Building your own wireless access point, or router, or firewall using Linux and a single-board computer is fun, with the usual bonus of having complete control over your stuff. There are kazillions of tiny Linuxes- which one should you try?
My latest fun has been replacing those little blue consumer boxes with real homegrown wireless access points and routers. Yes, cheap n quick is nice, but reliability and configurability are even nicer. (Oh, and for an amusing change of pace let’s not differentiate between home and business users, k? Home users are not less important.)
I don’t know if my customers are getting better informed, or I’m getting more persuasive, or if they suddenly feel like spending money on shiny new gadgets, but however we got here I’m happy it’s happening. I’m putting Pyramid Linux on PC Engines WRAP boards and Soekris boards, using the Atheros 5004 a/b/g mini-PCI radio card. The Atheros is well-supported on Linux, using the MadWiFi drivers and utilities, and is a nice little performer. And I can select antennas suitable for the site, rather than being stuck with some dumb thing that doesn’t work right and can’t be upgraded.
I prefer Pyramid Linux, which is a descendant of Pebble Linux, maintained by the good folks at Metrix.net. They take an interesting approach to putting it together: Pyramid uses stock Ubuntu packages. It weighs in around 50 megabytes, so it doesn’t have apt-get or dpkg. But because they use unmodified binaries, customizing it is easy. Just copy over whatever you want to add from an Ubuntu LiveCD.
Bering uClibc is a nice tiny Linux implementation. It achieves its svelte state by using customized libraries. You’re stuck with using packages designed for it, but for most admins that shouldn’t be a problem as they have an excellent package set.
Voyage Linux is another Debian derivative. If you don’t mind 128-megs of operating system, you can have apt-get. It also slims down to 64-megabytes, so just like Pyramid it’s a good choice for devices with soldered 64-megabyte flash storage.
Aside from these, I didn’t find any other tiny Linuxes suitable for building wireless access points. They’re probably out there, I just didn’t find them. Puppy and DSL are too desktop-oriented; if I wanted to spend my days customizing everything I’d build my own from scratch. Yes, that is an invitation to tell me about your favorite tiny Linux, and why you like it.