Chair Force Engineer

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Air Force Research Linux

One of the best selling points for the Linux operating system is its small footprint in your computer's RAM, hard drive, and overall system requirements. Linux distros like Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux (the latter no longer updated) have been tailored to run on very old PC's (Pentium 3 for the former, Pentium 1 for the latter) and capable of residing entirely in RAM. Running a lightweight Linux can keep older PC's relevant for most people's internet needs.

But a new and surprising player is jumping into the lightweight Linux game--the US Department of Defense. Developed by Air Force Research Laboratory, Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) is a Linux distro that resides completely in RAM, with no option of mounting the hard drive or writing to it. The logic behind LPS is that malware cannot be written to DoD computer systems since the hard drive cannot be engaged.

The "lightweight" part of the name is a bit of a misnomer. LPS requires 512 megs of RAM for the basic OS, and 1 gig of RAM for the deluxe version which includes the productivity suite. And the deluxe version did seem a bit slower than Puppy Linux when it booted.

But in spite of being not-so- "lightweight," LPS does have a great feature going for it. LPS can auto-detect a broad range of hardware and automatically load the appropriate drivers. I would even say that LPS is better than the "heavyweight" Linux distros in this regard. Of all the distros I've tried, only LPS instantly recognized my laptop's internal wireless adapter. Then again, not all the drivers are very well-written; my laptop's touchpad acts very flaky in Firefox.

With the key features and drawbacks to LPS in mind, who is the target user? The LPS website mentions booting it from a flash memory device, even though that storage method is banned on all DoD network computers. It would instead seem that LPS is a means for DoD personnel to check e-mail and do limited work from home or while on business travel.

Overall, using LPS has been a fun experience. If I ever needed to check my business webmail from the computer in the hotel lobby, LPS would be the way to do it. For people who want a real lightweight Linux I would recommend downloading Puppy Linux, installing it to the hard drive of their aging PC, and downloading the extra goodies that LPS deluxe boasts, like All flaws aside, LPS is definitely worth a download. All it takes is a few minutes to download and a single recordable CD to surf the web, LPS-style.