Coyote is the name of a Linux distribution, or perhaps more fittingly, a Linux-based "router on a floppy disk".

Just a few of sentences of background for those who have only recently tuned in: Linux is an operating system, a little like Windows (except it doesn't have to be graphical), a little like DOS (except it multitasks with ease), and a lot like Unix (except it doesn't belong to AT&T or any other commercial outfit). Linus Torvalds, formerly a Finnish student, wrote the Linux kernel as his Master's Degree project. Because it's free and because it's a useful and powerful operating system, lots of people are doing cool things with it. One subset of the set of Linux-based projects is the set of projects offering a complete software router on a single floppy disk, of which Coyote is a very fine example.

Oh no, more explanations: Simply stated, a router is a computer or a similar, simpler kind of box which connects two networks together. If you own just one PC and want to surf the Internet, you don't need a router; just plug a modem into your PC and connect the modem to your phone (or ISDN) line, or maybe even your cable connection, and away you go. But if, like me, you have a significant other1 and that SO also owns a PC and wants to surf, and you don't want to spring for a second phone (or whatever) line, then it's time to connect your PCs into a Local Area Network (LAN) so you and your beloved can share resources like your laser printer and especially your Internet connection. OK, now that you have your own network on one hand and the Internet on the other, you have two networks to connect, and a practical use for a router!

There are plenty of companies only too willing to sell you a router, and for many people this is the way to go. But the availability of a free, network-capable operating system and of many antiquated but functional PCs leads to a cheap roll your own alternative. I've put a complete Linux distribution on a PC and painstakingly configured it to work as a router; but I found myself wishing for a simpler alternative. Coyote Linux offers everything that's needed (and very little more) on a single floppy disk. There's an automatic setup script which asks you a minimum number of questions, then builds the disk for you. You set up your hardware, pop the disk into your old PC, boot it up and you're in business! One nice aspect of this is that you don't even need to have a hard disk in your PC; and since the computing (and hence cooling) requirements of routing are minimal, maybe not even a fan!

Some features of Coyote Linux:

  • It can build disks to work with one network card and either
    • another network card
    • a modem
    • an ISDN card or
    • a DSL adapter (using PPPoE2)
  • The disk can be built from Linux, but also from Windows!
  • There's a firewall included, which lets you block any kind of access you don't like
There are a number of similar, "competing" projects (most of them free, of course), but I have found the ease-of-use of Coyote very impressive. I recommend it to anyone considering a router for their network.


  1. Many geeks set up LANs even if they don't have a girlfriend. Come to think of it, maybe they don't have girlfriends because they'd rather set up LANs...
  2. PPP3 over Ethernet, a weird kind of protocol kludge used by T-DSL in Germany, among others.
  3. Peer-to-Peer Protocol, a way of simulating a network connection over a serial link.