| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 411, 27 June 2011
Welcome to this year's 26th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Although Mageia is a new Linux distribution, those familiar with Mandriva Linux will have little trouble adapting to this community project's first stable release. The good old Mandriva Control Centre, the intelligent urpmi package manager, and the well-designed system installer are all present in Mageia 1, together with a familiar development process under the "Cauldron" branch. Jesse Smith takes the distribution's inaugural release for a spin and reports about the group's rapid evolution since the project's birth some eight months ago. Scrolling further down this week's issue we'll find an opinion piece entitled "Dear Ubuntu". Has the world's most popular desktop Linux distribution gone too far in changing the desktop landscape and abandoning its more traditional user base? Read the article to find out what we think. Other topics covered in this week's issue include an update on Debian "Squeeze", the final list of packages for our annual package database update, and the usual regular sections. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Mageia the Magnificent?|
Mandriva Linux is a distribution which has seen a lot of ups and downs. Some years it seems they're on top of the world and are positioned to rule the Linux newbie market. Other years the project struggles to survive at all. The Mageia distribution grew out of the tumultuous waters of Mandriva. A community of contributors, developers and users finally decided their beloved distro shouldn't be subject to the whims of the market and created a fork of Mandriva, called Mageia. This new distribution is an effort to create a Linux distro by the community, for the community. Reading over the project's website it seems this first release is primarily focused on getting Mageia established and standing on its own feet. There's nothing really new or ground-shaking to separate it from its Mandriva roots, that's not the goal; instead Mageia, version 1, exists as proof it can survive on its own with its own infrastructure.
The project's first set of release notes are detailed and clear. The various regional live CDs are explained, as are the desktop environments offered. For people who want everything on one disc, the project provides DVDs and caters to 32-bit and 64-bit x86 machines. The release notes go on to explain the project's various repositories (Core, Non-free and Tainted) and their various levels of licensing. The section on repositories and licensing is worth reading as it'll make finding things easier post-install.
Installation and first impressions
For my experiment I decided to try the 32-bit version of Mageia's KDE live CD. Booting from the disc shows us a menu asking if we'd like to install the distribution or boot into the live environment. Choosing the live option (or waiting until the timer runs down) causes Mageia to prompt us for our preferred language, we're asked to accept the distro's license, we choose our time zone and then confirm our keyboard layout. We're then presented with a KDE 4.6 desktop featuring blue wallpaper that resembles a sieve. In the upper-left corner of the screen are icons for accessing the local file system, the installer and the project's website. At the bottom of the screen we find a Classic-themed application menu, the task switcher and system tray. I started my trial on my desktop machine (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card) and found my hardware was properly detected and configured.
Mageia's system installer is possibly the best desktop Linux installer I've encountered to date and I don't make that statement lightly. Fedora, Ubuntu, openSUSE and SimplyMEPIS all have, in my opinion, really good installers, but what I think places Mageia's at the head of the pack is the way in which it straddles the line between ease of use and more advanced options. It goes through the same steps as the other installers, getting our keyboard layout, preferred language, time and date information, etc. What I like about it is that most users could probably get through simply by clicking "Next" several times, but more experienced users can, with a click, bring up more advanced options.
These additional options are tucked out of the way without being hidden from us and it makes for a very simple, yet flexible program. For instance, during the partitioning section we're given the option to let Mageia simply take over all of the disk's free space or manually partition. The partitioner has a simple layout with a nice graphical representation of the disk, but digging into the options allows us to select from the ext3, ext4, ReiserFS, XFS, JFS, NTFS and FAT file systems. We can also set up RAID or LVM environments and the installer supports encryption. Likewise, the GRUB configuration page presents sane defaults so we can simply click through or we can get into the gritty details, adjusting entries and changing the boot loader's settings. It's all very well organized and clear.
Mageia 1 - the desktop settings
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The first time we boot into Mageia, the system tries to download a series of files. They appear to be data files containing repository information, but the downloader doesn't give us any explanation, nor do we get any overall progress information. After several minutes of waiting for the process to finish, I hit the Cancel button. Next, up pops a screen asking us to set an administrator password and then we're asked to create a non-root account. With these forms filled in, we're handed over to a graphical login screen. By default Mageia sets up an additional guest account on the system (this feature can be turned off in the installer) and I have mixed feelings about it.
