| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 351, 26 April 2010
Welcome to this year's 17th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! It's the Ubuntu release week, but before we get a chance to swarm the download mirrors with our insatiable desire for new releases, there is still time to cover some of the lesser-known distributions. This week we'll take a look at Scientific Linux, a surprisingly popular Linux option - and not just for sever rooms of high-tech research rooms and leading laboratories. In the news section, Red Hat announces the first public beta of a Xen-less Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, Fedora continues its strong march towards version 13 with a plethora of (mostly invisible) features, Edubuntu prepares for a launch of a much improved Ubuntu flavour for schools, and MEPIS releases a set of USB images with extra applications and language support. Also in this issue, a look at the current state of affairs at Xandros and an explanation about motives behind 6-month release cycles which many popular distributions adopted in recent years. All this and more in this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly - happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Gazing at Scientific Linux
A little while ago someone requested I write a review of Scientific Linux. Intrigued, but not yet motivated, I invited people to write to me and tell me what they found interesting about Scientific. I got a bit more feedback than I'd expected and nearly all of it in favour of the distribution. Apparently several readers find Scientific a good OS for their machines at home and run it on everything from servers, to desktops, to netbooks.... everything except the family toaster. Honestly, I was a bit surprised. Scientific Linux has always struck me as a distro which is aimed at a small community of researchers, finding a quiet niche in the dark server rooms of laboratories. I stand corrected. With a new found curiosity, I ventured over to scientificlinux.org.
The project's website is a simple display of black and white in a Wiki style. The site is fairly quiet, almost sparse in its presentation. Nonetheless, navigation around the site is straightforward and I found that the latest version, 5.4, comes in Intel 32-bit and 64-bit flavours. This latest release came out in November and is supported through until 2012. The distribution is supplied on a series of eight installation CDs or two DVDs. It's also available as a live CD, which I decided to use for my test drive.
Scientific Linux 5.4 - browsing through the applications
(full image size: 318kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
The live CD boots up to a text screen where the user is able to select various boot parameters. I took the defaults and kicked off the live environment. The system asked some locale information and then requested that I set a password for the root and regular user accounts on the live CD. Both accounts use the same, user-generated password for the remainder of the live session. This strikes me as a wise move as it gets around the liability of having a published root password for the disc. Users who are comfortable running from the CD without a password are able to skip over the step.
The live CD boots into a GNOME desktop with a fuzzy, atomic-themed wallpaper. The menu bar is placed at the top of the screen and a few navigation icons are on the desktop. The theme is really where the system shows its roots and its age. The distribution is, after all, sitting on a 3-year old platform. Some may find this an unpleasant trip into the past while others will probably enjoy the comfort of familiarity.
Scientific's installer is a simple program. Though it may seem primitive compared to other installers, it does its job well enough. Prior to using the installer, the user will need to set up a partition where the operating system can be installed. GParted is included on the CD for this purpose. The installer asks the user which partition they would like to use and what file system should be placed on that partition. The options are limited to ext2, ext3 and XFS. The user is then offered the chance to select a swap partition and decide where GRUB should be installed. The installer asks the user to set a root partition and gets down to work copying over the necessary files. Each option is laid out as a simple question with a simple answer, which -- to my mind -- makes up for the crude format.
Scientific Linux 5.4 - installing updates with Yumex
(full image size: 350kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Upon first boot, I found Scientific had created a non-root account for me and placed 2.2 GB of software on my hard drive. Most of the applications are fairly standard, though their version numbers tend to lag a bit behind the latest and greatest. The system is armed with the GIMP, OpenOffice.org (2.3), Firefox (3.0), Thunderbird, gFTP, VNC viewer, a calculator, PDF viewer, dictionary, IRC client, video player, disc burner, audio player and network tools. The system has Emacs in the application menu and, Yum Extender. Scientific may be the only distro I've seen to include Yumex in the default install and it was a pleasant surprise as I consider it a superior tool to many other RPM graphical front-ends. The menus also contain the usual collection of GNOME configuration utilities and a handful of small games. The version of GNOME which comes with Scientific is 2.16, which is a few years old. This may be good or bad, depending on one's point of view. I, for instance, was happy to note it was still possible to disable gnome-terminal's blinking cursor in 2.16 without using GConf. In addition to the usual collection of applications to change appearances and window behaviour, there are also a firewall and SELinux manager and a program for managing system services. By default, network services are turned off and the firewall is turned on. I found SELinux to be disabled out of the box.
