| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 337, 18 January 2010
Welcome to this year's third issue of DistroWatch Weekly! With most major distributions in the early stages of preparation for their next stable releases, it seems like a good time to take a look at some of the lesser-known projects. This week we examine Jibbed 5.0.1, a NetBSD-based live CD that boots into an Xfce desktop and includes a number of desktop applications. In the news section, a new community remix of Fedora with media codecs and improved hardware support makes its first appearance, Mandriva updates its development branch with the latest testing builds of GNOME and KDE, the Dreamlinux user community expresses fears over the future of the project, and Arch Linux developers defend the "Arch way" in an interview at OSNews. Also in this week's issue, Jesse Smith explains why free software is sometimes perceived as inferior compared to proprietary applications. Finally, don't miss the statistics section which takes another look at online sales of free operating systems. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
A first look at Jibbed 5.0.1 (a NetBSD live CD)
I've always had a good deal of respect for the various flavours of BSD. Each of them holds down an interesting niche in the open source community and I generally enjoy using them when I have the opportunity. So it was with a good deal of excitement that I read about Jibbed, a live CD based off the latest version of NetBSD. I, admittedly, have had little experience with the operating system whose claim to fame is the ability to run on anything, even a toaster, and this seemed like a good chance to see what was new in NetBSD.
The Jibbed web site displays a clean and easy-to-navigate layout. It's very easy on the eyes and contains lots of useful information on the project. This includes some frequently asked questions (and answers), a Wiki and ways to contact the developer. By the time my download was done and checked for errors, I was already feeling hopeful about this project. The Jibbed image file is medium in size, weighing in at about 465 MB. For my safari into Jibbed I used two physical machines, a LG laptop with a 1.5 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM and an ATI video card. I also used a generic desktop box with a 2.5 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM and a NVIDIA video card. To round out the experiment, I set up Jibbed in a virtual machine too.
Jibbed starts up and chugs through a bunch of text (much of which is in an alarming red colour) before dropping the user at a command prompt. By default, the system logs the user in under an account called "live". This prevents someone from accidentally doing damage to their system and it's good to see. The "live" user can easily switch over to being root without a password to perform administrator functions. As suggested on the project's web site, I ran "startx" and was given a clean and fairly standard-looking Xfce desktop.
Jibbed 5.0.1 - changing the default look
(full image size: 180kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
My video settings were correctly detected and the Xfce desktop's default look balances sober with pleasant. There are the usual suspects of applications along the quick launch bar at the bottom of the screen, including AbiWord for word processing and Mousepad for text editing. There is also a media player. Pidgin is included for instant messaging and there is a re-branded copy of Firefox (version 3) for web browsing. The quick launch bar also has a CPU monitor, which lets the user know how much work the processor is doing. Included in the application menu are Filezilla to transfer files, a calendar application, programs to change system settings and one lonely arcade game.
The system comes with a graphical tool called App Finder, which helps find programs based on category. This is a handy application for people unfamiliar with either BSD or Xfce and it's nice to see this effort at user friendliness. There aren't very many programs to choose from and Jibbed takes the approach of one application per task.
My network connection was detected and activated automatically. There were no graphical tools that I noticed for configuring my network settings, so any changes would have to be made from a command line. For using that network connection, Jibbed comes with common command-line networking programs, such as SSH, telnet and FTP clients. A secure shell server is provided, but not activated by default. In fact, no common network services appeared to be running, making Jibbed fairly secure out of the box.
Hardware was a bit of a mixed bag while using Jibbed. My printer wasn't detected, for example. My mobile broadband device wasn't picked up either and Jibbed refused to boot when running in a virtual environment. (I had a chance to exchange e-mails with Zafer Aydoğan, the developer behind Jibbed. He informed me that Jibbed works in VMware, but does not run in the current offering of VirtualBox. The system will run in Parallels, but without networking capabilities.) When inserting a USB flash drive, the system would churn for a while, but wouldn't mount or otherwise acknowledge the device. Any mounting of local drives or USB devices had to be done manually. While BSD veterans probably won't mind this, it's an inconvenience to those of us who have become accustomed to the Linux way of doing things and need to look up a quick reference to the device-naming convention used by BSD.
