Porteus is a complete linux operating system that is optimized to run from CD, USB flash drive, hard drive, or other bootable storage media. It's small (under 300Mb) and insanely fast which allows you to start up and get online while most other operating systems are left spitting dust. Porteus comes in both 32 & 64 bit and aims to keep on the bleeding edge.I normally spend a week reviewing a distribution but for reasons that become clear I haven't taken so long on this one.
There are some things I really quite liked about Porteus but there are some things that frustrated me.
So without further ado lets get on with the review.
How To Get Porteus
The first thing to note is that you don't get the normal download link. Instead you get to customise before you begin. This is actually a really good idea.
For instance you can choose between 32-bit and 64-bit, whether you require the EFI bootloader or not, whether you want to boot to a graphical desktop and you can also choose the desktop you wish to use from one of KDE, Gnome, XFCE and LXQT.
Also on the page you choose the timezone, keyboard layout and for some reason the volume level.
Another thing you can do is choose default software selections. For instance you can choose to install Chrome, FireFox or the Opera web browser. You can also choose your word processor, whether to install Skype or not and whether to include development tools.
There is a drivers section so that you can choose the one for your specific graphics card. You can also decide whether to install printing support.
The selection mechanism is nice and easy to understand. Point and click. So far so good.
How To Create The Porteus USB Drive
There is a download button at the bottom of the page. Be careful because it always looks like the download button is at the top of the page but that button actually installs the software for an advertised product.
After Universal USB Installer has downloaded you just double click on the file to start the program.
The initial step is accept the license agreement.
When the main screen appears choose Porteus from the drop down list in step 1 and then click the browse button and locate the downloaded Porteus ISO file.
Finally select the drive letter for the USB drive and click Create.
The other way to install Porteus to a USB drive works for both Windows and Linux.
Simply mount the ISO. You can usually open an ISO in Windows explorer if you are using Windows 7 upwards. In most Linux distributions you can mount an ISO using an archive manager.
With the ISO mounted Extract the files from the ISO straight to the USB drive.
Finally navigate to the boot folder and double click on either the Windows installer or Linux installer file.
Remember that Porteus is designed to run from a USB drive so there is no actual installation to hard drive required.
The Porteus Save File Debacle
To create a save file you boot into Porteus and then from the settings menu there is a save file creation tool.
When you select the menu option you are asked for the root password. What? When did I set a root password? I didn't. So what is the root password?
I had to go to Google to find out. There is an faq page which has various topics such as how do I change the root password. It is this page that shows you the default root password. Maybe it would be good to add the topic "what is the default root password?".
The save file wizard is fairly straight forward. You can create a new file, resize an existing save file, encrypt a save file or recover a broken save file.
Upon clicking on the new save file link you are asked to name the file, choose a file size and choose the file location.
Under advanced it defaults the file system as xfs but you can also choose ext4.
When you click OK the save file will be created. Be patient because it takes a few minutes.
After the installation has completed a message will appear with the name and path of your saved file. Rather curiously it says you need to edit porteus.cfg and it says you will need to change a line but it doesn't say which line you need to edit and this is where the frustrations really begin.
There is a page on the Porteus website which goes into great details about how to create a save file. The page even tells you which lines to edit in the porteus.cfg file.
All you have to do is amend the bits that say changes= to changes=/porteus/porteussave.dat (or whatever you called the file and wherever you saved it).LABEL xconfMENU LABEL Graphics mode (KDE).KERNEL /boot/syslinux/vmlinuzAPPEND initrd=/boot/syslinux/initrd.xz changes=/porteus/TEXT HELPRun Porteus the best way we can.Try to autoconfigure graphicscard and use the maximumallowed resolutionENDTEXTLABEL lxdeMENU LABEL Graphics mode (LXDE).KERNEL /boot/syslinux/vmlinuzAPPEND initrd=/boot/syslinux/initrd.xz changes=/porteus/TEXT HELPRun Porteus the same as above.Lightweight LXDE to belaunched as default desktopENDTEXT
I did this, changed the wallpaper and rebooted the computer. I chose the option to boot Porteus again and my wallpaper was back to the default.
