| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 406, 23 May 2011
Welcome to this year's 21st issue of DistroWatch Weekly! OpenIndiana, a project that has surfaced after Oracle's termination of the OpenSolaris project, is an operating system that promises to deliver an excellent, free and open-source alternative to the proprietary Solaris. That means all the great Solaris technologies that many users can't live without. This week's feature article takes a look at the project's latest development release. Does it fulfil its promise? Read our first-look review of OpenIndiana dev-148 to find out. In the news section, the developers of Fedora give a go-ahead to the release of version 15 this week, Attachmate confirms its support for the openSUSE distribution, CentOS promises to publish the long-awaited CentOS 6 within "the next couple of weeks", and Kubuntu developers hint at some of the exciting new features in the project's next stable version. Also in this issue, Jesse Smith explains why Linux distribution seem to sometimes lack polish; see the Questions and Answers section below. All this and more in this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly - happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Igor Ljubuncic)
OpenIndiana - there's still hope|
OpenIndiana is what OpenSolaris was supposed to be. I remember waiting for the 2010 release, which never came. Oracle purchased Sun and killed the free version of the Solaris operating system, dashing expectation and hope. As a result, the OpenIndiana project was born. Mission statement: continue development and distribution, becoming the new OpenSolaris, available to users worldwide free of charge.
This is a noble cause, but passion is not enough to make up for usability and security. My experience runs down a very bumpy road of cautious optimism and extreme frustration, with never quite the same level of friendliness as Linux. The latest version of Solaris, 2009.06, was decent enough, but it still lagged a good year or three behind typical, modern Linux distribution. So how is this Indiana, then? Tested development build 148.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - the default GNOME desktop
(full image size: 763kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Combat trial, step 1: Live session
OpenIndiana ships with dual-binary live DVD, which boots into either a 32-bit or a 64-bit base, depending on your architecture. A simple and visually pleasing GRUB menu, and then you're waiting for the session to load. Surprisingly, it was fairly fast on my T60p, a dual-core 32-bit laptop with 2 GB of RAM. Normally, OpenSolaris would take as much time as a nuclear reactor to power up, because of its fancy ZFS file system, but this time, it was almost like booting a Linux. OpenIndiana automatically popped a network configuration window, asking me which wireless network I wanted to connect to. Both networks are WPA2-encrypted, but there were no issues in the setup.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - wireless setup
OpenIndiana remains almost identical to its predecessors. However, this is not a bad thing. The GNOME theme is slick. It feels calm and expensive, with a good choice of large fonts and a smart use of colors. Normally, smart visual integrations are not the primary goal of traditional corporate products, but Sun got it just right.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - Firefox
The next thing I did was launch the Device Driver Utility. Looking back to my three years of testing OpenSolaris, there's a significant improvement. On the test machine, all of the hardware was properly recognized and initialized save for the misconfigured TPM.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - drivers
OpenIndiana comes with several languages enabled by default in the live session, which is pretty unique. You get English, Thai, Indic languages, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, two types of Chinese, and Unicode. Samba sharing also worked and pretty fast too, so we're fully covered on the network connectivity aspect. There were no bugs or crashes. The performance was quite manageable overall. All right, let's install OpenIndiana.
Combat trial, step 2: Installation
Here, things went a little less smoothly. In other words, the system installed well and without any damage done, but an average user might get confused. What happened was that I fired up GParted to see what layout I had. For a weird reason, the partitioning software showed the entire hard disk as empty, even though it was occupied by a dual-boot installation of Windows 7 and Pinguy OS.
A less experienced user might have decided to create a new partition table or allocate space to new partitions, ruining the existing setup and possibly losing valuable data. This seems like a big problem. However, the installation wizard had no such problems. It detected the disk layout correctly. Like its predecessor, OpenIndiana still demands a primary partition for its root, and you can only choose a single Solaris partition, i.e. you cannot have separate /home or /var, at least not using the GUI.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - the final hard disk layout
Your next step is to create your user. Interestingly, this user will also be the administrative user. In other words, you do not need to use root to perform system tasks, you can use pfexec, which is the equivalent of Linux sudo. However, do note that if you choose a weak password, it will be accepted and you won't be warned, but you won't be able to do any root tasks. The system will require at least one alpha character to accept the dual admin role for your user, otherwise, you're back to plain root. And don't use @ in the root password, because this doesn't quite work. The installation completed relatively fast, within about 20 minutes from a DVD. The dual-boot setup was configured properly, with Windows 7 entry showing in the GRUB menu afterwards.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - the system installer
Combat trial, step 3: Using OpenIndiana
Now comes the real test - how simple and friendly OpenIndiana really is. There ought to be problems, but will be able to solve them just as quickly as in Linux or shall we wallow in self-pity and dark agony? Let us begin.
