Kickin' it right off today will be a (non-exhaustive) comparison between puppy and Xubuntu. With the pup reaching V3, and all linux enthusiasts (and even some non enthusiasts) looking at the release of Ubuntu's 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon in a little over a week, I thought it timely to compare Puppy 3.0 with Xubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn.
Both are lightweight distributions, with the idea being that they can resurrect (or prolong the life of) older hardware platforms. But both are signficantly different in how they go about this, and this should be a consideration if you are resurrecting old hardware.
A little background. Basically, I'm in the process of inheriting a few older computers and big fat CRT monitors that were otherwise destined for the mini skip. I'm not sure what I will do with half a dozen older computers, but I do know that it may involve home firewall and downloading duties for one or two of them. If I can find someone un-conservative enough to try another OS, they may also inherit a computer. In the meantime they are being refurbished and having a virus (that virus being Windows XP) removed from them.
Puppy Computer - a Celeron 1.3Ghz, 256mb Ram and 13Gb HDD.
Xubuntu Computer - a Celeron 2.0Ghz, 256mb Ram and 40Gb HDD.
Being a fairly seasoned Ubuntu user now (though probably a noob to a lot of true veterans), the process of acquiring Xubuntu and booting the CD is second nature. My first concern was that downloading it, it was 565mb, which hardly struck me as lightweight. Nonetheless, I ignored that and got on with it.
I fired up the CD, which has a comparable boottime to Ubuntu Feisty on a 3.0ghz Athlon 64 with 1Gb RAM and 400Gb HDD space. Good good!
I have to say that the interface is sweet. Brilliant for both Windows refugees and anyone used to Ubuntu. The 3 menus are replaced with one, but it isn't the same XFCE Desktop Environment I have used on other distributions. That out of the way, it looks great, and in fact I probably slightly prefer the blue swish to the brown one in Ubuntu.
I click the install button and the install process is identical to Ubuntu. Keyboard, country and city, login name, partition information and let it go. At this point, by comparison to Ubuntu on the larger system, it did install considerably slower. What took about 20 minutes (tops!) for Ubuntu on the larger system, took half an hour with Xubuntu on the slower system. It is all academic really, and a lot quicker than an XP install I did last week, but still.
After installation and reboot (I like the new Xubuntu screen whilst it is booting up - very swish), I logged in. First check was internet connection. That was running fine, no need for any adjustments.
So I jumped onto http://www.animesuki.com/ to check if one of my favourite animes had a new episode posted. After downloading the torrent, I tried to open it and that was my first issue. No bittorrent client. Now I know that most of you will go "just download the blinking thing", and I'd be one of them, not the least reason being that I prefer bittornado to the standard client. But given I was trying Xubuntu, I don't want to waste time and bandwidth having to d/l a bittorrent client just to test my system.
That got me to thinking that if they "downsized" the distro, how did they go about it? Was this exclusion of Bittorrent indicative of a mentality that to downsize a distro, it mean excluding certain programs. I'd hoped not, because that sort of defeated the purpose to me. I mean, part of getting a lighter distro isn't just the hardware specs, but also the footprint it leaves. After all, a low end processor usually has a great deal less hard drive space also.
So I jumped on to Add/Remove Programs, and just scrolled through the list. I was also going to install all the usual audio and video codecs, so I could copy a few MP3s on, but going through the list I saw all the stuff that was missing - Serpetine CD creator, Aisleriot Solitaire, Bittorrent, Totem/Mplayer, etc. Crazy! At least they put abiword and gnumeric spreadsheet in, and then after all that, still included OOo Word Proc. So I installed them all. And then left a torrent on overnight.
Next day, I found the computer sluggish and a little unresponsive. So I'm a little miffed to say the least.
Also, if you are going to have to download all this stuff that Ubuntu includes, isn't that just dumb? Part of Ubuntu's beauty is the fact that it has basically everything a basic user needs. You want another bittorrent client, fine, but there is one already included, so you can use it straight away. To exclude all this, takes away, in my opinion, a key selling point for the *buntu family - that being a good set of basic apps to have a system straight up and running.
After installing XP last week, finding drivers and more importantly for this argument, having to install office, internet etc, I treasure the time and frustration (finding CDs, installing them after, etc) saved by Ubuntu's installation process and the stuff already included. Lightening a distribution by leaving things out, is a false send of "light".
I don't want a flamewar with the X/K/Ubuntu people, or the whole KDE/Gnome/XFCE/whatever war. I respect all the Desktop environments and like them all and the people that develop, test and use them for their hard work. But if you are looking to resurrect older computers, I wouldn't recommend Xubuntu.
I would recommend Xubuntu for those who find that the other *buntus have enough that is surplus to requirements, and are happy to mould their own computer and customise the programs on it from go. And those who prefer blue to brown.
