| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 289, 9 February 2009
Welcome to this year's 6th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! The netbook market is not just limited to the Eee PC any more, now every major manufacturer has a netbook of some description. The software arena hasn't stood still either with many custom distributions having been created to accommodate these little machines. Intel sponsors the Moblin project which has just released a new alpha, and we take it for a test run. In the news section, the creator of Puppy Linux explains his new project called Woof, Mandriva finalises the structure for their new Assembly, things heat up in BSD land with new releases on the way, the unofficial Fedora FAQ provides updates to version 10, Fedora causes a stir after disabling the popular 'kill X' feature, and a new online Slackware package finder is made public. Also in this issue are links to two interviews - the first with a KDE developer and the second with the creator of Xfce. Happy reading!
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First look at Moblin V2 Core Alpha
There has been lots of fanfare around netbooks since this new market exploded onto the scene little more than a year ago. Starting with the ASUS Eee PC, other manufacturers soon followed suit to the point where most major computing brands now have a netbook of some description. This major growth has not been limited just to the hardware realm however, software too has come along for a slice of the pie. Last year saw many new distributions targeting these little machines, most being based off larger mainstream distributions. Intel, who helped boost this market with the release of their low-powered Atom processor, has also been busy in the software arena, sponsoring the Moblin project - a Linux-based platform aimed squarely at netbooks running its hardware.
At the core of the Moblin distribution is Moblin Foundations which, according to the official website, "consists of platform libraries and application services providing rich functional platform building blocks. It does not provide application user interfaces or specific user interaction shells, such functionality is provided by a platform specific implementation produced by Moblin or a third party." As such, Linux distributions, such as Xandros, have switched to Moblin Foundations for their base platform and as the technology becomes more mature we can expect others to follow suit. "Moblin Foundations is built on the GNOME Mobile platform extending and enriching it with Intel open source technologies like Clutter, GUPnP and Atom-specific technologies such as graphics, fast boot and power saving," the site explains.
Recently the Moblin Project announced an alpha release of their upcoming version 2. Fortunately, a friend of mine owns an Eee PC 901 (which he purchased for Linux Conference Australia 2009), so I borrowed it and had a play with this test release. I had to backup his SDHC card (currently booting EasyPeasy) which took quite a while over the network. So as I was waiting, I booted the KVM image I had earlier downloaded. I had heard people say how fast Moblin was to boot, but considering my desktop machine loads in around 15 seconds I didn't really expect to be that impressed. So what was my first impression? "Wow, that really is fast!". From the GRUB prompt to a complete desktop it took just 5 seconds. Sure, this was running in KVM on a hefty desktop box, but it was still impressive. While Moblin is supposed to be built on top of the GNOME mobile stack, currently the alpha is running Xfce instead (a desktop environment running on top of the GTK+ libraries, similar to GNOME, but with a priority on lightness). There was not a whole lot I could do with the KVM image as the default network card was not supported. A quick scan of the modules directory revealed a driver for the Realtek 8139 chipset, so I re-started the image with
qemu-kvm moblin-netbookore-alpha1-200901260820-sda.raw -net nic,model=rtl8139 -net user
and now, after loading the 8139too, module I had Internet access (by the way, the default root password is 'moblin' which is not officially documented anywhere).
Moblin V2 Core Alpha running under KVM
(full image size: 403kB, screen resolution: 800x600 pixels)
The system is very bare bones and RPM-based, using Yum as the package manager. Yes, I can hear you all wail and gnash your teeth, but the repository is very small - it took only 6.8 seconds to update the database. Having downloaded the required RPM packages, installing Vim via Yum took 4.6 seconds. Included by default are Xfce's text editor (Mousepad), terminal (Terminal) and file manager (Thunar), three exceptional lightweight applications. Also included are some applications for storing contacts, calendaring and notes, as well as GNOME's Connection Manager which handles network settings. Unfortunately, I was unable to test the wireless network as the Ralink device on the Eee PC 901 is not supported. Internet browsing is made possible with 'Minefield' (Firefox built from source) and multimedia support is available through Totem which was built with GStreamer support. The environment also includes a graphical package manager and some other programs for configuring the system. All in all, it's a limited but very nice, clean base environment. If you've got a wired network connection or a supported wireless device, you could turn it into quite a useful system, with the help of some third-party repositories.