Scientific Linux 5.4 - examining the network and security
(full image size: 399kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
The distribution has some extras which aren't found in its Fedora and CentOS cousins, including MP3 support and Flash. Most popular video codecs, however, appear to be missing. Aside from the ext2, ext3 and XFS file systems offered by the installer, the distro is also able to deal with ReiserFS and NTFS partitions, making Scientific a good fit for dual-boot configurations.
I ran Scientific on two physical machines, one was a generic desktop (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card) and the other was my HP laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card). To see how the system would function with fewer resources, I also installed Scientific in a VirtualBox virtual machine. My desktop's hardware was handled well, with networking and sound working out of the box. My screen was set to the desired resolution and I encountered no problems. Hardware on my laptop was more hit and miss, which was to be expected as it's a newer machine and Scientific is using an older kernel (version 2.6.18). Video resolution was fine, sound worked out of the box and my touchpad worked properly and registered taps as clicks. My Intel wireless card didn't work and my Novatel mobile modem wasn't detected. Performance, both on the physical machines and in the virtual environment, was good. The operating system was light on memory and continued to function well with 256 MB of RAM in the virtual machine.
Scientific uses RPM packages and YUM for installing software and handling dependencies. For people who prefer a graphical software manager, there is Yum Extender, which comes as part of the distribution. I like Yumex and find it to be a good tool. It's not the fastest application manager and, perhaps, not the most user-friendly, but it strikes a fair balance, in my opinion. I found using YUM on Scientific made me miss the delta-update feature found in recent versions of Fedora.
During my time with Scientific, I found no points about which I could complain regarding security. The system gets regular updates, it insists on creating a root password at install time and automatically creates a non-root account for the user. No network services run by default, there's a firewall in place and SELinux is included as an option. Additionally, I really enjoy the idea of having a user-created password on the live CD as it side-steps the issue of having a universally known password in place. Where other distributions allow users to do this manually, Scientific goes a step further and automates the process.
While the distribution isn't eye-catching, it has a lot of good things going for it. In fact, I occasionally found myself thinking, I wish Fedora did this in this way. For example, I always wondered why Fedora didn't adopt the Yumex package manager front-end. I like that Scientific comes with some multimedia support and Flash rather than making their users hunt down third-party repositories. Scientific's approach to security, offering a custom live CD password and disabling network services out of the box, is commendable. Further, I like that my touchpad works the way I expect it to without editing a configuration file. The Scientific team offers a stable desktop with long-term support and does a good job of it. The only drawback, so far as I can see, is that some of their key components are getting out of date. Usually this isn't a problem, except perhaps, when using software like OpenOffice.org and Firefox. Those projects which put out major releases once a year or more will appear dated. In conclusion, Scientific is a good desktop for people who prefer stability over riding the cutting edge.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
On first beta of RHEL 6, hidden features in Fedora 13, Edubuntu 10.04 improvements, new SimplyMEPIS USB images, the end of Xandros Desktop
Red Hat finally released the long-awaited first public beta of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6 last week. While this is excellent news for those who are itching to upgrade their long-in-the-tooth RHEL 5 systems, chances are that it will still take months before the final RHEL 6 is out. If we look at the release process of RHEL 5, it took over six month to reach the stable release from the initial beta (with the second beta, a non-public one, arriving some two months after the first). Nevertheless, the new version seems to have been quite well put together: "... with a very interesting tilt towards developers and people building large scale platforms. Of course, there are the expected virtualisation, storage and cluster suite improvements." Speaking of virtualisation, the Xen hypervisor is surprisingly absent from the new version: "Red Hat dropped Xen because it was costing a great deal of effort maintaining Xen and KVM." Overall, it's a good technical achievement of the world's most successful Linux company, but don't expect the final release any time soon. As noted by a poster at LWN last week: "Red Hat Enterprise Linux - because Debian stable releases are far too frequent."
