A Review of Some Puppy Linux Operating Systems for Windows Users

· Software Review
Authors

Introduction

This is a review of a small subset of the Linux operating system, written for computer users who either would some day find it useful to rescue their system from a severe failure, or are simply curious about Linux as an alternative to expensive commercial products.   The language here is kept as non-technical as possible: References that have no meaning to Windows users do not encourage the average person to try this usually free-of-cost product, in that its description can be even more complicated than its use.

Notice  (Legal Fine Print)

The  reader is advised that trying out any of the programs mentioned in this article in no way guarantees that no harm will come to the computer on which Linux was, is, or may be, downloaded, installed, configured, run (virtually or in reality), or used in any other way whatsoever.  If the user’s machine is operating a usable operating system, experimentation involves risk.  If the user’s computer is not running, then the user accepts that it might be hopeless to fix it, even with the help of a technician.  In no way does the present author accept responsibility for any damage, including loss of data.  The information given here should be considered a description based on one individual’s personal experience only; and other users, because of different computers, set-ups, and hardware, may enjoy either better, or suffer worse, results.  A review of the different versions of the software shows that there are always bug-fixes.  We cannot know what these bugs (problems) are, so it is important that the reader understands that the unexpected can always happen.

In other words, the information contained here is not to be understood as advice, counsel, encouragement, recommendation, suggestion, or anything of that like or nature.  It is meant to be informative, but limited in scope; and the reader should consult other websites for more information.

Language used here is not necessarily technically correct, for example, system, operating system, and program are used interchangeably, unless we are making a specific reference to a program within the system. It should be clear to the reader from the context is we are referring to the actual system, called Puppy Linux, or a program within it, such as the media player or word processor.

I have reviewed only what is most useful for me, and probably the average user.

Please, also read the Warnings near the end of this page.

If you believe in being extremely cautious, we recommend, as the saying goes, and referring to your PC, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  If it is broken, you shouldn’t have anything to lose.

Background

In a hot summer, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 39 Celsius, my computer suddenly shut down suddenly through overheating.  When an attempt was made to restart it, the screen was black, with white text, telling me I needed to recover from the installation CD.

Now, somewhere I have my installation CD for an IBM competitor to the original Windows competitor, Warp.  I have the Windows 95 installation CD – somewhere – but that’s equally out-of-date.  If I don’t have Windows Millenium, it is because the copy I had didn’t match the computer – it  turned out to be so hopelessly foreign and pirated, that any attempt at installing it would have been more than foolish, so it would have been thrown away.  Now, where is the current installation CD, or should we say, DVD?   Does it really matter, if I spend more than half of my computer hours in an Internet Cafe where the operating system is a little more up-to-date?

(I once bought what was supposed to be official software of a big name firm, with the certificate of authenticity supposedly inside of the box. It wasn’t.  Do you think the shop where I bought the product would have believed me?  How can you know when you’re buying a pig in a poke, especially in the Third World, where guarantees mean little? A 90 day guarantee on a new word-processor that service keeps for over a month – retrieved with some legal help.  Were they waiting for the guarantee to expire?)

It was not to be found, the same as my university diploma, and the photocopy of that document.  Maybe we can have schools offer a degree in managing not to lose things; or better yet, maybe we can put things like this freely accessible in the cloud.  Of course, if our computer is not working, it couldn’t access the cloud now, would it?

Preparing for a Rescue of our Files

It is pointless to download something which is not going to work.  (How are we going to download if the computer is not working?  Well, we must use someone else’s machine, or go to an Internet Café.) We need to be sufficiently familiar with the machine which we have been using. If the start-up screen still shows us some kind of information, such as the drives which are connected, the version of BIOS (it doesn’t matter if you understand it, you just need to be able to see it), something about the motherboard, and most important of all, the amount of memory available, the system can be saved.  Any dates on this screen are important, for they will let you know something about the limitations of your system.  Also useful is to know how new the CPU (central processing unit) is.

If the screen is a total blank, the problem may be another, such as one with the power supply, or the battery inside the computer (called CMOS) which allows for the boot-up procedure.  If the reader has sufficient knowledge about electronics, perhaps it will not be necessary to go to technical service (unless any guarantee would become lost), but we are, for this article, supposing that the computer can at least start without getting us into Windows.

Minimal System Requirements

This is the most technical part of this article, but important, if you don’t want to waste time downloading useless programs.