While it's not up to Compiz level, the software does have a few little graphical effects such as shadowed window decoration and transparency when you click and drag a program screen. Under KVM, these all worked, so I assume this is software driven. The terminal window was not rendering properly for some reason (although it did on an actual netbook), although no other application had the same issue. This made it somewhat difficult to run commands, as I could not see what I was typing until after I had hit the Enter key! I plugged in a USB memory stick which was detected within Thunar but would not mount, throwing up HAL errors. I was able to mount this manually via the command line, so support for it is there. After I had it mounted I could access it within the file manager just fine.
Once I had the card backed up, it was time to test Moblin out on a real netbook. I wrote the ISO image directly to the SDHC card, as per instructions on the website. After this had completed it was simply a matter of changing the boot order in the BIOS and starting up Moblin. From the boot screen to the Xfce desktop it took 32 seconds. Hmm... that's a shame. I guess these cards really are pretty slow. The good thing was that all the hardware, with the exception of the wireless network card, appeared to be supported and configured correctly. Right, time to try the internal flash drive. Although an alpha release, Moblin does comes with an installer, made available through the initial boot menu. I booted it and installed Moblin to the internal flash drive. The installer was very simple, taking just a few clicks and was also very fast. After only a few minutes, I was ready to boot into my freshly installed system. This time, booting from the internal flash drive was over three times as fast as booting from the card, taking just 10 seconds from boot to desktop. That's pretty impressive.
Moblin V2 Core Alpha installer
(full image size: 68kB, screen resolution: 800x600 pixels)
As I previously mentioned, there was no support for the Ralink wireless chip in the Eee PC 901, but all the wireless tools are installed. The brightness keys worked, but not the volume keys. There is no option to suspend the laptop, but with a 10 second boot up, is it really needed? Nevertheless, I had to test it and so as root I ran echo mem > /sys/power/state and to my surprise, the laptop suspended! Unfortunately, as is often the case, it didn't resume. No matter. I installed PowerTOP using Yum which showed there were very little wake-ups occurring (aside from HAL constantly polling a non-existent CD drive). This is obviously something that the Moblin team has been working on. Although I was sort of hoping some Intel magic would make it super amazing, power management was on par with other Linux distros and was drawing around 912 mA with screen brightness fully down. Speed stepping was working, as was Hyper-Threading which provides 'two" CPUs. Applications opened quickly and the system felt very responsive. The only slowness I noticed was when the transparency effect kicked in while moving a window.
So why is it so fast? Firstly, unlike many other distributions that need to support a multitude of hardware devices, Moblin has a very specific target which lets it cut out a lot of extras. The kernel is 2.6.29-rc2 which has numerous speed improvements and only essential modules have been built directly into it. There is also no initial RAM disk - which in itself would save somewhere around 5-10 seconds of boot time. The boot loader simply loads the small kernel and gets straight into init. The packages are targeted at Intel Core 2 and Atom hardware and so will have been optimised for these processors, as opposed to a basic 386 CPU. The system has only a small selection of software and services which are started on boot, which include avahi-daemon, fuse, acpid, bluetooth, corewatcher and cron. From there, Moblin starts up an X Window session and loads Xfce. I'm sure there are numerous other technologies which offer speed improvements too, such as Intel's C++ compiler.
The Moblin Project shows a great deal of promise. This alpha release is not complete, certainly, but at the same time it's pretty impressive. I can see that with Moblin Foundations and support from third party packages, it could become the operating system of choice for netbooks. I guess time will tell!