A typical desktop is probably useless without music, video and Flash. Indeed, you don't get any proprietary codecs pre-installed, but you can install them with a moderate degree of hassle. If you try to play an MP3 file in your media player, Indiana will prompt you to download the correct plugin. Unlike Linux, where you get GStreamer, in OpenIndiana you get Codeina, which offers packages from Fluendo. There's a free set of codecs, as well as several "payware" options. You will need to register an account to be able to download and install the plugin.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - getting the codecs
On my first attempt, this did not quite work. The wizard quit with an error. On second attempt, the plugin was installed properly and I could enjoy music. So this must be a one-time glitch. For Flash, you will have to go the traditional way - download an archive from Adobe, extract it, then copy the shared object into the Firefox directory. You don't need pfexec, you can also use the classic root. But, as mentioned above, you will need to create a strong password before you can do this. And if you've chosen a simple, weak password for your user, pfexec won't work. And then Flash played, too. However, the playback was somewhat choppy. There's progress, but it's still a bit clunky. Common users will not like the convoluted setup, which requires that you register on a website and execute commands in a terminal window.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - installing the Flash plugin
OpenIndiana comes with a decent if not too exciting arsenal of programs. There's Firefox, Thunderbird, Evince, Brasero, OpenOffice.org, Pidgin, and a handful more. You can also manage the firewall using a simple GUI. Some of the less obvious choices include GNOME Pilot for syncing your Palm devices and Codeina web shop, for instance. You also get Java, but that almost goes without saying.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - applications
If you find the existing collection inadequate, you will surely want to use the package manager to grab some extra stuff. Comparing to previous versions, the package manager does seem more manageable, although lots of stuff is missing from the repositories. For instance, something as trivial as VLC is not there. However, the biggest problem was the update manager. It was simply broken. On two separate occasions, both when invoked directly from the system menu and from within the package manager, it complained about not being able to update as this was a live image system. But this is nonsense, since OpenIndiana was running from the disk, installed all nice and dandy. Unless I'm missing something, but then, if I missed it, most people would, too.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - the package manager
You can turn on desktop effects in the Appearance menu, just like with any other GNOME. However, do this at your own peril, because unless you have a proper graphics card that supports all kinds of wicked 3D stuff, you'll end with a completely white screen. In my case, this was exactly the outcome. A little disappointing, but not surprising. We will talk a little more about graphics in a jiffy.
Printing did not work really. When I tried to manage my print jobs, OpenIndiana displayed a very unfriendly message about whatever not being available from who-knows. Hardly helpful to users, as there's no way to take any corrective action.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - printing failure
OpenIndiana comes with a handful of useful software. For instance, you can customize your notifications or turn on the Time Slider, which creates incremental snapshots of your system, including the ability to save data to external backup media. Solaris has always favored the NVIDIA binary driver. This is the reason why you get the NVIDIA settings manager bundled, even if you do not have the right hardware. If you're into desktop sharing, Indiana comes with Vino VNC server installed. The configuration is fairly simple. It took me about three minutes to create a session and then connect remotely from a Maverick machine.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - Time Slider
Indiana is fairly lightweight, compared to previous incarnations. The numbers might be a little alarming, though. At 500 MB, it takes almost twice as much as your common Linux distro. Time Slider and ZFS also like to churn CPU cycles, although the penalty is minimal in the interactive session. The desktop is fast and snappy, but it is faster and snappier than older versions, which is the important thing here.
OpenIndiana dev-148 - system resources
One half of the suspend & resume equation worked as you would expect. OpenIndiana went to sleep peacefully, but it never woke from its slumber. I'm not sure what combination of hardware and software ingredients did this, end result, the system did not like being suspended.
