Smart Puppy: Smart pascal meets linux!
One of my absolute favorite operating-systems in the whole world has to be Puppy Linux. I discovered it just a few days ago and I have fallen completely in love with this thing. I can vaguely remember giving it a testdrive a few years back, but I didn’t know much about Linux in general so I didn’t understand what I it represented.
So if you are looking for a friendly, small, fast and easy to use Linux system – then Puppy is about as friendly as it gets. The Facebook user group with the same name is a warm and friendly place to be. Much like Delphi developer the Admin(s) take pride in keeping things orderly – and people who hang out there engage, care and help each other out.
Before you run out and download Puppy, which I hope you do later – please understand that Puppy is very different from Linux in general. You could almost say that it’s a whole alternative to mainstream Linux as we know it.
But, once you know about the differences then you are in for a treat! I will explain them in the article, so please be patient and take the time to digest.
Puppies hate fluff
One of the reasons I never converted wholesale to Linux (and yes I did try) – is that the average Linux distro is unbearable and unnecessary cryptic. For some reason Linux architects suffer from a terrible affliction, namely a shortage of characters. This sickness means that Linux don’t have enough characters for everyone, so programmers must use a maximum of five letters when naming their software. If coders ignore this shortage and blatantly name something directly or intuitively – then Richard Stallman and Lady Gaga will order a “drive-by pony tail cut” on the dude. And a Linux administrator without his pont-tail is finished (the nerd equivalent of flipping burgers at McDonalds).
Puppy Linux does contain it’s fair share of the classical Linux software (that goes without saying). But, the man behind this wonderful Linux flavour is also a level-headed, clever and resourceful man (or woman) – so he has thankfully broken with what can only be described as archaic thinking.
So even with my minimal Linux experience I was able to navigate around the filesystem, locate documents (which here is called “Documents” and “My Documents” even). There is a whole bunch of these tiny differences, small things that makes all the difference. From the way he (or she) has named things – to where things are stored and placed.
And it’s so small! The basic install is less than 300 megabytes in size (!) Yes you read that right. The generic Puppy Linux installation with desktop and a few popular applications is less than 300 megabytes.
In my case I can have a fully loaded development studio, featuring GCC, FPC (freepascal), Lazarus IDE, CodeBlocks IDE, KDevelop IDE, Anjunta developer studio – and last but never least Smart Mobile Studio on a 2 gigabyte USB stick (!) I don’t think you can even get USB sticks that small any more (?) The smallest I got is 32 gigabyte and the largest is 256 gigabyte.
But before we go on with the wonders of Puppy Linux – lets look at what Linux did wrong. Why is Linux even to this day considered hard to use? Or to put it another way: what has Windows and OS X done right to be considered easier to use yet capable of the same (and often more) ?
Naming, what Linux did wrong
One of the tenants of professional programming, is to ensure that classes, members and functions have meaningful names. There was a time when you would get away with single character class, variable and method names — but that wont fly in 2017. Your Q&A department would have you for breakfast if you checked in code like that. Classes, name-spacing and packages should be descriptive. End of story.
The reason this has become an almost sacred law, should be obvious: it may not be you that maintains the software 5, 10 or 15 years down the road. A piece of code should always be written in such a way that it can be understood and thus maintained by others within a reasonable time-frame (which also means plenty of comments and good documentation). This is not a matter of preference, but of time and money. And when you pay out salaries these factors are one and the same.
So naming elements of software in 2017 has a lot of criteria attached to it. The most obvious so far being:
- Always name things clearly because that
- ensures ease of use
- simplifies maintenance
- removes doubt as to “what is what”
- less user-mistakes
- The less mistakes, either in understanding something or using something, the less money a business throws out the window. Money that could be spent paying you to make something cool instead (or fix bugs that are critical).
- The less user-mistakes caused by customers, the more your service department can focus on quality of service. When a company starts it usually have outstanding support, but as it grows their service-desk slowly become robots.
- The easier and more intuitive a system is, the more users it will attract. If people can pick something up and just naturally figure out how things work, then statistics show that they most likely will continue using it through thick and thin.
Right. With these rules in mind – what happens if you take them but apply them to Linux instead? Not Linux code or libraries or stuff like that, but Linux the user-experience from top to bottom?
