2011-06-24

Review: Porteus 1.0

64-bit: Main Screen
Considering that I reviewed Zenwalk 7.0 not too long ago, I must be going on a Slackware-derived binge or something. Yes, both Zenwalk and Porteus are based on Slackware. Maybe my subconscious is trying to make up for the terrible review (not my assessment of Slackware, but my skill level and writing in that post) of Slackware 13.1. Maybe. I don't know. Anyway, Porteus 1.0 came out yesterday, so I decided to review it.

So what is Porteus? As I just said, it's based on Slackware, but it's more than that. As Slackware has never had an official project for creating Slackware live media, Slax came in to fill in that void. Quite a while ago, Slax ceased regular development, so after a while, Porteus came in to succeed it. Now, typically, these stories of evolution and succession aren't of much consequence (e.g. AriOS coming from mFatOS, Kororaa moving from Gentoo to Fedora, et cetera), but as you will see, it is quite important here that Porteus is the revived and modernized Slax project.

32-bit: Main Screen
Porteus comes in 32- and 64-bit flavors. Curiously, while LXDE is available for both architectures, KDE 3.5 Trinity is found exclusively in the 32-bit version, while KDE 4 is found exclusively in the 64-bit version. As my laptop has 64-bit hardware, I tested both using a live USB made with MultiSystem. I didn't test the installation because apparently the installation isn't one in the traditional sense; it's essentially booting the live medium off of a hard drive, which seems hard to achieve with not-particularly-interesting results. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

KDE 3.5 Trinity (32-bit)

The first one I tried was the 32-bit version with KDE 3.5. After changing the BIOS, rebooting, and getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a scrolling wall of text. After a somewhat short while, I was then greeted by a CLI login screen. Happily, the Porteus developers have included the live session username and password for both the guest and root accounts, along with showing commands for things like starting the KDE session, configuring X/11, and others. I initially logged in as the guest user and typed "startx", but that didn't work. I then tried "xconf", but it denied me permission as I wasn't using the root account. I then typed "logout" to log out, and then I logged back in as root. Then, I typed "xconf" followed by "startx", and that's when the KDE 3.5 splash screen showed; that led into the desktop.

32-bit: Mozilla Firefox 4 + System Monitor
Though the cursor almost led me to believe that this was KDE 4, a few seconds later, I saw the desktop, which is unmistakably KDE 3.5 (confirmed by the lack of the "cashew"), though with a few nice touches. There are a few typical desktop icons present. The Kicker panel has, from left to right, a KMenu, a few shortcut icons, a two-row task switcher (which also gave the identity of this KDE release away), a system tray, a clock, and buttons to leave the session. The wallpaper looks present, though there's an odd line to the left of the center to the right of which the wallpaper becomes inexplicably darker. The KWin window decoration is Crystal, which looks a little old but is OK. The KDE widget theme is Plastik, which also looks fine. Interestingly, there are two icon themes. For Qt applications, the icon theme is an updated version of Crystal, which looks a lot nicer and more modern than the old version. For GTK+ applications and Mozilla Firefox, the icon theme is the Elementary icon theme from Lubuntu, which is certainly much nicer than the old Tango theme which is typically used in GTK+ applications in other instances of KDE. Overall, the desktop looks slightly aged, but it still works really well.

As you have probably gathered, Mozilla Firefox at version 4 (which, incidentally, is now obsolete) is the default browser, though of course Konqueror, which is the default file manager (though interestingly enough, PCManFM is present too), can also be the web browser. Most proprietary multimedia codecs seem to be included out-of-the-box, which is really nice as I was able to watch YouTube and Hulu flawlessly. Furthermore, my sound card and volume keyboard shortcuts were all recognized out-of-the-box too, which is further icing on the cake for me.

