17 May 2012

The Porteus Team: We consider ourselves a "Portable Linux Community"

My blog started as short reviews, or even self-addressed notes, of "pocket" Linux distributions. SLAX was number one, soon followed by Knoppix and Puppy. Then, as I developed my knowledge in Linux, I started to dive into the world of bigger distributions: Ubuntu and Kubuntu, Debian and PCLOS, and many more.
But "pocket Linux" is still a toy I love to play with. That's why I have returned to that topic again and have done reviews of SliTaz 4.0 and Puppy Slacko 5.3.1.
Today I want to develope this topic a little more, and talk about another "pocket" size Linux distribution. It won't be one-man show, though. Let me introduce my today's guest: Ahau from the Porteus Linux team.

DarkDuck: Hello! You are a member of the Porteus team. Could you please introduce yourself?

Ahau: Hi, I am "Ahau". I keep my real name confidential. I am a member of the Porteus Team. I serve as the Documentation Team Leader, moderator on our forum, and maintainer for the XFCE editions of Porteus. I'm 32 years old, from the US, and I have been involved as a member of the Porteus Community since its inception in December 2010. Before that, I was a user of Slax and "Slax Remix", from which Porteus evolved.

DD: Are there more people in the project?

A: Yes, there are several people involved in the project. In addition to myself we have a lead maintainer (fanthom, who started Slax Remix), a 32-bit maintainer (brokenman), and several individuals who contribute modules, applications, documentation and support on the forums. We consider ourselves a "Portable Linux Community", and we take suggestions and contributions, subject to review by our maintainers, from anyone who joins up and is interested.

DD: Is there any formal project leader? Who makes the final decision?

A: Fanthom is our lead maintainer and he would make the final decision in the case of any disagreements, but we usually reach a consensus on decisions even before anything like a vote is needed.

DD: You picked up the SLAX project, which was stagnating after Tomas M. decided not to continue with its development. Now you have a different distribution. Why have you decided to do so?

A: Fanthom started Slax Remix after development on Slax was suspended. He did this in an effort to keep Slax current with a newer kernel, rebased on a newer release of Slackware, and he included bugfixes and other customizations. He also built and released a 64-bit edition featuring KDE4, which had never existed for Slax. He didn't intend on starting a separate distribution, but maintaining his project on a third-party forum became untenable after almost a year of development and nine releases.

DD: I heard that Tomas M. is coming back to SLAX project. What are your relationships with his project now?

A: We have many members that also Slax users, and I still visit the Slax forums on occasion to see what's new there. We don't have an official development relationship with the Slax project, but we think Slax is a great distribution and we're hopeful to see more releases from Tomas M. in the future.

DD: Am I right in assumption that Porteus Linux was never intended to be the primary OS on the computer, but rather a "pocket" distribution, which one could use on others' computers to have his favourite environment?

A: I think it's fair to say that Porteus is optimized to run from a CD or USB flash drive, but it's also just as easy to install Porteus on a hard drive for use as a primary OS. In fact, it will probably boot and run even faster this way. One of our chief goals in developing Porteus is maintaining and enhancing flexibility. As you know, the name of our distribution is derived from the words "Portable" and "Proteus", the greek god of the seas. A lot of our color schemes and art work have water themes, and I like to think of the distribution as something that can be transported in any container and used for a variety of purposes while retaining its original qualities, just like water. The distribution itself is less than 300 MB and software can be easily added and removed in the form of xzm "modules" to suit the specific needs of the user, whether it be for use as a primary OS, recovery tool, portable distro, or anything else.

DD: Does Porteus Linux have a large community? What would you say about its members?

A: We presently have just over 500 members on our forum, which is small compared to the larger distributions out there. But, we're new and we're growing, and when folks ask questions, they get a response. I'm continually encouraged by the knowledge, skill, and welcoming nature of our members. I've made many good friends in our community, and I look forward to my interactions there. We have an embedded chat window for members on our forum, and it's great for newbies with simple questions and also for the members and contributors to get to know each other on a more personal level. It's been a lot of fun working with everyone there!

DD: The current stable version of Porteus is 1.1. Are there any plans for future releases? When will they be? What new will we see there?

A: Yes, Porteus version 1.2 is in develompent right now; the second release candidate is already available for download in the testing section of our server. The final version should follow shortly. Porteus 1.2 will feature the addition of the XFCE desktop environment (available as a separate ISO) as well as a rewritten package manager (Porteus Package Manager, or PPM), a new GUI installer, a rewritten Langauge Selection Tool, and a rewritten "Save.dat Manager" which will allow more options and functionality (such as data encryption and a choice of filesystems) for users who want to save their changes persistently on FAT or NTFS partitions.

DD: What are own your favourite distributions, desktop environments, applications?

A: Obviously, Porteus is my favorite, and I still enjoy Slax. I also like Puppy and SliTaz, but the vast majority of my time is spent in Porteus. I've just started messing with Android, if you can call that a Linux distribution (I wouldn't...). I'm the Xfce maintainer for Porteus, and that is my favorite desktop environment now that I've learned my way around it. I think Xfce has the right mix of functionality, beauty, and configurability, but it's still light and intuitive. I prefer KDE over Gnome, and I think LXDE is a great DE as well.

