The Pick of the Litter

Distro Walk – Puppy Linux

© Photo by Nicole Romero on Unsplash

© Photo by Nicole Romero on Unsplash

Article from Issue 266/2023

Trying out Puppy Linux requires picking a Puppy distribution. We provide a brief overview of some of the most popular Puppy variants.

Last issue, I described the complexities of Puppy Linux [1], with help from project members. Unlike most distributions, Puppy is a collection of sub-projects, and explaining the structure left no room for examining how the sub-projects differ from each other. This month, I am remedying that lack with a brief look at some of the most popular Puppy distributions and how they differ from each other. My hope is that this information might help users trying to decide which one to use.

All the Puppy distributions on the home page [2] share certain features:

  • They all are built with woof-CE, which builds a distribution using another distribution's binary. Several official Puppy distributions are based on long-term suport (LTS) releases of Ubuntu, but are quite different from each other in their selection of desktops and packages.
  • They all use a standard installer that allows a Frugal install, to a single directory, or a Full install, which uses an entire filesystem. A Frugal install is recommended because it allows Puppy to coexist with other operating systems on the same partition.
  • They all load system files into RAM.
  • They all encrypt personal files.
  • They all provide a Quick setup for configuration that can be modified in more detail if necessary.
  • They all offer the option to save the current desktop settings for your next login when shutting down.

Many but not all Puppy distributions also share common utilities and applications, such as the QuickPet package installer. To keep the memory used to a minimum, many also provide a link for installing LibreOffice in the menu rather than installing it by default. Besides the choice of widgets, themes, and desktops, the selection of applications is often one of the major differences between Puppy distributions. The Puppy Linux distributions covered here are all official distributions maintained by the project [2], with the exception of Vanilla Dpup [3], which is an unofficial distribution (or puplet) maintained by the community.


FossaPup receives a lot of attention because it is the first distribution listed on Puppy's home page. Usually, a review of Puppy is actually a review of FossaPup, even though it is not particularly representative of the rest. Built with Ubuntu 20.4 (Focal Fossa) and using Joe's Window Manager (JWM), FossaPup installs with icons on the desktop, grouped together in related rows. A widget on the right of the desktop shows system information (Figure 1). FossaPup's selection of apps favors those with a small footprint, such as Gnumeric and AbiWord. While LibreOffice Writer and Calc are installed by default, Draw, Impress, and Math are not. Many other default apps are probably new to the users of major distributions, although ones like the Boot Manager, BeeDiff, and PupSave are well worth investigating.

Figure 1: If you've seen a review of Puppy Linux, FossaPup is the Puppy distribution being examined.


XenialPup resembles FossaPup, although it is built with Ubuntu 16.04 (Xenial Xerus). It shares FossaPup's arrangement of desktop icons, but it does not include the system widgets on the desktop. Unlike FossaPup, XenialPup has a crowded bottom panel. At first login, XenialPup offers the option to create a root password (Figure 2), unlike most Puppy distributions, which rely on the fact that system files are loaded into RAM for security and personal files are encrypted. The boot manager advises that XenialPup is intended "for machines with severe video problems," and users may find that the mouse behaves erratically unless used slowly at the default 1024x768 resolution until properly configured.

Figure 2: At first boot, XenialPup offers to create a root password.


BionicPup (Figure 3) is another variant of FossaPup. Besides being based on Ubuntu 18.04, its main difference is that it features a dock on the desktop. Like XenialPup, BionicPup is supposed to be for severe video problems, but in practice, it seems less erratic than XenialPup. The default apps include several larger apps such as Inkscape. As you log out for the first time, BionicPup also offers an experimental option of enabling a regular user account called finn – something that is not done automatically on most Puppy distributions.

Figure 3: BionicPup offers to set up a root and single-user account.

Buy this article as PDF

Express-Checkout as PDF
Price $2.95
(incl. VAT)

Buy Linux Magazine

Get it on Google Play

US / Canada

Get it on Google Play

UK / Australia

Related content

  • Puppy Linux

    Not just one operating system, Puppy Linux is a diverse collection of lightweight operating systems designed for efficiency.

  • This Month's DVD

    MX Linux 21.3 and Puppy Linux FossaPup 9.5

  • Lightweight Linux Distros

    Are you ready to escape the bloat of mainstream Linux? We look at four lightweight, but general-purpose Linux distributions: Puppy Linux, Tiny Core Linux, antiX Linux, and Alpine Linux.

  • Puppy Linux

    We’ll play with Puppy Linux, a well-trained little Live CD Linux that requires minimal housebreaking.

  • Mini Distribution Puppy Linux 3.0 Released

    The latest version of the Puppy Linux distribution, which weighs in at a mere 100MB, includes useful changes to the boot, configuration and shutdown scripts.

comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe to our Linux Newsletters
Find Linux and Open Source Jobs
Subscribe to our ADMIN Newsletters

Support Our Work

Linux Magazine content is made possible with support from readers like you. Please consider contributing when you’ve found an article to be beneficial.

Learn More