On the positive side, my network card was properly detected, sound worked out of the box and the video card was handled flawlessly. And, while I wasn't able to print to a physical printer, a function for exporting files to PDF was included in the print system. Jibbed ran very well on my desktop machine. It also ran on my laptop, though when booting on the laptop, I was treated to a continuous stream of warnings. My laptop's wireless card was detected and Jibbed tried to set up a wireless connection automatically.
Jibbed 5.0.1 - word processing and calendar applications
(full image size: 225kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
It should be no surprise to NetBSD fans to hear that Jibbed is a fairly light operating system. When running a desktop and doing minor tasks, about 300 MB of memory was used. When I pushed the system a little by running the media player, browsing the web, taking screen shots and doing some word processing, memory usage jumped to just over 400 MB. Running from the command line without a desktop requires a bare 40 MB of RAM.
For those who don't like the default look and feel, Jibbed comes with a collection of various themes. There is also a handy tool for manipulating the desktop background colours, including a slide bar that will adjust brightness. The configuration panel is rounded out with tools to change mouse, keyboard, video and sound settings. On the negative side, documentation is a bit sparse. The standard UNIX manual pages are included and work well as a quick reference. They're also important to those of us who are accustomed to typing Linux commands, but want to check for minor differences in the BSD equivalents. Beyond the man pages there isn't much to help people along, aside from a short README file that offers commands to start the desktop and change the default password.
Jibbed 5.0.1 - looking up commands and getting help
(full image size: 225kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Jibbed does not have an installer to transfer the operating system from the CD to the local hard drive. The lack of an installer is a bit of a disappointment, but the project's website says one will be added in the future. For now, Jibbed is a live CD only.
Being a live CD, packages aren't updated on the system. Users should upgrade to the latest versions of the CD as they come out. However, Jibbed does come with a package manager, called pkg_src. Running the package manager led me into another quirk of Jibbed: parts of the file system are writeable and others are read-only. The user's home folder and the system's /tmp folder are writeable. Other places, including the program folders under /usr are read-only. This means that to add or remove packages on Jibbed, the user must first remount system folders in read/write mode. I'm uncertain as to whether this is a security feature or an unexpected quirk.
I was pleased to discover that the live CD comes with a functioning C compiler. This makes Jibbed a handy tool for testing code for cross-platform compatibility without requiring a copy of NetBSD to actually be installed on the test machine. A developer with virtually no BSD experience can pop in the Jibbed CD and test their code. However, the project's best asset may be its sole developer, Zafer Aydoğan. He is a bright and friendly fellow who shows a willingness to respond to queries and offer assistance wherever he can. He has the kind of enthusiasm I love seeing in an open source project.
Throughout the time I used Jibbed, the system was stable. Performance was about what I'd expect from a live CD - good but not snappy. The interface was clean and there were no unpleasant surprises. All in all, Jibbed is a solid product. Judging by its medium size and fairly small collection of desktop software, I have to assume that Jibbed is not designed to be a day-to-day operating system. It shows off the latest software from NetBSD and it does that well. This CD seems to be directed at folks who either use NetBSD and want to see what's coming down the pipe without doing a fresh install or for people who are curious about trying NetBSD but don't want to take the plunge yet. I like what this project has to offer and I hope an installer and some small improvements are made to user friendliness to make Jibbed a truly great experience.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Fedora Community Remix, Mandriva "Cooker" updates, Dreamlinux future, Arch Linux interview
We have already reported about Omega, a remix of the Fedora distribution with out-of-the-box support for all the popular multimedia codecs. Now there is a new Fedora-based project that goes even further in delivering various user-friendly features, including better hardware support and other interesting enhancements. It's called Fedora Community Remix: "We would like to announce Fedora Community Remix 12.1. Based on Fedora 12, multimedia support, KDE and GNOME desktops, better hardware compatibility for Broadcom wireless cards, better printer hardware compatibility, GNOME Do - intelligent application launcher; better and interesting games, educational and astronomy software installed, Chromium web browser, many other enhancements." The 1.94 GB DVD image is available for free download from the above link.
In the meantime, the development of Fedora 13, the project's next stable release, is in advanced stages of feature design. As revealed by Phoronix, the decision makers held a FESCo (Fedora Engineering Steering Committee) meeting last week where four new features were added to the list of features for Fedora 13: "KDE 4.4 will be officially included in Fedora 13, PolicyKit One support for Qt/KDE applications and the KDE desktop will be added, the Sugar Learning Environment from the OLPC project will be updated to latest version (v0.88), and the Xfce desktop will be updated against the latest Xfce 4.8 packages. The features now nearing completion is on-demand printer driver installation support, GNOME Color Manager integration for generating color profiles in the GNOME desktop, SSSD by default, and an upgrade against Upstart 0.6."
