| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 195, 26 March 2007
Welcome to this year's 13th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! As expected, the developers of the Ubuntu family of Linux distributions announced their beta releases late last week, edging towards that last month of intensive debugging before the final release. Other distributions are also hard at work: Mandriva has announced details about the upcoming Mandriva 2007 "Spring", KNOPPIX has delivered a new CeBIT DVD to the attendees of the popular show in Hannover, and Fedora is expected to publish its third development build, version 7 test3, in just a few days. In other news, Red Hat unveils plans for a new desktop distribution, Ian Murdoch criticises the project he founded for lacking strong leadership, and François Bancilhon is dismayed by the decision of the French Assemblée Nationale to choose Ubuntu over Mandriva for its Windows-to-Linux migration. More details below, so enjoy this week's issue DistroWatch Weekly and don't forget to share your opinions in the forum!
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Overview of Top Ten Distributions (part 1)
One of the criticisms of this web site that was expressed in our recent discussion on the future of DistroWatch Weekly is the outdated information on the Top Ten Distributions page. The time has come to remedy the situation. In the following few issues of DistroWatch Weekly I will rewrite the information and bring it up-to-date with current developments. As always, there might be readers who will disagree with some statements, in which case you are welcome to leave a comment or suggest a correction. This way, we should have a good, up-to-date overview of the major distributions with their descriptions, pros and cons and other information of interest in just a few weeks. Please bear in mind that this list is intended for relatively newcomers to Linux, so the information presented should be clear and free of technical jargon.
The list will contain the following distributions: Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, Mandriva Linux, Debian GNU/Linux, PCLinuxOS, SimplyMEPIS, Slackware Linux, Gentoo Linux and KNOPPIX, with an honourable mention of one BSD representative - FreeBSD. Some other distributions that seem to be growing in popularity will be mentioned as possible alternatives.
Today I'll start with the top three: Ubuntu, openSUSE and Fedora.
* * * * *
The launch of Ubuntu was first announced in September 2004. Although a relative newcomer to the Linux distribution scene, the project took off like no other before, with its mailing lists soon filled in with discussions by eager users and enthusiastic developers. In the few years that followed, Ubuntu has grown to become the most popular desktop Linux distribution by far and has greatly contributed towards creating an easy-to-use and free desktop operating system that can compete well with any proprietary ones available on the market.
What was the reason for Ubuntu's stunning success? Firstly, the project was created by Mark Shuttleworth, a charismatic South African multi-millionaire, a former Debian developer and the world's second space tourist, whose company, the Isle of Man-based Canonical Ltd, is currently financing the project. Secondly, Ubuntu had learnt from the mistakes of other similar projects and avoided them from the start - it created an excellent web-based infrastructure with a Wiki-style documentation, creative bug-reporting facility, and professional approach to the end users. And thirdly, thanks to its wealthy founder, Ubuntu has been able to ship free CDs to all interested users, thus contributing to the rapid spread of the distribution.
On the technical side of things, Ubuntu is based on Debian Sid (unstable branch), but with some prominent packages, such as GNOME, Firefox and OpenOffice.org, updated to the latest versions. It has a predictable, 6-month release schedule, with an occasional Long Term Support (LTS) release that is supported with security updates for 3 - 5 years, depending on the edition (non-LTS release are supported for 18 months). Other special features of Ubuntu include an installable live CD, creative artwork and desktop themes, migration assistant for Windows users, support for the latest technologies, such as the 3D desktop effects, easy installation of proprietary device drivers for ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards and wireless networking, and on-demand support for non-free or patent-encumbered media codecs.
- Pros: Fixed release cycle and support period; novice-friendly; wealth of documentation, both official and user-contributed
- Cons: Some of Ubuntu's own software (e.g. Launchpad, Rosetta) are proprietary; the availability of non-free kernel modules is sometimes seen as going against the spirit of Free Software; lacks compatibility with Debian
- Software package management: Advanced Package Tool (APT) using DEB packages
- Available editions: Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu and Xubuntu for 32-bit (i386) and 64-bit (x86_64) processors; Ubuntu Server edition also for SPARC processors
- Possible alternatives: Linux Mint, Freespire, gNewSense
* * * * *
The start of openSUSE dates back to 1992 when four Linux enthusiasts -- Roland Dyroff, Thomas Fehr, Hubert Mantel and Burchard Steinbild -- launched the project under the name of SuSE (Software und System Entwicklung) Linux. In the early days, the young company sold sets of floppy disks containing a German edition of Slackware Linux, but it wasn't long before SuSE Linux became an independent distribution with the launch of version 4.2 in May 1996. In the following years, the developers of SuSE Linux adopted the RPM package management format and introduced YaST, an easy-to-use graphical system administration tool. Frequent releases, excellent printed documentation, and easy availability of SuSE Linux in stores across Europe and North America resulted in growing popularity of the distribution.