Moblin V2 Core Alpha running on an ASUS Eee PC 901
(full image size: 525kB, screen resolution: 1024x600 pixels)
From Puppy to Woof, Mandriva Assembly, BSD distros in freeze, Fedora FAQ updates, Slackware package finder, interviews with developers from Xfce and KDE|
In November last year the creator of Puppy Linux, Barry Kauler, explained his latest project, Woof. He wrote: "Having relinquished leadership of the Puppy project (well, still in the process of doing so), I wanted to go off and play with some new ideas. No particular goals, just play day by day, and as much or as little as I feel like. One of the ideas is a new distro, Puppy-like in usability but without any of its own packages -- instead, it is created by a magic script that downloads and pulls apart binary packages from some other distro. I have code-named this new project "Woof"." Woof is really a 'build system' that lets users create a Puppy-like distro by pulling in packages from various sources. Initially Barry was using Ubuntu 'Intrepid' to test his scripts, but after running into speed issues he decided to switch to Debian. Recently however, he has posted that Woof will now also support Slackware and hints at the release of a live CD. It is certainly an interesting idea and could be a tool that Puppy uses to build their next release.
* * * * *
In December last year, Mandriva announced the creation of an international committee to bridge the gap between the company and its community. A statement released this week reveals that setting up the 'Mandriva Linux Assembly' is now complete. The assembly will consist of stakeholders from various aspects of the Mandriva community including users, testers, developers and Mandriva team members. From the website: "Mandriva Linux Assembly groups all stakeholders in an environment conducive to communication and permits an exchange of views across a broad band of subjects to enable a more comprehensive understanding of the logic underlying the choice of distribution and to promote a more collective approach to decision-making. The Assembly's principal task is to sustain communication between users, developers and the society inside community." In recent years, Mandriva has suffered as a result of its directions having been driven by the corporation, rather than desires of their community. In recent times, however, Mandriva has sought about restoring the faith of its followers and this latest development at collaboration and transparency will certainly be welcomed.
* * * * *
Things are heating up in BSD land with both PC-BSD and DragonFly BSD announcing a feature freeze on the road to new stable releases. For DragonFly BSD, Simon Schuburt writes: "Thanks to everybody for the good work and thanks for giving the new release candidate a spin to flesh out the remaining bugs. To try, simply update to master (not any release branch) and give it extra hard treatment." Kris Moore from PC-BSD announced the release of 7.1 Alpha 1: "This is ALPHA quality, expect bugs, but please report them to help us improve the software. This will require a fresh install, the upgrade portion will be working later on, after we get our new System Installer committed and included." The new alpha is based off FreeBSD 7.1 stable and includes X.Org 7.4 and KDE 4.2. PC-BSD isn't the only one offering KDE 4.2 however, so is FreeBSD itself which recently put out a public call for users to test the new version: "The KDE FreeBSD team is happy to announce the first public call for testing for KDE 4.2. Over the past weeks we have focused on the complex and very time consuming task to get KDE 4.2 running."
* * * * *
The Fedora community is hard at work preparing the upcoming 'Leonidas' release, but one of the new features is sure to cause a stir. By default, the new version will disable the much loved Ctrl-Alt-Backspace key combination which kills the X server. While this appears to be an 'enhancement' from upstream based on usability studies, some users aren't happy with the decision. Recently openSUSE implemented a similar feature, which required the combination to be hit twice before it would activate. Perhaps Fedora could look into this instead, as a compromise to keep both camps happy. In other Fedora related news, the unofficial Fedora FAQ has announced an update to the popular website. The informative site introduces Fedora to the visitor and contains many useful bits of information on how to make the most of the system. Aside from a new layout and translations for German and Portuguese, this update also includes instructions for ATI video drivers, an updated Flash HowTo, and newer instructions for installing Windows fonts, among others. "Let me know if you have any thoughts or feedback! I'm also always interested if there are other frequently-asked questions that the FAQ should be dealing with."