The guest account has no password and having any unprotected account on a machine rubs the admin in me the wrong way. However, I will admit that there are benefits to having it. The guest account lets people login and perform most common tasks (web browsing, document editing, etc) and, when the user logs out, the account is reset. Folders in the guest account's home directory which were deleted are restored and any files created are removed. I can certainly see the appeal if you often have people asking to borrow your computer or if you want to leave a music player up during a party. Users can do whatever they like with the guest account and their digital tracks will be erased when they are done.
Desktop and software applications
Logging into Mageia we're presented with the KDE 4.6 desktop and it seems that the developers took a similar approach to what SimplyMEPIS did when setting up the graphical interface. There's a certain classic air to the environment, not just the application menu, but the task switcher (and its large quick-launch buttons), the dark title bars and large window buttons all work to give a modern take on a classic look. Moving a window to the sides or top of the screen (thankfully) does not cause it to resize and no desktop effects were enabled on my machine. Nor was desktop search turned on, which freed up my CPU for more productive things.
The developers managed to pack a wide selection of software onto the live CD. The application menu features Firefox 4, the Amarok media player, Dragon Player, a CD player and TVtime. Mageia includes KMail, the Konqueror web browser, the KPPP dialer, a remote desktop client and LibreOffice (version 3.3.2). We find Kleopatra for handling certificates and file encryption, and KolourPaint for simple image editing. There's the usual collection of small applications for note taking, a calculator and an archive manager. Mageia doesn't include Java, or Flash, or MP3 codecs, but it does include support for some popular video formats. Under it all we find the 2.6.38 release of the Linux kernel. Most of the applications listed above worked well and I found things performed as expected. However, I do have to question using Amarok as the default media player. It is one of the slowest, buggiest media applications available and I think the developers should have replaced it with something more user-friendly and less likely to freeze.
A few paragraphs up I mentioned that during the boot process the system had tried to retrieve repository information and, as it was taking a long time, I'd cancelled the download. So the problems I ran into later with package management are partially my own doing. Soon after logging in I'd gone to the Add/Remove Software entry on the application menu to bring up Mageia's Software Manager. The Software Manager lists package categories down the left side of the screen and specific packages on the right. Near the top of the window are filters allowing us to narrow down the programs we are shown to be just items which are installed, or items available to be installed, or we can limit our view to GUI applications, etc. It's a nice layout and, like the installer, the Software Manager gives us a good basic interface where we have the option of digging deeper.
Of course, since I'd interrupted the download of repository information, the Software Manager could only show me items already installed. So I went into the menu and brought up the media (source) manager. I added all three main repositories, opted to refresh my info and... still couldn't see software in the repositories. I closed the Software Center, went into the media manager again, opted to add media sources and then returned to the Software Center and asked it to refresh its package data. Once again no repository packages were available. Trying again, I brought up the media manager, opted to manually add one repository and waited while information was downloaded. The media manager crashed before completing its task. Once more I opened the media manager, opted to manually add some sources and, this time, after about ten minutes of downloading, the media manager declared it was finished and, returning to the Software Center, I found that packages in the repositories were listed.
Mageia 1 - the software manager
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Going forward there were some other things that bothered me about the package manager. After starting an installation I could mark new items for installation or removal, but trying to add them to the queue would result in an error message. And any files marked for future installation would be unselected when the current action completed. The overall progress wasn't always clear as the manager shows status information for just the current file it is downloading, not the entire queue. Furthermore, I found it odd that the update manager would ask permission to access the network before it would check for new packages. It seems like that would be the expected behaviour for an update application.
System administration and hardware support
The shining star of Mageia is, I think, the distro's control center. Most full-featured distributions include configuration tools, some even organize them together in one place, but I don't think any other project puts together system configuration tools with such a combination of elegance, power and user-friendliness. Almost every aspect of the operating system can be adjusted from Mageia's control center. There's the software management modules (which I've already touched on), that allow us to set up repositories, add/remove packages and update software. We can configure network sharing, proxies, and login authentication methods. There's a hardware section, a panel dedicated to network shares and another module for managing disks and partitions.
The user account tool is top-notch and user-friendly and the firewall configuration module is one of the most straightforward I've used. Likewise, the enable/disable services screen is very well laid out. There's a full set of parental controls, which allow us to lock down not only websites, but also specific programs we don't want certain users to access. My favourite module is probably the network connection tool. The network connection manager makes connecting to networks (wired or wireless) point-and-click easy. This is fairly normal these days, but what really impressed me is that it also makes it mouse-clickingly easy to do things like enable/disable IPv6 and toggle TCP window scaling. These are things I'd normally assume would involve a trip to the command line, but Mageia makes a strong effort to ensure that users don't need to use the command line and generally manages to pull this off without dumbing down the options.
