posted by Howard Fosdick on Mon 16th May 2011 14:21 UTC

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Where Puppy Plays

The current Puppy release -- Puppy 5 or "Lucid Puppy" -- boots in 128 M ram and runs entirely from memory on systems with 256 M or more.  The CD download is 130 M.  (Older Puppy releases are about 100 M downloads and prior to version 4 Puppy boots in only 64 M).

Puppy is a performant system for Pentium IV's, III's, M's, D's, and Atom and Celeron netbooks. Pentium II's work well with many Puppy releases if you can maximize their memory to 256 M, which allows Puppy to run entirely from memory and perform optimally. You can actually use a P-II for serious work! One important limitation is that P-II's can't run web video because the P-II line topped out at 450mhz. This is a processor limitation rather than a Puppy shortcoming.

If you have a really old computer in your basement or attic, Puppy can help you revitalize it. Puppy also runs on P-II's with less than 256 M and P-I's. But here you forgo the speed advantage that comes with running the system solely from memory.

For my purposes -- refurbishing older computers with software that is user-friendly enough for end users -- Puppy presents the right balance of usability with minimal hardware requirements. As long as you install and configure Puppy, end users will be quite happy using it on Pentium IV's, III's, and even II's.

I don't want to leave the impression that Puppy is only suitable for low-end hardware. I install it as one of several operating systems on my state-of-the-art computers. It's a fun alternative to some of the full-sized distros like Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, or Fedora.

Puppy makes a handy portable "rescue disk" on CD, DVD, or bootable USB pen drive. Just last month my friend corrupted his disk's master boot record on a Windows computer. With a Live Puppy CD, we fixed this fatal error in minutes. Puppy scanned the disk and regenerated the master boot record for us. (My friend could also have used the Windows recovery console with commands like fixmbr and fixboot but he didn't know how).

I recently used Puppy to save data from a DOS FAT32 partition on a failing disk. I booted Live Puppy CD, then used its tools to rebuild the DOS partition's corrupted file allocation table. After verifying the FAT structure was good, I carefully copied files from the failing disk to a good one, concentrating on the highest priority files first. Eventually we saved all data from the bad disk partition except for two files that had damaged sectors. Then we replaced the bad disk.

Puppy's Profile

Puppy makes a nice match for computer consumers -- assuming a knowledgeable person installs and configures it for them. It brings old equipment back to life. But it may not be the best fit for corporate users who require software that changes little from release to release, or for companies that need a distro with corporate backing. Puppy is:

Community-developed and supported -- Puppy originated with one individual, Barry Kauler. A small inner circle adds to his efforts. No corporation underwrites or directs Puppy. Free support includes videos, wikis, how-to's, online documentation, tutorials, web sites, and active forums. With one or two exceptions it does not offer corporate support contracts.

No "road map" -- This is an evolving distro. Every version differs. There is no long term "road map" for future development or set schedule for planned future releases and upgrades. The community develops Puppy as consensus evolves.

Version upgrades only -- Updates are traditionally through point releases. Puppy 5 adds a push-button for downloadable software fixes like Ubuntu or Windows.

Root user id -- Puppy runs as a single-user system and this drives its development. The Puppy user runs as the Linux root user id. In theory this could be a problem -- but in practice it presents no downside. I've never heard of a single Puppy user suffering a problem due to this. If this concerns you, see the discussions that explore all angles of this topic in this forum thread and this one.

How to Run Puppy

In Puppy version 5.2, the Live CD download file is 127 M. Once you've downloaded the product, burn it to a "boot CD" and you're ready to run.

Given its small size and quick boot time, many run Puppy as a Live CD or DVD without ever installing it. Puppy allows you to save your session work by asking if you want to create a Save File the first time you request a shut down. Place the Save File on any writeable device (disk, USB, writeable CD or DVD, whatever).  Next time you boot the Live CD or DVD Puppy finds the Save File to start your session. Ever after Puppy automatically saves your session work in the Save File without asking.

You can install Puppy to any bootable device -- disk (SATA, PATA/IDE or SCSI), writeable CD or DVD, Superdisk, USB devices, Zip drive, or whatever will boot your computer. You have two options here: a full install and the frugal install.

The full install is a traditional Linux install. You need to create a disk partition for Puppy's use. Puppy helps you do this with its bundled GParted partition manager. Puppy also comes with GRUB for setting up an OS selection menu at startup. A Puppy partition need only be 500 M, though if you install additional apps, I've found 1 G to be a spacious round number.

The frugal install simply copies the Live CD files to disk.  Place these files in a single directory within any existing partition. This partition can be Windows NTFS or FAT32, or any of the common Linux partition types, such as ext2, ext3, ext4, or reiserfs.

The benefits to the frugal install are:
  1. Puppy can reside in any existing partition (assuming sufficient space)
  2. No need to shrink the Windows partition or create a new Linux partition
  3. Easy to upgrade -- just replace the older version files with the ones from a newer version
These advantages make frugal installs more popular with Puppy than full disk installs. USB boots are also quite popular. Puppy fits on any 512 M USB memory stick with space leftover for your data.

New in Version 5

Puppy 5.x presents some big enhancements over previous versions. It was created from Ubuntu packages through a new tool inventor Barry Kauler calls Woof. Woof builds Puppy from the package repositories of various Linux distros. Right now the supported distros include Ubuntu, Debian, Slackware, Arch, T2 SDE, and Puppy.

The result is that Puppy 5 runs any Ubuntu or *.deb package! This opens up the whole word of Ubuntu and Debian applications to Puppy. Prior to version 5, you could only install apps from Puppy's own repository. While this repository contains hundreds of common Linux applications, enough for most people, it does not compare to the thousands of free apps now available in the Ubuntu/Debian repositories.

Puppy 5 tweaks the user interface. It boots directly into a pre-configured desktop for quick startup. It gives users the ability to easily customize the desktop with choices for common applications such as the browser. The new QuickPet tool makes one-click installation easy. Wireless and internet configuration are also much improved. Barry Kauler's blog and the Version 5 Release Notes give full details on everything that's new in Puppy 5.

You can customize Puppy into your own distro with either Woof or the Puppy re-mastering tool. These are so easy to use that they have resulted in an explosion of Puplets, customized Puppy-based distros. Puplets address all sorts of special interests, including multi-user Puppy, Puppeee for the eeePC notebook, UbuntuStudio Puppy, and many more designed for gaming, scientific disciplines, religious interests, international languages, etc. If you're interested in customizing your own Linux version, Puppy is an especially good choice.
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