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7/5/2005
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Review: 'Puppy' Takes A Bite Out Of Linux Distro Bloat

This new Live Distro has an apt name -- it's quick, nimble, and full of interesting tricks, including the ability to run off a CD-RW disk. But when it comes to the innovative thinking behind this hand-crafted Linux release, Puppy definitely is not content simply to follow the Linux pack.

Walkin' The Dog

For all of its under-the-hood improvements, Puppy really left me sitting up and begging for more when I came across one of its most obvious innovations: The ability to burn a bootable, writeable CD that's capable of saving changes to user data, such as email, documents, Web favorites, or whatever you'd like to take along from session to session. I used one-shot writable disks, but you can also use CD-RW media. As a result, Puppy is the first Live CD also to provide persistent, portable data access -- provided you can squeeze your stuff into whatever leftover space is available on the CD. (Alas, Puppy does not appear to support rewriteable DVDs, at least not yet.)

As Puppy grew from its interesting, but not terribly practical, earliest stages into something far more usable, Kauler eventually tackled the issue of how to manage a growing number of applications within the full distro. He came up with Puppy Unleashed: a tarball with over 300 packages users can cherry-pick to get exactly what they want. Also, if you're interested in developing for Puppy (or if you're just hard-headed and old-fashioned) you can always install Puppy on your hard disk (more than likely with staggering amounts of room to spare).

Once you've installed Puppy, if you'd like to add some items you can, courtesy of PupGet, which is Kauler's official package management tool and companion to Unleashed, or DotPup, an officially-blessed, third-party selection created by other developers and available on the Puppy site.

See Puppy Run

No matter what kind of hardware you run or what kind of operating system you prefer, you'll notice one thing about Puppy right away: It is really fast. I expected as much on the first system I used to try it out: A mongo P4 with a 3GHz CPU and a half-gigabyte of memory. Then I tried it on a relatively ordinary P3 with a 300 GHz- CPU and 256 MB of memory, including running some simple database sorts and playing chess with the computer looking ahead ten moves (and whipping my butt), in addition to using various other typical desktop applications. The older system still performed fine, with the exception of the chess match, which was now taking 20 minutes between moves, as opposed to three minutes on the newer system.

I was also able to get Puppy running nicely on machines that were even closer to the discard pile, such as a P3 with a small, slow hard disk, using as little as 64MB of RAM (using slow swapfiles as needed). This raises an interesting question: How low can you go with a hardware config that can still run Puppy in a semi-coherent manner?

The answer is actually pretty simple: Lower than anything you're likely to have sitting around in working condition. Kauler's implied minimum of 64 MB of RAM may be more of a suggestion than a "requirement," but I do think 128 MB is more reasonable for running current apps and avoiding too much swapfile thrashing. Similarly, Puppy will apparently run on antiques sporting 133MHz Pentium CPUs, although again, "upgrading" to a 266MHz processor will ensure that you're not running with a pooped pup.

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