Updated: September 9, 2011
Praising an operating system over and over is a sure sign of fanboyism, which is punishable by flogging in some countries, or at the very least, leads to ostracization in the higher social circles. But it is truly difficult to find fault with the Puppy Linux, release after release. And while I tested Lucid Puppy not that long ago, I had an urge for more great stuff, so I redid my testing with the latest release, version 5.2.8.
What can you expect from Puppy? A lot really. And I mean a lot. I had Puppy tested on three separate occasions and it's only getting better. Sometimes, you have small changes, sometimes big ones, like the brand new kernel based on Ubuntu Lucid and a whole new level of Wireless capability. My last review revealed these tremendous improvements that the major version 5 brought to the table. So let's what you get with 5.2.8. Perhaps some fancy dessert?
One of the most important things in software design is maintaining the critical core of your product, the one or two items that identify, epitomize and embody your idea. Users want to easily recognize your brand, never lose backward compatibility and gain new changes in small doses, gradually, slowly.
Puppy does exactly that. It's a live session Linux. It makes no pretense at being anything else, and there's no reason to. Small, efficient, blazing fast, highly configurable, designed to work in austere setups. And still, it somewhat manages to compete with the players in the big league.
Puppy has always let you save your sessions, so you can enjoy live usage persistency. But then, in the past, it used to struggle with monitors and network setup. Again, without compromising on the stated mission goal, improvements were added. Lucid Puppy will launch into GUI without asking too many questions. T60 machine, 1400x1050px resolution, no worries. Things are looking good.
The desktop is nice. You get a nice logo with the cute puppy face, however in high relief it looks somewhat like the Me Gusta troll brother, which is a superb pun, if intended. Or perhaps it's a puppy with a monocle and mustache? My only complaint are the horizontal stripes toward the left and right borders of the screen, which can feel a little crowded, especially since Puppy comes with a lot of icons on the desktop.
It works well, but it's convoluted. First, you need to load the driver, initialize the Wireless device, probe the Wireless networks, configure your profile with the right encryption method and key, save the profile, then you can connect. My guest is, some ten prompts will flash before your eyes. This is not a bad thing for geeks, but normal people might be overwhelmed. Overall, there's improvement, but the next step would be to automate the connection manager. Fewer questions, more automatic stuff.
Puppy comes with a lot of stuff. I will not be repeating myself too much by claiming improbably physics rules of memory space continuum violations, as Puppy packs a ton of programs in such an incredibly small image. Once again, the repertoire remains mostly unchanged, with a handful of small polishes and tricks that make the experience even more pleasant.
You get to choose the browser you like, plus you get an automatic Flash installation on first launch. But we will discuss multimedia soon enough. You get Pburn Blu-Ray capable burning software, Gnumeric, Abiword, MPlayer, one or more browsers of your choice, games, dozen of small yet highly capable programs, and a trillion utilities for just about everything conceivably doable on Linux. Samba sharing wizard, half a dozen remastering tools, GParted, and best of all, the Puppy Package Manager, which lets you fatten up your arsenal quickly and simply. Just choose whatever you find missing, wait a few seconds for the software to download and install, and Bob's your uncle.
Flash worked. MP3 worked out of the box. MPlayer even downloaded album thumbnails for me, which is a lovely, lovely thing. Now, the Microsoft Media Server (MMS) plugin was not included, but it would have been asking for too much. But at least it wrote the plugin was missing, which is something you don't always get to see in the big and fat distros.
Looking inside the Package Manager, I noticed there's Compiz available. So I decided to try this thing and see if it were going to work. Unfortunately, this step is not quite as seamless as you would hope to. After installing the necessary packages, you will need to log out and restart the GUI from command line. Then, Xfce4 powered Puppy will come up, with its own desktop and a new arrangement of items. You will also get a few more prompts asking you to change your GTK theme, and words like JWM and IceWM will also crop up, hoping to confuse you. Bottom line, I wasn't able to get Compiz running on this host, as it complained about metacity missing. So here's another item to improve by the next release, a more streamlined desktop effects experience.
But I did get to play with all sorts of icons and wallpapers and themes, which is a nice thing. Puppy can relatively easily be converted into a modern and sleek thing. And you lose none of the quality or speed or the small footprint.
Puppy 5.2.8 is as good as ever, and then some. Of course, there are things that distributions five to seven times its size do better, like seamless Wireless connectivity and desktop effects or perhaps more plugins installed out of the box. But for a distribution specifically designed to be lean and portable, the balance is just right. Puppy has the ultimate blend of efficiency, performance and usability. Small perfections are always possible. Which I hope to see in the next release.
Puppy 5.2.8 is a mature continuation of a stable, well-established family. If you've used Puppy once, you'll find all the goodies you need. Familiarity breeds a peace of mind and allows you to focus on productivity. And then, you start discovering that all the good things are there, improved, with no penalties or regressions. All of this in a container just about 100MB in size. What could you possibly ask for more? Maybe a Ferrari? But that's not Linux per se. Well, I hope you liked this review. Puppy is a blast. Most recommended for just about everyone.