Linux is growing along with the wheat, barley, chickpeas, and lupins in Perenjori, a small shire in Western Australia, thanks to a man named Barry Kauler.
Kauler is the man behind “Puppy” (http://www.puppyos.com/) — a 60MB CD bootable GNU Linux based operating system that can run on old PCs with very little RAM. Version two of the distro looks set for release in April.
There is also a 90MB version called “Chubby Puppy” which includes Open Office. Booting from CD, Puppy can save everything back to the CD so there is no need for a hard drive. It can also load totally into RAM so that the CD drive is free for other purposes. It will install from USB, Zip or hard drive media. It aims to offer all the applications you need for daily use in an easy to use, fast and secure way.
The distro was named after Kauler’s dog that went missing, “Probably off to teach kangaroos how to use Linux,” he said.
“Puppy is designed to be very easy to use, with a Windows 98 look and feel, kind of but better, with lots of GUI Wizards. There’s a little GUI application for everything,” Kauler said.
Kauler, who comes from a background as an MSDOS/Windows user and systems programmer, said he’d tried several Linux distro’s but none had convinced him to desert Windows, so he decided to develop his own in 2003.
“I was particularly concerned with the sluggishness of modern GUI Linux distros, as well as how some things that were a pushover to do or setup in Windows were very complicated in Linux,” he said.
“My previous efforts had been freeware, closed source, so this was my first foray into open source. I started off with the ‘Linux boot disk HOW TO’, which is an online document that tells you how to create a Linux boot floppy disk, a complete little Linux on one disk. Then I moved it to a bootable CD, and I just kept tinkering and pottering along putting all of what I wanted in a Linux distro.”
Puppy is not based on any existing Linux distro, but put together from scratch, file by file.
“It was an exercise for me to learn how Linux ticks and I wanted to develop a smaller distro than anyone else had achieved. It was a part-time hobby in those days, but it kept growing; now Puppy is an obsession.”
An obsession that involves Kauler travelling 350km to a friend’s house in Perth to upload Puppy files as he only has a 19,600bps dial-up connection. This will change when the Federal Government subsidy scheme brings him wireless broadband via Satellite which is planned to happen in April.
Kauler said in addition to its small size, ease of use and speed, Puppy’s other capability that is unmatched by other distro’s is the ability to save back to the CD/DVD.
“We call this our multi-session mode, and for a long time I had technical problems that made it less than reliable, but now I have got it working really sweetly,” he said. Puppy was initially written using Busybox Ash scripts all the way; Kauler then included Tcl/Tk and a wealth of Tcl/Tk applications.
“Fairly recently, Mark Ulrich became involved and introduced wxBasicScript, a cutdown version of wxBasic, that we have named PuppyBasic.”
Although Kauler has had a couple of commercialization offers, he has decided to keep the distro community-based. He believes that remaining non-commercial attracts more interest from developers and contributors.
“A very rough guess is that there are a couple of dozen core people, heavily into helping out in some way.”
Contributors include a long-time mystery benefactor called “GuestToo” who developed a package management system for Puppy called DotPup.
“GuestToo has been helping me since the early days, but has never revealed his true identity — I once joked that he was really Bill Gates getting a clandestine buzz out of working on a Linux project!”
Kauler does not know exactly how many users he has, but distrowatch.com currently has Puppy hovering around number 18 in their top-100.
“It’s gradually moving up, but I’m aiming for the top 5,” he said.
Even though the vast majority of Puppy users are in the USA, he said, there is a high number of Australians involved in contributing.
“I guess Aussies are intrigued about how a great Linux distro has originated from remote rural Western Australia.”
One user, who wishes to be known only as Chris describes Puppy as “poetry in motion” and Kauler as an “unpretentious Prince — who is probably unaware of what a genius he is.”
Chris has said he most appreciates the speed and ease of use, as well as the updates every six weeks and the daily news from Kauler.
“Puppy is a work in progress. Many issues have been patched but when Puppy2 final is released it is going to hit everyone like a sledge-hammer,” Kauler said.
Version two will have the same look and feel as Puppy1 with all the differences being “under the hood”.
“As per my usual style, Puppy2 will be a total redesign from the ground up,” Kauler said.
“One big feature of Puppy2 is that you can save sessions very easily to USB stick or floppy disk, having booted off live-CD, which puppy1 can’t do. Puppy1 can only save to a hard drive partition, and the live-CD version doesn’t even give you a choice which partition,” he said.
A summary of Puppy2 can be found here: http://www.puppyos.com/development/howpuppyworks.htm