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Porteus 2.0 Review – Portable Computing for the indecisive

by Rob Zwetsloot

Portable Linux computing has received an upgrade as the newest Porteus is released, now with an even lighter desktop environment

Along with Knoppix and Slax, Porteus remains one of the premier portable Linux distros. More comparable to Slax, Porteus is also based on Slackware, and is designed to be lightweight and fast. The website proudly proclaims Porteus will boot in 15 seconds on a modern PC, and our experiences have shown that they are generally correct about this. The new version of Porteus is based on the recent Slackware 14.0, and comes just over half year after 1.2.

The new version’s biggest difference is a switch to the Razor-qt desktop environment in the 32-bit versions, previously a position held by Trinity. Like Trinity, Razor-qt is a KDE 3 style environment, with a single panel along the bottom with an application menu. It’s quite fast, and has a little more functionality than something like XFCE or LXDE, albeit with a lot less bloat than full KDE or Cinnamon. The 64-bit version comes with a choice of KDE or LXDE as defaults, as Razor seems to only run on 32-bit systems. While this split is a little odd, both architectures have a dedicated XFCE remix, and you can of course install any other compatible environment to each version.

Slax Portable
The module system on Porteus keeps it fast and useful

Porteus runs just fine off of any storage media, and you can even install it to a hard drive if you wish. However, it’s strength lies in the way it’s installed to portable storage, such as optical discs or USB storage. It installs in a compressed state that keeps its footprint on the disc small, however it’s still able to uncompress and boot into the main desktop very quickly. It’s a full desktop environment as well, with a decent range of Web and Media apps, along with a serviceable smattering of Office suite style packages like AbiWord.

One of the best features included in Porteus is the Porteus Package Manager (PPM). If you need to add more software to your Porteus build, you have access to five different repositories, including the dedicated Porteus repo, the full Slackware library, and even packages from Debian. The Porteus repo does not have a full set of packages, or always dependencies for those packages, however the PPM can fill in the dependencies from across the other repositories. These are then treated as separate modules, and can be activated or deactivated at will. This allows for Porteus to retain its speedy boot time, while still giving users access to all the applications they need. With some tweaking, you can even have it set-up to activate some modules at boot time, and have some deactivated yet available.

Slax Portable
Porteus is still also very configurable

The one feature we’d like to see though is some kind of installation or duplication utility, as being able to copy or move your perfectly configured distro to new storage either for yourself or a friend would be very handy. It’s also not that easy to have your own set-up on optical media for obvious, and being able to copy from a USB stick to a DVD would also be a great feature.

That aside, Porteus is a very well put together, and fairly unique project. It’s somewhat surprising that it’s as stable as it is then, although being based on Slackware probably also helps in that regard. If you’re looking for a portable distro that needs to be lightweight and extendable on the fly, you could definitely do a lot worse than Porteus.

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    • Phil Mulley

      I installed this distro on a USB stick a couple of weeks ago and have been very impressed with it.

      The only downside that I can find is installing programs via the PPM: it does work but the availability of packages is somewhat limited and it can get complicated getting all the dependancies in place.

      That said, its super fast and the Razor-QT desktop is very polished.

      I would reccomend this to anyone who wants a rescue stick.

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    • some clarifications:

      “The one feature we’d like to see though is some kind of installation or duplication utility, as being able to copy or move your perfectly configured distro to new storage either for yourself or a friend would be very handy.”
      In fact you do not need such utility as plain ‘cp’ is enough. Just copy /boot and /porteus folders (containing your custom modules/settings) on new media and run installer to make it bootable. No other action is required.
      btw: that’s why this distro is classified as “portable”.

      “It’s also not that easy to have your own set-up on optical media for obvious, and being able to copy from a USB stick to a DVD would also be a great feature.”
      In fact this feature is there already. Make your setup on usb stick you like and then run /porteus/ script which will produce ISO image ready to burn on CD/DVD.


    • Jymm

      I have Porteus 2.0 on a stick. It is impressive, though I switched to the LXDE desktop. The Porteus forum is helpful. One problem is that many program have way to many dependencies. Porteus will recommend not installing certain software because of that. Also I could only get some of the Debian packages to work. Others installed and where in the menu but would not open. It also saves all changes when you shut down, and that has caused mistakes on my stick I had to fix. Personally I like the puppy derivative Saluki best for running a OS on a usb stick. I set it up to only save changes when I tell it to, and it has a greater set of software, and I think seems faster.

    • @Jymm
      This feature is also supported in Porteus.
      Please use ‘changes=EXIT:’ cheatcode (which tells the OS to save changes only when session is being closed and not in real time), and you’ll be prompted to press any key (other than space/enter) during reboot/shutdown to prevent saving anything from the very last session.

      btw: Seems that Porteus has many useful features which are still not exposed clearly enough to the users.

      @Rob Zwetsloot
      thanks for the review (forgotten to write that in the first place)


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    • JBL

      I’ve just tried this distro and I’m very impressed. I’ve installed it on a USB memory stick. Booting up only takes 16 seconds. Shutdown takes 3 seconds. For me, it’s got the essentials; terminal, file manager and even has rdesktop included, so I can connect to Windows PCs / servers via RDP (Windows Terminal Services). Bottom line: If you want a portable distro that’s fast & practical, get Porteus!

    • I use Porteus as my USB distro of choice when I am on the road with my Windows computer. The boot-time, the Razor-QT interface and the Porteus Package Manager are all great. The only issue I have had is the one raised by another commenter. The installation of packages from the Debian repository often leaves me with a situation in which the application appears to be installed, but does not work. Still,
      I’ve enjoyed Porteus very much, and its lightweight, fast nature makes it very impressive indeed.
      I wish I could install it on my little Xburst netbook, as it’s a really great distro.

    • Ported

      This is one hell of a nice distro. I’m converted for sure, and now I see they have a very nice looking gnome desktop available in the ‘build your own’ web wizard. Very impressive guys!

    • robert wilber

      Yes, I did enjoy this article very much cause I have always been on the lookout for lite fast distros that help me get more out of my laptop (lenovo g585) once fast but, now with html 5 and the higher graphic websites using flash makes it dificult to view sites.Thanks for your insightful help, I have used inthe past, right now I am using Linux lite cause it has reliable repositories. I might switch back.