* * * * *
Speaking about new features, Mandriva's Frederik Himpe continues to keep us au curant with the latest updates in "Cooker", the distribution's development tree: "GNOME has been upgraded to the new development release 2.29.5; the Cheese webcam application has been split into different libraries, making it easier for other applications to integrate webcam functionality; Epiphany now uses an infobar to ask the user to save user names and passwords in the GNOME keyring; KDE 4.4 RC 1 is now available in Cooker; Mandriva has patched the kmix volume mixer to support PulseAudio; Amarok 2.2.2; Gnash 0.9.7 snapshot; xine-lib 1.2 with support for VDPAU for hardware accelerated rendering of high definition video...."
* * * * *
The Dreamlinux user community was gripped by panic last week when it appeared that the distribution's developers had abandoned the project and went incognito: "The head developer of Dreamlinux has been AWOL for several months, leading us to doubt whether Dreamlinux will continue." Dreamlinux is a nicely designed, Debian-based desktop distribution from Brazil, with an Xfce user interface tweaked to resemble that of Mac OS X. But is it really dead? Luckily, by the end of the week the problem was resolved to everybody's satisfaction: "Although the head developer hasn't commented, his partner, Andre Felipe, has said they will be continuing with Dreamlinux 4.0 in 2010." If you understand the language of Camões, you can read more on the topic (alongside some reader comments) in Dreamlinux, fim ou uma pausa? at BR-Linux.org.
Dreamlinux 3.5 features a beautiful and functional desktop.
(full image size: 2,088kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
Finally, a link to an interesting interview with the developers of Arch Linux, as published by OSNews: "OSNews: With distributions like Ubuntu attracting more and more users, have you ever considered a pre-built ISO for those that need a desktop in 30 minutes? Thomas Bächler: When you compare the short time you spend installing Arch with the years you are going to use it, it seems like a waste of time to put effort into a plug-and-pray installer. Furthermore, if you are going to use Arch, you better know what's installed on your system. All that said, I can easily set up a working Arch desktop machine in 30 minutes. Giovanni Scafora: Arch Linux users don't need a desktop in 30 minutes!"
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
In search of "better" applications
In-search-of-better-applications asks: I just wanted to ask someone who had some influence in the Linux world if there were some way more emphasis could be put on applications. I love Linux, but I'm basically an end user, and I consider the OS as the shell for the things I need to do. I feel like a disproportionate amount of resources are used for finding new ways to repackage the framework for the same half-done apps, when Linux would be more useful to a lot more people with top quality software. Speaking from experience, I currently teach in a small private school, and any time I've tried to teach Linux in an official capacity, I've been told that I need to go with the software that's high quality and that everyone uses.
Unfortunately OpenOffice.org is a good example. I love OOo, and use it all the time myself, but it just doesn't come anywhere close to MS Office in usability or features. Yet I see new distros and new versions all the time, and very little, in comparison, happening with apps like OOo.
DistroWatch answers: When I first started reading this question I wasn't sure I wanted to run with it. Mostly because I'm aware of how little influence I have in the open source community. But, here goes.
One interesting thing about the open-source community is that it isn't an organization. It doesn't really have people directing or leading the way. Sure, there are some small pockets of organized development (Red Hat, GNU, Canonical), but the community is largely made up of people doing their own thing. It's much more a bazaar than a cathedral, with thousands of people developing, testing and using software to the beat of their own drums. Often these folks, myself included, are writing software to fill a gap or to simply see if they can. This explains why there are 94 results of "chess" at Freshmeat and only 26 for "tax", more programmers have an interest in playing chess than in tax laws.
Resources also factor into open source development. Most programmers have the time, money and resources to build a text editor. Most do not have the resources to provide up to date production data on oil wells in Montana, for example. Large companies, such as Google or Sun Microsystems, have the ability to throw millions of dollars, brains and hardware at a problem, usually with the hope of a profit down the road. Most open source developers do not. What I'm coming around to is, there are probably lots of developers who would like to create image manipulation programs on par with Photoshop and office software that can stand feature-to-feature with MS Office, but they lack the time and resources.
