Puppy Linux 3.5 and BOINC – Perhaps More BOINC Than Puppy

Quite some time ago a CD containing Puppy Linux 3.5 mistakenly got bundled with one of my orders from On-Disk.com. I let them know about it, but they didn’t want it back. Given the shipping costs for a single CD, I can understand why. I usually wait until I need several CDs before I place an order with On-Disk just to get the shipping costs down.

One entry on my “to-do” list for this weekend was to resurrect a pair of older machines so they could both be running BOINC. I have been running BOINC on my main machine off and on for years. The off happened because BOINC kept not working for OpenSuSE. The on happened when I regrettably tried yet another broken Ubuntu release.

Setting up the first machine was simple enough. It was an incredibly old Dell which had an existing Windows XP license on it. While I’m not a fan of Windows, I simply cleaned the other things off the box and downloaded BOINC for Windows. After a few minutes of configuration and attaching to projects it was on its way.

I spent three to five hours surfing the Web and trying things to get Puppy Linux to work. It seems that much older releases of Puppy Linux actually came with a BOINC Pet but 3.5.x does not. Packages which are built specifically for Puppy have PET or one other extension which escapes me, but for a hard disk installation you really want to find Pet. Anything packaged in a PET works great with the installer. If you are used to the clean and easy process SuSE has with dependencies, then you are used to this. Sadly, not everything listed in the Puppy repositories is a PET. They had an Opera package which was not and it had dependency issues after install.

I poked around for a long time trying to solve the various issues. The reason it is difficult for me to tell you how long is due to the tangent this search lead me on. It seems that everyone is looking for an extremely lightweight Linux distro which runs BOINC on older machines. Puppy is definitely light weight. They even bundle some very old and weak default packages to keep the CD less than full. The browser on the CD is Sea Monkey instead of the newer Mozilla Firefox. The word processor is Abi Word instead of the heavier LibreOffice. The Grub is a very old blue text interface version rather than the newer grubs bundled with other Linux distros.

Many of the newer packages are available in the repositories. After you install Puppy you can easily install these newer products if you need them. Puppy (and most likely many of the other lesser known Linux distros) seems to really be missing the boat or more accurately, the niche. There are many arguments about the percentage of people who simply run Puppy from the CD and store whatever document they need on a thumb drive. There are still more percentages offered up as to the number of people who put a complete Puppy install on a thumb drive to take with them (not a bad idea now that most hotels have business centers with computers).

One thing nobody offers percentages for, yet I found large numbers of queries (with much larger read counts) about is the best “lite” Linux to run BOINC. People have stock piles of perfectly working older computers they never traded off. More importantly, people now think it is cool to be part of the solution to cancer or clean water or climate prediction or any of the hundreds of other projects using BOINC directly or indirectly as part of IBM World Community Grid. BOINC isn’t just for SETI anymore. You don’t have to be a Star Trek fan to want to be a part of it.

There are three main hurdles stopping BOINC from getting trillions of computing cycles per day.

  1. A “lite” and fast 32-bit Linux bundled with BOINC on an installable CD (or downloadable ISO) for aged hardware.
  2. A “lite” and fast 64-bit Alpha Linux CD bundled with BOINC client for use on DEC Alpha machines
  3. A 64-bit BOINC client for OpenVMS Alpha machines.

The powers that be at Puppy, perhaps in partnership with On-Disk, should take it upon themselves to create the 32-bit BOINC Linux CD. Puppy could then focus on cleaning up their installation process so a user didn’t have to know how to manually partition their disk.

Alpha machines are another story. There are tens of thousands of them out there in hobbyist hands. Sometimes we power them off for months at a time because we are done with the VMS work we are doing. In the world before BOINC, DEC Alpha machines running the SETI client in background at priority zero smoked entire teams of PC users with throughput. Gentoo still has an Alpha port, but no word on BOINC client. A VMS based BOINC client appears to be a Unicorn due to some horrible things done in both the Linux/Gnu build environments and the actual C source code for BOINC.

Eventually I installed OpenSuSE 12.1 on the second machine and pulled down a lot of updates to get it running BOINC.  There are now two more machines working to cure cancer, improve water quality, and analyze climate change, but, a third kick-ass machine could be outrunning them all.


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