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DSL vs Puppy Linux 28 December, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Uncategorized.

Today, in Ken Hess’s Linux Blog, the top 10 Distrowatch distros are listed as ones to try out by downloading and burning them to disc or virtualising. Using the Distrowatch top10 makes sense: you don’t have to put any effort into making the list and it isn’t ever controvertial since it isn’t your own work. What annoys me is that Damn Small Linux (abbreviated DSL because it’s a bad name) got into that list, but not Puppy Linux. This is something that annoys me, as I think that DSL gets far more attention than it deserves. Why? Four reasons.

1. First, Take a look at a few screenshots. This is DSL version 2.2b:


And this is version 4.4.1:


As you can see, the colourful background has been replaced with a drab one, and the icons on the desktop are gone. I could say that just from these desktops, it should be evident that there has been a shift in focus away from prettiness and usability. Another thing to note is the information displayed in the right hand corner of the screen. It shows some things that are useful, like how much memory is in use, but also shows information like how many processes there are. This is something that most people wouldn’t understand, let alone find useful. This leads on to point number 2.

2. Let me illustrate this with the DSL panel:


In order to set up a network interface, you have to understand what any of this means. Now, most users don’t understand what FTP, NDIS, SSH, PPPoE or DHCP mean. In order to set up their network though, they will probably need to use one of these programs. In short, while DSL may be fine for adept users, most people are never going to be able to figure it out. I don’t have a screenshot of Puppy’s network manager, but sufice to say that it uses plain English.

3. DSL’s goal is to put as much into 50 MB as possible. This is an interesting goal, but in the attempt to fit as many applications as possible in, the quality and usefulness of those applications is lost. One of the classic programs that users want is a WASYWIG word processor. DSL bundles a program called Ted. Ted can open up .rtf documents. Technically, it is a word processor, but it is not very useful in the real world as few people use rtf documents now. Yes, technically, there is a word processor in the suite of applications, but not one that many people would find useful. In contrast, Puppy gives Abiword by default, which supports MS Word documents as well as ODF. Additionally, the full OpenOffice suite can be added to the system by downloading a single file and just putting it with the others.

4. DSL uses techniques to raise funds for its developemnt that to me, draw me away from the project. The project has an “income guide” that talks about how to make money in these projects;

1 I want my project to not cost me money
2 I want to make a little when I help so many others
3 Make enough to quit your day job and really have your project shine

My desires are clearly directed to goal #3…

#1 is a good aspiration. Really, I think that it is up to the community to decide how much financial support the developers get for the project. That means that I don’t think that the developers should not actively try and make money. One donation suggestion is fine, using more to me isn’t. The projcet also sells CDs, USB sticks and small computers with DSL on it. I don’t really like this.

So there you have it.

My main point is that while DSL may suit your needs, it is not likely to suit an ordinary user’s. That means that there is effectively no chance in trying to spread open source. Pupp, in many ways, is the universal distribution. It is small enough to fit on all portable media, fast enough to run on most computers, simple enough for most people to use it wihtout having to think about it, and powerful enough to do most things. I think DSL is overratted and Puppy is underratted.



1. Rambo Tribble - 29 December, 2008

I suspect the reality is that by the time someone gets to DSL or Puppy, most have tried more mainstream options like Xubuntu or other “Lite” variants of popular distros. At such a point it is desirable, if not requisite, that the user have a higher degree of technical competence than average. In that context, I’m not sure your criticisms of DSL are substantive.

2. JohnMc - 29 December, 2008

I suggest you do a search on DSL vs Puppy on Google. What you will find is DSL is not used so much as a desktop as it is as the base for a near embedded OS for a project specific purpose. Puppy on the other hand tends to be used as a true desktop. Not that Puppy can’t be used for dedicated purposes. But a lot of Puppy’s followers tend to be users with donated hardware and are first time users. Puppy ought to be proud of the fact that they are an enabler of such feats, regardless of their distrowatch ranking.

3. Aronzak - 29 December, 2008

Yes, this is true for some, but it should not be only that way. Puppy can be installed on a USB stick and used as a recovery system, or just to demonstrate Linux. From there, it can be copied onto another person’s USB stick, whi will never have used Linux before. I think that that’s the best way to spread open source.

Yes, puppy can run on old hardware. But that’s changing. The project has kind of split, with the official version having a ‘retro’ version that has more hardware support, and a newer version dropping this support. More and more people are using live USB systems.

4. The Wombat - 7 January, 2009

And now (7Jan) Puppy is at number 9 and DSL at 12, so all is better with the world. Seriously, both are good little distros, for slightly different things and user bases. Their ranking (indeed, most of the rannkings on DW) are likely to flit up and down based on user activity – note that the ranking isnt a subjective DW thing, it is based on Hits Per Day over the data time span chosen, defaulting to 6-months. So its Puppy fans and inquiriers faults for not generating as much interest (hits) as DSL’s over that period.

5. Stretch - 24 March, 2009

I think the results will be biased in DSL’s favour (meaning Puppy would really be realtively higher rated) as DSL tends to be used by Linux savvy users who might read these columns where Puppy is used by a larger cross section i.e. including more casual users who wouldn’t be interested in reading, let alone commenting.

Just my two penneth…

6. Zac - 17 February, 2012

I’ve tried pretty much all the distro’s on a newer laptop I had and an ancient desktop. I’ll never install Linux over Windows again, something always breaks somewhere along the line and hours of tweaking were for nothing… but I still have some hopes of using Puppy or DSL simply for serving my website maybe a bit better faster than Apache on XP.

Maybe some distro will “get there” someday but I’ll stick to XP in the meantime. At least if something breaks in XP you can find the fix in under a minute in most cases.

Dominic Amann - 23 March, 2013

+Zac – “At least if something breaks in XP you can find the fix” – pretty funny. I have used Linux for the last 15 years for that reason. It just works, and if I want something special, I am fully empowered to create that, in exactly the way I want it. Windows XP, in contrast is always breaking, and it entirely too opaque to allow for reasonable hacking and customization.

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