June 13, 2009

Puppy Linux 4.2.1 – wireless regression saga

Don't ignore Puppy GNU/Linux. Puppy is the best lightweight live CD linux distribution and comes with nearly every application and/or utility anyone would need. There is no reason not to at least give it a try as it is not at all necessary to even permanently install it to your hard drive. Further, Puppy Linux is the distribution where “everything works” more so that any other GNU/Linux distribution. Note that I intentionally avoided the popular “just works” term as several pieces require some configuration to work properly but puppy prompts the users and walks the user through the configuration process in a easy step by step process. Case in point, it literally took me months to get my Broadcom wireless working in Ubuntu 8.04 while Puppy 4.1.1 autodetected it and it was working with a few gui mouse clicks. It is a Broadcom Corporation BCM4318 [AirForce One 54g] 802.11g Wireless LAN Controller (rev 02) on an Acer Aspire 5100 laptop with a 2 Ghz 64 bit Turion AMD processor and 1 GB of RAM (running 64-bit Ubuntu Hardy.) How I finally got wireless working on Ubuntu was with ndiswrapper and wicd (I never was able to get wireless working with gnome network manager.) Since wireless was such a struggle with Ubuntu, I was amazed that it was so simple with Pupppy Linux 4.1.1 (and thought that Ubuntu could learn a thing or two from Puppy about hardware detection.) (Just in case anyone wonders why I stuck with Ubuntu when it took so long to get wireless working on my laptop, the reason is that this laptop is plugged into a wired ethernet cable 97% at home of the time and so I rarely actually had a need for wireless.)

Puppy Linux was first released in June 2003 by Barry Kauler and had pretty much been a one-man show until Mr. Kauler stepped aside for WhoDo (Warren Willson) to lead the development of Puppy 4.2. The screenshots of 4.2 released in Spring 2009 showed a more modern professional look to the distro which I found most appealing and was looking forward to trying. When I booted to it, it looked amazing!! The biggest drawback is that my Broadcom wireless no longer worked. It was not autodetected and would not install via the puppy connection wizard. It was autodetected as B43 pcmcia Broadcom B43 wireless driver under 4.1.1, so I tried that and I tried BCM43xx pci BCM43xx wireless driver (which actually seemed more appropriate for my card) but was successful with neither. The only other real drawback is that after saving settings and configurations following the first boot and creating the pupsave file, puppy would not allow the CD Rom drive to be unmounted following the subsequent boots. This renders that CD/DVD/reader/writer useless for reading / playing CDs/DVDs and or any burning activities of any kind. I didn't report the wireless issue as a bug as there was already a Broadcom wireless bug reported and it seemed that this bug report would cover my problem, too. (I somehow figured that the CD unmount problem must also have been reported, too.)

When WhoDo announced the Puppy Linux 4.2.1 bugfix release, I was very much looking forward to seeing my issues fixed, but much to my dismay, the wireless problem persists. The announcement and subsequent comments seemed to indicate some turmoil and much frustration between WhoDo and the community in the course of the development process and indicated that this bugfix release concludes WhoDo role as lead project developer. As such, it would be hard to imagine another bugfix update. My only choice might be to use 4.1.1. if functioning wireless is important to me. I did not yet test to see if 4.2.1 would allow unmounting of the CD following a boot after creating a pupsave file.

On a different issue, it has always been the Puppy developer's philosophy to always have Puppy run as the root user / account. While I have read and understand the rational, I do wish that he would make this modifiable and customizable for those who are performing a full (or frugal) hard drive install and would prefer to have a limited (secure) root account (or even disable root account as in Ubuntu) and a regular user account for routine use. While Ubuntu has the root account disabled and administrative access is gained through sudo, if any given user wants to change this on his/her installation, he/she sure may do so and enable the root account and log in as such (isn't choice part of the appeal and beauty of GNU/Linux freedom?) I understand that is it the developer's prerogative to implement this default behavior as he so chooses, but I do not understand the developer not allowing for this simple modification / customization (by a user who is not already a developer / coder.)

Still despite the issues, Puppy GNU/Linux is the best, most complete, most functional, lightweight GNU/Linux distribution around – bar none. I have used it for pre-partitioning using Gparted prior to an Ubuntu hard drive install, for data recovery, and for using my wife's work laptop so as not to leave a trace behind once I am finished and without needing to know any login usernames or passwords. Many thanks and kudos to Barry Kauler (and his helpers from the community) for sharing his (and their) work resulting in Puppy GNU/Linux through 4.1.1. Also, many thanks to Warren Willson (aka WhoDo) (and his helpers from the community) for sharing his (and their) work resulting in Puppy GNU/Linux 4.2 and 4.2.1 (although a further bug fix release would be much appreciates.)

Thanks for reading.


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