Mageia 1 - blocking access to applications
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I later tried Mageia on my laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card) and found the experience to be nearly identical. The distribution properly detected all of my hardware, the Network Center utility made connecting to wireless networks painless and most things worked out of the box. On my laptop I also ended up going through a long wait to get package repositories enabled, but otherwise the experience was trouble-free. Earlier I mentioned that Mageia doesn't run a lot of extra desktop features (such as effects or search) so I was a bit surprised to find desktop responsiveness to be noticeably slower than on other KDE distros I've tried this year. On my laptop there was usually a small delay between clicking on something and having the desktop respond, an issue I haven't had with SimplyMEPIS or Slackware Linux. It wasn't a serious issue, but it was just apparent enough to make the environment feel sluggish.
While I was trying Mageia the question of whether the project should be evaluated as a new distribution or as a well-established one crossed my mind. Mageia is a fork of Mandriva, a project that has been around under one name or another for over a decade. On the other hand, this is "Mageia 1", the first release with fresh infrastructure. For the most part, Mageia conducted itself like a long-term polished distribution should. As I mentioned, the installer was top-notch, the Control Center is top of its class and I found the layout with extra effects & features turned off to be pleasant. There's a fair collection of software on the CD and lots of software available in the repositories.
I like that we're given the option of a use-and-discard guest account and the security controls presented are detailed and surprisingly easy to use. My only serious complaint revolved around setting up repositories. Perhaps I deserve some of the blame for cancelling the initial set up, but there really should be A) some explanation as to what the repository setup program is doing during the first boot and B) how long it is going to take. The user should not be made to wait for several minutes while the system appears to be stuck downloading the same file over and over. Likewise, laptop owners who don't have network connections at install time should have an easier way of setting up repositories than the trial-and-error process I went through.
Over all, Mageia is a pleasant experience. I enjoy how almost every aspect of the system is laid out in a way that is easy to understand and simple to use, but there's always an "Advanced" button for people who need to dig deeper. It keeps things uncluttered without reducing functionality and that can be a hard line to walk. The one thing I felt was missing while evaluating Mageia (and this can be excused, considering the new infrastructure) is the array of editions Mandriva offers. Mandriva has three desktop editions: Free, One and Power Pack. Having these editions lets the user determine what level of free and open source software they want. Mageia seems to be equivalent to Mandriva Free and I'm hoping their second release will include spins for the other two editions.
This is a good first release from the Mageia team and I feel it will appeal to both novice users and power users alike. Despite the few glitches I ran into, I found the experience to be enjoyable and the configuration tools give the system a lot of flexibility without requiring command line knowledge. I recommend giving it a try.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Debian "Squeeze" updated to 6.0.2
"Squeeze", the current stable version of Debian GNU/Linux, has been updated to version 6.0.2. As always, this is just a minor update that fixes security issues and critical bugs, and it does not provide new versions of any of the included applications. Steven Rosenberg takes a brief look at the update, then writes about the some of the things that make him happy to stay with "Squeeze": "Newer kernels from Liquorix. If the G555's sound issues had been resolved in the 2.6.32 Linux kernel, I probably would have never explored the Liquorix kernels. Since using a newer kernel did solve my sound problem (muting speakers when headphones are plugged in), I've stuck with Liquorix and am now running 2.6.39. Newer web browsers and e-mail client. I'm running Iceweasel 5.0 and Thunderbird 3.1 from the Mozilla Debian team, and Google Chrome from the Google repository. Debian Backports. I added Debian Backports to my repository list last week and replaced OpenOffice.org with LibreOffice. That wasn't strictly necessary, but I wanted to start tracking the office suite that most of the Linux world has already turned to in the wake of Oracle's handling of OpenOffice.org. Right now, I'm going to let the GNOME 3/GNOME Shell and Unity environments age/ripen more than a bit before I leave GNOME 2 behind. And right now I'm looking hard at Xfce and LXDE."
|Opinions (by Jesse Smith)
I want you to know I care for you and I think you're a very special distribution. Some of the things I'm about to share may seem harsh and cold, but please know they come from a good place and I write them, not to hurt you, but in the hopes of strengthening our relationship.
