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Fun with Puppy puplets
by Dave Dibble (Mar. 10, 2009)

Foreword -- This article describes Puppy Linux, a flexible, fast distribution that's always a favorite among DesktopLinux readers. Author Dave Dibble briefly reviews MiPup2, one of many ready-made Puppy "puplets," and updates us on Puppy's current state and planned new features.

As background, "puplets" are custom builds of Puppy that are shared with the Puppy community. Some, like "TeenPup," apparently take hundreds of hours to create. Others, like Muppy, have been years in the making!

Enjoy . . . !


Amazing Puppy
by Dave Dibble


Puppy Linux 4.1.2 is an amazing little distro -- under 100 MB, and yet packed with applications. In this day of portable applications that can be run from USB flash drives, Puppy may be the ultimate portable app. The standard version comes with AbiWord and Gnumeric for office needs, the SeaMonkey web browser and html editor, Fotoxx image viewer, gXine for movies, Gtkam digital camera interface, Xsane scanner interface, ePDFview for PDFs, torrent, Geany and Leafpad for editing text... and the list goes on. Everything is included to give the user a complete operating system.

Download and burn the Puppy ISO to CD, then restart the computer with the CD in the drive, and Puppy will boot and load entirely into RAM. This means the boot CD can be removed from the drive, freeing the drive for other uses. Earlier versions of Puppy needed only 128 MB of RAM, but currently 256 MB is recommended for the load-to-RAM option so that additional programs can be run. Since everything resides in RAM, programs start quickly; click on AbiWord and it pops up instantly.

Or leave the CD in the drive after booting Puppy and select the Universal Installer from the menu. One choice is to install Puppy to a USB flash drive, which can be carried and used on any computer capable of booting from a USB device. Puppy can automatically encrypt the user's saved files, for security in case the flash drive is lost.

Power users will want to put Puppy on a Linux partition with a "frugal" install, which entails extracting three files from the iso: vmlinuz, initrd.gz, and pup_412.sfs. The frugal install is also used for a USB flash drive. Even seasoned Puppy users are known to run Puppy from a CD or USB drive, leaving their Windows installation untouched. The live CD also functions as a rescue disk in case of a Windows disaster, allowing you to salvage valuable files and data.

Puplets: Fancy customizations to try

After running Puppy for a while, I wanted further enhancements, such as Firefox, GIMP, Open Office, and the attractive themes that come with IceWM. (The default window manager in Puppy is JWM.) Puppy uses PET packages to install programs with the click of a mouse. Puppy is also compatible with Slackware, and can use programs from Slackware repositories. But Puppy also has an easy to use Remaster ISO script that allows users to install all their favorite applications, and customize all the settings and appearance, and then click on the remaster script to produce a personalized Puppy ISO. You really can have it your way, and take it with you wherever you want.

These remastered versions are now called puplets, and some are shared with the community. Many of them represent thoughtful compilations done to meet a particular need or interest. I suspected that one of these would already have the extra programs I wanted, and could be quickly downloaded.

Puppy has been the work of Barry Kauler and a select group of enthusiasts who have contributed much time and effort. They have provided various shell scripts, including the Remaster ISO script. Some Puppy derivatives are: Muppy, TeenPup, Lighthousepup, and Buddapup; links to them are on the official Puppy forum. As warning, it should be noted that Barry Kauler is not responsible for any derivative or puplet. That said, puplets are a great way to try different programs and configurations that someone thought were the best.

MiPup2

One of the puplets that I tested was MiPup2, a 206 MB download. It can be found among a number of puplets here.


MiPup2 screenshots
(Click any to enlarge)


In addition to the regular Puppy files, MiPup2 includes:
  • new eye candy with wbar
  • IceWM 1.2.34
  • slide show screen saver
  • Wine 1.1.7
  • GIMP 2.6.2
  • Firefox 3.0.3
  • Audacious 1.3.2
  • Audacity 1.3.5-beta
  • Open Movie Editor
  • Mplayer 1.0rc2-3.4.4
  • VLC 0.9.2
  • qiv 2.0
  • Tuxtype2
  • Tuxmath
  • GNU Chess 5.07
This was what I was looking for, all prepackaged. I did a frugal install of MiPup2 to a Linux partition, extracting the three files from the iso. This takes about two minutes. Then I booted into this custom Puppy. Regular Puppy is under 100 MB and loads in 30 seconds, so I was surprised that MiPup2, at twice the size, still loads in about 30 seconds. Everything is loaded into RAM. The GIMP is a good test, as on other Linux distros it can seem a bit slow. It loaded quickly and photo editing was responsive and smooth, as though the GIMP were a much smaller program.

Indispensable Wine

Since Wine was already installed, I tried it out and found that the Windows programs Firefox 3.0.5, Notepad++ 5.14, PSPad, Irfanview 3.98, and PySolFC 1.1 (Pysol Fan Club edition) all ran flawlessly. Some people have commented that they only keep their Windows partition to use Notepad++. I used its macros and split-screen editing when putting together word lists for a spelling dictionary. I had often wanted to use Notepad++ and Irfanview in Linux, and now found that I could. Wine has broken through barriers in the past year. The Wine Reviews has a brief article "Irfanview 4.23 on Linux with Wine," dated February 12, 2009, but I extracted Irfanview from a zip file, rather than installing it.

Easy OpenOffice

MiPup2 does lack Open Office. Most people don't need this, since Puppy includes AbiWord, a good editor that reads doc files from MS word, and the native Open Office odt format. I do need Open Office, but prefer to install it myself. I extracted Open Office to a directory on the partition (Puppy has documentation to guide you through this), then with the ROX file manager dragged /openoffice/program/swriter to the desktop to make a launcher. Right click this to set an icon for it. Clicking this starts Open Office writer. Or one can drag and drop a file on top of the icon and the file will open in Open Office writer. Writer seems faster in Puppy, compared to some larger Linux distributions. One can replace the Open Office folder with an updated version at any time.