The dates on our broken computer’s screen showed the year 2004.  That was about the year of Windows XP, according to the article on Windows versions available on Wikipedia.  More important is to know the amount of available memory, (RAM – read – only memory) which the computer can use. . With one exception, we are reviewing systems limited to a bit over 225 megabytes of RAM.  This will be less than what is actually installed on the motherboard, and in my specific case, was shown as “Memory Test 229376 K free”.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

No, we are not talking about ROC, recovery-oriented computing, nor what is called “el hard” in at least some parts of Latin America, where by an inversion of nouns and adjectives, the descriptive word in English becomes the noun in Spanish, for example, “shopping” for shopping center, “jogging” for jogging outfit, and “country” for country home.   The Rolling Stones are not the Stones, but the Rolling!

Well, if the choice is made for something which requires too little memory, there will be no, or very few icons; or something like a Windows screen may be completely missing.  Even if the user knows a little about DOS (Disk-Operating System, where everything was originally done by typing what the computer had to do), this will be not be enough for a new user to Linux.

On the other hand, if the system requires a lot of memory, and works in a way quite similar to Windows, but the computer on which you want to install this is too old, the product will be useless.

A Puppy to the Rescue

The name of the system under review embarrasses this writer.  It sounds too juvenile, like something children might want to play with.

Calling it “Dog Linux” would be even worse, because the word dog often makes us think of something useless. Think of the expression, to go to the dogs, among other ideas like this.

The word “puppy” then, is meant to give us the idea of something attractive and small.  The size part is the most important, because that is what makes it useful on old machines such as mine.

All the versions of Puppy Linux can be compared relatively favourably with earlier Microsoft operating systems up to the Windows XP Starter Edition, which requires twice the Random-Access Memory of Puppy Linux. However, no version of Windows, before or after, was ever run completely from, if one chooses, a CD (preferably re-writable). On the one hand, it would have fostered illegal copying of the product, Windows XP (one of the versions anyway) would not have fit onto the CD, the way Puppy Linux could, though it could manage with less RAM and a slower CPU speed.

How can the system be so small?  It all depends on the programming language, and Linux, a version of UNIX, is considered more efficient than the commercial product.  It ends up being environmentally friendly – using less plastic, less metal, less electricity.  Some economist might suggest that it contributes less to the economy, because you didn’t hand your money over to a big company.  Ignore that criticisim, because for sure, your money will go to another part of the economy, and if the environment is your concern, your money will probably have been more usefully recirculated.

Based on the above explanation, this Linux version might be a “puppy”, but in comparison with its commercial competitor, I’d rename it to LinuxFox, the fox symbolizing slyness, cleverness, or smartness, while remaining smaller than both the average dog, and that more robust member of the canine family, the wolf.

A Review of 5 Puppy Linux Distributions

Our reviews, which are of the most updated versions of each Puppy Linux variation, will not go into much depth.  Overall, what we were looking for is a word-processor, a media-player, an Internet browser, and a program similar to Microsoft’s Paint. We started with a small version, perhaps of 100 megabytes, and worked up to a version which was larger than the 250 megabyte limit our computer imposes. The more technically minded can check out the approximately 80 versions on distrowatch.

All can be tested without installation, although that might imply less speed.  Just make sure to shut the computer off before letting the system create a save-file (.2fs,, .3fs. or .4fs extension).

Something beautiful about the save-file of the above extension: let’s say, you mess something up pretty badly. By erasing the save-file (of whatever extension you chose of the above fs(x) series – and this will have to be done under Windows), the system will reinstall from the remaining files.  Only any work stored there will be lost, for which reason, it is suggested to save work on a non-Linux drive. You may note, during an installation, the fs3 and fs4 are claimed to be convenient during a power failure. During certain intervals, data is backed up to this file.

Any .iso file should be checked for integrity.  All of them come with so-called MD5 numbers, these can be checked with a tool called CRCDropper or similar. Find it by searching with these terms: freeware CRCDropper snapfiles.

A 100 Megabyte Distribution

I think the first version I tried out was Puppy Linux 4.3.1. For reasons explained near the end of this article, I cannot be sure, as the file is lost.

The size is ideal for a computer as old as ours.  Our review will be very short, though.  We need something like a password or two, called login and root.  I was not the first user to wonder what those words would be.  The program did not start with the words we tried, so, whatever usefulness this distribution may have was left undiscovered.

Wary Puppy (Version 5.5)

Released 2013-03-03, size: 140MB, download.

The size of this system is ideal for our computer.  It has an advantage over the next three systems described, in that it can play CDs and OGV videos, in addition to DVD videos.  An OGV file does not seem to play as well as in the freeware VLC player, but DVD reproduction was excellent. It is necessary to mount the DVD or CD, with the left mouse button as standard, and a window will open, showing audio and video folders – ignore. Mount the MPlayer.   Two icon items appear, one looks like a stereo unit, the other has what looks like a movie camera.  Click on it to show the options it gives you, then ignore for the moment. Click on the “stereo”.  The controls do not work, but you are given a menu, including an option to play a CD or DVD. Other acceptable video formats will open upon mounting them.