32-bit: Konqueror + KWord
KOffice is the default productivity suite, and I'm not sure I like that. Even the newest versions of KOffice/Calligra Suite have poor compatibility with Microsoft Office, and this older version is even worse in that regard. Furthermore, the interfaces are really cluttered and confusing; although the latest Calligra Suite has an unusual layout due to its emphasis on styles, everything there is much better organized (and even that needs a lot of work, if you ask me).

I'm surprised by how much stuff the Porteus developers have managed to stuff into an ISO file while keeping it under 300 MB. In addition to the aforementioned things, present are a whole bunch of KDE games, multimedia applications, and other utilities. It's pretty impressive. Speaking of megabytes, though, I've said before that KDE 3.5 has always felt really fast, and this was no exception; therefore, I thought KDE 3.5 must be fairly light on memory. That turned out to be quite far from the truth; Porteus 32-bit used over 650 MB of RAM at idle, and Mozilla Firefox used an additional 250 MB of RAM when on YouTube. That's quite hefty, so either Porteus is really porky, or I need to take back everything I said about KDE 3.5 Trinity being a good option for older computers. Clearly, "older" only goes back to 1 GB of RAM at minimum, and (1) that's not that old and (2) there are better options, if you ask me.

At this point, I tried installing Skype, so I looked through KMenu for something looking like a package manager. The closest thing I found was the Porteus Module Manager, and that only let me remove major programs installed, which wasn't helpful at all. I turned to the forums and found I needed to install modules from the old Slax module site. I did that, found Skype (the old version 2.0 for Linux), downloaded it, and double-clicked the downloaded LZM file to convert that to an XZM module, and then double-clicked that to install it. After that last double-click, I didn't need to do anything else in the installation procedure. After taking a while to log me in, Skype correctly recognized my laptop's integrated webcam and mic; I initially had doubts about the mic part, but that turned out to be me speaking too softly.

KDE 4 (64-bit)

After rebooting, removing the 32-bit live system from the MultiSystem setup, adding the 64-bit live system to said setup, rebooting, changing the BIOS, rebooting again, and getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a very similar scrolling wall of text before coming upon another very similar CLI login screen. This time, I tried logging in as the guest user and typing "startx", and surprisingly, that worked this time without a hitch. The KDE 4 splash screen led into the desktop.

The desktop is fairly standard KDE, though the wallpaper is unique, the icons look a little different, and the workspace switcher, panel shortcuts, and task switcher are arranged in two rows, probably to make KDE 3.5 users feel a little more at home. Otherwise, everything is laid out pretty much as expected.
64-bit: Mozilla Firefox 4 + KWrite
Mozilla Firefox 4 is the default browser here, and the story is pretty much the same as in the 32-bit edition.
The selection of installed applications is much sparser, though, with only the core KDE and system tools present (along with a few other utilities like Dolphin and Okular) aside from Mozilla Firefox. Even so, this ISO file is 50 MB bigger than the other one.
Dolphin is the file manager here, but it is laid out to look and act much like Konqueror from KDE 3.5 Trinity.
Speaking of size, this KDE 4.6.4 system used only 640 MB of RAM with Mozilla Firefox open to YouTube and other tabs and with Dolphin open, which is still less than the 32-bit's KDE 3.5 Trinity at idle. I am now convinced that the idea that KDE 4 (in its latest incarnation) is more memory-hungry than KDE 3.5 is a myth and should be put to rest as soon as possible.

I tried doing the same thing as last time to install Skype, but it didn't work. The Porteus Module Manager claimed the Skype module was installed, but I could find it neither in the Kickoff menu nor in the /usr/bin/ folder, which is a pretty clear indication that it was never installed properly. That's not good, and that's basically where my time with Porteus ended.