I think a reason we see so many new or re-mastered distributions is there's the attitude in open source circles that if you can do something better, prove it. Lots of bug reports, patches and feature requests are turned aside by established projects and it's up to the new developer to maintain their own fork to get their idea into the open.
So, how do we get better applications? I think Google has the right idea with their Summer of Code program. If you see something that should be done, see if you can hire a developer to do it. Offer a bounty for bugs you want to see fixed or features you want implemented. I offer letters of recommendation to college students in programming courses who are willing to add features I want to see in existing projects. Contact companies that offer industry standard applications for other platforms and ask them to port their software to Linux. As the Linux community grows, more companies will see the benefit of supporting the platform. Of course, whenever possible, submit feature requests to upstream projects and hope someone implements it for you. There have been several occasions when people have e-mailed me to say, "Your app doesn't do X," and my reply is generally, "Nobody has asked for that before. It'll be in the next version." It's important to ask for things you want.
Those are my suggestions for the long-term, but you have a class to teach now. If you're hoping to teach with Linux in the classroom, I recommend talking to the people who are objecting and a) point out Linux distributions (and the applications they comes with) are less expensive than the alternatives; b) make a case for teaching concepts, not specific tools.
Applications come and go and interfaces change over time, but most basic computer concepts change slowly. Point out that people who specifically learned MS Office 2003 were completely obsolete when 2007 arrived. Point out that if the students learn exclusively Windows 7 and their future employer uses OS X, their education won't be of any help. Instead, make a pitch for teaching the basic concepts of word processing, computer interfaces, file systems, spreadsheets, etc. Show the nay-sayers it's more important the students understand how the computer works and how to make the most of the tools given them, rather than memorizing an interface that will be thrown out in three years. Good luck!
|Statistics (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Online CD, DVD and USB media sales
In a recent issue of DistroWatch Weekly we took a brief look at the number of CDs, DVDs and USB Flash drives sold through the OSDisc.com affiliate program run by DistroWatch. In response to the article, Ramsey Brenner, the founder of OSDisc.com, was kind enough to offer us more data on the sales of the media containing one of the free operating systems available on the market. For obvious reasons, he declined to give away the total number of media sold, but the percentage of each distribution sold should be able to rekindle some of the battles over distro popularity that many DistroWatch readers like to engage in the comments section.
So without further ado, here is a table listing the top 50 distributions sold by OSDisc.com in 2009. The third column represents the percentage of the total number of CDs, DVDs and USB Flash drives sold during the year. Feel free to draw your own conclusions...
|Released Last Week
Offensive Security has announced the release of BackTrack 4, an Ubuntu-based live DVD containing a large collection of tools for security audits, computer forensics and penetration testing: "BackTrack 4 final is out and along with this release come some exciting news, updates, and developments. BackTrack 4 has been a long and steady road, with the release of a beta last year, we decided to hold off on releasing BackTrack 4 final until it was perfected in every way, shape and form. This release includes a new kernel, a larger and expanded toolset repository, custom tools that you can only find on BackTrack, and more importantly, fixes to all major bugs that we knew of. This release has received an overwhelming support from the community and we are grateful to everyone who has contributed to the success of this release." Here is the full release announcement.
BackTrack 4 - the project's first release based on Ubuntu
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Warren Woodford has announced the release of SimplyMEPIS 8.0.15, a new update of the beginner-friendly distribution based on Debian's stable branch: "MEPIS LLC has released SimplyMEPIS 8.0.15, an update to the community edition of MEPIS 8.0. SimplyMEPIS 8.0 uses a Debian stable foundation enhanced with a long-term support kernel, key package updates, and the MEPIS Assistant applications to create an up-to-date, ready-to-use system providing a KDE 3.5 desktop. This release includes recent Debian security updates as well as MEPIS updates which include Linux kernel 220.127.116.11, OpenOffice.org 3.1.1, Firefox 3.5.6, and BIND 9.6.1-P2. Also available are Skype 18.104.22.168 and Mono 22.214.171.124. The MEPIS installer was updated to fix a recently discovered bug that sometimes interfered with installing MEPIS as the only operating system on a hard drive." The full release announcement.