This version of Puppy Linux was able to play video CDs which the other versions tested here could not.

The program equivalent to Paint was unimpressive.  Overall, the system was usable.  We object to the bulldoggish-looking puppy on the screen, but there are some options to change the wallpaper, as in all of the following systems we review.

For older systems, it is probably the best bet for word-processing and video CDs, though the other versions run the spell check automatically.

While using the AbiWord processor, we noticed that when trying to use quotation mark on the left of a document originally prepared in Word, we got a European-type symbol, «, and first, after the word, we obtained the correct symbol, but when we tried again, the processor gave us ».  However, when we finalized this document, using AbiWord 2.8.6, the problem did not reappear.  Who knows why?

Opening a 120 kilobyte web document took the Sea Monkey browser about 10 seconds.

Precise Puppy (Version 5.7.1-retro)

Listed as 5.7, date: 2013-07-28, Size: 170MB. Link is defective, it is necessary to go directly to ibiblio.org for version 5.7.1, which replaces the version of distrowatch.com. Once at the link, locate “precise-5.7.1/”, click, you will be led to an index of “Quirky”, select precise-5.7.1/, and on the following page, you probably want precise-5.7.1-retro.iso, unless you know that you have something called PAE. Download starts automatically (if you choose to click directly at the second link in this paragraph, but it is preferable to use the first route, because the MD5 sum should be checked for better security.

This system installed with a very good appearance, except that the lettering was too small to be read on our 15-inch monitor.  A magnifying glass was needed to be able to configure the system correctly. When the desired screen size was finally obtained, there was (and remains) a problem with the correct positioning of the drive icons, (but on a separate flash drive, this problem did not exist!) . To prevent confusion, on the shutdown button, choose “Restart X-Server”.  This might not work, and the icons may have to be dragged to the correct position.  Quotation marks are correctly positioned.  This is AbiWord 2.9.4. Lettering is not in the font we put.

The MPlayer is quite unattractive.  After mounting a DVD, from the player’s menu, choose “File”, “Disc”, “Open DVD with menus” (or other). “Open VCD” did not work; but it did, even if only in a limited number of cases, if the VCD icon was dragged onto the player.  Other usable files open automatically.  If the user has a collection of video CDs, Wary Puppy is what should be used, if Precise gives any trouble.

The Opera Web Browser opened the 120 kilobyte web document in under 5 seconds, compared to 10 in the Wary Puppy Sea Monkey browser.

Slacko Puppy (Version 6.3)

Release Date: 2015-11-17, size: 234MB (given for the 64-bit build). Click on 32, which is what most probably is wanted. Select slacko-6.3.0.iso for the download.

I decided that Slacko is the best version for word-processing. It uses AbiWord 3.0.1, but formatting is still not as I put it (Times New Roman, 20 pt.) The media player plays DVDs, but did not satisfactorily open a video CD.  Nevertheless, an .ogv type of video file was correctly opened, though it would have looked better under a Window-run VLC player.  It does not seem to be possible to adjust the picture quality settings correctly. Size is again around 100 megabytes.

Xenial Puppy (Version 7.5)

Released: 2017-12-05, size: 330 Megabytes. Download

This, with a word-play on the word “genial”, is the very latest version of the Puppy series, very professional looking, but more than twice as large as our computer would accept.  It was tried as an experiment for several reasons.  First, we were curious as to what happened when using a program that was, if we understand correctly, too large for our computer.  From that point of view, the expected happened: the computer hung – twice – while using the word processor.  I have a feeling that this could have been related to the clipboard being in use. When more data is available on this, it will be provided.

Nevertheless, in spite of its size, it was not totally unusable – we used it, without any problems whatsoever, to save important files from our hard-drive partitions into flash-drive.  The word-processor seemed to work, but at one point, after trying to save a copy of our work on a flash-drive, the file correctly opened with a font similar to the one originally used, as the selection is very limited. However, our work was lost twice, for which reason we preferred to run the processor on Slacko.  In spite of this, , we attempted, with success (see below), to update this document while reviewing Xenial for one last time.

