July 1, 2005

My Workstation OS: Puppy Linux

Author: Ed Jason

My OS is cute. Oh yes it is! It is a Puppy. Small, self-contained, comprehensive, new-Linux-user-friendly -- that is Puppy Linux.

The Puppy Linux distribution was started by Barry Kauler independently of any other distro. Barry went back to basics and reinvented a much better wheel. Puppy has an informed, diverse, and active support forum, a wiki (with news), and great developers who actually listen. The distribution is regularly updated.

Puppy is small, reliable, easy to use, and fully featured. Puppy boots from a CD, but I have installed it to both a hard disk and a USB keydrive. It saves configuration and data in one file
on a hard disk transparently, so even though you're booting from a live CD your data is updated and saved on disk, though if you wish you can leave the hard disk untouched and use it as a normal live CD. Puppy runs in RAM, so it is fast.

Versions of the operating system will run comfortably on dated hardware. For newer systems, Puppy's USB keydrive version might be better (although if USB device booting is not directly supported in the BIOS the Puppy boot diskette can be used to kick-start it). It is also possible to load from Windows. Effectively, you can have an operating system and a wealth of software up and running on a computer that needs no hard disk, and then remove the media from which you booted, so that there is no trace of its ever having being there.

And it's amazing how much is in Puppy, running from RAM. Included are applications such as Mozilla browser, AbiWord, SodiPodi, Gaim, and Scribus, plus of course FTP, a mail client, text editors, media player, sound recorder, and utilities. It is kind of the Tardis of Linux distributions -- more on the inside than one would imagine.

Network, video, audio, Samba client, graphics, word processing, browser, e-mail -- all work. The latest Puppy version uses the Mozilla browser, and there are different editions of Puppy for Firefox, Opera, and Mozilla. These so-called Puplets were put together using Puppy
, a tool that lets you include or exclude every Puppy program in a custom Puplet distribution. Of course you can download and install Opera or Firefox in the normal way too.

Puppy is incredibly fully featured for a system that runs entirely in a RAMdisk. Its developers have chosen applications on the basis of size, speed, and reliability.

One of the aims of the distribution is to be easy to set up, so there are a number of wizards that take users through the process of a range of common tasks. A wizard takes three button clicks to connect to the Internet on my DHCP setup.

A PC for running Puppy Linux, ideally needs to have at least 128MB RAM (with no more than 8M shared video) for all of Puppy to load into the RAMdisk. It is possible for it to run on a PC with only 48MB RAM, because part of the system can be kept on the hard drive, or even run from a CD as the more common and much slower live CDs do.

My system is an Athlon 2000 with 256KB memory and a 16MB Voodoo PCI card. I was going to put another 256KB of RAM in and run Solaris. Instead I went the other way; simpler has less to go wrong. My previous OS was Windows XP, which I think is excellent, but I was spending too much time protecting it and cleansing the registry and so on. I spent 30% of my time maintaining the OS.

I have been using Puppy for about six months. I have the latest versions of Ubuntu, Kanotix, Vector Linux, and Windows XP running on separate hard disks. I still download distros, install them, see how ponderous and bloated they are, and go back to Puppy.

Puppy incorporates two easy-to-use installers: PupGet and Dotpup. Both are built into Puppy and will be merged in the future. They are both easy to use. DotPup tends contains more up-to-date or non-essential programs downloaded from the excellent Puppy wiki. PupGet contains alternative programs or those that did not quite make it into the main release.

Puppy's default window manager is Fvwm95, which provides a familiar Windows 95 retro look. However, I used the Dotpup installer to enable IceWM and Fluxbox.

I hope to eventually move to the developing Multi-Session Puppy, which saves data to a CD-RW disc. With this version, backups are automatic. Puppy is always new and exciting and has got me experimenting with programming in Gambas and Tcl.

You should try Puppy. You might just love it.

What's your desktop OS of choice? So far, we've heard from fans of FreeBSD,
, Debian, Xandros, Slackware, Windows XP, Lycoris, SUSE Professional, NetBSD, Ubuntu, FreeDOS, Libranet, Mandrakelinux, Arch Linux, Mac OS X, Knoppix, Linspire, Gentoo, PCLinuxOS, Yoper, Fedora Core 3, Windows 2000 Professional, Damn Small Linux, VidaLinux, Kanotix, VectorLinux, Irix, Scientific Linux, Linux From Scratch, Frugalware, Kurumin, and Foresight.


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