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 beta includes the standard GNOME desktop
(full image size: 310kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
Fedora, a Red Hat project with a regular, 6-month release cycle, has a justifiable reputation for being on the edge of innovation, with its features often adopted by other distributions at a later stage. But as Bruce Byfield reports in Fedora 13 Beta: The Seen and (Troubling) Unseen, many of the current innovations making it into the upcoming Fedora 13 won't be visible to the average user: "At first Fedora 13 may seem to lack many innovations unique to the distribution as opposed to its component applications. In fact, with many of the improvements and innovations either working behind the scenes or available only if you are specifically aware of them, many of Fedora 13's enhancements risk being invisible to the average user or even administrator. Mostly, the invisibility hardly matters, since users still benefit regardless of their awareness. But in one or two cases I suspect that what is unseen may cause some user alarm." The author lists several of the most interesting features that will soon be part of new Fedora installations, but also asks some valid question about the upcoming release and its impact on Fedora users.
* * * * *
After six long months, this week will finally signal the arrival of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and all its variants. One of them, Edubuntu, hasn't been in spotlight very often in recent month, but Jonathan Carter has put together an excellent article highlighting all the recent improvements in this popular Ubuntu flavour designed for schools: "If you have poked around Edubuntu and the live LTSP environment and you decide that you're ready for the real thing, you can install Edubuntu and an Install LTSP option will also appear on the desktop. It pretty much only asks you which interface you would like to run LTSP on, just like the LTSP live environment. All you need to do is click OK and sit back for 10 minutes while it does everything required to get the LTSP environment set up. It's notably faster than installing from an alternate CD, similarly to how installing from Ubiquity is faster than installing from the Debian installer since it extracts the files from a pre-built Squashfs image rather than installing a few hundred Debian packages one by one." There is a lot more, including information on a re-worked Edubuntu disc, improved menu editor, netbook installation mode, Qimo packages, and new artwork - all accompanied by nice screenshots.
* * * * *
Following the recent release of SimplyMEPIS 8.5, the developers announced last week a special edition designed for 1 GB USB keys. Compared to the standard CD image, this edition has an extra 200 MB of pre-installed applications, including out-of-the-box KDE support for French, German, Spanish, and Chinese. From the release announcement: "MEPIS LLC has announced the upload of SimplyMEPIS 8.5 ISOs that will fit on a 1 GB USB key. The extra pre-installed packages on the new ISOs includes: Amarok, Digikam, Filezilla, GIMP, KMyMoney, KTorrent, luckyBackup, OpenOffice.org Base and Calc, and SCIM. KDE l10n is installed for Chinese, French, German, and Spanish. And fonts were installed to provide better out-of-the-box support for Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean." The new USB ISO images are available for both the i386 and x86_64 architectures and can be downloaded freely from the distribution's mirrors. Quick download links: SimplyMEPIS-USB_8.5.03-rel1_32.iso (926MB, MD5), SimplyMEPIS-USB_8.5.03-rel1_64.iso (MB, MD5).