I like Puppy, and I feel good that the guy who wrote it is an Aussie. It gives me hope that not all Australians are too inclined to just follow after Microsoft. I still can't get the vision of the idiots lining up at Harvey Norman when Vista was released at midnight. It gives me nightmares, and I wonder how such a small population with such a big block o' dirt manages to survive and thrive.
Puppy is great, though my first gripe is that 3.0 doesn't install to harddrive anywhere near as easy as v2.17. I know it has to do with it trying to do its best to co-exist with XP, Vista and other Linux distros, but I still want the "wipe the hard drive out and start again" option. And to have to manually configure grub (i've had to do it on two different systems), is a pain. V2.17 just installed and was no problem.
That gripe aside, I boot it up and the boot time on it, despite being a 1.3Ghz celeron is quicker than Xubuntu on 2.0ghz. I have a gut feeling that, but for configuring keyboard and monitor on the CD bootup, that CD boot up is even quicker because it just dumps it in RAM and goes. I love that it takes so little time.
The JWM included as standard ain't pretty, but for those who are migrating from Windows 98 or Mistake Edition (ME), it will be completely familiar. And jumping onto the puppy wiki, you can add any number of Windows Managers (XFCE as per Xubuntu, IceWM (the one I settled on) and others). That flexibility is a great deal of fun.
The two big advantages I see it having is that it weighs in at a tad under 100mb, which leaves more harddrive space for useful things, and that it does so and still includes at least one program (and often two or more) for each function. Want a bittorrent client? There are two, and very functional. Want to burn CD's, DVD's and the like - again a couple of programs. The seamonkey browser whilst not beautiful, runs like a hamster on steroids. Email, paint, draw is all included.
Just as importantly for me is the inclusion of abiword (I've now got it on my Windows XP computer at work) and Gnumeric (ditto). Both are brilliant little programs for word processing and spreadsheeting and cross compatible with work, not only with the availability of each program for Windows, but also compatibility with Word and Excel. I have now included them as standard on all Ubuntu installations I've done.
So puppy has everything a basic user would need, without any additional software required.
My gripes with it are (besides being not too pretty) is that a lot of things have to be done the long way, much the same as XP. If I download a torrent, and I can't click it and get it going, I have to either 1. Set up file associations or 2. Go into the program and open the file manually. To use my USB key, I have to mount it, it doesn't self mount on the desktop (a big advantage in my eyes), same with CDs.
To me that isn't great. I understand the fact that manually mounting USB/CD's has its reasons, stability and lack of memory overhead being big ones. But giving users programs and then not setting up file associations strikes me as dumb.
Fine, give the user choice about which BT client they want, but if I open a torrent, I want it to open in something. In ubuntu it opens in the default client, which isn't my preferred client. That suits me fine initially, I will change it to my preferred client when I could be bothered, but if I'm testing my internet connection properly, I'm happy to use the default client.
Other not so gripe, is that it doesn't have the level of repositories nor support of the *buntus.
I know I can get the pupget to access the .debs but again, I couldn't be bothered. I like clicking Add/Remove or synaptic and just installing stuff. On the flip side, downloading and installing individual dot pups is brilliant, and the *buntus can learn from it. If I find something I like, I want to still click and install. I know that is having my cake (synaptic) and eating it (dot pups), but if the two distros could work that out between them, that would be great.
The forums are distinctly average by comparison. I know that Ubuntu has more users/abusers/onlookers than puppy, but the forums are easy to read, search well and have the answer to just about everything. Puppy doesn't. I wouldn't say the users are any more or less friendly, but just without that base of users, the support is a bit patchy. But I'm sure that its more a matter of time and development.
This isn't bagging any distro. The beauty and indeed the reason for Linux as a whole is the great degree of customisability and flexibility within the one operating system. What suits one, won't always suit another and that is cool. In fact that is what makes our OS of choice infinately better than Windows, because "The Man" isn't giving us one option and then holding a stick above our heads to enforce it.
Pros - Runs okay on slower systems, looks good, little learning curve from Ubuntu or Windows, highly customisable, great if you don't want all the crap that comes with Ubuntu, but you don't want to find another flavour of Linux, huge software repositories, huge community and support forums.
Cons - Not as good on older computers as I needed, doesn't include stuff that I think needs to be, what is the use of a "light" distro, made light by excluding essential programs, theme customisation not as simple as Ubuntu, too similar to Ubuntu for some.
Pros - Light, really light - runs fast on just about anything; includes all basic necessary programs, can be run from USB/CD/anything that boots; boots very quickly, takes up little hard drive space; Window Manager can be changed with ease.
Cons - V3 install to hard drive can be fiddly, too much GRUB alterations, file associations and auto mount not standard, limited additional software without further work, forums small and with an average search option.