August 21, 2006

A walk in the park with Puppy Linux

Author: Mikael Vingaard

Puppy Linux is a small Linux live CD distribution that can boot from a CD, DVD, or USB drive; a hard disk is optional. According to the Puppy Linux Web site, Puppy's goals include being Linux newbie-friendly, booting and running quickly, and including all the applications typical users need. The newest version is its most usable yet.

The brand new puppy-2.02-seamonkey version was released late last month. The minimum requirements are a 100MHz CPU and 64MB of RAM or better, which makes it a great way to extend the life of old PCs. The ISO image is only 72MB, but it is packed with a wide range of software of all kinds. Commonly used applications such as word processing, spreadsheet, and Web editor tools are all available on the live CD.

For graphics, you can choose between the Xorg or Xvesa; if you're unsure of which to try, go with the Xorg option and pick a window manager. Busybox, JWM, and IceWM are among the ones available; I used JWM.

When you start Puppy you'll see several icons on the desktop, logically labeled Browse, Write, Chat, Email, and so on, rather than with the actual name of each application, which makes the first encounter with Puppy easier for the Linux novice. Puppy supports NTFS partitions, making it possible to save files on a Windows NTFS formatted hard disk.

Getting started

You can either purchase a Puppy CD or download the ISO image and burn it to a CD yourself. After a successful boot, Puppy will ask you a few questions about things like your keyboard and screen setup. The installation instructions are easy to follow, even for a Linux novice. If everything is working, you will hear Puppy greet you with a bark in your stereo and you are ready to go.

When you get started, Puppy runs in the PC's memory. When you log out or shutdown the live CD, Puppy asks if you want to save the current configuration. The save information is in a single file named pup_202.sfs, and you may save it to the hard drive, a USB drive, or even to the CD, if it is a multisession CD.

If you would like a permanent Puppy PC, the live CD provides a simple option to transfer the Puppy OS onto a USB, flash, or hard drive of your choice. I tested the hard disk installation successfully on a old 10GB IDE disk. The process is simple, with good guidelines, even for the novice.

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What about extra software?

If you need software that doesn't come on the Puppy install CD, you may be able to download it from Puppy's package repository. Just as Red Hat has the .rpm package format and Debian has .deb, Puppy has its own .pup package format. Currently there are more that a thousand applications in the Puppy repository, and this number is growing fast. If the particular application you want isn't available, you can grab a .deb package and install it on a Puppy system via the Alien application.

Why does Puppy use a different binary package format than the more popular distros? Because Puppy Linux is not based on any other distribution. Creator and lead developer Barry Kauler wrote almost everything from scratch.

As the Puppy is a non-commercial project, the only support option is the active Puppy Linux Discussion Forum, which is good for both novices and pros.

Puppy isn't just suitable for newbies; even seasoned Linux pros can benefit from using it. For instance, since Puppy can mount an NTFS-formatted hard disk, it can retrieve files that may have been lost after a Windows-based PC died.

Despite Puppy's small size, there are several things a Linux novice will appreciate, such as Adobe Flash being preinstalled and most audio and video formats working "out of the box."

I have successfully introduced Puppy to many people with various levels of IT skills. It's fast and it "just works." I often use Puppy when I have to examine a dead hard disk; I will bring Puppy and the Auditor live CD with me, with Puppy as first choice. The range of applications and ease of use makes it my favorite Linux live CD.

Mikael Vingaard, CISSP, works at BSDConsult with the ISO 27001 standards and support and education for the Open/FreeBSD OS.

Category:

  • Linux
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