Users who've missed KDE 3.5.x are in for a treat with Porteus, a portable Linux distribution that offers a 32-bit release with the Trinity fork of KDE 3.5.x, and a 64-bit release that offers KDE 4.6.4. While not a distribution that will appeal to everyone, it might be of interest to enthusiasts of live CD distributions and old-school KDE fans.
Porteus is a distribution that was originally based on Slax, and is now based on Slackware Linux since Slax has gone without a release since 2009. Porteus developer Jay Flood says that Porteus started as "Slax Remix" with a 32-bit version only, then moved to an independent project with the name change to Porteus at the beginning of 2011. What's the philosophy for Porteus? In a word, speed. Flood says that the project's goals are "being lightweight (under 300Mb), super fast, portable and complete" and the project FAQ says that Porteus is for "anyone who likes an extremely fast and light operating system that boots in seconds, and stays up to date with the latest software and kernel versions."
Unlike many distributions, Porteus does not have a unified set of packages between its 32-bit and 64-bit releases. Instead, the 32-bit release offers KDE 3.5.12 or LXDE as its desktop, while KDE 4.x users will need to choose the 64-bit release. Why the difference? Flood says that the choice was made to optimize Porteus 32-bit for older hardware, and there's user demand for the prior KDE release. He also says that KDE 4.x is available for the 32-bit version, but not by default. LXDE is available for both releases.
Flood says that the project is also testing Trinity for the 64-bit release, but they haven't yet provided it publicly for users to try out. He did note that users can only run one version of KDE, as Porteus has compiled Trinity to run from the /usr directory unlike the upstream project, which is designed to sit alongside KDE 4.x.
Porteus is not currently doing any development on Trinity, though it is
reporting bugs upstream. The Trinity project itself is currently frozen due to
work on converting to using cmake. Should Trinity fall by the wayside, Flood
says that Porteus would likely look to moving to Xfce or KDE4 for the
The distribution is meant to be run off of a CD, or off a USB flash drive. It can be copied to a hard drive, but the project recommends Slackware instead if the user wants to do a traditional installation that runs off a hard disk. The live CD also offers an option to set up a PXE boot server, so users could boot Porteus over the network as well.
To try out Porteus, I decided to go with the 32-bit release. It's been a
while since I've sat down to a KDE 3.5 desktop, and I wanted to see how it
compared with today's KDE. Porteus is using Trinity KDE 3.5.12, which was released in October of 2010. The last official release of KDE was 3.5.10, so Trinity has put out two releases since picking up the project. The 3.5.11 Trinity release added a number of new features, like SmartCard support for KDM, remote folder synchronization in Konqueror, and ICC color profile support. The 3.5.12 release had little in the way of major features but had a number of fixes for Kontact, changed the default to double-clicking for launching applications, and added features to make GTK applications fit in better on the KDE desktop.
For longtime KDE users, then, the Trinity desktop will look very
familiar but contains no major improvements since the KDE project focused
on the 4.x series. Which is not to say that it's aged poorly. Trinity KDE
is perfectly usable, and very fast even with a limited amount of memory. I
started testing Porteus in a VM with only 512MB of RAM (to better simulate
older hardware), and found KDE very responsive and usable. With the RAM bumped up to 1GB and copying the entire live CD into RAM, I found Porteus extremely responsive for normal desktop use.
The application selection may be a bit limiting for some users. There's no LibreOffice/OpenOffice.org, GIMP, Inkscape, etc. Porteus does include KOffice (1.6) and the KDE PIM applications from the 3.5.x series. Firefox is already configured with Adobe Flash and the Flashblock Add-On.
If you want applications that aren't installed by default, Porteus uses a "module" system derived from Slax to install packages. These are much like Slackware packages, but they're an LZMA2-compressed squashfs filesystem, which provides a smaller download and allows modules to be unmounted from a live system. The project has some packages available for installation via a Porteus Package Manager, which is a serviceable if clunky utility for finding, downloading, and installing modules. Porteus also includes a utility to remove modules from a running system, so it's possible to conserve memory by (for example) removing the KOffice module.
Since Porteus is based on Slackware, you might expect to be able to install Slackware packages as well. This is possible, but with a few hurdles. Specifically, Porteus expects you to convert the packages into Porteus modules instead. The distribution does include tools to do this, and the steps are not particularly difficult — but tend to rule Porteus out for users who want to install a variety of software without too much hassle.
Naturally, Porteus has tools for saving configuration between reboots, and even tools for copying directories to USB or hard disk in case you want to preserve the files between reboots. One downside, though, is that the project doesn't really have an update system — beyond grabbing a new image at this time.
Most of the work that's gone into Porteus has been done, or led by, Flood and founder Tomasz Jokiel. The distribution also has a documentation team that has developed quite a few guides and tutorials for working with Porteus. Flood says that the distribution has a "friendly and active development community" and invites users to register on the Porteus forum and get involved.
In general, Porteus looks like a nice portable Linux distribution, aimed at expert or at least experienced Linux users. It's not something that will appeal to the majority of Linux users, particularly users who prefer a slightly larger depth of available packages. But, for users who are nursing older hardware or prefer a portable distribution, Porteus is an interesting project.
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