GNU/Linux Distribution Test: Puppy Linux (Ubuntu Bionic 8.0)
Often classified as a single Linux distribution, Puppy Linux is a distribution family targeting consumers that seek a ready-to-use, easy-to-customize, low-size, and fast operating system. Due to relying on two (or three, depending on whether the user considers Ubuntu to be part of the Debian family or a separate basis with little similarities with its parent distribution) base distributions, the Puppy Linux family consists of seven official Puppy Linux distributions, “woof-built” distributions to suit more specific needs, and unofficial derivatives (“puplets”) developed and maintained by community members and enthusiasts.
The Puppy Linux family has gained a reputation for being suited for older hardware in particular due to being among the few known distributions not only continuing to support 32 bit architecture but also offering a variety of options for both novices and advanced users to customize a “puppy” to fit personal needs. It can be used as both as a “daily driver” and/or a portable system with or without persistence.
To figure out how one puppy would perform on a ten-year-old netbook that, so far, was only able to run Windows 7 Starter (though not without hiccups and increasing resource consumption), I decided to give Ubuntu Bionic a shot. Due to the limited space the built-in HDD offers, the operation system would be tested as a live system without persistence on real hardware, and as an installed system in a virtual environment.
Live System (Netbook)
Before booting the system, the user gets the option to choose from a regular boot, a filesystem check, RAM only, without a graphical environment, no KMS, “for machines with severe video problems” (which prevents the start of savefile and KMS, plus runs xorgwizard to choose the screen resolution before loading the desktop environment). and Ram Disk shell. Boot times would not vary significantly between a regular boot and RAM only, with both taking approximately two minutes.
Once the desktop finished to load, “Quick Setup” allows users to quickly and easily configure their location, timezone, and keyboard layout. Additionally, users can also choose to automatically set their timezone when connected to the internet, change the name of the Host, and let the Video Wizard run after closing the window.
Closing Quick Setup will open Puppy’s Welcomer, which offers a quick way to configure the system’s network connection and additional guidance. Once I was able to connect to the internet via wifi, I closed the Welcome window and was prompted with a new window, briefly explaining the latest changes of BionicPup32.
Available Software & Package Management
Puppy Linux relies on a graphical package manager, which makes (un-)installing software ridiculously easy due to allowing to let Package Manager handle the entire procedure or choose a manual option. Since BionicPup32 aims to provide a stable experience, there are no recent versions of popular packages available.
Despite just being a version for i686-architectures, BionicPup32 is stuffed with a variety of graphical programs, such as AbiWord, LXTerminal, Inkscape, GNOME MPlayer, and PupControl, which can be used to customize Puppy even further and display soft- and hardware information.
With no adjustments made, idle RAM usage was below 400 MB, while CPU usage varied between 9 and 15%. After making changes to the CPU frequency, RAM usage dropped to 110 MB, whereas CPU usage, even when having two windows open, would not exceed 20%.
It should be noted, however, that not even Puppy Linux can make heavy websites such as Twitter run flawlessly on an old machine and without requiring the CPU’s maximum capabilities.
Regardless of which option is being chosen, Puppy Linux will ask the user about saving the current session when wanting to shut down the system.
Surprisingly, BionicPup32 booted faster in a virtual environment than on my old netbook with similar specifications, so I straight went to the installation process and, after selecting the Universal Installer, chose the internal hard drive. Since the virtual machine lacked a partition table, I was being told to create a partition first, as the installer does not offer an automated option. After selecting the standard install (“Frugal”) and installing GRUB, users now have to manually edit the menu file and set root to the correct values.
As I tested this distribution from the perspective of a beginner, I quit the additional virtual machine test at that point.
Puppy Linux does a lot of things right by offering a decent choice of operating systems for older hardware, as well. BionicPup32 worked well on my netbook, while I later would encounter some graphical glitches in the virtual environment, as well. Despite offering fool-proof guidance that largely avoids the usage of technical terms, the installation process turned out to be fractured and too time-consuming, which made me wonder why this is the case, especially if this distribution is supposed to target home users that likely are used to fully-automated installations requiring no manual adjustments to the partition table.
Another point against Puppy Linux as a daily driver for personal computers above the age of 10 years would be the fact that it virtually is no different from unsupported Windows systems in terms of browsing the internet, only being more secure than Windows XP. All operating systems still can be used today, though machines running unsupported operating systems simply should not be connected to the internet and/or not used to browse the web. Thus, Puppy Linux adds no benefits to beginners wanting to revive an old computer, and could be considered a family of distributions for enthusiasts wanting to play around with an UNIX-like system and occasionally look something up on Wikipedia.
As a mere live system to carry around, Puppy Linux does a good job and persistence is not needed when seeking a RAM-only OS, though performance can vary greatly between different hardware and chosen “Puppy”. It is up to the individual user, whether they want to invest time to work themselves through the steep learning curve or choose a more “beginner-friendly” distribution, alongside some newer hardware.
eMachines eM250 KAV60
Processor: Intel Atom CPU N270 @ 1.60 GHz
Display: Intel Mobile 945GSE Express Integrated Graphics Controller
Memory: 1 GB Ram (990 MB)
Storage: 160 GB Seagate ATA Disk ST9160314AS
Network: Broadcom BCM4312 802.11b/g LP-PHY & Qualcomm Atheros AR8132 Fast Ethernet
Medion Akoya E4070 D
Processor: AMD A10–5700 APU @ 3.40 GHz
Display: ATI Trinity Radeon HD 7660D
Memory: 4 GB RAM (3.46)
Storage: 2 TB ASMT 2115 (Medion HDDrive’n’Go external HDD)
Network: RTL8111/8168/8411 PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet Controller
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