Normally, I don't talk much about kernel and associated technologies, as they are usually less useful to desktop users. However, OpenIndiana is an exception. It bursts with goodies, including many original Sun products. To mention just a few, there's of course ZFS, Zones virtualization, DTrace kernel debugging framework, Crossbow, a fully virtualized high-performance network stack, and other existing stuff. From this perspective, it is as modern and current as any latest and greatest Linux distro.
OpenIndiana is a significant improvement over OpenSolaris 2009.06. It just feels more natural, if not quite effortless as you would expect. The overall integration is fairly smooth, with different components cooperating without quarrel. The system is handsome, the application stack is reasonable, the performance has seen a major boost. Hardware support is also on the rise, and there are a lot of tiny details that make the experience more joyful.
Even so, OpenIndiana is still far, far from being a worthy adversary, when pitted against common Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, openSUSE, and others. Linux takes a big lead in terms of usability, hardware support, graphics, and availability of programs. To mention a few of the problems we encountered, some dead serious, others just plain annoying: GParted did not see the disk properly, suspend & resume did not quite work, desktop effects could not be enabled, printing did not really work, the system could not be updated, getting multimedia codecs is a laborious manual process, and the selection of programs in the repositories is fairly thin. And there's more.
Solaris-based systems still lag about two to three years behind Linux. This has not changed yet. But there's still hope. OpenIndiana is a massive improvement, so someone somewhere is doing something right. This UNIX will surely not become my default desktop any time soon, but things are getting better. One day, in the near future, OpenIndiana could be become a big name, who knows.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Fedora 15 declared gold, CentOS 6 release imminent, Attachmate's openSUSE commitment, Arch Linux release update, sneak peak at Kubuntu 11.10
First, good news for those who impatiently await the brand-new Fedora 15. The new version of Red Hat-sponsored free operating system has been declared "gold" and it will be officially released tomorrow (Tuesday): "At the Fedora 15 final go/no-go meeting today, the Fedora 15 final release was declared GOLD and ready for release on May 24, 2011." The new release will bring a large amount of excellent features, including GNOME 3 desktop, LibreOffice, power management improvements, consistent network device naming, and, last but not least, a dynamic firewall: "Most Linux systems use iptables type firewalls and the problem is that if you want to make a change to the firewall, it's hard to modify on the fly without reloading the entire firewall. Fedora 15 is really the first mainstream operating system to have a dynamic firewall where you can add or change rules and keep the firewall up and responding while you're making changes. The dynamic firewall technology will still need development work, but it is available in Fedora 15 for users to start playing with to see how it works with their environments. The dynamic firewall isn't just for inbound traffic either. It can also dynamically adjust to the needs of outbound traffic originating behind the firewall."
Fedora 15 - the first major distribution featuring the new GNOME 3 user interface
(full image size: 270kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
After last week's feelings of doom and gloom in the CentOS community, it's good news this time around - according to this blog post by Karanbir Singh, CentOS 6 will be release within the next couple of weeks: "Earlier in the day today Red Hat released RHEL 6.1. Most people will want to know how this impacts CentOS and the CentOS 6 plans. We are, at this time, on course to deliver CentOS 6 within the next couple of weeks. We will carry on with those plans as is, and deliver a 6.0 release and then go on to work on 6.1. I am fairly confident that we can get to a 6.1 release within a few weeks of the 6.0 set being finalised. Partially due to the automation and the testing process's being put into place to handle the entire CentOS-6 branch. If you would like to follow progress of the QA and Release team, you are welcome to drop in here. Jeff has been keeping the calendar as updated as possible and is doing a good job of keeping a fair bit of information flowing through there. At some point next week, we will try and get some dates in place for the 6.1 process as well. So what happens if 5.7 comes along in the mean time ? Well, the CentOS-5 process is now completely disconnected from the CentOS 6 one, and a 5.7 release should have no impact on the progress of CentOS 6 and the release cycles."