So what's the deal? Porteus is far and away the most friendly Slackware derivative I have ever used. In its 32-bit guise, though its modules are a little outdated, I could see it doing everything I ever wanted to do; unfortunately, that isn't so true in its 64-bit guise, as the Skype module failed to install. I think the Slax module site could use a little more promotion, because after all that's what users would need to install new packages. If I really needed the rock-solid stability of Slackware over all else, I could see myself installing and using Porteus 32-bit full-time, so my only other wish is for a traditional installer. Porteus isn't for complete newbies, but it's for relative newbies to Slackware like myself, as it hides all the internals behind a very well-done desktop experience.
If you want to try Porteus for yourself, get the 32-bit version here or the 64-bit version here.

21 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review! I'd like to add that the installer uses SYSLINUX tools and a preset configuration file, which allows users to boot into KDE or LXDE without logging in via the CLI (though text mode is available as well from the boot menu). The boot parameters also allow users to boot with persistent changes and/or a copy2ram function.

    Skype didn't work on 64-bit because you were using a 32-bit binary on a 64-bit system, and Porteus is not a multilib environment. We do have a package manager included (it's further down in the system menu, 'Porteus Package Manager' or 'PPM'. This is still in beta and we're still working on populating it with modules. If you'd like Skype for 64-bit and it's not in the repo, let us know in the 'module requests' section of our forum, and someone can whip one up for you :).

    Thanks again, and I'm glad you liked it!!

    -Ahau

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  2. @Anonymous: I'm glad you liked the review. Thanks for the comment and all the helpful clarifications!

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  3. Further to the 32 bit Skype on a 64 bit system which obviously did not work, I think the idea is for people to create their own modules from other formats with the easy to use Modules tool. Automated conversion into modules is one of the greatest strengths of Slax and now Porteus.

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  4. Yes, Barnaby, that is correct. while we have a new package manager with an official repo, you can also convert slack packages (txz's), debs, rpm's, etc to modules for use, so long as you resolve all your dependencies manually (or with the built-in slackyd tool for slack packages. Flexibility and Portability are some of the driving goals at Porteus :)

    -Ahau

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  5. You follow the post early -- post often paradigm, but that's not always good. I think a more in-depth review with better language would be preferable. With all due respect.

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  6. @Barnaby: Yeah, I agree that it's a great idea that could and maybe should be implemented in other distributions too.
    @Anonymous 1: True that!
    @Anonymous 2: I appreciate the feedback, but while I admit that the reviews could be a little better if I had a little more time to spend with the distributions I review, I'd like to know exactly what more you expected regarding depth and what issues you had with the language. I do try to keep the writing of as high quality as possible, but please remember that I am merely your average human.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  7. I tried Porteus. I liked most of it, but I hated the primitive way of 'persistence' or saving config setups. You have to hack config files to specify some 'save.dat' file. In 2011, why not just make persistence auto like Ubuntu, et al, do??? Also, I wanted to auto boot with lxde and copy2ram but again, this is very complicated. I do not want to type boot cheatcodes every time I use the distro. Maybe there is a hack to do this. BTW, Puppy has a friendly way of using a 'pesistence' save file ...no editing of config/boot files.

    *Mahfaan

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  8. Mahfaan, persistence is automatic on linux partitions (e.g. ext2, ext3, etc)--no need for a .dat container, your changes get saved to a regular directory. Changes are not saved automatically on FAT or NTFS partitions because they can't handle linux permissions properly. That's the reason for the .dat containers. Remember that Porteus is intended to be a live distro, run from a USB flash drive or CD.

    The only config file you have to edit is /boot/porteus.cfg, which is just a standard bootloader config file(not exactly 'hacking'). You can direct that to your .dat container and just add 'lxde' to the APPEND line for the copy2ram section, and it will boot lxde w/copy2ram on every boot. If that's considered difficult, I suggest you stick with Ubuntu.

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  9. I agree with the negative comment about the the office suite selection. However, it was choosen because of its compactness. Would abiword and gnumeric be some better options?
    For those who would like to have the openoffice suite on porteus instead of the koffice suite (the latter being Porteus standard because it is lighter, so to respect the small size of the distribution), openoffice is installed rather fast in cli mode, see post 6 of KSA_ARAB:
    https://porteus.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=49&t=58

    Installing packages could be a very fast process once you catch it. Different possibilities are available, amongst other Porteus package manager.

