Lucid Puppy - Linux for Legacy Computers
Bring on the Puppy!
One of the original targets of Linux was the under-powered computer gathering dust in the closet destined for electronic disposal. While that sounds like a noble goal, it isn't reality for the majority of today's Linux distributions. Xubuntu says it's for the limited resource computer, but even it has a minimum memory requirement of 256 MB. You probably won't have a very pleasant experience running Firefox on a machine with less than 512 MB of memory.
There are a number of distributions targeted at minimal resource computers including DSL, Puppy Linux, Slitaz and Tiny Core Linux. For this review we decided to take a focused look at the latest version of Puppy Linux called LuPu 5.0.1. This release is based on Woof and Ubuntu Lucid Lynx. The live CD is a mere 130 MB but does contain a lot of applications. As far as system requirements go, the Puppy Linux wiki says the current version will run on a 166 Mhz machine with at least 128 MB of memory.
Bring on the Puppy
We tested Puppy Linux on an old Compaq iPaq desktop computer with a 733 MHz Pentium III processor and 128 MB of memory. The original hard drive was a Western Digital 10 GB WD100AA. The built-in Intel graphics is not the best performer, but with Puppy Linux we were able to get a 1400X1050 display as the default max resolution. You, too, can own one of these screamers for a mere $60 from your favorite PC liquidator.
Puppy's live CD includes automated tools for creating a bootable USB or a local installation. Installing to a local hard drive is a little tricky but doable. Our first mistake was not initializing the hard drive beforehand. No problem as the Puppy installer includes GParted to make quick work of deleting and then partitioning your hard drive. Once this step was completed the rest of the installation went without a hitch.
The desktop uses Openbox/LXPanel. LXDE stands for Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment and is specifically built with minimal resource computing in mind. If you haven't caught on by now, the common theme is "minimal resource computing". It's pretty much the same for available applications as well. All the core apps meet the requirement of running on a machine with limited performance CPU, graphics and memory.
The base install of Puppy Linux includes all the applications a typical user might need for things like chat, e-mail, web browsing and word processing. Ayttm covers all the bases for chat including AIM, IRC, Jabber, MSN and Yahoo. For e-mail there's Sylpheed which includes support for IMAP4 and POP3 mail services. Puppy Browser is the default Web browser although you can install Firefox if you wish. Be aware that Firefox is a memory hog, and you'll see reduced performance if you choose to install and run it on an older machine. That being said, we gave it a spin, and it did work although the page rendering was slow at times.
Abiword is an adequate word processor with features on par with something like Microsoft Works. It's not as full-featured as Open Office, but doesn't require as much in the way of system resources. Open Office is also available from the repository, but it also has a fairly hefty memory requirement. There's Gnumeric for doing spreadsheet work, mtPaint for basic graphics and Inkscape Lite for doing illustrations. For calendar, contacts and task management there's Osmo, although it's really just a standalone app with no current support for syncing with anything.
Installing new apps uses a tool on the desktop called quickpet. PET stands for Puppy's Extra Treats and is a package management system. In reality the files are actually tarballs with a built-in md5 checksum to test for file integrity after download. The Puppy Package Manager resembles other file management tools such as Synaptic Package Manager or Yast. It's essentially a basic GUI for installing new applications.