And don’t get me wrong, I think Linux is awesome so this is not an attack on Linux; I’m simply pointing out factors that could help make Linux even better.
I mean, just look at the Linux filesystem. Again you have this absurd shortage of characters. Why would anyone abbreviate the word “user[s]” into “usr” ? It make noh sense. Same with “lib”, would it have killed you to call it “libraries”? And so it continues with “dev” – because calling it “devices” would cause the space-time-continuum to break.
The shell (or command-line under Windows) and it’s commands is really the thing that annoys me the most. There is a fine line between use and abuse, and the level of abbreviation here is beyond whimsical and harmless – and well into the realm of silly and absurd
Who in their right mind would name a command “ps”? What could it possibly mean? The first thing that comes to mind is “print spool”. If you come from any other platform than Linux (and perhaps Unix, I don’t know) you would never imagine that “ps” actually means “list all running processes and their states”.
Above: running “ps” from the shell lists the running processes. Would it have killed the coders to just call it, oh perhaps, “listprocesses” or “showrunningprograms”?
The “ps” command is just one in a long, long list of commands that really should be brought into the twenty-first century. The benefits should be obvious. It should not be necessary for a 43-year-old man to blog about this, because it’s been a problem for the better part of three decades.
- Kids and teenagers is the bread and butter for all operating systems. The faster a kid of teenager can do something with a system, the more loyal that individual will be to the platform in the future.
- Linux needs developers and users from other platforms. When someone who has been a successful developer for almost 30 years find a system cryptic and hard to use, how much harder will it be for a non-technical user?
- Standards are important. The location of files, libraries and settings should be uniform. As of writing Linux seem to have 3 different standards (again, I am no expert): systemd, initd and “systemx”. The latter is just a name I made up, because no-one really knows what it’s called. We are now in the realm of PlayStation, ChromeOS, WebOS and systems that build on the Linux – but deviate the moment the drivers have loaded.
Again, I’m not writing this in a negative mindset. I have been using Ubuntu for a while as an alternative to Windows and OS X. But this has been a purely user-centric experience. I have not done any programming except random bits of Freepascal and node.js experiements. I have enjoyed Ubuntu purely as a user. Writing documents, checking email, browsing the web, IRC, reading news groups – ordinary stuff.
So I am very positive to Linux, but I have yet to find “my” flavour of it. A Linux distro I feel at home with and that appeals to my way of working.
Until today that is..
Enter puppy Linux
Puppy is a flavour of Linux that just demolishes some of Linux’s most holiest of concepts. Everyone will tell you never to run as root, always have the root account in peace – and keep it under lock and key just in case someone gets into your second account right?
Well not Puppy. Here you are expected to run as root and you can, if you for some reason must, jump out into a secondary user which is fake. So indeed – puppy Linux is a single user Linux system. It’s the rebel, the scoundrel and rouge of the Linux world – the distro that couldn’t care less what the other guys are doing.
Secondly, and this is very cool, Puppy is highly modular. No I’m not talking about packages, all Linux distros have that in some form or another. No I’m talking about something called SFS files, short for squashed file-system.
To make a long story short, Puppy allows you to mount compressed files as disks and they become a part of the system. It’s a bit like the virtual-drive API on windows (if you have ever coded against that?). You may have noticed in Windows how you can double-click on a .ISO file and suddenly the file is mounted in the file-explorer and stays mounted until you manually dis-mount the damn thing?
Well, SFS is that but also much more. Because when you mount the SFS file whatever applications it contains registers on the start-menu, adds itself to the global path and essentially becomes one with the whole system. This took me a while to wrap my head around this (good features always comes with a price, so i keept waiting for the negative. But there were none!). The people I talked to about this were not coders, so they had some very colorful explanations to how it all worked. But once I realized SFS was just a zip-file (or tarball or whatever) with a fixed structure (including mount script and dis-mount script) I got the picture.
Size and speed matters
Before I started using a PC back in the early 90’s I was a huge Amiga fan. I still am (as you no doubt have noticed). One of the first things I found, or first difference between Amiga computing and PC computing that hit me – was how wasteful PC’s were. I remember I was shocked when I saw how much space and cpu power the average programmer just wasted — because on the Amiga everyone strived to be as resourceful and efficient as possible.