    It is also a very good idea to install porteus hdd, also called the (Slackware) frugal install (some kind of poor man's intall), instead of running it usb or cd. A few hdd procedures are available on the Porteus forum.

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  10. @Anonymous 1: Huh. That's interesting. Anyway, if I ever use Porteus in the future, I think it'll be solely as a live distribution.
    @Anonymous 2: That's good to know!
    @Anonymous 3: I do think AbiWord and Gnumeric would have been better options, especially considering that Porteus already includes so many GTK+ applications. I feel like AbiWord and Gnumeric have more familiar & less cluttered interfaces, and they seem to work better with Microsoft Office files than KOffice does. Plus, Gnumeric has something that neither LibreOffice Calc nor KSpread has, and that is support for 3D/contour plots, which is often important for me.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  11. Why not take a peek at the real thing?

    http://www.microlinux.fr/images/slackware.png

    Slackware (the original, not any derivative distro) can be as sexy as your average openSUSE, Fedora or Mandriva desktop.

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  12. @Microlinux: I see that you haven't been here that much. :) I did try reviewing Slackware, but it didn't work out owing almost entirely to my own inexperience and naïveté regarding more advanced use and configuration of Linux. In any case, I'd rather not have to manually configure stuff like networking, sound, video, et cetera. Thanks for the comment!

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  13. Nice review as usual. Good job, Prashanth!

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  14. As I use Arch and Slackware as my two main Linux distributions, I think I'll have to give Porteous a try.
    Thanks for the review, does it is as simple and clean as the original Slackware is?

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  15. @DarkDuck: I appreciate the support!
    @go2Linux: Well, considering that it uses Mozilla Firefox and its own method of package installation & configuration, I'm not sure that it would qualify as being as "clean"/"simple" as Slackware.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  16. Hi. Was surfing and saw your review.
    I am a gui user as often as I can.
    However I like things to work, so I want to change what I feel that more, uh, 'works-for-me [italics]'
    I cannot argue with your comments. I do not have enough talent hacking linux, whether from gui or clui, so I won't.
    I would like to add a couple things I noticed and like or don't like while using Porteus.
    It is a lot of small parts, each of them simple, joined together to make a whole, as you know, that is 'slackware way' on top of 'linux way.' Depending on the user's experience and ability, the porteus on slackware on GNU/linux can be made, for the user, to 'work-for-me [italics].'
    Porteus reflects a tiny version of what I make when i take the time to make a slackware linux up-and-running.
    There are many ways to get a thing done. Some of those [obvious ones the devs anticipated or discovered] have become useful scripted items in the porteus desktop.
    Things I cannot figure how to do by looking around on the desktop, I often find after I word what I want to do and then google them.
    I bet on [and betted on] reading the howtos and some other stuff in the porteus.org webs site and using those as a step by step, unless you have a healthy sense of humour [and incremental backups while you progress].
    I have my install of the porteus 1 64, it has only been a few days [couple weeks?] I have farted around and I have a little USB HDD I made said incremental backups into.

    It is ROCK-N-ROLL, BABY!!
    And if I should break it while abusing root, I step back to the backup made an hour or a day before and make I did wrong all right.

    Fast as hell, stable someday after I stop monkeying around and get serious about using guest account.

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  17. @brad: Well, it's great that you enjoy it. Thanks for the comment!

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  18. You can check out the latest rc2 version which has address many of the concerns mentioned here. Thanks for all your great input. We love to hear what real users are thinking.

    porteus.org

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    1. @Anonymous: I'd like to wait until version 1.2 comes out in its final guise before I make any judgment calls. Thanks for the comment!

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  19. Nice review as usual. Good job, Prashanth!

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    1. @برق: Thanks for the support!

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