* * * * *
It's always reassuring when the sponsor of a Linux distribution endorses continued support for the project. Last week it was Attachmate, a company that acquired Novell (and openSUSE) some six months ago, that affirmed commitment to the open-source project: "The new president and general manager of SUSE joined Attachmate in 1994. Nils Brauckmann has held various management roles across sales, marketing and support organizations in EMEA at Attachmate. Previously, he served in cross-functional and international management positions for Siemens Nixdorf and Novell, says the company. 'By operating SUSE as a separate business unit focused on the Linux marketplace, we can accelerate our delivery of high-value Linux solutions that help organizations enhance growth, reduce costs, tame complexity and spur innovation,' stated Brauckmann. 'Now we are sharpening our focus on making SUSE Linux Enterprise the pre-eminent Linux distribution across physical, virtual and cloud environments.' Brauckmann went on to state that 'we recognize and celebrate the value of the openSUSE project and will remain a strong supporter of the openSUSE community,' referring to the Novell-sponsored community-based version of SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop (SLED) and Server (SLES)."
* * * * *
Many users who are attracted by Arch Linux's simplicity and rolling-release model are surprised to find that the latest official release of installation media is more than a year old. Dieter Plaetinck, the Arch Linux release engineer, attempts to explain the situation in a blog post entitled "Where are the new Arch Linux release images?" "This is a question I get asked a lot recently. The latest official images are a year old. This is not inherently bad, unless you pick the wrong mirror from the outdated mirror list during a 'netinstall', or are using hardware which is not supported by the year-old kernel/drivers. A core install will yield a system that needs drastic updating, which is a bit cumbersome. There are probably some other problems I'm not aware of. Many of these problems can be worked around with ('pacman -Sy mirrorlist' on the install CD for example), but it's not exactly convenient. Over the past years I've worked towards fully re-factoring and overthrowing how releases are being done. Most of that is visible in the releng build environment repository. Every 3 days, the following happens automatically: packages to build images ('archiso') and some of which are included on the images get rebuilt; the images are rebuilt and the dual images get generated; the images, the packages and their sources are synced to the public on releng.archlinux.org."
* * * * *
Finally, a sneak peek at Kubuntu 11.10 by Harald Sitter. Some of the features to look forward to include accessibility improvements, availability of a lightweight KDE configuration, replacement of KPackageKit with Muon Software Center, and a useful utility called Touchégg: "From all the work on 'touchable' systems, we have plenty of awesomeness related to touch up our sleeve. Kubuntu 11.10 will come, by default (though probably not activated), with an application called Touchégg. Touchégg enables you to assign certain input gestures from your touchpad or trackpad to certain actions. For example if you tap with two fingers at once it could mean a right click, or if you swipe with 3 fingers from left to right it means 'switch to next track in Amarok'. After having tried this on my netbook I must say, this is one of my personal favorite new features, though one needs a sufficiently large touchpad to use it properly. To find out more about Touchégg please visit the project website." Also, visit this page to see a few videos and screenshots of Touchégg in action.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Frustrated with lack of "polish"
Seeking-polish asks: I feel a discrepancy between how advanced Linux can be on certain things and how lacking it is on others. I'll give you a few examples that are mostly desktop environment related (GNOME 2.30.2 in my case):
When I read forums I realized that some of those things have been documented for a while. Often you find someone saying, "wait for kernel 2.6.xx for a fix," but despite using a newer one they're still here.
- Right-click to print a document without opening it is only available through the use of scripts (I read about gnome-actions, there seems to be others). Not exactly beginner level in my opinion.
- In Nautilus files can be arranged according to the modification date. But only when showing them as icons not as a list.
- When it comes to pictures it's even stranger. If I arrange my pictures by modification date I can't manually pick one and put it where I want. Anyway, the Eye of GNOME won't care and when I click next it will display the pictures in alphabetical order.
- USB transfers suffer dropping rates. It starts fast but quickly deteriorates. I checked on the internet and it seems to be a common issue (some people point at the kernel, mine is 2.6.32-29). I find it a bit ironic to think that Linux was the first OS to support USB 3.0 and yet support for USB 2.0 is flaky for a certain amount of users.
Am I just so conceited that I tend to believe these annoyances should be a priority? People paid to work on Linux have different agendas than end users? Hobby programmers work on what they like and these issues are boring to fix? I'm sometimes under the impression that Linux is constantly moving towards exciting new goals without securing the basics first. So what's your take on this?