I tried various things to get the save file to work and then I realised that if I booted in non EFI mode then the save file would be correctly used to save changes but if I used EFI mode then it always loaded without the save file.
As you can see the file the web page tells you to edit is in the syslinux folder which is great for a standard BIOS.
However the file you need to edit for EFI is in the /boot/EFI folder and it is called refind.cfg. The reason is that to run in EFI mode Porteus uses Refind as the boot loader.
In the refind.cfg you will find a changes= line. Simply add the path to your save file to this line and it will start working.
Rather frustratingly the Porteus website uses this reason for not automatically updating the config files when you create the save file.
While it would be fairly simple to have Porteus automatically create a save.dat file container on the same drive as your Porteus install and update your porteus.cfg to point to it, doing so would keep our users from fully understanding the flexibility and the array of options that are available for storing their changes.
Manually creating a .dat container allows you to fully customize the name, location and size of your container. Also, if you look at the documentation in /boot/docs/cheatcodes.txt, there are numerous options for implementing the 'changes=' cheatcode; you can point it to a folder or subfolder (on a linux filesystem) or a container file (on any filesystem), on any writeable device accessible by your system (or just point it to the root of the device, and it will create a 'changes' folder in the root of the device, provided it is has a linux filesystem), and you can reference the path by device name, device label, device UUID, or without referencing the device at all, to have Porteus search for the location on the same drive as your install.
With these options, you can put your changes on a separate partition from your Porteus install if you want to, and you can have multiple installations of Porteus with their changes saved to different locations, and your data will be found and mounted, even if you use Porteus on machines with different hardware configurations.
If you couldn't be bothered to read all that then the reason appears to be so that users don't ignore all the potential cheats and secret options they have available to them. They want users to think about what they are doing and how they will use Porteus.Container files can also be created for use with "magic folders", to save the contents of individual directories in your live filesystem to a container (or multiple containers). We believe that encouraging users to read, experiment, and learn will help them find a solution that works the best for their particular situation, as one size certainly does not fit all.
All well and good but I spent a fair amount of time trying to work out why my save file wasn't working before I found the refind.cfg. Most users won't care about the extra options and those that do will go looking for them anyway.
If you choose a partition and click install then it will only use free space on that partition. Porteus expects you to create the partition it is to be installed to.
Porteus will install a bootloader to the drive but the bootloader will only have Porteus in the boot list. Therefore this isn't a good solution for dual booting. It also doesn't work very well for EFI based systems. Believe me I tried.
I don't think I have ever spent so much of a review looking at the set up before. It was a fairly involved experience.
Porteus itself actually looks pretty good when you first start using it. You have the browser you decided at the installation stage so you know that is good and the boot time was exceptionally good.
Connect To The Internet
Connecting to the internet is straight forward. Simply click on the network icon and choose the wireless network you wish to connect to and then enter the security key.
You can find the files in a file manager and choose to enqueue them in QMMP but physically using QMMP to open files is really not intuitive at all.
The default video player is SMPlayer which is ok and works well enough for playing videos.
To install applications you have to use the Unified Slackware Package Manager. When you first start the application it complains that updates are required.
You can install updates from the updates menu and the repositories will be updated as shown below:
Actually installing software is a bit of an issue though. For example finding applications is a bit of a nightmare.
The first application I searched for was Steam and that isn't there. Not the biggest deal because this is a pen drive version of Linux and who plays Steam games from a pen drive?
How about a different audio player then. I searched for Rhythmbox, no, not there. I searched for Banshee and again not there. I searched for Quod Libet (something a little more lightweight) and at last it was there.
So I installed Quod Libet which simply downloads the Quod Libet tarball and dependant tarballs.
I navigated to the folder where the tarballs were downloaded and upon right clicking them there is an option to install them. (Which I guess means extract them).
You can also use the installation tool to select the files and packages to be installed but it isn't really any easier.
When I ran Quod Libet nothing happened so I ran it from the command line and it complained that python-gi was missing. I searched the installer for the missing package and it doesn't exist.
I think the average person is going to find installing software in Porteus frustrating and difficult.