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.
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.
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.