Dubbed Puppy Linux, the OS is one of dozens of custom and guerilla variants on Linux circulating throughout the broader software community. (Many are tracked on the Distrowatch open-source Web site.) But Puppy appears to be catching on, attracting recent attention on Slashdot in the wake of the release in May of Puppy Linux version 1.0.2.
"I think one of the key advantages of Puppy is the simplicity," said Barry Kauler, the developer of Puppy Linux, in an e-mail interview. "When other distributions start up, you see all these servers loading, but in Puppy it's really basic and bootup is remarkably fast. However, I still managed to stick to the requirement of it all loading into RAM and freeing up the CD drive, on a reference 128MB PC."
That small-is-beautiful theme is Puppy's raison d'etre, according to Kauler. "If I were pressed to list why I think people use Puppy, it would be [that it's] very simple under-the-hood, very easy to use, very fast, highly portable, and easy to install."
In more technical terms, Puppy began life as a hand-built distribution of Linux, which Kauler pieced together file by file. "Although I have used other distributions for compiling, mostly Slackware and Mandrake, Puppy is not based on them," Kauler said. "In so many cases, I reinvented the wheel to get tiny size. For example, my unique printing system uses PDQ and the Gimp-print IJS drivers, but is tied together with my own Printer Wizard, written in Ash (I don't even have Bash)." (PDQ is a print utility; Gimp is an image-manipulation program.)
"At one stage, Puppy only had GTK 1.2 and C apps only," Kauler continued. "Then I reluctantly added C++ apps, then extremely reluctantly adopted GTK2. I opted for Tcl/Tk rather than Perl, partly due to size, partly the great number of useful apps written in Tcl/Tk. More recently, there is also the Qt3 library, which allowed addition of some great apps like Scribus." (Scribus is a desktop publishing program for Linux.)
More recently, Kauler decided to break his distribution up into individual packages. The result was Puppy Unleashed, a tool users to pick and choose which portion of the OS and support apps they want to pack onto a bootable CD-ROM.
Puppy Linux can be downloaded for free from Kauler's Web site. Future updates to the distribution will be forthcoming every four to six weeks, Kauler said. Also in the works is a multisession version of Puppy, which saves everything back to CD.