Puppy Linux is a niche computing solution that reflects the flexibility and usefulness of open-source tools and the staying power of the Linux operating system.

Usually in this column, I focus on new versions of Linux distros that introduce new tricks and features. But the current version of Puppy Linux, FossaPup64 version 9.5, is not a new release. It replaced the Precise Puppy version in 2020.

FossaPup64 provides a safe and secure Linux platform optimized for single-user settings. It is a modular distribution, which very few Linux distros offer. You can seamlessly swap out newer versions of the Linux kernel, firmware, and apps to keep the installation fresh. Its lightweight design packs full functionality, no matter how many ways you choose to use it.

One of the main features of Puppy Linux is its ability to provide a reliable and fast portable computing platform. Pop Puppy Linux into any computer’s USB drive to boot straight into your last computing session. Or do a thrifty install on your desktop or laptop computer to boot from a USB stick or CD and save settings and data without disturbing the existing operating system.

FossaPup loads into the computer’s RAM. It runs Linux and apps much faster than the old computer could otherwise handle. When you turn off the computer and remove the USB stick, no trace of your computing session is left behind.

This Pocket Linux approach is a great way to revive an older computer that no longer runs the updated Microsoft Windows. It also empowers newer, more powerful computers to improve their operating speed. Running in RAM is fast on any computer.

longevity matters

Barry Kauler, the founder of the Puppy Linux project, introduced the original Puppy Linux distro in July 2003. He developed the concept into various experimental variants. A few years ago, Kauler moved out of the Puppy Linux development role to release other Linux systems. In the meantime, the Puppy Linux community keeps Puppy Linux playful and barking.

I stumbled upon Puppy Linux in 2006 when I started my crush on using Linux. For years, I relied heavily on its pocket computing power. It remains an invaluable backup tool and keeps many older computers up and running.

A recent encounter with an ailing computer—which I mention below—reminded me that well-designed OSes don’t always have to be upgraded two or three times a year. Many Linux distros only upgrade infrequently.

I’ve used various versions of the mainline Puppy Linux distro over the years. Its ability to boot from a 2GB USB disk was a great solution for dragging my heavy laptop around or using someone else’s non-Linux computer.

what’s inside

Today, installing FossaPup Linux on a large-capacity USB stick is child’s play. It remains my primary go-to Linux OS whenever I need a quick fix to revive an ailing PC or perform tasks elsewhere on site.

Puppy Linux has a different look and feel. Several versions—called puplets—remain in circulation. They cater to different user and hardware needs.

Puppy Linux uses a combination of JWM (Joe’s Window Manager) and ROX-Filer to create a uniquely fast and easy-to-use desktop environment, making FossaPup – and other Puppy Linux variants – one of the most lightweight Linux OS out there.

Puppy Linus FossaPup Desktop

Puppy Linux uses a unique combination of JWM and Rox-Filer to create a powerful, lightweight Linux desktop.

FossaPup64 is built using the Ubuntu focal fossa (64-bit) package. This gives it binary compatibility with Ubuntu and access to the Ubuntu focal Fossa repository.

FossaPup is not an unofficial derivative of the Ubuntu software family. Like other Puppy projects, FossaPup is completely built from the ground up with an in-house distro construction tool called Woof-CE. It bears no resemblance to the traditional Ubuntu skin.

remedy for dead hardware

A recent panic call from a neighbor reminded me why I prefer Puppy Linux, despite the vast majority of Linux distros I use.

A work-at-home neighbor, which means no tech support, suffered a seriously bad computer just hours before a work project.

Yes, it was Windows! But in fairness, sometimes the same thing happens with Linux.

The computer wouldn’t boot once it was on, and all the digital content my neighbor desperately needed was locked inside an inaccessible hard drive.

I caught my FossaPuppy on a stick and hooked it up to the sick computer. After a while, Good Ol’ Puppy Linux boots into the computer’s RAM.

An icon for the Windows partition on the hard drive popped up on the desktop. After a few clicks, I found the important files and saved them to another USB stick for safekeeping.

Puppy Linux setup setup tool GUI

FossaPup’s separate setup tools offer a number of personalization options with a graphical user interface (GUI).

a new linux believer

My now enthusiastic neighbor was amazed that he could stick to completing the project using my Fossapup OS on his “broken” computer. He could still work on PNG images, Microsoft Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets that I retrieved from my hard drive.

Puppy Linux Apps let it get the job done. Before this machine encounter, my neighbor didn’t know what Linux was. Using the built-in Puppy remastering tool, I cloned a copy for that. A few days later, I used another Linux boot repair tool to fix the corrupted files on his Windows computer.

Yes, you guessed it. My neighbor is still using FossaPup Linux and is “transitioning” from Windows.

Why use FossaPup on a stick?

Puppy Linux isn’t the only Linux-on-a-stick distro out there. Some distro developers now let you install the ISO file on a USB drive instead of a DVD to view the live session and start the installation.

Some distros have a complicated way of creating persistent memory partitions to save data. PhosApp goes further. It lets you save a particular module on a USB drive and even save multiple system setups.

FossaPup Linux is different because its persistent memory feature is better integrated and works more reliably. You can use this Puppy Linux version as a more than “live” session environment.

fosapp spread

Puppy’s code-building system maintains compatibility with the classic Puppy PET packages and Ubuntu repos. The Quickpat interface installs applications and updates the system to a lesser extent.

FossaPup Linux comes with Ubuntu and the in-house-built Puppy Linux applications.

FosaPup Linux comes with a mix of Ubuntu and in-house-built Puppy Linux applications.

Puppy distros lack user logins. Even if you have another OS installed on the hard drive, all Puppy Linux distros bypass the startup routine installed on the hard drive. But you can encrypt important content files with password access.

The advantage – even if you have to “pocket protect” the USB drive – is the ability to bring your personal desktop and apps to any computer you encounter. When you exit Puppy Linux, the OS and all your files go back to your pocket, closed desk drawer, or wherever.

ground level

FossaPup is worth a try. It’s a fun way to learn about Linux. Plus, it offers an interesting alternative to the traditional Linux OS.

The Puppy Linux line has several in-house applications such as Pburn, PuppyFone, Find’n’Run, Take a Gif, UExtract, Packit, dunst-config, pycom-gtk, Transtray, and Junkie Bluetooth. Puppy Package Manager (PPM) provides a mix of Puppy-specific .pet files and Ubuntu focal-fossa packages.

Besides the USB method, you can install this distro on a hard drive in two ways. Puppy Universal Installer offers to perform a full install that uses an entire hard drive partition. The second is a thrifty install, which installs only several core Puppy files with the 4FS file extension.

With thrifty installations, Puppy automatically saves all changes to the Puppy save file during a computing session and when you shut down the OS. A handy feature lets you set up multiple save files based on your needs, so you can load different Puppy Linux configurations in one place instead of maintaining different Puppy sticks.

suggest a review

Have a Linux software application or distro you’d like to recommend for review? Something you love or want to know?

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