It would appear that Xenial should not work at all, because it stresses the concept of UEFI as part of its name.  UEFI replaces the BIOS of older computers, what that means to the non-technical reader, is that a program designed for newer computers should not run on the older machines.  Nevertheless, the explanation about XENIAL said that it would run on machines with the older set-up.  This made me wonder if I was getting the right program, such as the day before writing this, I wanted to download an older version of Chrome, but I was forced to the newer one every time I tried. (Some cynic commented on why a person would want an older, less-reliable browser, the answer is because the new versions may not be usable on an older computer!)

But the version was correct, in spite of appending UEFI to its version number.  Set-up was both easier and harder.  The harder part was perhaps due to an accident during usage, and a folder with an explanation of errors was possibly in the wrong place.  While it may have been of no practical use, the item was then moved within the Xenial folder, it was outside with the other Linux distributions that were being tested.  Since then, there have been no problems, except those placed upon the memory.  The Sea Monkey browser opened the files we were testing, faster than Slacko’s browser did, with a slightly better presentation – probably because of a later version number.

Adults need not be distressed by the more abstract dog-like face of this version. For the eyes, there is a solid circle and a hollow one, the nose is a triangle, and the mouth is a vicious-loooking open end wrench, with a serrated handle.

On the down-side, for use as a video player on an old machine, in addition to the information that we have from elsewhere, that it will not play video CDs, we must add that there just will not be enough memory for acceptable viewing.  Other than that, the input quality of the specific frames is high, suggesting that this is definitely what one should use on a computer with more memory capacity (a giga).

This paragraph was successfully updated under Xenial, suggesting that if the number of connections or nodes (word processor, drive, file) is at the barest minimum, the experience can be satisfying.

When this file was opened under Word again, the original font was correct, the size smaller than I would like.  In other words, if a document is demanded in MS Word format, some adjustments might be required on another computer.

Special Considerations of the Previous 4 Systems

Somebody on the Internet wrote that Linux is easier than Windows.  I would only say that the Internet has programs that have advantages over the famous Microsoft products.  This refers especially to media players.

Results with the browser programs were disappointing.  While we have no Internet connection, and only want to be able to open files downloaded for our personal use from, let us say, the BBC, the process was incredibly slow – the page requested often did not begin to show until we wanted to shut down.

We had thought that the quality of the letters was rather indistinct, but this may be a driver problemproblem (and after several reviews, and some adjustments of our screen, and different glasses, it was concluded that perhaps the preceding was not correct.  We even once noticed an improvement when the local, usually too-low voltage approached what it should be.)

Configuration of all the versions above is similar.  By having tried four of these, by the time I got to the last one, I was becoming experienced.  The basic instructions are easy enough, but do not represent the final set-up. Once you get the first Windows-type screen, you are asked to choose language, time zone, and key-board type on the left, and screen resolution on the right.  Before first shut-down, it is very important to note where the system will save its “save-file”.  Drives are not labelled C or D (and does anyone still use “A”, the floppy-drive?).  If the purpose of Puppy is to rescue the hard drive, be sure to know how Linux is labelling them, perhaps SDA1 and SDA2, and save on other storage media. This is probably the most dangerous moment of all.  The Wary and Precise versions, if I remember correctly, gave some problems in getting it right, and at one point, wanted to save on the hard drive, without giving an option of going back.  The solution was to shut down the computer and try again.

It will be important to notice, that at least at the beginning, or with the earlier versions, the mouse might not be doing as much work as expected, though I was lucky, and it worked during set-up. When it is used, one click is the rule, not two.  When not working, it was necessary to use keyboard for navigating.  If the reader is unfamiliar with these, perhaps the Windows manual still explains what some of these are, or look for them on the Internet.

Getting the Best from Each of the Reviewed Systems

So, this article has expressed comments in favour of Wary, Precise, Slacko, and Xenial, emphasizing text processing and media player viewing on the first, the screen presentation (with reservations) of the second, overall satisfaction with the third (minus video problems with CDs) and special usability of the last.

We are not going to give a course into how to use specific items, but since our own need was to rescue some files from a non-functioning hard drive, (because the operating system was not working), it may be useful to let the reader know how files are moved.

It is not like in Windows; you can copy, but will not see a label for “paste”.  Dragging from one location to another is not as in our familiar Windows, in fact, files cannot be dragged onto the Desktop – my favorite location for oft-used material. When copying, something called the ROX-file manager is opened.  You will see a window, which in a bar at its top, says “copy”. Below that is an icon of what you are copying. Below that is a long window, with the path and name of what you are copying, and still further below, two buttons, cancel and copy. I’ve not used the “copy” button, it is possible to just drag the icon into the location you want to copy to. I don’t really know what the button is for, if the instruction to duplicate was already given.

