For an old or slow PC, try Puppy Linux 5.2

The latest release of this tiny open source operating system can breathe new life into tired and outdated hardware.

There's no doubt Canonical's popular Ubuntu Linux distribution gets the majority of attention in the Linux world these days, but there are myriad others equally worthy of consideration.

I looked at Linux Mint not long ago, as well as a few key Ubuntu derivatives, but today I'd like to focus on Puppy Linux, a new version of which was just released.

When I looked at the top 10 Linux distributions back in September, Puppy Linux was 10th in popularity on Distrowatch, which tracks the page hits garnered by each flavor of the open source Linux operating system. Since then, however, it has moved up to No. 9, and for good reason.

Small and Fast

Puppy Linux's primary distinguishing feature is that it's tiny, taking up roughly 100MB of space. Also remarkable about it is that it loads into RAM, making it extraordinarily fast; boot time is 30 to 40 seconds on most systems.

Similar in some ways to Damn Small Linux (DSL), Puppy is ideally suited both for older hardware and for usage situations where minimal resources are available. Whereas most LiveCD versions of Linux must go back and forth to the CD, Puppy's RAM-loadable size means that applications are lightning fast to start and to respond to user input.

The full-featured but free Linux distribution can boot off LiveCD or DVDs, floppy disks, internal hard drive, zip disk, LS/120/240 Superdisk, flash drives, or any USB memory device. In fact, it can even use a multisession formatted CD-RW/DVD-RW to save everything back to the CD/DVD with no hard drive required at all.

Booting from DVD or CD, Puppy can save all work back to the same medium; booting from USB drive or other flash media, Puppy will minimize writes to extend its life.

In short, if you have a PC with a broken hard disk or that will no longer work with newer technology, Puppy Linux on a CD or USB is a way to keep that PC productive. Not insignificantly, it's also a perfect example of a Linux distribution that can be used to rescue a PC infected with Windows malware.

Compatible with Ubuntu 10.04

Like both Ubuntu and Linux Mint, Puppy is extremely easy to use; it automatically detects most hardware, for example. Included with it is also a wide range of applications for productivity and other purposes.

Now, with last week's release of version 5.2, Puppy Linux offers even more advantages.

Lucid Puppy 5.2 adds to the popular Lucid Puppy 5.1.1 distribution with a raft of upgrades and improvements to all of the main programs as well as many of the other programs in the menu and system. Based on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" binary packages, the latest Puppy is also compatible with Ubuntu 10.04 repositories.

Included in the latest release are QuickSet for point-and-click desktop configuration;

QuickPet for updates, diagnostics and package installs; and several alternative window managers available through the package manager, including Xfce and Fluxbox. The software features version 2.6.33.2 of the Linux kernel. Language packs are available for 11 different languages.

No Commitment

A fuller list of the version's features is available on the Puppy Linux site, where it's also available for download as a 127MB .iso image file. Meanwhile, you can find a testing video of the release below on YouTube.

Perhaps the best part of all, of course, is that--as with most Linux distributions--there's no commitment involved in trying it out. Particularly if you have old hardware lying around, it will be worth your while to take Puppy Linux for a tour.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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