January 13, 2006

Review: Grafpup Linux live CD for graphic designers

Author: Shashank Sharma

What would you get if you were to combine good graphic programs such as the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), Inkscape, and CinePaint with other open source biggies such as Scribus and Nvu? The answer: Grafpup Linux, a live CD heaven for all graphic designers.

Based on Puppy Linux, Grafpup is a small distribution despite its plethora of tools. Download the 75MB ISO and you'll be amazed at its speed and simplicity. When running from the live CD, Grafpup loads the entire operating system into your RAM, ensuring that the applications run instantly. The first time you run the live CD, Grafpup saves a file called "pup101" on your hard disk that contains settings for your keyboard layout, mouse type, and more, so that you don't need to configure your machine each time you boot. Every successive boot completes in less than 20 seconds.

Grafpup, like Puppy, uses the squash file-system compression method to achieve its small size. Additionally, Grafpup's creator has taken special care in deciding which packages make it into the distribution. IceWM is the only window manager. ROX-Filer, an easy-to-use file manager, replaces the traditional Nautilus/Konqueror.

Grafpup Linux - click to enlarge

Installation and configuration

If you install Grafpup to your hard drive, make sure it doesn't put its pup101 temporary file on the partition you want to install it on. I set aside a 4GB partition for Grafpup, considering its powerful arsenal of packages. Rather than installing GRUB, I added this entry to my existing GRUB file:

title Grafpup
(hd0,0)/boot/vmlinuz root=/dev/hda1

The installation takes no more than three minutes. I was surprised to discover that it had swallowed only 207.8MB of disk space.

Booting from the hard disk, you're dropped to an IceWM desktop in about eight seconds. Grafpup is a single-user distribution (not counting one restricted user), so you don't have to bother with logging in and passwords. The user-friendly distribution features wizards to assist you in configuring your system. The wizards range from configuring your install for connecting to the Internet, to installing Grafpup to a flash drive, to creating your own custom Grafpup live CD.

I configured my Linksys wireless card simply by clicking on the Configure Wireless Wizard, which told me to run the Wireless Access Gadget (WAG). With no NdisWrapper hassles, I had Internet access on Grafpup.

Although small, Grafpup Linux is a complete distribution. Along with the graphics tools, it includes applications such as Ted text editor, Midnight Commander file manager, Mutt email client, and players and tools to watch and burn CDs and DVDs. If you want to add to it, Grafpup includes DotPup, a Synaptic lookalike, click-and-install application. The first time you run it, DotPup downloads the latest list of packages, then lets you install whichever packages you want. DotPup also resolves dependencies. After installing a package, the application adds an appropriate entry in the IceWM menu.

You can also get KDE to work with Grafpup. Just download the 60.7MB usr_kde.sfs file and place it in your root (/) directory. One reboot later, you can run KDE by logging off IceWM and executing the command xwin startkde, which makes KDE the default window manager. However, the KDE menu will contain no entries. You must use the menu editor to add entries for all the Grafpup programs. I was unimpressed with KDE and decided to return to IceWM. xwin IceWM makes IceWM the default window manager.

OpenOffice.org is also available for Grafpup in a 104MB compressed tarball (tar.gz). You can use the guiTAR program to extract the files. Again, place the usr_more.sfs file in your root directory and restart icewm. You can now use OpenOffice.org 2.0.

Good stuff

Grafpup has a fairly broad user base that is active on the distro's forum boards. Considering the ease of use of Grafpup, its user-friendliness and easily available help, and its bundled applications, I rate Grafpup a perfect 10.

Shashank Sharma is studying for a degree in computer science. He specializes in writing about free and open source software for new users.


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