Booting Linux from an external drive with the applications and settings of your choice has never been easier after this week's release of Puppy Linux 3.0. Like Damn Small Linux, Puppy is small enough to fit on a USB thumb drive, and like Knoppix , you can boot it from CD. Puppy can also add your favourite open source applications to the desktop and save multiple user profiles back to your writable CD or thumb drive, too. Let's take a look at how you can take your operating system, apps, data and user settings to go with Puppy Linux.
What You Can Do with Puppy
The two main uses for Puppy Linux (or any Linux live CD) are to:
- Rescue files from the host PC's hosed hard drive or perform various maintenance tasks (like imaging that drive)
- Compute on a machine without leaving a trace—like browser history, cookies, documents or any other files—behind on the internal hard drive
While there's a wide range of Linux live distro's available, Puppy Linux is a fantastic option which offers a full computing environment with rich graphical apps like the Mozilla Seamonkey suite, Word and Excel equivalents, calendar, chat and photo editors, too.
What You'll Need
Before we get started setting up Puppy Linux, you'll need:
- A CD or DVD burner
- Software that can burn an .ISO file to CD or DVD, like ISO Recorder
- A thumb drive (the roomier the better, 1GB recommended)
- A PC that can boot to CD or USB drive (check your system's BIOS for more, hit the Setup key noted during your computer's boot sequence)
- The Puppy Linux 3.0 .ISO file. Download it here. (Alternate location.)
Set Up and Boot Puppy Linux for the First Time
First burn the Puppy .ISO image to CD using ISO Recorder. (With ISO Recorder installed, just right-click the disk image to copy to CD.) Once your Puppy Linux CD is written, leave it in your CD drive, shut down your computer and restart. If your computer is set to boot from CD, Puppy Linux will start. (See step 2 listed here for more info on setting your computer to boot from CD if Windows starts up again, even with the Puppy CD inserted.)
When Puppy boots you'll have to answer a few questions before you see a desktop: what keyboard layout it should use (most likely the first choice, U.S.), and what video resolution it should use based on your video card and monitor. The video setting can be a bit hit or miss, but you can test the various options to find the one that works. (While I didn't have any trouble on a 5 year old Dell PC, at least one Lifehacker reader had a bit of trouble.) Once you start up X (Puppy's windowing system), you'll get a desktop that looks like this (click to enlarge):
Puppy doesn't automatically mount your thumb drives or connect to the network, you have to do that for it. As the instructions embedded on the desktop say, click on the Connect icon (just once, not twice!) to get your internet access set up. Here's what that looks like:
Here you see Puppy recognises my one network interface—in this case, an Ethernet connection, eth0. Clicking on that and hitting the "Auto DHCP" button got me online immediately, and I could use the built-in browser and chat client.
You don't have to set up your network connection every time you boot Puppy. Once you've acquired an IP address, Puppy will ask you if you want to save the settings for your next session. (More on session info saving below.)
The other thing you'll want to do is mount your thumb drive, which Puppy also does not do by default. Click on the Drives icon, then select your flash drive (which should be plugged in, if not, do so and then click Refresh).
Save Your Puppy Linux Settings to Writable CD or USB Drive
Once you've got your initial setup complete, shut down Puppy to save your settings either to your USB drive—or if you left your CD-R session open, to CD. When you shut down Puppy it will ask you if and where to save your session, which you'll also be able to give a custom name.
Next time you boot up Puppy with the USB drive plugged in (or from that writable disk), it will automatically detect your session settings and the desktop will no longer have the initial run wallpaper included. It will look more like this (click to enlarge):
From here you can further customise your Puppy session (use multiple workspaces, set your desktop background, timezone, shortcuts, etc.) To save your session at any point to thumb drive, click once on the "Save" icon.
Add Applications to Puppy Linux
Puppy comes with a stunning array of rich desktop applications to start with (do explore the menu to check 'em out), but not all of them might be familiar to you. Luckily you can add your familiar favourites using Puppy's package manager, its answer to Windows Install Wizard. From the Menu's Setup area, launch the PETget package manager and pick and choose the apps you want to add to puppy. (Click to enlarge screenshot):
Here you can see I'm adding Firefox, Thunderbird, the Gimp, OpenOffice.org and an interesting looking money manager called PuppyMoney. It's a virtual software buffet!
Booting and Saving to Only a USB Drive
Sadly my old PC doesn't have the ability to boot from a USB flash drive, but yours might. To ditch the optical disk entirely, install Puppy to a USB drive using the universal installer (located in the Menu's Setup area.) There you can install Puppy to the media of your choice:
More Puppy Help and Resources
While I've only scratched the surface of getting started with Puppy, to dive in deeper, check out the copious documentation and tutorials available, like:
- Puppy Linux Video Tutorials (these are especially helpful)
- The Puppy Linux Documentation Project
- Puppy Linux Forums
- Quick Start Guide to Using Puppy
You give Puppy 3.0 a try? Let us know how it went in the comments.