The Working Centre Linux Project


The Working Centre Linux Project is a Debian-based distribution geared towards low-powered computers (25mhz 486s w/16MB ram/400MB disk). The project exists to provide cheap, legal software, familiar software for refurbished computers – software usable for those who have never used computers, or those who have only used a Windows environment.

Design Decisions

What makes this distribution different from the dozens of other distributions that have been created?

There are a few other differences worth noting. We designed this installation of Linux to provide an inexpensive, practical bundle of software for our recycled computers that home users would find useful. To help us reach this goal, we made the following five design decisions:

  1. The system must run on donated hardware. The minimum requirements for our machines are 25mhz 486s with 16MB of RAM, 400MB of disk space and a VGA display. Currently, we target Pentiums with 32MB of RAM, a 1GB hard drive and a VGA display.
  2. Software should be inexpensive or free. We prefer open-source software to proprietary software, but will choose a cheap proprietary package if no suitable open-source project exists. We also strongly prefer software pre-packaged for Debian.
  3. The system should have a GUI that feels familiar to people with Windows experience.
  4. Data files should be compatible with Windows applications.
  5. The system should not hide UNIX.

Some other projects share some of these design goals, but none shares them all. We keep our hardware requirements low, and yet demand a familiar graphical interface and applications that will feel familiar to our users.

Software Requirements

In addition to keeping hardware requirements low, we have high demands of our software. Much of the work in this project has involved finding user applications that meet the following requirements:

  1. Apps must run on our limited resources.
  2. Apps should resemble their Windows counterparts as much as possible. (Yes. This is a contentious point with unsavory consequences. We made this design decision anyways.)
  3. Apps should support file formats compatible with leading Windows software applications.
  4. Apps must be featureful enough to allow users to get their work done.
  5. Apps should be relatively stable. At the very least, they should not corrupt data.
  6. Ideally, applications should be well-supported. Applications with no upstream support usually die.

Using the Distribution

You are welcome and encouraged to use our distribution. There are two ways to do this:

  1. You can install the software we have selected on your own low-end system(s), using whichever installation method you want.
  2. You can use our installer, which currently means setting up a FAI server.

To select the packages we use, look at our applications page or download the sources and look in the wclp/installer/package_config directory.

To use the FAI installer, you will want to look through the administrator manual posted on the documentation page. You will also want to visit the FAI website. You will need the following resources:

  1. An available network (which can be as simple as two machines connected with a crossover cable).
  2. A server machine. Our current server is a Pentium II 233 with 64MB of RAM and about 4GB of available hard drive space. Previously, we were using a Pentium 90 as the server, so processor speed is not a huge concern. Having a nice big hard drive helps, though.
  3. A local mirror of the packages to install. Our mirror takes up about 600MB of space, but you could cut this down. It is also possible to do without a local mirror, but this slows down installs considerably.

Currently, our distribution does not work off a CD, but we are working on this.

The project is based out of The Working Centre, a not-for-profit origanization in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, which provides a number of services including an employment centre, computer training, job training, recycling bicycles, a community kitchen, urban agricultural projects, simplicity circles, and various workshops.


  1. Thanks to SourceForge for hosting this project. And, additionally, it’s worth acknowledging our gratitude to SourceForge for hosting the projects for FAI, icewm, abiword, and gaim.
  2. This project would not be possible without The Working Centre.
  3. Additional support has been provided by members of KWLUG – the Kitchener/Waterloo Linux User Group.
  4. Last but not least, to the cast of thousands who have made Linux and Debian possible!