Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Review of MacPup .061 / Puppy Linux - Save your Old Machine!

Behold the computer that would not die.

It is a Compaq Presario 1279. It was made over 10 years ago, and featured a cutting edge OS called Windows 98. It was top of the line, and featured a CPU that ran at speeds reserved for desktops...433 megahertz. It was hopped up to the max...an unfathomable 192 MB of ram, and an impressive 20 GB hard drive.

It has been bashed, beaten and bruised. It has had various liquids poured into its keyboard. It has been dropped, while in the case, from a five-foot-high closet shelf. And, the only thing that ever went wrong that required a repair was an LCD inverter ordered from eBay for a mere $12.

It was my first laptop. I bought it used from eBay several years back. My second laptop, by the way, didn't last three years.

They don't make them like this anymore.

I don't use the laptop very much now. The keyboard was never the best...unless your fingers push straight down on the keys, they tend to stick. It has a small 13" screen with a max resolution of 800x600. The LCD backlight itself is dimmer than it looks in the picture. And, despite its compact size, it is heavy to hold on your lap, as all the weight is concentrated in a smaller area.

And, I can't give up on it. It just keeps working, so I keep updating it and pulling it out from time to time to use it.

It gets even less use now that I've gotten a netbook, as this old Compaq was relegated to back-up duty until the Acer came along. Now, it mostly sits in a closet, but it still has a modern, up to date operating system. Here's an actual screenshot:

That's MacPup Opera, a version of Puppy Linux. It is a beautiful and mostly easy to use operating system that works great on older computers. I have run it on computers with as little as 300 Mhz and 128 MB of RAM. And, while not blazing fast, it is fairly snappy and very usable.

The standard version of Puppy works well, and is probably even a little more zippy, but it has a definite "bargain basement" feel to it. Many of the wizards and utilities carry over to MacPup, but the Enlightenment 17 interface hides a lot, and makes it look infinitely better. Even an old computer can run the desktop widgets, animated icons, and shadowed, animated menus, without a noticeable penalty in speed or responsiveness.

Which begs the question...why does Gnome or KDE use so much ram and processor? Hmmmm? Maybe there's a lesson for the big boys to learn here.

Standard Puppy uses the Seamonkey browser. That's the latest version of the old Mozilla browser, which isn't bad, but it makes one wonder why Puppy doesn't default to the old and familiar standby, Firefox. Granted, there's not much difference between Firefox and Seamonkey, but there are some quirks that die-hard Firefox users will have to accept. But, its easy enough to fire up the user friendly Puppy Package Manager and install a full fledged, if a bit outdated, version of Firefox. If you poke around on the web and in the Puppy Linux forums, you can even find a 3.X version. But, MacPup goes one better and installs what I think is the best browser for resource limited computers: Opera.

Opera, while perhaps not as extensible as Firefox, is still pretty darn good. It is very, very snappy, even with low power machines, yet it is a "full-featured" browser, with a built in email client, and some extensibility via its Widget system. So, just because you may be using a stripped-down computer, you don't necessarily have to use a stripped down browser.

The Macpup version of Opera even comes with a skin that makes it fit in well with the MacPup theme. The whole thing just LOOKS good. I'd always accepted that users would have to do without the eye candy if they wanted to use a lower-resource machine. Not so with MacPup, Opera and Enlightenment 17.

Plus, it comes with a variety of software that the average person might need, plus lots of extras that can be installed using the Puppy Package Manager. You get a MS compatible word processor, an MS compatible spreadsheet, a program for browsing networks, tabbed web browser with Flash and email client, instant messenger (via web interface), and a bunch of other stuff. Many of the programs are low-resource versions of other programs. They all run rather well, even in low resource environments.

Is this a system that a beginner could use? Yes, with a little practice and as long as someone had a little help from the beginning, which would be true for any operating system. Since everything is menu-driven and intuitive, it should just be a matter of browsing those menus until you find the program or utility you need. I got my Dad, who has some computer experience, but no Linux experience, a cheapo laptop from eBay and put Puppy on it. He uses it for basic browsing and word processing, and even transfers documents through his home network between it and his Windows computer. For him, it is a way to get on the internet or type a document without having to walk downstairs to his desktop computer. For that, it works great. Kinda like a netbook, except with a full-sized keyboard and monitor. Oh, and it is only 1/3 the cost of a netbook, because the hardware is just a used laptop and a cheapo wireless card.

Could a newbie set it up themselves? Perhaps, if they had a second computer and could consult the Puppy Linux forums and ask questions. If I simply turned someone loose on Puppy/MacPup and said, "Install it", I think the chances would be slim. Maybe with Ubuntu, but not MacPup. I'm not saying that as a shot at Puppy...it is a lightweight OS, so it is what it is, and in most cases, the people who want it can install it. But, people who use Linux continually want to say that Linux is easy to install, and for the most part, they are right, but you still have to have a knowledge of how to install operating systems. No more knowledge than people would need to install Windows XP, but there is knowledge required nonetheless. I'm a Linux fanboy, but I'm realistic.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the performance and ease of use of MacPup .061. If you have an old computer sitting idle, why not fire it up and put MacPup on it, to make it a reliable little websurfer with a few extra features, and a nice looking interface to boot? Can't think of a better use for old hardware than that.


Ravishankar Shrivastava said...

I am using this in my laptop with no hard disk - direct from RAM! (boot through USB)
Do you have any idea to add additional keyboard - Hindi Inscript (hi_IN)?

M.M. Ulum said...

I use MacPup Foxy E17 on my Old PC Pentium 4 (without Hard Drive). I boot from USB Flash Drive. It's run well.