Puppy Linux is a small (by design) Linux distribution that easily fits on a USB stick. If your computer has the ability to boot from a USB stick (which many do), this can benefit you in a number of ways.

1. If your hard drive fails, you’ve still got a working computer.

Obviously none of us ever want this to happen, but in the event that it does, you can just boot to the stick until you get another hard drive. You will have full internet connectivity (including wireless), web browsing, instant messaging and a whole host of other useful stuff. It is a true-blue full operating system.

2. Useful for laptops that have a busted optical drive and no USB-based optical available.

In laptops the optical drive (better known as a CD/DVD drive) is usually the first “big” item to fail. And as anyone knows that’s tried to replace one of these slim drives, it’s prohibitively expensive. Even if you opt to get an external USB-based optical drive it’s still going to hit the wallet hard (for a decent one).

If you have a laptop that’s still good but can’t install an operating on it due to the busted drive and no external USB-based optical options, Linux on a stick will save the day.

3. Great way to try Linux using a writeable “drive” method.

When you boot from a LiveCD you can’t save anything anywhere (not easily anyway). With a USB stick you can. You can save your settings whenever you want, write files and so on. Very convenient. And cheap.

What You Need

1. A computer that can boot from a USB stick.

Many desktops and laptops have this ability even if your computer was manufactured a few years ago. And even if you have an OEM computer like a Dell or HP it may have the option.

For example, I have an older Dell Inspiron 6000 built in 2005. In the BIOS there is the option to boot via USB.

Speaking of BIOS, that’s where you need to go to check if you have the ability to boot from USB or not. For most computers you can access this a few seconds after boot and before the operating system starts by pressing the Delete key or F2 (your computer will inform you which key to press to get into “Setup”).

Once inside the BIOS you will need to locate the Boot order. It is normally listed as Floppy (if present), CD/DVD Drive, Hard Disk in that order. You may be able to modify one of the settings to USB, USB-HDD or USB-FLOPPY. If the option is there, you want to set this as first in the boot order.

2. A USB stick.

I used a 512MB Sandisk Cruzer mini. You could go as low as a 128MB stick but I wouldn’t recommend it. Being that USB sticks are so cheap these days you can pick up a 512MB for under 10 bucks.

How You Do It

Compared to the way making a bootable USB stick was in the past, Puppy Linux makes it ridiculously simple.

Step 1. Download the Puppy Linux ISO.

Download Puppy Linux from here. I chose to download puppy-4.00-k2.6.21.7-seamonkey.iso which is the latest version at the time of this writing.

Step 2. Using an ISO-burning utility to burn it to CD-ROM.

If using Windows, grab ImgBurn for this. If you want something simpler use ISO Recorder. Both are freeware and easy to use.

Step 3. Boot into Puppy Linux on your computer.

Pop the burnt disc in and boot your box.

Step 4. Inside Puppy, click “Setup” the “Puppy Universal Installer”.

At this point you just follow the dots and instruct that you will be installing to a USB stick. The system will ask you to insert the stick into the PC (if not already there), detect it, format it and partition it properly to make it bootable.

It seriously doesn’t get any easier. You don’t have to do the old-school CFDISK method of manual partitioning. Puppy has made it so that it just takes a few clicks of a mouse, then transfers the information to the stick and it’s a done deal.

Afterwards you shut down Puppy, pop out the disc and boot to the stick.

I have successfully be able to do this. It takes 3 to 8 minutes to transfer the information to the stick so the install and fast and quick.

Using Puppy

What does Puppy Linux look like? A lot better than you think it does. It’s very Windows-XP like as far as the interface is concerned and that’s not a bad thing.

To those with laptops: Puppy was able to detect my widescreen 15-inch monitor on my Dell Inspiron 6000 with no problems. It also detected the sound and networking easily. Everything worked.