Puppy Linux: Just for fun

You don't get OpenOffice, but you do get the small, quick and surprisingly fully-featured alternative word processor AbiWord, Gnumeric for creating spreadsheets, and HomeBank finance management software.

There are games and graphics, music and video software, and a full range of networking tools, supporting a wide range of wireless cards.

Puppy Linux comes from Australia and is the original work of Barry Kauler, whose blog is probably the best source on the project's progress. Puppy could be described as one man's hobby, but as the distribution has grown in popularity, Puppy has gained an expanding community of users, who contribute to the code and the busy user forums.

Puppy does have one major flaw, and that flaw is that Puppy Linux has only one user, and that user is the superuser, which isn't a good idea at the best of times, but is catastrophic for any outward facing application or server which is permanently installed on its host computer - a failing which is justified by Puppy users on the grounds that Puppy usually runs in memory and has no permanent presence.

Every review of Puppy Linux remarks on Puppy's lack of a proper user subsystem and its dependence on the superuser. But sadly, this part of Puppy has never been revised.

Do it yourself

Puppy Linux is the ideal GNU/Linux distribution for those who like to pull things apart and put them together again just so they can know how it works.

Puppy facilitates this process. It is as easy as pie to make your own 'puplet' or derivative of Puppy, to pull it to bits and pieces, and draw software from the Puppy Linux ecosphere to configure your own puplet or mini-distribution. Puppy not only makes this easy, but encourages the process. If you want to be more than just a user and to learn how your computer works, Puppy is probably as good a place as any to start.

The Linux kernel project began as the hobby of one person, and became the hobby of many. The spirit of adventure is why people became involved. The first issue was that the software was free as in spirit and "not as in beer".

The second issue was that it was fun and you could do what you liked with it, which made a difference in a world where computing, even on home computers, was increasingly limited. Programming may not be everyone's idea of fun, but was seen that way by those who got involved in the development of Linux and other free software.

Puppy Linux somehow retains some of that spirit, a latent nostalgia for the early Linux distributions which made a virtue out of their barebones appeal, lack of bloat and closeness to the ground.

The home computers of the eighties came with the code and were a learning experience. By the nineties, the code was no longer available and the opportunity to experiment and learn was relatively limited. Linux and free software changed all that, not only for home users and students, but also for academics and scientists and programmers who didn't always have the opportunity to get involved in more ambitious projects.

The early GNU/Linux distributions were do-it-yourself efforts to bring together the growing number of free software utilities in one place. They didn't always work as they should, and weren't always everything they should have been, but gave access to the code and some kind of integration, and as their popularity increased they rapidly improved.

The fun of Puppy Linux, like Debian or Gentoo for other kinds of users, is that it retains much of the playful do-it-yourself appeal of the early Linux distributions.