Porteus: portability for pros

Linux notes from DarkDuck started back in 2010 as a blog about portable or pocket Linux distributions. Obviously, the blog has grown a lot since then, but nevertheless portable Linux is always interesting.

Porteus is one of the most famous portable Linux distributions. You can read some reviews of this operating system and even an interview with the Porteus team.

The newest version, Porteus Linux 3.2.2, saw the light at the end of 2016. You can download it from several mirrors that are listed in the flat file available on the original web site. As a side note, this is quite an unusual way to distribute the Linux distribution. Porteus 3.2.2 is available in several flavours, and my choice was the 64-bit Xfce edition. The ISO image is about 240 Mb in size.

The official guide says that the recommended way to boot Porteus is to burn it to a CD. Although booting from USB is also possible, it is a very complicated method. That’s why I burnt the image onto a CD-RW disk. That disk is in the tray of my Dell Inspirion 17 laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from CD. Let’s go!


Booting up

Once the boot process starts, you have a choice of options. You can boot the system “from scratch”, i.e. without any pre-saved data, or you can use the saved data, or you can boot the system “in-memory” thus freeing up the CD drive and increasing the operational performance. I used this latter option. The boot process itself took about a minute to read all the CD data into memory and take me to the default desktop of Porteus 3.2.2.

First impressions

The default desktop of Porteus Linux 3.2.2 has a wallpaper with abstract lines and is generally in light-blue tones. There is an alternative wallpaper also in light blue colours. Both of them provide poor readability of the white text under the desktop icons.

Porteus 3.2.2 welcome screen

The icons on the desktop are for each partition of the HDD, home directory and trash.

The panel is at the top of the screen. The menu button with Porteus logo sits next to a set of application shortcuts: terminal, file manager, Lynx web browser and some more.

The right part of the panel is taken by the notification area where you can find a set of usual suspects: clocks, language indicator, network manager, battery indicator, volume control. There is also a switch between four virtual desktops.

Poreus 3.2.2 resource usage

The freshly booted system took only 247 Mb of memory, which is very good. I cannot tell if that amount includes the storage of CD contents, or system-used memory only.

Network connection

Porteus 3.2.2 gave me no issues in configuration of the WiFi card of my laptop. I was able to select my home network, type in the password and connect in no time.

Keyboard layout

Freshly booted Porteus 3.2.2 uses English US layout. It already includes a language indicator on the panel from the very beginning. If you don’t like the layout, you can click that indicator and amend the set of layouts to your taste. That’s a regular procedure for Xfce distributions.

Applications

The set of applications that come with Porteus 3.2.2 is rather short. To be precise, you miss all large-size applications, because the Porteus team strives to make the distribution size minimal.

The only Internet browser you have is Lynx, the text-based one. There are also uGet downloader and gFTP client.

There are no office tools in the default distribution, apart from the document viewer.

The situation is similar with graphics tools: you only have an image viewer, but no editors.
By contrast, Multimedia tools include a large set of applications: GNOME player, Audacious player, Asunder CD ripper, Xfburn disk burning utility, Pulse Audio controls and ISO Master.

Of course, there are many smaller-size utilities: disk partitioning, archive manager, simple text editor, terminal and so on.

One Porteus-specific application in the menu is Porteus Bundles. It requires the root password to run, so you need to search the Internet for it. Just in case, it is toor. I tried to run Porteus Bundles, but it finished with an error “Bundle list does nto contain modules.” (with this orthography).

A separate application USM is for software and package management. It comes with some repositories listed in the configuration, but you need to refresh these repositories. Unfortunately, that update gave me an error too.

As a result, I could not try any additional software in Porteus 3.2.2 apart from the default ones. Looking at the web site, I noticed that Porteus uses a specific method of adding software to the system: you need to add it to the specific folders in the system. I am not very clear how you can achieve that when running from-memory, or from a CD. Or how difficult it is to download files when Lynx is your only browser.

Multimedia

GNOME Player and Audacious could play music and video files from the local drive straight away. All the necessary codecs were found and used.

However, I could not test any network multimedia facilities simply because there was no browser to run this test in.

Conclusion

Porteus 3.2.2 left a very strange feeling in my heart.

From one side, it ran smoothly, very fast (from-memory) and crashed nowhere.

On another side, complexity with installation of additional software is definitely a show-stopper for many inexperienced Linux users.

Have you used Porteus yourself? How do you like it?

You can also order your own disk with Porteus from BuyLinuxCDs site.

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