Without corporate backing or advertising, Puppy
Linux has become one of the world’s ten most popular Linux distributions. In the
past few months
Puppy has whelped a litter of like systems, each with its own unique
DNA. This article summarizes Puppy and then describes the
Linux was first released by Australian developer Barry Kauler in
then this community distribution has gone through five releases, with
the current crop of 5.x versions coming out starting in late 2010.
Puppy is a general purpose distro that bundles a full range of apps.
It’s easy to use. What makes it unusual is that it offers high
performance on minimal hardware. It is fully functional on
lightweight netbooks, thin clients, and older computers.
Puppy uses specific technologies to make this happen. For example,
it runs from memory by default; it excludes all but the mandatory
functions, services, and daemons; its default GUI is the lightweight
JWM; and its bundled
apps are all selected for low resource consumption.
While there are competing distros that run on low-end hardware — such
as Lubuntu, SliTaz, Tiny Core, and others — Puppy is probably unique
in that it specifically tests and runs on
older equipment. If you’ve ever tried running Linux on an aging
you know that lightweight
distribution and older
are two different requirements. Puppy fulfills both. It runs on
won’t see running other current distros, including P-III’s and P-II’s.
(Some even run Puppy — with GUI — on P-I’s.) Puppy offers a secure,
up-to-date replacement OS for Windows XP, 98, ME, and 2000.
Puppy boots from any bootable device and stores
its state on any writeable device. It can span writeable CD’s or
DVD’s when saving its state. Got a computer with a broken optical
drive? Or a dead hard disk?
Puppy runs fine on such systems. This flexibility makes it
popular as a “live” operating system bootable from thumb
drives and optical discs. Many use it as a rescue system or as a
For more background on Puppy, see this
OS News article from May 2011.
My Favorite Puppy Features
Puppy is uniquely effective with
slow or unreliable internet connections. It manages connections and
prompts servers when
problems occur. I have a friend who has poor line quality — and few
options, living in a rural area. He runs Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, Windows XP
SP3, and Puppy 5. He favors Puppy because of its more reliable internet
Puppy continues to use GRUB instead of GRUB 2. I use it
to install GRUB on multi-boot systems so that I can alter the OS menu
simply by editing the menu.lst
file. This is great when I set up computers for end users.
And GRUB 2? I installed Ubuntu 11 on an end user’s system recently and
embarrassed in front of the client by its unintelligible boot-time
menu. It’s not easy to change this menu. This
discussion shows how to
remove unwanted entries. If you want to change the entry titles, you’re
forced to edit the
bash scripts. See this
Puppy’s not perfect. It has its shortcomings. But I like that its
design decisions for ease of use hit the nail on the head more often
Puppy Whelps a Litter
This year’s big news is that lead
Puppy developer Barry Kauler developed a system called Woof.
Puppy live-CD ISO file. Woof can build Puppy from the packages of other
distros, including Ubuntu, Slackware, Debian, Arch, and T2. This
means that Puppy supports the applications
and software repository of the system from which it’s created.
So far the major Puppy releases that have come out of Woof are:
|Main release for
|Main release for
Wary Puppy is
specifically for older computers. Wary runs the older 184.108.40.206 kernel,
uses X.org 7.3 to support older video, and retains support for dial-up
modems. The lack of these features is why competing
lightweight distros often fail to run on older hardware. Many older
computers won’t support the current kernel or newer video drivers.
Wary combines its knowledge of older hardware with current applications
and support for modern peripherals (printers,
cameras, scanners, digital modems, etc.).
Wary Puppy is guaranteed for long-term support. It is the Puppy
community’s assurance that users of older computers will not be
is critical because so many lightweight distros fall inactive and
strand their users (eg: Damn Small Linux, Feather, Beatrix,
Tiny Linux, others). Wary
should be your Puppy of choice if you have a uniprocessor.
