Puppy Linux review

Puppy Linux is one of those Linux distributions that doesn’t attempt to compete with the big boys. Instead, it’s a lightweight offering that will run snappily even on old, decrepit hardware you may have consigned to the back of the cupboard.

Another unusual aspect of this nippy little canine is that, unlike the rest of the distributions on test, Puppy is designed mainly to run externally from a CD or USB thumb drive. If you really want, it can be installed to the hard disk of your chosen PC, but the developers actively encourage users not to do this.

With the ISO burned to a bootable USB stick, occupying a ludicrously small 137MB of space, it took 1min 45secs to boot on our test laptop, so it’s hardly a burden to follow the developer’s instructions. Once fired up, the system runs mostly from RAM, and as a result, it’s a very quick and snappy system in use.

Puppy Linux

This doesn’t mean that Puppy systems must remain static, though – far from it. You can make changes to the configuration or add software via the Puppy Package Manager, as you can with any other Linux distribution, and changes are saved to a special 3FS file on shutdown, which is located either on a selected partition on the hard disk, or on the CD, DVD or USB stick. For optical media, you’d have to leave the original installation open as a multisession disc, though. Alternatively, for more significant alterations, you can master another copy of the live disc and burn it to optical media, or save it to a USB thumb drive.

All this makes Puppy a prime candidate for a rescue system, and appropriately it’s crammed with lightweight system tools, from the excellent GParted partitioner to backup, ftp and ISO burning tools. Due to the requirement to keep the distribution compact, however, there’s no sign of heavyweight desktop apps such as The GIMP or LibreOffice.

Instead, there’s AbiWord for word processing, Gnumeric for spreadsheet tasks and the SeaMonkey suite of apps for browsing, email and HTML authoring. They’ll do the job – and we’re impressed that Flash player installs automatically the first time you run Puppy – but none of the bundled apps are particularly pretty. As a result, running Puppy feels a little like using a computer from the 1990s.

Puppy Linux

Likewise, the Openbox desktop environment is rudimentary. There are no niceties such as a search box in the main menu, which can make tracking down applications tricky. It isn’t the most attractive user interface either, with pixellated icons and text, and no transparency effects or animations.

If you’re running Puppy on new hardware, it’s worth trying the “Racy” version first, instead of the long-term support Wary edition, since this is tuned for more modern hardware. In our initial tests on a recent Dell Inspiron 17R with Intel HD Graphics 3000, Wary simply wouldn’t run in the native 1,600 x 900 resolution. Racy, however, worked correctly right away.

So it might not be the slickest of Linux distributions, but that isn’t what Puppy is really about. The really impressive aspect of this distro is its ability to squeeze a full-blown OS, including a raft of applications, into an incredibly small amount of space. That makes it a great choice for anyone wanting to revive old hardware, or create an advanced rescue system.


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