* * * * *
Linux news site, Linux Blogs 2K, has posted about a new package search system for Slackware Linux called SlackFind.net: "Most of Debian and/or its derivatives uses apt-get to find the packages to install on their system. This works as Debian has large repositories which contain lots of packages. The same goes with some other big distributions, like Mandriva and openSUSE. What about Slackware?" All of Slackware's official repositories are managed by founder Patrick Volkerding and while others exist, there is no way to easily search them all. This is where SlackFind can help. "SlackFind ... is like Slackware package browser, but instead of searching for official packages, SlackFind can find through several repositories and look for SlackBuild or Slackware packages." From the website: "SlackFind is metadata storage and search tools for Slackware packages placed in different repositories. The idea has been taken from rpmfind.net, a similar project for RPM-based distributions." This could become a very useful tool for the community.
* * * * *
This week we provide a link to an interview published on KDE News with developer Dario Freddi. Dario is responsible for PowerDevil, the new power manager which made its début in the recent KDE 4.2 release. He also contributes to Arch Linux and is a lead developer of The Chakra Project, a 'distrolet' which showcases the K Desktop Environment. In the interview, Dario discusses all three projects and also talks about how he got into Linux. When asked why he uses his distro of choice, he replies: "In my opinion, Arch Linux is a distribution you can only love or hate: in my case it has been love at first sight! Arch, if used the right way, is the distro that needs the least maintenance; thanks to its simplicity, it is extremely performing and fast, and it is a rolling release. That's all I need from a distro." He admits to having been a GNOME user until he saw the possibilities with the KDE 4 series and got involved in its development. We also have an interview with Olivier Fourdan, the developer of Xfce, the popular, lightweight GTK+ desktop environment. He discusses the use of Xfce on various platforms and distributions, and provides some background on the project.
* * * * *
What were you doing back in the year 2000? If you're like me then you were possibly installing one of many different Linux distributions, or perhaps starting your own. Linux is almost 20 years old now, but how far has it come in the last decade? TuxRadar, a news site backed by the Linux Format magazine, has recently posted an article from May 2000 on the best distros of that year: "In 2000 the operating system was still regarded as a niche player, a fantastic showcase of technology for geeks but not yet ready for prime time. Today we see Linux on netbooks, Linux on Dell boxes, Linux everywhere; it's serious business. Corel Linux is long dead, despite a high-profile entrance into the distro scene, while Caldera Linux occupied a healthy position (before the SCO shenanigans busted it up). SuSE, Mandrake and Red Hat are still alive in various flavours, while the British Definite distro bought the farm and WinLinux only made it to a 2003 release." For anyone feeling a little nostalgic, it's a great read to see how we used to do things and how far we have come!
Remember Linuxconf? It was one of the first GUI system administration tools for Linux.
(screenshot courtesy of TuxRadar)
|Released Last Week
Slamd64 Linux 12.2
Fred Emmott has announced the release of Slamd64 Linux 12.2, an unofficial port of Slackware Linux to the x86_64 architecture: "Slamd64 12.2 is released, and is an incremental improvement over 12.1, including: Linux 220.127.116.11; GCC 4.2.4; Apache HTTPD 2.2.10, with SSL support and PHP 5.2.8; updated development tools; KDE 3.5.10 and Xfce 4.4.3; Mozilla Firefox 3.0.5 and Mozilla Thunderbird 18.104.22.168; Sun Java (JRE and JDK) 6u11. Like previous releases of Slamd64, 12.2 provides seamless FHS-compliant 32-bit compatibility, via a multilib system (/lib for 32-bit libraries and /lib64 for 64-bit libraries). This provides easier and increased support for both existing 32-bit software and for 64-bit binaries too, such as the NVIDIA drivers, without requiring compatibility symlinks which clutter the root directory and remove the separation of 32-bit and 64-bit binaries." Visit the project's home page to read the full release announcement.
