Puppy (Linux) Saves the Day

Puppy Linux screenshot

I often look for better or more efficient ways to get tasks done. When I commute to work by rail, I use a portable computer to spend my time productively. My computer, however, prefers a Sunday-paced wake up sequence. We don’t agree.

Still, there’s a happy ending to this story — I got a Puppy which offered me a solution. This article describes how Puppy Linux can be used to increase your productivity in an easy manner.

During my 25 minute commute, I have only a fraction of time to use my laptop. What’s the problem, you ask?

First, my company has installed so many support programs, virus scanners, etc. that my computer takes almost 15 minutes to boot to a mode where I can start writing with it. Secondly, I am not permitted to install programs unless they are approved by the company IT department. Finally, I don’t prefer to leave traces of my personal files (such as log files, etc.) on the computer.

The solution for some people would be to write on paper, and later type it on their home computer. For others, purchasing a Netbook might be an option. To me, it’s not a good use of time to write things down twice. Buying a Netbook offers more possibilities, but it costs both money to buy, and time to maintain another computer.

I need a solution which fulfills the following criteria:

  1. Computer-based (i.e. I do not want to type handwritten notes.)
  2. Short boot time (As my commute is 25 min, I can’t wait 15 minutes to start notepad.)
  3. Low cost, preferably free.

I’ve used Ubuntu Linux, as well as Kubuntu and Xubuntu, and I must say I favor a Linux- based solution. I had an idea to run Linux from a USB memory stick. After checking that my work laptop could boot from a USB device, I downloaded various distributions and started testing them.

I was soon disappointed. The versions I tried did not complete the boot sequence on my DELL Latitude XT — I got a shell prompt and various error messages. Now, it should be said, that I didn’t try downloading device-specific drivers (I am fairly certain they would have solved the problems). Instead, I looked for another distribution that worked out-of-the-box.

Getting to Know Puppy

Puppy Linux document editor

My search uncovered Puppy Linux.

First, I read the instructions how to make a bootable USB memory stick. In summary, I followed these steps for Installation: download the Puppy Linux iso, burn the iso to a CD (or DVD, but the distribution fits easily on a CD), restart the computer and boot it from the Puppy CD just created. Finish by clicking the installer icon, and following the onscreen instructions.

After creating the USB installation, I changed the boot order on my laptop so it boots from USB devices first.

You can do this by opening you BIOS settings, usually by pressing one of the function keys during boot-up. The correct function key for your computer will briefly display onscreen during the first part of the boot sequence.

Next, I restarted the computer with the USB drive inserted. After some initial questions regarding keyboard layout and language I came to the choice of X server. I tried Xorg, but it failed.

Puppy Linux with USB stick

It should be noted here that the whole process is guided by easy-to-follow onscreen instructions. So while the failed attempt with Xorg rendered a shell prompt, you can simply follow the instructions, and try Xvesa, the fall-back solution (Xvesa worked well for me).

Puppy Linux saves your settings and changes in a separate sessions file on the USB thumb drive so you don’t need to configure the system each time you boot.

Puppy Linux runs from RAM, leaving no trace on the hard drive. The system comes with a range of tools for basic productivity, such as word processing, web browsing, mail, etc.

I kept the FAT32 formatting on my USB thumb drive to be able to access files I create on other computers, too. To do this, I made a new folder in the top level of the USB drive. I named my folder my_thumb_files, but call your folder whatever you wish. The important thing is that you use the same folder to save all the files you create and edit.

Puppy Linux multimedia test

So, how does Puppy run? Greyhound swift — compared to my original setup. My DELL Latitude XT boots from power off to full desktop ready in 50 seconds. And, for this productivity solution, I didn’t have to buy a new computer, type text from paper notes, or start carrying more devices.

To test Puppy’s multimedia capabilities, I put media files such as MPEG-4 Quicktime videos, FLV flash videos, JPEG images and MP3 music on the USB thumb drive. Puppy Linux could play them all without any problems. I know I’m using only a fraction of the system capabilities, but it fits my needs perfectly.

For those looking for alternatives, there are other commercial solutions offering similar functionality like Hyperspace and instant-on functionality on some laptops. Often the functionality is provided by a lightweight Linux system, which boots much faster than the main OS, and allows web browsing, email and contacts access.