Michael Creel has announced the release of PelicanHPC 2.0, a Debian-based live CD which makes it simple to set up a high performance computing cluster: "PelicanHPC 2.0 is available. Features: based on Debian testing instead of stable - this means that most packages have newer versions, in particular, the kernel is at 2.6.30 and Open MPI is at 1.3.3; has new MPI bindings for GNU Octave; the new MPI bindings allow use of Octave 3.2.x instead of 3.0.x, which gives some important performance gains; the new bindings are less complete than MPITB, but they provide all MPI calls used in the examples for GNU Octave; the Monte Carlo and kernel examples have been adapted to use these new bindings; Open MPI is now the only MPI implementation installed; the Ganglia monitoring system is installed and pre-configured for up to 4 hosts." Visit the project's home page to read the brief release announcement.
Frenzy, a FreeBSD-based live CD featuring a variety of security, system testing, networking and penetration tools, has been resurrected. After being formally put to sleep by its creator, Sergei Mozhaisky, a developer community headed by Egor Vershinin has taken over the work. The just-released version 1.2 is the first fruit of their labour: "Frenzy 1.2 'reincarnation' (community release) is out. It's based on FreeBSD 8.0 and available in 2 editions - lite and standard. This is a first version of Frenzy that isn't made by me - the author of this build is Egor Vershinin." The developers have set up a new web site at frenzy.bspu.ru, with some documentation and a changelog, but it's currently in Russian only. The project's original web site at frenzy.org.ua also has some information about the new release. The "lite" edition of Frenzy only includes command line tools, but the "standard" edition comes with X.Org and Fluxbox.
Frenzy 1.2 - a FreeBSD-based live CD with a plethora of security and penetration-testing tools
(full image size: 270kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Pardus Linux 2009.1
Onur Küçük has announced the final release of Pardus Linux 2009.1: "The latest stable release of the 2009 family, Pardus Linux 2009.1 is ready. Pardus Linux 2009.1 comes with the latest stable KDE release, enhanced hardware support, and bigger software archive with up-to-date packages such as KDE 4.3.4, Linux kernel 126.96.36.199, OpenOffice.org 3.1.1, Mozilla Firefox 3.5.7, GIMP 2.6.8, X.Org Server 1.6.5, Python 2.6.4 and many more in just one CD. With the 2009.1 series, the Pardus ISO files are generated as hybrid images which can be burned to a CD, DVD or dumped to a hard disk-like media, such as a USB stick. The Pardus team thanks to you all who have developed, tested, translated and supported Pardus Linux." Here is the brief release announcement.
Pardus Linux 2009.1 - a new update of the desktop-oriented distribution with many unique touches
(full image size: 1,666kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- Android-x86. This is a project to port the Android open source project to the x86 platform. The original plan was to host different patches for Android x86, but a few months after creating the project, the developers decided to fork the code base that will provide Android x86 support on different x86 platforms.
- Puredyne. Puredyne is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution and live CD aimed at artists and creative people. It provides the best experimental creative applications alongside a solid set of graphic, audio and video tools in a fast, minimal package. Puredyne is optimised for use in realtime audio and video processing and it distinguishes itself by offering a low-latency kernel and the high responsiveness needed by artists working in this field.
- Zen-mini. ZEN-mini is a PCLinuxOS-based minimalist distribution and live CD. It comes with a very basic GNOME desktop without additional applications. It is designed for advanced users or for users who wish to learn how to customise their system with the applications and support files they want to use. Additional software can be installed through the Synaptic software manager.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 25 January 2010.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Issue 633 (2015-10-26): GhostBSD 10.1, Bodhi Linux to get new settings panel, Fedora 23 delayed, creating live image of existing OS|
|• Issue 632 (2015-10-19): Linux Lite 2.6, 32-bit build of CentOS, OpenBSD turns 20, Bodhi Linux releases AppPack|
|• Issue 631 (2015-10-12): Parsix 8.0, Manjaro seeks new artwork, sending commands to multiple servers, Debian drops LSB support|
|• Issue 630 (2015-10-05): Android-x86 4.4-r3, Ubuntu's new installer, Raspbian defaults to GUI interface, cleaning out dot files|
|• Issue 629 (2015-09-28): Open source desktops and touch interfaces, locking down user accounts, OpenMandriva opens gaming documentation|
|• Issue 628 (2015-09-21): Neptune 4.4, changes to pfSense, Pinguy OS releases updated ISO images, accessing hard disk images|
|• Full list of all issues|
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