DD: Do you read the blog Linux notes from DarkDuck? What would you like to improve or change there?

A: I don't read every blog entry, but I do stop by on occasion, I especially like your reviews of "pocket" distributions, as I like to know what other distros are up to, and how they are receieved.

DD: Do you read any other blogs or FOSS-related web resources regularly? Who are your favourite authors, bloggers, journalists writing about FOSS?

A: I don't follow many blogs, but I do keep up on the XFCE forums and mailing lists, and I visit distrowatch.com. I spend a lot of time researching the web trying to solve problems or learn how to do things, so I tend to bounce around a lot. I do have to give a shoutout to the folks at archwiki and gentoo-wiki, I've learned a lot from their articles.

DD: Thanks for coming, Ahau. I hope to keep in touch and have another interview with either yourself, or maybe other members of Porteus team later.

A: Thanks for having me, DarkDuck! Feel free to contact myself or anyone on our team if you'd like to do another interview, and please try Porteus 1.2 when it's released. We hope you and your readers enjoy it!


  1. Good interview :) Slax was awesome, hope porteus will gain more attention in future

    1. I think it's only few days left till v.1.2 is released.

  2. I've been a KNOPPIX user for years, but it might be time for a change...
    I like the concept of using XFCE over other desktops, too.

    1. Have you tried Porteus yet? What is your experience?

    2. I'm not merelyjim, but I tried Porteus 1.2 (it is now August 2012) and I must say it has the fastest boot in all the hardware I tested.

      It's so nice to start that I see myself favoring it over more complete beasts like Mageia, Kubuntu, Xubuntu etc.

      It's very complete, but it has not Libreoffice -- which is mandatory (at the moment) if one intends to interact with Word or Excel.

      Despite the kind offer of a forum user of a package with Libreoffice, I didn't manage to install it. It would be a better idea to just install the older version offered by Porteus as add-on (for use with USB sticks, I think).

      There are some quirks, too, with TDE, the Trinity Desktop Environment, but it's fast and light compared to KDE4.

      IMHO, it's not ready to be my main desktop, but it's surely the one I's take to the field.

    3. Just clarifying my reply above, I didn't talk about the Porteus 1.2 XFCE version because it does not offer out-of-the-box compatibility with the keyboard layout I use. This is a major turnoff. It's so serious I tested Linux Mint 13 KDE and, while it's a great live distro on its own, I had to discard it as it also has no support for my layout. I believe Darkduck also talks about that wrt to Russian support in other articles.

      In normal installations though this is no major problem, but in live distros the ideal approach is what Porteus 1.2 TDE does: having an icon to quickly select keyboard layouts.

      But I downloaded Porteus 1.2 XFCE, too, and found it to be very neat with evident great care in visual design. If one intends to install it on HD, I'd suggest it over TDE, since it must be lighter and the language problem easily solvable.

      Congrats for the great work, Ahau.

    4. If you run an Xfce distro, you usually need to add layout indicator to the panel, and then configure the layouts you want. Did you do this? And your layout is still not available? What is the layout you mean?

    5. You can solve the problem thanks to the terminal. open a terminal and type: setxkbmap [layout]

      setxkbmap can stand for: SET X (Server) KeyBoard MAPping :)

    6. Michele, setxbkmap sets up a single layout. It's not what dual-language people need. They need 2 layouts with a switch hotkey.

  3. TDE (and also KDE... and Windows, btw) all have a keyboard/language selection widget/icon inside the panel/menubar. Porteus XFCE versions already come with a choice of US (USA), DE (Germany), ES (Spain) and RU (Russia) options for keyboard layout. Over here, we use "Brazilian" keyboards.

    This might be useful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AltGr_key#Brazilian_ABNT2_keymap

    It's a source of incredible confusion. For instance, aside from trade barriers, I can see no valid reasons why Brazil and Portugal have different kb layouts since we use the same characters. Also, we surely could use the same layout the French uses, since we both use the cedilla. It's very dumb that we don't use the same layout across countries.

    The TDE version has the BR (Brazilian) layout available, which makes things as easy as one click.

    Otherwise, configuration is surely possible, but the idea of having a live CD is that it be quick to use. Most often I don't bother to configure it at all -- if, for instance, I'm posting in English at international sites like yours. But, mind you, it's hard to find the > (greater than) or " (double quotes) symbols, which really are needed when posting bash commands (for instance).

    I believe there should be a way to the computer talk to the keyboard at boot (like what is done with monitors) to sense which layout the keyboard has and choose automatically the respective char table/locale. Or Porteus could add a way to choose language like other distros do (the best example being how Kubuntu/Xubuntu does it, I think).

    I hope I'm not seen as perfeccionist, it's really a problem of blindly finding where normal symbols are on the keyboard, not just how to type a cedilla.

    1. Sorry, didn't provide the better link:


      According to the explanation there, the French have a very braindamaged layout (poor guys) and they even opt to use a Portugal layout (IMHO the sane thing to do).

      Of course, it's not like we can cover all languages in one layout, but surely a consolidation effort is in order. For instance, I never use the Euro symbol in my keyboard, but it's there (Alt Gr + E) and it didn't kill me yet.

      This is a problem exactly like using an international char table like ASCII... it's kind of a nobrainer.