We would spend days optimizing even the smallest parts of our applications just to ensure that it ran at top speed and produced as little bloat as possible. This was just baked into us, it was the way of the force and as common as your grandfather’s work ethics. Quality and achievement went hand in hand.
When you fire up Puppy Linux you are instantly reminded that there are people to this day that cares about size and speed. And that maybe, just maybe, consumerism has tricked you into throwing away perfectly usable technology year after year. Machines that actually had more than enough CPU power for the tasks you wanted, but was slowed down by bloated operating-systems, poor programming and lazy code generators.
Puppy Linux is the fastest bloody Linux you will ever run. The only operatingsystem I have tried that runs faster, is Aros compiled for Arm (a distro called Aeros, a reverse engineered edition of Amiga OS). But as far as x86 and the Linux kernel goes — Puppy Linux is the bomb.
I know I’m repeating myself here but: less than 300 megabytes for a fully loaded Linux distro with text processor, browser, devkit, music player, video player and all the “typical” applications you would use for daily tasks? And it truly is the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy without question.
Amiga coders and the cult of joy
When I started to snoop around the Puppy environment and community, I started to notice a couple of “tell-tell” signs. Tiny, subtle things that only an Amiga coder would pick up on. Enough to give you a hunch, a gut feeling – but not enough to blatantly say it out loud. “Amiga guys did this” i would whisper to myself. And it’s not really such a big surprise to find that coders now in their 40s that used to be Amiga coders.
In 30 years time there will be company owners and CEO’s that grew up with Playstation and have fond memories of that. But they wont recognize each-other by their craftmanship – that is the difference.
The Amiga was special because it was not just a games machine. It was also a complete rewrite of what constituted the power operatingsystem of its time: Unix. In other words they copied the best stuff from Unix (which by the way had the same absurd filesystem as Linux still has) but cleaned it up. First thing to be cleaned was (drumroll) the filesystem. But that’s another story all together.
When I entered the Puppy Linux forum I naturally mentioned that I was a complete total Linux novice, and that my favorite machine before x86 was an Amiga. And what do you think happened? Let’s just say that more than a few greeted me with open arms. These were the Amiga users that went to Linux when Commodore went under all those years ago. And they had been active in shaping Linux ever since (!)
So yeah, had a great time on their forums – and it was like running into your long-lost cousin or something. Like if you havent seen a family member in 30 years and suddenly you meet them face to face.
Tired of 30 gigabyte operatingsystems?
Puppy Linux is not for everyone. It’s the kind of system you either love or hate. I have yet to find someone on a middle-ground regarding puppy. Either you love it, or you hate it. Or if you prefer: either you use it and are thrilled about it, or you never install it.
It has a lot of good things going for it:
- It is built to be one of the smallest, working desktop environment you can get
- It is built according to “the old ways”, where speed, efficiency and size matter
- It runs fine on older hardware (my test machine is an 8 year old laptop) and makes stuff you would otherwise throw away become valuable again.
- It is storage abstracted, meaning you can have all your personal stuff inside a single SFS archive (easier to back up), while the operatingsystem remains on a USB stick.
- You don’t have to permanently install it (again, boot from a USB stick).
- It is single user by default, which is perfect for IOT projects and devices!
- It supports ARM, so you can now enjoy this awesome thing on Raspberry PI 3 !
- Its Linux so it has all the benefits of a rich driver database
- Latest Puppy is binary compatible with Ubuntu (whatever that means)
- There are 3 different desktops for it (to my knowledge), so if you don’t like the default client just install something else
- It is the perfect rescue USB stick. At less than 300 Mb you can fit it on any old USB stick you have around the house. I think the smallest you can buy now is 4 GB
- It has a warm, helpful, friendly and international group of users
Oh and it’s free!
As a final note: I installed Wine, the system that makes it possible to run Windows software on Linux (not an emulator, more of a api-call middle-ware /slash/ dispatcher). I was quite surprised to see it run Smart Mobile Studio on the first try!
So fancy a bit of hacking this weekend? Why not give puppy a go?
Check it out here: http://puppylinux.org/main/Download%20Latest%20Release.htm
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