* * * * *
Finally, a look at the current state of affairs at Xandros, a company which was launched with the aim to conquer the desktop with its innovative Linux distribution (built from the ashes of Corel Linux), but which has now given up on the idea, focusing instead on enterprise solutions. Richard Hillesley writes in The lost world of the Xandros desktop: "The common perception that Xandros stands apart from other Linux distributions has not been helped statements like that of Jordan Smith, product marketing manager for OEM solutions at Xandros, who has said: 'We are kind of getting away from being a Linux company, and we are more interested in presenting a user experience. Users don't care about Linux.' Significantly, Xandros now places more emphasis on BridgeWays and Scalix than it does on its Linux solutions, suggesting a long-term switch away from the Linux desktop to turnkey OEM and networking solutions, which means putting Linux on smartbooks and other mobile devices." The author concludes that despite some success on the desktop, Xandros has now all but abandoned this market. With no new Xandros Desktop release since November 2006, perhaps it's time to put Xandros on our long (and growing) list of discontinued distributions....
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Dodging-the-rapid-fire asks: Is six months too short of a release cycle?
DistroWatch answers: This question generally gets aired (often rhetorically) around the time when Ubuntu and Fedora are due for a new release. If you're wondering whether six months is too short a time to put together a solid product, the answer is: no, it's not.
The quality of a release has less to do with the amount of time spent putting it together than such things as:
I've worked with software which received regular monthly updates and it worked very well. We hardly ever encountered a problem from performing an upgrade. For that matter, I've worked with software which received monthly updates which never rose above beta quality. The timing is much less important than the focus of the production team (the leaders, developers and testers). The OpenBSD project is, in my opinion, an excellent example of a group which follows a six month release cycle without sacrificing their security or stability. The OpenBSD developers have an interest in those things more so than being on the cutting edge.
- The feature and bug-fix list
- Development model
- Quality assurance testing
Another complaint some people have is in regards to the lifespan of the product. Rapid releases usually make for short-term support. But if you're looking at support time, I think the question needs to shift from "Is six months too short of a release cycle?" to "Is six months too short of a release cycle, for me?" The Linux sphere has a wide range of products from rolling releases to six month updates to seven year support terms. If you're finding yourself struggling against the upgrade treadmill, there are plenty of alternatives. I'm sure one distribution can be found which balances the desire of new features against the desire for long-term support.
|Released Last Week
Bill Reynolds has announced the release of PCLinuxOS 2010, now available in multiple flavours depending on your desktop preference: "PCLinuxOS 2010 is now available for download. Features: Linux kernel 188.8.131.52-bfs for maximum desktop performance; full KDE 4.4.2 desktop; NVIDIA and ATI driver support; multimedia playback support for many popular formats; wireless support for many network devices; printer support for many local and networked printer devices; addlocale allows you to convert PCLinuxOS into over 60 languages; GetOpenOffice can install OpenOffice.org supporting over 100 languages; MyLiveCD allows you to take a snapshot of your installation and burn it to a live CD/DVD; parental controls to keep your kids away from those naughty web sites. In addition to our regular KDE 4 release we also have other desktops available such as GNOME 2.30.0, LXDE, Xfce and Enlightenment 17." Here is the full release announcement.
PCLinuxOS 2010 - the project's first stable release featuring KDE 4
(full image size: 655kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Sabayon Linux 5.2 "CoreCD"
Mitch Harder has announced the release of the "CoreCD" edition of Sabayon Linux 5.2, minimalistic build designed to provide a foundation for building a customized installation tailored to the user's specific needs: "Sabayon Linux x86/x86-64 5.2 CoreCD. Features: bootable image suitable for a CD or USB thumb drive (350 - 400 MB); text-based installer; basic default networking; Entropy and Portage-ready (giving access to thousands of installable packages); based on new GCC 4.4.1 and glibc 2.10; shipped with desktop-optimized Linux kernel 2.6.33; providing extra server-optimized and OpenVZ-enabled kernels in repositories; quick installation. The CoreCD release is targeted at advanced users who want to take full control of the features and packages installed on their system." Read the rest of the release announcement for more information.
