Updated: June 15, 2020
You know me likes Puppy Linux. Small, frugal, delightful. While the modern era has somewhat removed the need for spartan in-memory-only distributions, they still have use, they can run on really old hardware, and they make excellent travel companions. So how do you up the game? You try to spin up an even more ambitious project.
EasyOS is an experimental distribution (notice the adjective, important), with Puppy origins plus some extra extras. If you look at the page that says how and why EasyOS is different, you will see it comes with some convention breakers as well as some rather unique features. Most notably, it is a distro that can run from the disk, or entirely in memory, it can be live media or installed, it has encryption, and a rather neat concept of security containers - software runs isolated. Well, time to test, isn't it.
Starting up EasyOS - not so easy
The big problem with EasyOS is that it's not designed for mass use. You don't get an ISO you just burn to CD or a thumb drive and then ... drive. Even finding the download image isn't trivial. It comes zipped, and when you extract it, you have a hard disk image in the IMG format, which is typically what you write to SD cards for the likes of Raspberry Pi and similar. Given the experimental nature of EasyOS, I decided to start with VirtualBox, so I had to convert the IMG file to VDI (what VirtualBox uses natively).
VBoxManage convertfromraw --format VDI easy-2.3-amd64.img easy-2.3-amd64.vdi
Converting from raw image file="easy-2.3-amd64.img" to file="easy-2.3-amd64.vdi"...
Creating dynamic image with size 1343225856 bytes (1281MB)...
I booted, and then encountered more problems and/or snags. You can set optional encryption at this point, which I did. Then, EasyOS did not auto-detect the graphics card in the virtual machine, and I had to do a manual 1280x800px VESA setup. Eventually, the distro launched.
It's not all black and white
Like Puppies of this world, EasyOS comes with a very frugal JWM desktop, but with simple monochrome icons that offer a sense of visual clarity. The abundance of helpful wizards is there, of course, so you can set up everything. You just need a little bit of patience, but you get the predictable Puppy-like behavior.
I tried some basic things - and they all worked without any problems. You can browse, steam music, watch videos, all the usual goodies one expects in the desktop. But you also need to be aware that the Easy Containers technology works differently from what you expect.
I launched SeaMonkey twice - once via apps, and once from the desktop shortcut, and these are actually two different instances of the browser suite. So it's not surprising I got the first-time run prompt twice, and the browsers actually look different. This means you can have multiple profiles, multiple configurations of the same program, and use them for different purposes.
Applications & containers
Software management in EasyOS is somewhat confusing. You have the apps, which are installed and containerized (if I'm not mistaken). You have petget, which will grab the standard Puppy-format packages - usually small and compact. And then you have sfsget, which will grab the large container images for "big" and popular applications, like say Firefox, Thunderbird, Chromium, Skype, and friends.
When I tried using sfsget - I got an error. Not enough disk space. Indeed, because I've not copied the image to a thumb drive, there was no auto-expand, so the hard disk only had about 1 GB of space available. At this point, I had to resize the disk image, which can be done quite easily in VirtualBox.
However, when I tried to resize the EasyOS data partition (sda2), I encountered a whole bunch of new problems. First, it's mounted, so you can't really do that. Second, you can launch EasyOS with the entire data set copied to RAM, but then, the disk partitions are not only not mounted - they are completely invisible. When I booted EasyOS in the RAM-only mode, no partition tool (neither fdisk, cfdisk, parted or GParted) could actually see the disk and its partitions. I had to boot in a different, live CD distro and make the necessary filesystem resize. Only then did EasyOS see the increased disk size. One bright point: no problem with the encryption that was used. No hiccups or corruption.
Well, now, I tried to install some of them "big" apps - and things worked fine. You have the option to set up new containers (default, recommended), add to exist containers - or even overlay them. The last two options are for experts only, but they highlight the nice experimental nature of this distro. Anyway, Skype and Firefox both worked fine. Lovely jubbly.
Now, since I was running this test in a virtual machine, I couldn't do many of the things I normally do when I test distros on physical hardware. Even so, EasyOS is fully functional, reliable and works well. It's super-fast if somewhat ugly. You get the everyday functionality plus tons of nerdy perks. In fact, there's almost so much stuff that you can feel slightly overwhelmed. But like Puppy, this distro is a long-term investment. Its value soars after prolonged use, when you get to try and appreciate the hundred little utilities it bundles.
I did several sessions, and even did a few forced reboots. EasyOS was quite robust - it warned each time that the session was interrupted, and whether I wanted to ignore it or carefully check the configuration in place. The encryption works fine. Data was saved between sessions, and the only downside that I can think of is that it takes a while for video drivers to be loaded.
EasyOS looks like a Frankenstein edition of Puppy, in a good way. But as an experimental project, it's also not something you want to inflict on your unsuspecting grandparents. Actually, it's not suitable for the majority of users, including nerds, because it does require a fair deal of manual labor early on. I guess that explains the difficulty in getting the image.
But if you think this happy madness ends there, you be mistaken. There's an even more Frankensteiny creation, and that's EasyPup! So there. Anyway, EasyOS 2.3 looks like a really ambitious and quite unique distro, and largely, it works great. If you're a tinkerer, I'd recommend you grab this and have a thorough go. Otherwise, it's worth waiting until it matures a bit more, the stack gets rock solid, and some of the usability niggles are resolved. All in all, something super cool and worth following. Stay tuned.