To try out various systems, if your computer is bootable from the USB port with a pen-drive attached, you are fortunate indeed.  If not, we hope you have a CD or DVD drive.  Specify in your BIOS from where you want to start the computer, once you have done the following:

For USB drives: On a separate computer, download YUMI – probably pronounced You-Me, .  Also download distributions such as those labelled above.  YUMI can help, but who knows if the links are still active.   (We have given the correct links as found at the date of this writing under each distribution we have reviewed.)   Find instructions on the Internet. Be sure to verify the integrity of your download (although, unfortunately, there is no information on whether the download will be properly written to the drive of your choice – for example, we tried another version, Tahrpup, written to a CD, but the media had bad sectors, making our supposedly Live CD useless).

You will end up with a menu, to try out, one by one (if you chose to have multiple systems systems – for one system only, YUMI is not needed).

For systems with CD or DVD readers, unable to boot from a flash drive readers: Same as above, but also get a program called Plop (or similar).  This will create a bootable CD (or DVD) which will then connect you to the USB drive which your computer cannot read otherwise.  Sometimes it may happen that it says you are connected, but nothing else happens.  In that case, use the reboot button or its equivalent procedure. You should connect; however, I have found that once I made the hard drive bootable again, the Plop menu item to let me connect did not work, and I was forced to modify BIOS settings every time I wanted to choose between the primary booting options.

Warnings

Some pen-drives do not behave.  I tried 3 or four, all of the same brand, that were not bootable.  A different brand worked every time.  We hope that you need not waste money on this, but for what we did, 16 gigabytes was adequate, and even 4 could be enough, depending on how much you think you need to save on this drive.  Sorry, for legal reasons, we do not want to accuse any manufacturer of having a product inadequate for our purposes.  Accusations against the non-working product(s) are available on the Internet, with the right search terms.

The size of the space you reserve for saving files on the drive, once declared, can be made larger, but never smaller.  It is therefore suggested that you not make your save-file too large, if you intend to place, or have placed, several Linux distributions of the media.

The size of the space you reserve for saving files on the drive, once declared, can be made larger, but never smaller.  It is therefore suggested that you not make your save-file too large, if you intend to place, or have placed, several Linux distributions of the media.

Finally, if you save, for example, a document in one distribution of Linux, you will not be able to read it with anything but the installation with which it was saved, unless it was placed in a DOS or Windows partition on another drive.  So, if you need a document elsewhere, save it on a Windows-readable (or similar) media.  I use a separate pen-drive for this, which I use at an Internet Cafe to upload my files to WordPress or another location.

Never remove movable drives (pen-drives, flash-drives, or whatever you call those sticks or insect – like things) plugged into the computer for portable memory.  Your work will be lost.  Those words should be capitalized, but for reasons of good form, I have refused to do so.

The same holds true for any DVD or CD in your computer.  It should be impossible to remove them, but you should not think that the drive is broken, and be tempted to open it by force.

If the system seems to hang, maybe it just seems to.  Wait five to ten minutes if necessary, see what the windows do. If they do anything, try to get them closed one at a time, started with whatever uses the least memory.  I personally start with the relatively useless icon (green, not doable under Wary Puppy) which shows how much memory I have on my personal use space, created while completing the first set-up.  I also shut down the fire-wall while writing on Linux, since I am not connected to the Internet anyway.

If things get really bad, be prepared for sacrifice.  If the shutdown menu is not accessible, (or does not work after a prudent period of waiting), there will be no choice but to shut off the computer.  The CPU’s shutdown button may be found to be locked, so I have to use the reboot button, and then press the shut-down button while the reboot is taking place.  (The procedure is different for computers with only one button.) .  Perhaps there is an easier method, but my set-up does not allow it.

Conclusions

Based on what one wants, you will end up with something less than Windows, but (ideally!) workable. No guarantees, but free.  A computer potentially resurrected.  At a minimum, if it works, a plaything. At best, a media player, and a somewhat outdated, but useful word-processor. There is even a spread sheet, which we have not tried out for this review.  For some reason, there are 3 options for the calculators (under “Business” in the menu), and these may work slightly different from the Windows versions, if you are used to certain shortcuts.  There are some technical tools, which this writer would like to try out at his leisure, but these would not interest most readers (CRC check, anyone?)

So, if the computer you are using has limited memory, your knowledge of computing is not at the “geek” level, and a system with a menu and icons is a must, then Puppy Linux is  based on several weeks of a review of what is available on the Internet, and tests of these products, within the limitations given in our “Notice” and “Warnings”, and if the reader does not believe that “curiosity killed the cat”, is this where your curiosity will have led you?

May 1 and 3, 2018

© 2018, Paul Karl Moeller

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