Carsten Schöne has announced the release of StressLinux 0.5.111, a small, openSUSE-based live CD designed for users who want to test their system while running on high load and monitor its health: "Release published (0.5.111). The base distribution is now openSUSE 11.2 with additional drivers for r8168 and r8101. The packages stress, bandwidth, x86info, smartmontools, BusyBox, sensors and stressapptest were updated to current versions. This release includes RAID utilities for different hardware RAID controllers, these include: tw_cli, arecacli, hpacucli, megacli, mpt-status and lsiutil. Wireless networks should also work better with this release. sl-wizard includes an entry for direct sensors-detect start-up." Visit the project's home page to read the release announcement.
Macpup Opera 2.0
Johnny Lee has announced the release of Macpup Opera 2.0, a small Puppy-based Linux distribution featuring the latest Enlightenment 17 window manager and the Opera web browser: "Macpup Opera 2.0 is based on Puppy Linux 4.3.1 (Linux kernel 184.108.40.206). It has all the applications from 4.3.1 plus Opera 10.10 and GIMP 2.6.3. It also Has dBUS 1.2.16. The Enlightenment E17 window manager version .061 was also compiled and installed from source. You can also use JWM, use the exit menu to change window managers. Please note that not all the options in the E17 system shut-down menu work with Puppy Linux, that is why the exit menu was added. The battery module in this build of E17 had a problem of maxing out the CPU, so I removed it. I have added a script to check battery status, just click on the battery icon if you are using a laptop. The included E17 themes are customized for Macpup." Read the full release announcement for further details.
Macpup Opera 2.0 - a Puppy-based distribution with Enlightenment
(full image size: 755kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
- Salix OS 13.1-alpha1, the release announcement
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6-beta, the release announcement
- Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, Ubuntu Studio and Mythbuntu 10.04-rc, the release announcement
- Lubuntu 10.04-beta3, the release announcement
- EasyPeasy 1.6-rc, the release announcement
- Nexenta Core Platform 3.0-beta3, the release announcement
- KahelOS 050110
- Elastix 2.0.0-rc
- Clonezilla Live 1.2.5-5, 1.2.5-6
- 64 Studio 3.3-alpha2
- Yoper Linux 2010-rc2
- Tiny Core Linux 2.11-rc2
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 3 May 2010.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Issue 661 (2016-05-16): FreeBSD 10.3, OpenMandriva adopts Clang, Debian adds ZFS packages, PCLinuxOS drops 32-bit and comparing CentOS with RHEL|
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|• Issue 659 (2016-05-02): Ubuntu 16.04, compiling custom kernels, Cinnamon 3.0, Sabayon launches ARM build, Devuan ships Beta release|
|• Issue 658 (2016-04-25): Kali Linux 2016.1, elementary OS 0.3.2, Debian elects Project Leader, Fedora 24 feature preview, Nard reaches 1.0|
|• Issue 657 (2016-04-18): Redox, Linux Mint improves update manager, planned Fedora 24 features, Ubuntu 16.04 getting Snappy packages|
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|• Issue 655 (2016-04-04): Parsix 8.5, Sabayon's Community repository, Red Hat offers free subscriptions, Ubuntu tablets, command line tips|
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|• Issue 653 (2016-03-21): Antergos 2016.02.21, Debian prepares for election, a Unix-like OS written in Rust, watching Netflix on FreeBSD|
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|• Issue 640 (2015-12-14): Chakra GNU/Linux 2015.11, removing meta-data from files, Ubuntu to remove on-line dash searches|
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|• Issue 635 (2015-11-09): Fedora 23, Cinnamon 2.8 released, a Fedora KDE packager quits, Red Hat signs deal with Microsoft|
|• Issue 634 (2015-11-02): Ubuntu 15.10, Chakra upgrades to Plasma 5, OpenMandriva plans new editions, MINIX plans conference|
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|• 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|
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|• Issue 628 (2015-09-21): Neptune 4.4, changes to pfSense, Pinguy OS releases updated ISO images, accessing hard disk images|
|• Issue 627 (2015-09-14): Mageia 5, Snappy co-exists with Debian packages, creating PDF/A documents, Antergos previews Poodle|
|• Full list of all issues|
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