StartCom Enterprise Linux 5.0.3
Eddy Nigg has announced the release of StartCom Enterprise Linux 5.0.3, a distribution built from source code for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3: "With the availability of StartCom Enterprise Linux AS 5.0.3, OpenJDK Java technologies have arrived at this open source, enterprise-grade platform. This updated release provides increased scalability of virtualized x86_64 environments, support for the new Intel Core i7 (Nehalem) processors and the inclusion of the OpenJDK Java implementation. OpenJDK is a high-performance, fully open source implementation of the widely adopted Java SE 6. Other added kernel features include the software-based Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) driver and along with libfc provides the ability to run FCoE over a standard Ethernet card." Here is the complete release announcement.
Sylvain Balbous has announced the release of PapugLinux 09.1, a minimalist Gentoo-based desktop live CD with Fluxbox as the default window manager: "PapugLinux 09.1 is finally available for download. As more than a year elapsed since the previous release, most of the packages have major updates. We focused our work on a better integration with Rox file manager by providing Rox-project tools for an improved user experience. MPlayer is now integrated to give multimedia support a better flavor, it was optimized for Intel platform and may fail on some AMD computers. No worry, Audacious and Ogle are still there to do the job! And for those who want to work with PapugLinux, Gnumeric is now included to allow spreadsheet manipulation. Updated packages X.Org 7.2, Firefox 3.0.5, Sylpheed 2.5.0, Pidgin 2.5.2, AbiWord 2.6.4. Added packages: Gnumeric 1.8.3, MPlayer 1.0rc2." Read the release announcement for further information.
Michael Creel has announced the release of PelicanHPC 1.8, a Debian-based live CD image with a goal to make it simple to set up a high-performance computing cluster: "PelicanHPC v1.8 is released." What's new? "The make_pelican script supports USB disk image as well as ISO; added dialogs for setting password and allowing use of permanent storage; add binary blobs for closed-source network cards; add locales, console-common and packages for mail; add a couple of symbolic links to support software compiled using older versions of OpenMPI; tutorial updated." Visit the project's home page to read the release announcement and to learn about the distribution's features.
K12Linux F10 "Live Server"
Warren Togami has announced the release of K12Linux F10 "Live Server", a distribution featuring the Linux Terminal Server Project integrated with Fedora 10 in a convenient live USB or DVD media installer: "The K12Linux team is proud to announce the release of K12Linux F10 Live Server. K12Linux allows easy deployment of a Linux terminal server, capable of serving entire networks of netboot diskless clients. Clients login to the central terminal server, where they can use any Linux desktop environment (GNOME, KDE, Xfce) and most desktop applications. The clients are stateless, making them easy to maintain and replace by on-site staff with minimal training. Features: auto-configuration of diskless thin clients; applications like OpenOffice.org or Firefox are typically faster than a standalone Linux desktop; sound is automatically forwarded over the network via PulseAudio; local application support; local storage devices support." Read the full release announcement for further details.
iMagic OS 2009.3
Carlos La Borde has released iMagic OS 2009.3, a commercial desktop Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. Features: "Based on the long-awaited and requested 'Hardy Heron' base; the desktop is now a lot cleaner and easy to use; a much slimmer and better structured system; the GUI has taken quite a twist - 3D effects have been slightly changed, graphical themes are also slightly different, the icons are new and improved to provide a full computing blast, there is also a new splash screen to add to system unification; a new launcher has been created for ease-of-use and better netbook support; Konqueror now combines a sleek blue and silver side bar, with useful features and places that will be familiar to all Windows users; magicOnline replaces CNR; now familiar file types such as .exe, .msi, and .deb are all detected on download." Visit the distribution's product page to learn more.
