tiny core linux laptop]

So with the remaining two thumbdrives, the question that came up was: What can I do with them, each having all of 128MB capacity -- I didn't know such puny devices were still sold -- given my collection of other USBs, all of far greater capacity.

Well, I suppose one could treat them as disposables. Even give them away to friends, say, a PDF copy of my latest novel. But that sort of begs the question of why I bought them in the first place. Did I only want to see what an ultracheap USB thumbdrive looked like, delivered from China, post-free? Yeah, in a way, I did.

Then I realized a challenging, best use for these one-buck thumbdrives: I could use them to run my laptop.

Seriously, I run linux on all my machines [Mint Linux], so why not put a smallish linux distro on one of the thumbdrives & boot up that when I power on my Dell laptop? With only 128 MB storage, I didn't have a lot of headroom for my install. With modern software, a working linux desktop grows past MBs into GBs, easily.

I've used a few small linux distributions in the past -- Puppy Linux & Damn Small Linux -- that would fit my thumbdrive, but I decided to push minimalism to the limit.

I decided on tiny core linux, a bare-bones version weighing in at a tad under 12MB, or less than 10% of my thumbdrive's flash memory. But what can I do on a laptop with 12MB, when contrasted with 16-17 GB installs [1000+ times greater] for my full-blown Mint Linux desktops?

The short answer is not a lot in the usual sense.

But as Neal Stephenson once titled an online essay, "In the Beginning ,,, Was the Command Line." At the command-line prompt, I have unix commands and one essential program.

vi. Bob Joy's [visual] text editor, ubiquitous on unix systems and first appearing in 1976. vi is software of amazing elegance [and productivity]. A pure writing tool. I wrote about my fondness for vi in a slashdot post.

Needless to say, I'm writing these words in vi, my laptop running off a 12MB tiny core linux install. Not much other than the command line to greet me. No windows, just a prompt on a black-and-white screen.

So to answer the question, What use can one make of a puny $1 thumbdrive? Paradoxically, quite a lot, if you only want to write words without the distractions of an icon-infested desktop!

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