DistroWatch answers: I think it largely comes down to motivation. There are plenty of reasons to develop code. Some people do it for money, some out of curiosity, some people see a niche to be filled. It's pretty easy to understand why someone would want to create a new program or add interesting new features. Those are fun things to work on and produce demonstrable results. And it's easy to see why paid developers (for example, those working for Red Hat) would have an interest in making a fast, stable kernel. But where is the motivation to hunt down and fix minor bugs or quirky behaviour in the desktop environment? Given the choice between trying something new or digging through the mess of someone else's code looking for bugs and performance bottle necks, I'm sure it's obvious which one has more allure.
What I'm getting at is you're right about there being a lot of little, annoying bugs and those generally aren't priorities. This is a complaint I get a lot from people new to the Linux community. People want to know why they have to know device names or why the interface is inconsistent or why upgrades break their sound card or why they're expected to know how to compile software, why when a program doesn't close properly they're expected to switch to the command line just to get their CD drive to open... I tend to think of those things as the price of admission. Linux brings a lot of good things to the table (security, stability, great package handling, lots of drivers, flexibility and the ability to customize) and those problems mentioned earlier are the cost. Some people consider it a reasonable price, others may find it too expensive. And, to be fair, all operating systems have these unwanted quirks or bugs. So far we haven't managed to create a perfect system.
I think the best we can do is keep filing bugs with the upstream projects and hope if enough people ask the developers nicely to fix the problems that we'll see improvements. After all, if we're not filing bug reports, there's no point in complaining about things not getting fixed. In fact, let's all make an effort this week to report a bug. Or, if someone else has already reported the problem you're experiencing, add a comment or a vote to the bug report so developers know it's affecting people. Be polite, be detailed and let's see if we can't all encourage some positive changes.
|Released Last Week
Clonezilla Live 1.2.8-42
Steven Shiau has announced the release of Clonezilla Live 1.2.8-42, an updated version of the specialist Debian-based live CD designed for disk cloning tasks: "Stable Clonezilla Live 1.2.8-42 has been released. This release of Clonezilla Live includes major enhancements, changes and bug fixes: the underlying GNU/Linux operating system was upgraded, this release is based on the Debian 'sid' repository (as of 2011-05-13); Linux kernel was updated to 2.6.38; syslinux was updated to 4.04; initrd was compressed with XZ, and this makes Clonezilla Live ISO image smaller by 3 MB; the pre-run and post-run commands were moved to the login shell instead of init so now it can be interactive; the GRUB 2 boot loader for EFI was added, this is a testing function for booting an Apple machine from an USB device with GPT partition...." Read the full release announcement for a full changelog and a list of bug fixes.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.1
Red Hat has announced the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6.1, the first update of the RHEL 6 series: "Red Hat, Inc. today announced the general availability of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.1, the first update to the platform since the delivery of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 in November 2010. In addition to performance improvements, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.1 also provides numerous technology updates, including: additional configuration options for advanced storage configurations with improvements in FCoE, Datacenter Bridging and iSCSI offload; enhancements in virtualization, file systems, scheduler, resource management and high availability; new technologies that enable smoother enterprise deployments and tighter integration with heterogeneous systems...." Read the press release and the release notes for detailed information about the product.
Imad Sousou has announced the release of MeeGo 1.2, a Linux distribution tailored to a variety of mobile devices using the Intel Atom and ARMv7 processors: "Today we are announcing the project release of MeeGo 1.2. The MeeGo 1.2 Core operating system provides a complete set of enabling technologies for mobile computing. Some highlights include: MeeGo reference kernels supporting a variety of Intel Atom and ARMv7 platforms; QML application framework and extended Qt-Mobility APIs, including additional location, system, connectivity, and sensor/haptic capabilities for; enhanced telephony and connectivity capabilities, including GSM, GPRS, and HSPA+ network support. This release also includes Netbook UX 1.2 complete set of core applications for netbooks; in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) UX; tablet developer preview." Read the release announcement for full details.
* * * * *
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
- SecUntu. SecUntu aims to provide a bootable light distribution based on the latest version of Ubuntu, with the latest updates and only the necessary applications to perform on-line activity without storing personal information, cookies, or exposing the user to vulnerabilities.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 30 May 2011.
Igor Ljubuncic, Ladislav Bodnar and Jesse Smith
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|• 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|