Linux Mint 6 "x86_64"
Clement Lefebvre has announced the release of Mint 6 "x86_64" edition, an Ubuntu-based distribution designed for computers with 64-bit processors: "On behalf of the team I am proud to announce that Linux Mint 6 'Felicia' is now available in a 64-bit edition. This release comes with all the innovations featured in Linux Mint 6 and, for the very first time, with the 64-bit editions of the Adobe Flash and Sun Java plugins! The purpose of the x86_64 edition is to offer the same desktop features as the main edition but in a 64-bit environment. It aims to be as similar to the main edition as possible. More packages are available for i386 than they are for x86_64 and the main edition is also slightly more stable than its 64-bit equivalent. The main edition only recognizes a maximum of 4 GB RAM though and even on computers with less than 4 GB RAM the performance gain provided by x86_64 over the main edition can significantly enhance the user's experience." Read the rest of the release announcement for more details.
Muayyad Al-Sadi has announced the release of Ojuba 2, a Fedora-based distribution designed for Arabic-speaking users. Some of the more interesting features of this release include: a DVD edition with development tools, system utilities and proprietary graphics drivers; media-repo - a program that detects a DVD containing a package repository and launches the GUI package manager; the latest Fedora 10 features, such as fast boot with Plymouth; OpenOffice.org 3; many patches for better Arabic support (in Yelp and notification daemon); Thwab 2.2.2 - a software that can view thousands of freely available Islamic literature books; an initial release of Othman - the Quran browser (with the original Othmani calligraphy style); Hijra 0.1.17 - an enhanced version of our Hijri/Islamic calendar; pre-configured, ready-to-use Nautilus share. For further information please see the release announcement (in Arabic).
François Dupoux has announced the release of SystemRescueCd 1.1.5, a Gentoo-based distribution designed for data rescue and hard disk management tasks. From the changelog: "Updated the standard kernels to Linux 22.214.171.124 with Reiser4FS and ext4; recent ext4 kernel updates backported from Linux 2.6.29-rc; updated FSArchiver to version 0.4.1 (file systems backup and deployment tool); updated GRUB to 0.97-r9 (support boot from ext4 file systems); updated the Btrfs file system support to 0.18 (kernel module and utilities); updated NTFS-3G to version 2009.1.1 (NTFS full read-write support); e2fsprogs to 1.41.4 (important ext4 fixes); updated GParted to version 0.4.2 (add support for ext4, detection of LVM); patched tar to add support for xattr, ACL and SELinux (patch from Fedora); fix - autorun scripts copied in the root of the CD-ROM were not executed; created the whatis and locate databases (useful to find a file quickly and help)...."
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- PocketPC. PocketPC is a flash drive with pre-installed Ubuntu.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 16 February 2009.
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|• Issue 647 (2016-02-08): Tails 2.0, KDE project launches Neon, Manjaro unveils ARM support, FreeBSD's quarterly report|
|• Issue 646 (2016-02-01): deepin 15, Mint plans X-Apps, FreeBSD to support boot environments, logging into the desktop as root|
|• Issue 645 (2016-01-25): Linux Mint 17.3 "Xfce", Chromixium changes its name, Ubuntu tablets coming soon, Linux vs BSD comparision|
|• Issue 644 (2016-01-18): Kwort 4.3, Sabayon tests ARM images, Slackware adopts PulseAudio, running Linux without GNU software|
|• Issue 643 (2016-01-11): Solus 1.0, Mint provide upgrade path to 17.3, Fedora developers work on stability, running the LXQt desktop|
|• Issue 642 (2016-01-04): paldo GNU/Linux, vetting distro repositories, Fedora plans to adopt GCC 6, Ian Murdock passes|
|• Issue 641 (2015-12-21): Arch Linux, Qubes OS to ship on Librem laptops, ALT offers start kit images, the spread of systemd and launchd|
|• Issue 640 (2015-12-14): Chakra GNU/Linux 2015.11, removing meta-data from files, Ubuntu to remove on-line dash searches|
|• Issue 639 (2015-12-07): OpenBSD 5.8, openSUSE gathers Summer of Code proposals, running WINE on a live disc, Enlightenment adds Wayland support|
|• Issue 638 (2015-11-30): Qubes OS 3.0, KaOS with Plasma, NetBSD 7.0, Fedora seeks Wayland testers, scheduling tasks|
|• Full list of all issues|
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