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Puppy Linux 5.4 Review – New Dog, New Tricks

Presented in two formats based on two distros, which version of Puppy stays true to the commitment of being small and fast?

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Puppy Linux is designed as a very small Linux distro to run on old hardware, or other low power machines. Usually based on Slackware, the new release of 5.4 now comes in two flavours, including an all new Ubuntu 12.04 spin of the distro. Named Slacko and Precise for the Slackware and Ubuntu versions respectively, the image size for both of them is just under 160 MB, giving neither a clear advantage size wise out the gate. For both of them though, being able to stay at this sub 160 MB size is pretty fantastic for what is basically a fully functional operating system.

Slacko Precise
Puppy is a clean, simple OS

As live discs, they come with a lot of default applications, enough to get you working from the base system. As they load directly into RAM, the OS is very fast, even on older systems. First time use on a system allows you to make some initial tweaks – time zone, language, keyboard layout, resolution, etc. Although basically the same screen, Slacko’s works just a bit better, with the Xorg wizard to make some advanced adjustments to the display seemingly not working on Precise.

Puppy offers a lot of options for installing to just about any kind of device – with optimisations for USB sticks, SD cards, SSDs, and more. It’s design is more focused on being installed to removable storage though, which is highlighted by the less than stellar way it deals with installing or updating GRUB on the MBR. While the installer is very straight forward and helpful for actually adding the files, the GRUB config leaves a lot of manual tasks to the user. It doesn’t take long though, and the final step is the personal files you can move to anywhere connected to the system, with varying levels of encryption.

The main difference between the two versions of puppy lie in the repos attached to them. The packages on offer with Precise are a bit better than Slacko, with a few more available to download. Even with the higher number, as Precise is based off of the latest Ubuntu LTS, these packages will have some backports and generally be stable with better maintained versions. The Puppy developers themselves believe they will make this version of 5.4 long term service as well, although to be honest the compatibility with the packages from Slackware is still noticeably better than with Ubuntu counterparts. You need these extra repos anyway, as the solely Puppy repos have little more than extra drivers.

Slacko Precise
The initial set-up occurs when you first turn on Puppy

Thanks to these extra drivers though, compatibility out of the box for Puppy is pretty amazing, especially for Nvidia and ATI graphics cards. Slacko itself comes in two versions – a Linux 3.2.y build for non-PAE systems, and Linux 3.4.y build for those that support it. It’s a nice touch for those older systems that couldn’t even dream of using 4 GB of memory.

So both versions of the new Puppy are again very well optimised for older or slower systems. While the inclusion of the Ubuntu version is quite nice, it doesn’t quite seem as useful as the Slackware build just yet, with some broken set-up options and similar packages not working as well between the systems. Still, the LTS guarantee for 5.4 is definitely very attractive, and should hopefully mean it gets better over time anyway.

Verdict

4/5

Still one of the best distros for ageing systems, with an amazing amount of compatibility for extended hardware. While the Slacko build is a great update, the new Precise version just does not seem as good. With some missing or broken features, it’s hard to recommend, even with LTS

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