SuSE Linux was acquired by Novell, Inc. in late 2003. Major changes in the development, licensing and availability of SUSE Linux followed shortly afterwards - YaST was released under the General Public License, the ISO images were freely distributed from public download servers, and, most significantly, the development of the distribution was opened to public participation for the first time ever. Since the launch of the openSUSE project and the release of version 10.0 in October 2005, the distribution became completely free in both senses of the word. The openSUSE code has become a base system for Novell's commercial products, first named as Novell Linux, but later renamed to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.
Today, openSUSE has a large following of satisfied users. The principal reason for openSUSE getting high marks from its users are pleasant and polished desktop environments (KDE and GNOME), excellent system administration utility (YaST), and, for those who buy the boxed edition, some of the best printed documentation available with any distribution. However, the recent deal between Novell and Microsoft, which apparently concedes to Microsoft's argument that it has intellectual property rights over Linux, has resulted in a string of condemnation by many Linux personalities and has prompted some users to switch distribution. Although Novell has downplayed the deal and Microsoft has yet to exercise any rights, this issue remains a thorn in the side of the otherwise very community-friendly Linux company.
- Pros: Comprehensive and intuitive configuration tool; large repository of software packages, excellent web site infrastructure and printed documentation
- Cons: Novell's patent deal with Microsoft in November 2006 seemingly legitimised Microsoft's intellectual property claims over Linux; its resource-heavy desktop setup and graphical utilities are often seen as "bloated and slow"
- Software package management: YaST graphical and command line utility using RPM packages
- Available editions: openSUSE for 32-bit (i386), 64-bit (x86_64) and PowerPC (ppc) processors; SUSE Linux Enterprise for i586, ia64, ppc, s390, s390x and x86_64 architectures; also a non-installable live DVD edition.
- Possible alternatives: None
* * * * *
Although Fedora was formally unveiled only in September 2004, its origins effectively date back to 1995 when it was launched by two Linux visionaries -- Bob Young and Marc Ewing -- under the name of Red Hat Linux. The company's first product, Red Hat Linux 1.0 "Mother's Day", was released in the same year and was quickly followed by several bug-fix updates. In 1997, Red Hat introduced its revolutionary RPM package management system with dependency resolution and other advanced features which greatly contributed to the distribution's rapid rise in popularity and its overtaking of Slackware Linux as the most widely-used Linux distribution in the world. In later years, Red Hat standardised on a regular, 6-month release schedule.
In 2003, just after the release of Red Hat Linux 9, the company introduced some radical changes to its product line-up. It retained the Red Hat trademark for its commercial products, notably Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and introduced Fedora Core, a Red Hat-sponsored, but community-oriented distribution designed for the "Linux hobbyist". After the initial criticism of the changes, the Linux community accepted the "new" distribution as a logical continuation of Red Hat Linux. A few quality releases was all it took for Fedora to regain its former status as one of the best-loved operating systems on the market. At the same time, Red Hat quickly became the biggest and most profitable Linux company in the world, with an innovative product line-up and other interesting initiatives, such as its Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) certification programme.
Although Fedora's direction is still largely controlled by Red Hat, Inc. and the product is sometimes seen -- rightly or wrongly -- as a test bed for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, there is no denying that Fedora is one of the most innovative distributions available today. Its contributions to the Linux kernel, glibc and GCC are well-known and its more recent integration of SELinux functionality, Xen virtualisation technologies and other enterprise-level features are much appreciated among the company's customers. On a negative side, Fedora still lacks a clear desktop-oriented strategy that would make the product easier to use for those beyond the "Linux hobbyist" base.