Beautify with IceWM

IceWM is my favorite window manager when using Puppy, although I use Gnome in Linux Mint. IceWM is a chameleon, with an assortment of themes, including ones to make it look like Windows XP or Vista or like a Macintosh. I have dozens of IceWM themes, beyond what MiPup2 includes. Hundreds of extra themes can be downloaded. In MiPup2, I edited IceWM preferences and tweaked wbar to get everything looking the way I wanted it. I did encounter the same glitch that cropped up when I tried installing IceWM myself. With certain IceWM themes, if one clicks on "shutdown" in the start menu, the result is a system prompt instead of having the computer do a full shutdown. Linux users should know that they can type "poweroff" or "reboot" at the prompt. This occasional glitch isn't enough to deter me from using IceWM. I expect this problem to be resolved soon, since Puppy 4.2 will include IceWM, and will have new scripts written for it.

I did try GNU Chess 5.07, but was puzzled by the setup menu. It seems to require equal play times for human and computer opponent. When I play chess with a computer, I prefer to give myself five minutes per move to think, and give the computer slightly less time, say about ten seconds. For some reason GNU Chess doesn't allow for this.

Good things to come

MiPup2 has a very good balance of programs. There are other puplets with a different focus that have 600 MB of games, or have compiz fusion and Nvidia or ATI drivers. Puplets have different window managers: KDE, LXDE, XFCE, or Enlightenment E17, to name a few. Some mimic a Macintosh. There is a barebones puplet, Puppy stripped of large programs such as SeaMonkey. Use this to install your own select programs, using PET packages. Configure everything the way you want it, use the Remaster ISO script, and make your own puplet.

Puppy 4.2 Deep Thought, a community edition, is in testing phase. With its release in April, I expect a number of updated puplets based on this version to follow. The developers want to maintain the precedence set by Barry Kauler and keep the size of Puppy under 100 MB. Puppy 4.2 will include the latest version of SeaMonkey with Claws mail, and new applications Pwidgets, Pbackup, Pschedule, and RemaX (Remaster Express). This will mean new eye candy and widgets for the desktop, such as weather applets or an analog clock. The tcl/tk libraries, which had been removed to conserve space, will be restored to Puppy, so users can again enjoy programs like tkHearts (similar to MS Hearts), or a GUI for DOSBox. IceWM will now be included in standard Puppy, in addition to JWM, so one may switch between these widow managers.

A Puppy for all seasons

One thing I have not mentioned is that standard Puppy works exceptionally well on older computers, even vintage 233 MHz or 166 MHz Pentium computers. With such computers, and with small amounts of RAM, Puppy needs to be installed to the hard drive, rather than as a frugal install. Consider using a small web browser such as Dillo; some have reported that Opera works on older computers. On the Puppy forum, several people have commented that they have 550 MHz computers at home with Puppy installed, and their machines run as fast as the newer GHz computers that they use at work.

Puppy does have unique features. With a frugal install, Puppy boots from compressed files, and goes entirely into RAM, so there is no real way to damage the core system files. All your settings are saved to one file, pup_save.2fs, which contains an entire ext2 Linux file system inside it. Your settings for Open Office, your bookmarks for Firefox, all the programs you have installed, and your changes to Puppy desktop are contained in the pup_save file. The first time that you shut down after running Puppy you will go through a series of prompts asking you on which partition you want this save file to be stored, and how large you want to make it. I prefer a value of no more than 256 MB. The reason for this is that Puppy has the perfect backup system. All you have to do is make a copy of pup_save and store this in a safe place. A smaller size for pup_save makes it less of a chore to copy and store, which means backups get routinely made.

Another unique feature of Puppy is that at boot it can load multiple .sfs files in addition to the main pup_412.sfs file, and that these add-ons can change the character of Puppy. I wanted to use Hunspell MUNCH to compress a word list into a spelling dictionary. But MUNCH needs to be compiled from code. Compiling is not something I normally do, but Puppy has a programmers and developers tools devx_nnn.sfs (where nnn is the Puppy version number). Place devx_nnn.sfs in the partition with Puppy, and on boot it will load along with the main .sfs file. All necessary libraries and program language files are now in Puppy. I compiled MUNCH, and put it in a folder on the hard drive. Remove devx_nnn.sfs to return Puppy to normal. I also thought it a good idea to restore pup_save from a copy made before attempting all this.

Conclusion

Because Puppy Linux is so flexible, new users are often not fully aware of its potential. Now, with the proliferation of puplets, with their variety of window managers and program selections, the possibilities for Puppy are more apparent.

Puppy is fast and stable, with useful programs. It works well on the newest and the oldest computers. It offers unique backup features with a simple copy of pup_save. It encourages users to customize it, and to learn about Linux in a fun way. Add to this the ability to remaster the ISO using an easy script, essentially merging the pup_save file with the original Puppy distribution files. One can do a personal remaster, with all one's settings, or remaster for general distribution to others. No other Linux distro does things like this.



About the author -- While earning a degree in materials science at Cornell University, Dave Dibble took four years of creative writing classes. He has produced small and fast assembly language programs such as DDKey, a keyboard macro program for writers, and has written two novels, Typhoon Rising and Enchanter. Because of errors in the Microsoft Word spelling dictionary (which were oddly identical to ones in the Open Office spelling dictionary), he created his own replacement spelling dictionary.


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