Racy Puppy is “Wary on steriods” for those who have current hardware.
features the 3.0.7 kernel and X.org 7.6. Racy boots straight into X on
first boot and launches its Quick Setup facility. (In contrast, Wary
Puppy runs text-mode configuration dialogs and the Xorg Wizard before
starting X.) Racy is a tad smaller ISO than Wary because it strips out
dial-up modem support. Racy and Wary share a common package repository,
so current apps
are common to both systems.
Lucid Puppy was built with Woof from Ubuntu packages. Since it has
binary compatibility with Ubuntu’s .deb
packages, Puppy’s own Puppy Package Manager can install apps from the
huge Ubuntu software repositories.
Where Lucid differs from Ubuntu is that it retains Puppy’s lightweight
advantage. Though it’s compatible with
Ubuntu software, you still get Puppy’s performance.
Some who like Ubuntu but need a more performant system opt for its
lightweight variant, Lubuntu. In an OS
on Lubuntu in March 2011, I described Lubuntu and why I like it. But
considered purely from the standpoints of performance and resource
consumption, Puppy beats Lubuntu hands-down. Lucid Puppy presents
another way to gain better performance than Ubuntu while using the
Ubuntu software repositories.
Just as the main reason for Lucid Puppy is Ubuntu
compatibility, the main reason for Slacko Puppy is Slackware
compatibility. Slacko gives you Puppy’s small size and speed while
allowing you to install any Slackware application.
One question you’re sure to have by this point is
dependency-checking. Does Puppy provide it against the Slackware
repositories, the Ubuntu repositories, and its own repositories? Yes.
This job is split between Woof and the improved Puppy Package Manager
(PPM). Woof provides the clean initial build, and the PPM does
dependency-checking when you install additional packages. The PPM
notifies you when a pre-requisite package is missing, and
you click a button to get full dependency lists. Then you click to
start the automated download-and-install process. This
webpage shows how it works via screen snapshots. I’ve had 100%
success with Puppy’s dependency-checker but I tend to stick to
configurations. Anyone have more extensive experience with it?
Puppy has long provided user-friendly software for mastering your own
CD. Puppy comes with a desktop remastering tool that allows you to take
“snapshot” of your current system and instantly make a live CD of it. Woof is an alternative mastering
tool. (It effectively replaces Puppy
an earlier tool to create ISO images.) Beginners will prefer the simple
CD-Remaster tool while those with more expertise will opt for Woof.
The result of these easy-to-use tools has been an explosion in Puppy
Linux variants, commonly called Puplets.
There’s a Puplet for every interest, demographic, and
taste. There are Puplets that default to specific GUIs, Window Managers
and browsers; Puplets optimized for specific hardware; stripped down
barebones Puplets; Puplets for different languages and countries; and
so on. This webpage lists 20
new Puplets with another 65 available. Pick from the list or develop
your own. That’s the fun of Puppy.
Is Puppy for You?
Puppy’s diversity and flexibility make it a great community-driven
enthusiasts, hobbyists, and tinkerers. They also make for a somewhat
disorderly world. You
might have to read a bit to figure out which Puppy release or Puplet is
for you. Puppy’s
online documentation is extensive but can be confusing. It’s
not always clear which docs pertain to which releases. Most users rely
on the active, friendly forum for support. I’ve used Puppy for five
years and have never posted a single question that
What I like best about Puppy is that you can install it on somone’s old
P-III or P-IV, and they can use that machine to perform any task they
could on a current computer. No need to buy new hardware! As long as a
knowledgeable person does the initial set-up and configuration, Puppy
makes aging hardware useful to the average consumer.
Those of us who enjoy computers sometimes forget that many view them
with disdain. What’s wrong with it now?
do I have to buy a new one every four years? Why on earth do they
interface in every release? Can’t it just work?
Puppy is a great solution for these folks. It’s up-to-date, free, and
easy to use. And now, it supports free applications from the Ubuntu,
Slackware, or Puppy repositories. Now that’s
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Howard Fosdick (President, FCI) is an independent consultant who
databases and operating systems. His hobby is refurbishing computers as
a form of social work and environmental contribution. Read his other