- Pros: Highly innovative; large number of supported packages; strict adherence to the Free Software philosophy
- Cons: Less community-oriented than other major distributions; its priorities tend to lean towards enterprise features, rather than desktop usability
- Software package management: YUM graphical and command line utility using RPM packages
- Available editions: Fedora for 32-bit (i386), 64-bit (x86_64) and PowerPC (ppc) processors; Red Hat Enterprise Linux for i386, ia64, ppc, s390x and x86_64 architectures; also live CD and live DVD editions
- Possible alternatives: BLAG Linux And GNU, CentOS, Scientific Linux, Yellow Dog Linux
The Paris Spring, KNOPPIX 5.2.0, Red Hat desktop, Debian at the crossroads, PC-BSD updates
Mandriva is set to become the first major distribution with a new product release this year. According to a press release the company sent out late last week, Mandriva Linux 2007.1, marketed as "Mandriva Linux 2007 Spring" will introduce a key new feature - Metisse: "Metisse, an innovative window management technology. Unlike the widely known 3D-accelerated desktops with the cube effect and other visual enhancements, Metisse offers an innovative way to manage windows: only the windows move, making the possible variations endless! Metisse is not a 3D-accelerated desktop but a Human-Computer Interface (HCI) technology that revolutionizes the user experience." The press release avoids any reference to a release date, but according to this schedule estimation, Mandriva Linux 2007.1 is expected to ship on April 4th, 2007.
In a separate development, Mandriva's CEO François Bancilhon has published an open letter (in French; an English translation is available here) expressing a dismay over the recent decision by the French Parliament to migrate its 1,000+ computers from Windows to Ubuntu. According to Bancilhon, Ubuntu is "a Linux competitor of Mandriva, 100% financed by a South African billionaire -- hence using a business model no company can compete with -- and flooding the market." He argues that Mandriva, the only European Linux company according to the Mandriva CEO, is based in Paris and is therefore better suited to supply the needs of the French National Assembly. He also speculates that the decision to deploy Ubuntu over Mandriva was based on price, rather than technical merits. He concludes: "I don't understand this choice and I don't understand how a French company, which can ensure a local support of its product thanks to its engineers based in France, was not appointed."
* * * * *
Klaus Knopper has announced the release of KNOPPIX 5.2.0, a special, German-only edition designed for the CeBIT exhibition. He has also revealed that a public release, version 5.2.1, will follow soon, probably in April. What can we look forward to? "Stable kernel 2.6.19, KDE 3.5.5 with Beryl as a 3D window manager and GNOME 2.14; QEMU, including the accelerated kernel module KQEMU; KVM for CPUs supporting hardware-accelerated virtualization,; VirtualBox OSE; Xen 3.0.4; VServer; Knoppix WLAN configurator with WEP and WPA-PSK as an easier-to-use alternative to KWifiManager; first version of 0wn (Zero Work Needed) installer." For more information please read the full release announcement. Those of you who understand German can download the KNOPPIX 5.2.0 DVD from LinuxTracker: Knoppix_5.2.iso (4,379MB).
KNOPPIX 5.2.0 was unveiled last week during the CeBIT exhibition
(full image size: 917kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
Is Red Hat planning a desktop Linux strategy? Those of you who have been following the distro scene for a while will remember the infamous words of Matthew Szulik, the then Red Hat CEO, who was once quoted as saying that "...for the consumer market place, Windows probably continues to be the right product line." That was back in 2003, though, when desktop Linux didn't appear particularly appetising to the executive of the world's largest Linux company. But, as was reported by eWEEK last week, less than four years later things look rather different: "Red Hat is planning a packaged Linux desktop solution that it hopes will push its Linux desktop offering to a far broader audience than exists for its current client solution." Has Red Hat adopted a new, more ambitious line of thinking or is it merely trying to catch up with the current product lines from Novell and Ubuntu? We should be able to find out later this year.
* * * * *
The widely publicised words of Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian GNU/Linux, criticising the lack of strong leadership in the world's largest Linux distribution, has surprised the Debian community. He argues that despite its status as a non-commercial, community project, Debian should behave more like a company, with an ability to make unpopular decisions, if necessary. He also cites the example of Ubuntu as a project that has done extremely well exactly because of a strong leader. But not everybody agrees with the Debian founder. In Debian at the crossroads, ITWire's Sam Varghese argues that any radical change could actually do more harm than good to the project: "The temptation to chase behind commercial shadows is indeed great but in the end, Debian is unique among Linux distributions and too much of change would hurt the project rather than help it progress."
