posted by Howard Fosdick on Mon 16th May 2011 14:21 UTC
IconHow can you run a full range of current applications on older computers, netbooks, thin clients, and mobile devices? One way is to install a lightweight Linux like Puppy, Lubuntu, or Vector Light. Select the distro with the apps that meets your needs while matching your computer's resources.


Puppy is worthy of your attention because it's pushed its way into Distrowatch's top ten most popular operating systems by merit alone. It doesn't have a corporate sponsor or advertising budget. This article describes Puppy. Screenshots follow the article.

What's Unique About Puppy

Puppy runs on many limited-resource computers. This includes Pentium IV's, III's, M's, D's, Atom and Celeron netbooks, and even Pentium II's. I've used it in refurbishing computers donated to charity yet I also run it on my state-of-the-art computers. What makes it appealing is how it combines three characteristics that normally force a trade-off:

1. A full range of applications

2. Ease of use

3. Good performance on limited hardware

Puppy supplies all the applications most users need while running on low-resource computers. It does this while retaining ease-of-use. So you can install it for consumers on low-end or older equipment.

Puppy combines high functionality with minimal hardware. These two goals force a direct trade-off -- typically you get one or the other, but not both. Puppy employs specific techniques to circumvent the trade-off and combine these two goals. Among them:

  • Bundled applications are selected for high functionality and minimal resource consumption.
  • Puppy excludes all but the mandatory Linux functions, code, services, and daemons.
  • The OS and bundled apps automatically load and run from memory on any computer having 256 M or more. This executes code at in-memory speeds and eliminates slow hard disk and optical disc access. It yields good performance even on older computers with slow devices.
  • Graphical user interfaces are the most resource-consumptive component of modern operating systems. Puppy dodges the GUI performance bullet with the lightweight JWM as its default interface, based on X-server with either Xorg or the more limited but efficient XVesa.
  • Puppy's frugal install option copies the Live CD code into any Windows or Linux disk partition and boots from there. This yields hard disk boot speed without requiring disk re-partitioning.

Puppy doesn't require the anti-malware software that overwhelms older Windows systems. You can take a Windows ME/98/95 system, replace Windows with Puppy, and have a secure, performant system running current software. Puppy is a prime candidate for reusing these old systems.

Flexibility

Flexibility is essential when working with low-end computers. You need software that runs on the system you have, rather than requiring you to upgrade, change, or fix hardware. Puppy doesn't impose hardware requirements.

For example, Puppy installs and boots from any bootable device and saves your work to any writeable device. No hard disk, optical drive, or USB? No problem. Want to use your old SCSI drive, floppy, Zip drive, LS-120/240 Superdisk, or compact flash memory? Puppy does it. It's great to see a distro that leverages whatever odd old devices your system has.

Puppy can even use write-once CDs or DVDs for persistent storage. It will prompt you to insert a new disc when needed. It then carries all your work forward onto the newly inserted CD or DVD.

Puppy gives you a choice of Linux kernels. It comes with the latest one for current equipment and older "retro" kernels for aging machines. So it runs on computers most other lightweight Linuxes no longer support.

Puppy complements Windows. You can install and load it from within a Windows disk partition. Or install on its own partition using Linux filesystems like ext2, ext3, ext4, or reiserfs.  Puppy's boot manager, GRUB, recognizes all existing Windows install(s) and generates a boot-time menu that asks you which OS you want to run. So you can install Puppy on a computer that already runs Windows or Linux without worry.

All this flexibility makes Puppy better suited for revitalizing mature computers than many competing lightweight distributions.

Apps Are the Name of the Game

I've described how Puppy achieves good performance on minimal hardware. But what can you do with it?

Puppy bundles the applications to perform the same tasks as much larger distros. I can comfortably use it for everything I do instead of Ubuntu. With Puppy you can --

  • Perform home and office tasks with word processors, file and HTML editors, PDF viewers, spreadsheets, and HomeBank finance manager. Puppy bundles GNOME Office.
  • Surf the Internet with your choice of browsers, and read, write, send and manage email with Sylpheed
  • Play, record, mix, rip and manage music
  • Scan in documents and pictures, read or scan photographs, alter and manage images and graphics with image and vector editors
  • Write your personal blog with PPLOG and the Hiawatha web server, or create your own wiki with DidiWiki
  • Telephone, chat, or message via Voice Over IP with Psip, and instant message and chat with Ayttm
  • Manage your address book, personal contacts, and daily calendar with Osmo daily organizer
  • Read, write, and burn CD's, DVD's, and Blu-ray discs
  • Log in to remote computers with telnet and send & receive files
  • Manage your files and data with file managers, a file finder, and tools for backup
  • Manage your computer and its performance with a full set of utilities for setup, configuration, and performance monitoring and management

Here's a full list of Puppy's bundled apps and their version numbers. Of course, like any mainstream distro Puppy makes it easy to download and install addtional apps with its package GUI.

For smooth video, you need a machine running at perhaps 800 ghz or faster. In my experience Puppy runs video fluently with a slightly slower processor than larger distros like Ubuntu, where you need at least 1 ghz.

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