Spotlight on Linux: Puppy Linux 5.2

Puppy Linux began life as a really cool small-sized Linux distribution designed primarily for lower specification hardware while still providing most of the amenities that make Linux fun and usable. It included lots of original utilities and tools for completing tasks and configurations without a lot of resource overhead. Best of all, it was blazing fast. Well, the little puppy has grown up some and branched out, but is still that same light-weight wonder in spirit.

The latest release, 5.2, codenamed Lucid Puppy, is a result of branching out of the project in new directions. In late 2008 Puppy developers designed a new build system, Woof, that can take binaries of other popular distributions and incorporate them into new Puppy builds. One of the most commonly used, and probably most popular, is Ubuntu. Underneath, the foundation is still the independent Puppy we know and love, but many components come from Ubuntu such as shared libraries and some applications. As a result, Puppy Linux 5.2 is compatible with many other Ubuntu packages. Whether this has increased Puppy's popularity could be debated, but according to Distrowatch.com's Page Hit Ranking, Puppy has been moving up the chart each year with the biggest jumps seen since Woof has been used to make Ubuntu compatible versions.

One of the most remarkable things about Puppy Linux is that it's a very small download size. It began life around the 50 MB range, but later grew to just over 100 MB. Still, it's quite small when many distribution images are getting too big to fit on a CD. Puppy's small size lends it very easily to installation onto USB memory keys with the ability to save any personalize settings and installed software. When booting, Puppy loads into your machine's permanent memory (RAM), which frees up the boot device for other uses. That also makes for a remarkably fast system.

Puppy's interface and tools also contribute to the high performance. Puppy uses JWM and OpenBox with FBPanel, all known for their minimum system requirements. Most tools have a simple interface and some are console-based. Contrary to common belief, this doesn't make them difficult to use. And there is quite a selection as well. There are tools to configure and monitor just about every aspect of the system, including eye candy.

Puppy ships with lots of smaller but useful applications too. Among many others you'll find Gnumeric spreadsheet, Osmo personal organizer, HomeBank money management, photo and image tools, editors, multimedia apps, Slypheed for mail, and Dillo for Web surfing. But like any respectable distro Puppy comes with an easy and attractive package management solution with several repository choices. Lucid Puppy is default, but Ubuntu repositories are a tick-box check away. Easier still is QuickPet which lists popular software choices and with one click will install your favorites. This is where you can install things like Firefox, Pidgin, NVIDIA drivers, GIMP, and LibreOffice.

Puppy is a fun little distro with lots of potential and flexibility. The live CD is suitable for any level of experience, although a permanent install might require a bit of knowledge about partitions and such. It has a cute appearance these days and runs like a scalded dog, ...er, um, puppy.

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