* * * * *
Finally, some news from the PC-BSD project. Following a long IRC meeting last week, the developers of the FreeBSD-based operating system have announced a number of important decisions that should increase the attractiveness of their product. Chief among them is the decision to focus on improving the PC-BSD documentation that will likely please many technically oriented PC-BSD users. Also, PC-BSD now has a clearly-defined support period: "Each major release (1.x, 2.x etc.) will be supported for additional 12 months after the release date of the final point release." And lastly, a brand new major release of PC-BSD, version 1.4, has been tentatively scheduled for June 2007. For more information please read this blog post by Tim McCormick, the PC-BSD lead developer.
|Released Last Week
Technalign has announced the release of Pioneer MigrationSERVER, an easy-to-use, Ubuntu-based Linux distribution for servers: "Technalign, Inc. has announced the release of Pioneer MigrationSERVER. Pioneer MigrationSERVER replaces previous versions. MigrationSERVER includes functions such as RAID, DHCP, Samba to mention a few, which install simply by clicking a button on the web interface. Users can use either SSH or Webmin to manage their servers and both have been included as options for server management. Technalign's MigrationSERVER allows customers to drive down their server and acquisition costs." Please read the complete release announcement and visit the MigrationSERVER product page for more information and screenshots.
Matt Housh has announced the release of CRUX 2.3, an independent, light-weight, i686-optimised Linux distribution designed for advanced Linux users: "CRUX 2.3 has been released." What's new? "CRUX 2.3 includes glibc 2.5 and GCC 4.1.2; the monolithic x11 package has been replaced by the new modular X.Org distribution - as the results of this update, crux.nu now hosts a dedicated 'xorg' ports repository, installed by default; the netkit-base port has been replaced by inetd and iana-etc; by popular request we included iproute2 and iputils in the core collection." For more information please read the release announcement, release notes and changelog.
Frugalware Linux 0.6
Miklós Vajna has announced the release of Frugalware Linux 0.6: "The Frugalware Developer Team is pleased to announce the immediate availability of Frugalware 0.6, our sixth stable release. Here are the most important changes since 0.5: up-to-date base system: glibc 2.5, binutils 126.96.36.199.6 with DT_GNU_HASH support, DBUS 1.0 and Python 2.5; up-to-date desktop packages: KDE 3.5.6, Xfce 4.4, Beryl 0.2.0, OpenOffice.org 2.1, Firefox 188.8.131.52 and GNOME 2.18; all installed-by-default packages using Java are now built using gcj/ecj, the original binary javac is only provided as an alternate compiler; setup: speed improvements, support for more custom action, TFTP installs and USB sticks are now supported; full support for Xgl/Beryl in KDE." Here is the full release announcement.
SAM Linux 2007
SAM Linux 2007, a PCLinuxOS-based live CD featuring the Xfce desktop, has been released: "After two test releases I am happy to give you the final version of SAM 2007. SAM comes with the latest Xfce 4.4 desktop, support for more than 20 languages, Beryl/Xgl, and contains a complete home desktop with office, Internet, games, multimedia, graphics, system, security and rescue-Software, and nice additions like WINE, Flash 9, Java and RealPlayer. Now it is possible to boot from a USB stick using the CD as start medium, and the export of the 'home' folder to an USB flash device is back on the live CD. Changes: OpenOffice.org updated to 2.2 RC, changes in the games section, added GParted...." Read the full release announcement for more details.
SAM Linux 2007 is a PCLinuxOS variant featuring the Xfce desktop
(full image size: 917kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
SabayonLinux 3.3 "miniEdition"
The single-CD "miniEdition" of SabayonLinux has been released: "I'm proud to announce that SabayonLinux 3.3 miniEdition (live CD) have been released. New features and bug fixes since SabayonLinux 3.20: K3b updated to 1.0; SabayonLinux installer fixes (including the ones reported in 3.3); added VIA OpenChrome GFX drivers; updated GPU detector to the work accordingly to the new feature listed above; updated to Beryl 0.2.0; updated IVTV driver to 0.10.0; updated rt2500 driver to CVS snapshot; fixed pppoe-setup scripts; updated NdisWrapper to 1.39; binary packages support through a simple binhost (alpha release)." Please read the full release announcement for more details.
* * * * *
Development and unannounced releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- Kiwi Linux. Kiwi Linux is a Romanian variant of Ubuntu with proprietary media codecs, support for local ADSL providers, and improved localisation for Romanian, Hungarian and other languages.
- myOS. myOS is a minimalistic OpenGL-capable GNU/Linux system without X. It is a bare bones Linux system, stripped down of everything, but the necessary files to compile and run OpenGL/C code.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
And this concludes our latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 2 April 2007. Until then,
If you've enjoyed this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly, please consider sending us a tip.
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