Admittedly, when you first arrived, I wasn't the most welcoming person in the community. I thought your concepts of humanity, of bringing Linux to the masses and your odd sense of style were idealistic and outlandish. And it wasn't until friends of mine had got to know you and said how much fun you were that I took any notice. I have to say though, meeting you for the first time and getting to find out how polished and friendly you were was, well, a privilege. You showed me how easy things could be if a person took the right approach. You also showed me how important it is to offer free help to people who really need it. Our time together has been fun, easy and, though we haven't always seen eye to eye on certain issues, I greatly respect the work you've done in our community. The efforts you've made in supporting our friends and your attempts to organize others into following your vision are incredible. As I recall you even got Dell to participate in our community and I think that's important to many of us.
However, recently, I've been noticing some changes that have put a strain on our relationship. For example, you always seem to be going out and trying new things. I know everyone likes to experiment a little and it's good to mix things up from time to time, but this current shake-up feels like a mid-life crises. I worry that you're so interested in forging a new path that you're ignoring the things which made so many people look up to you in the beginning. This sudden interest in 3-D, shiny things and big buttons... what is that? Ubuntu, you used to be so focused on being universal and accessible. Now it feels like you're only interested in spending time with those kids at the mall, texting each other and gossiping on their social media. What about all the artists and business people, folks interested in getting work done and changing the office landscape?
Also, this sudden interest in nephology -- it's interesting, I'll grant you. Lots of people are interested in clouds, but perhaps you're putting too much focus in one area? When we first started spending time together, you'd talk about reaching out to everyone and making technology available to people in remote locations without network access or funds. These days it seems you're only interested in working with people who have good connections and an interest in sharing their secrets with you. It's exciting and fun, but shouldn't we find a balance? I like that you're into clouds, but let's remember that not everyone is. Perhaps there's a middle ground where you can educate and share your new interests with people without being so pushy?
And I know you can share new ideas in a laid-back manner because I saw you open your store late last year. It is a great step and I hope it helps bridge that gap in our community between the people who want free software and those who want commercial products. Seriously, kudos on trying to make both sides happy. Though this does raise another concern of mine: Why are you only selling to the new, trendy crowd? People who got to know you back in, say, April of 2010 are looking for stable software, commercial products and long-term stability. Yet, for some reason, the market is closed to them. They're forced to choose between getting to purchase your commercial offerings or staying with stable, long-term support. Wouldn't it be a good idea to extend your market to include your more lucid friends? I think we deserve your attention too.
Which brings me to my final, and most important concern: please listen to us, your friends. You give us a great deal, and we are grateful, but please remember that we helped you get to where you are today. Without the support of the people in your community you wouldn't have the weight behind you to do such great things. I think you may have forgotten that, because every time I bring up something which bugs me, you ignore it. Even if I come up with a solution to help us fix it, you turn your back and I'm left wondering if it's pride? Or perhaps you're too busy? Maybe it's a passive-aggressive way to make me stop bothering you with my problems? Whatever it is, I've seen you treat others the same way and I'm sorry to say we're frustrated by the lack of interaction, the lack of acknowledgement. If you're too busy to deal with problems and offer your support, then perhaps we should look into bringing in a third-party. I've seen it work in other relationships, perhaps it could help ours.
Ubuntu, I know you have your ideals and your own goals. I don't begrudge them, they're the things which brought us together in the first place. I wouldn't ask you to stop trying new things. What I would like to see is more dialogue between us -- you, me and our friends. When you say you're willing to be supportive and involved long-term, I'd like to see you actively offer that promised support. And, most of all, I'm asking you to engage us, your friends, and find out what we want sometimes. Not so we can control you, but so we know you'll take our input into consideration when you make decisions. Because, Ubuntu, if we feel we're valued we'll stick with you and overlook the occasional misstep.
I hope this has given you some things to consider. My door remains open and I look forward to hearing from you.
|Released Last Week
Scientific Linux 5.6
Troy Dawson has announced the stable release of Scientific Linux 5.6, a distribution built from source packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.6, with extra packages that could be useful in scientific and academic environments: "Scientific Linux 5.6 has been released for both i386 and x86_64 architectures. It has a new graphical theme called 'Atom Shine' provided by Shawn Thompson. Scientific Linux release 5.6 is based on the rebuilding of RPMs out of SRPMs from Enterprise 5 Server and Client. It also has all errata and bug fixes up until May 13, 2011." Some of the extra application, tools and drivers added the distribution include Alpine, IceWM, Intel wireless firmware, Sun Java, KDEEdu, multimedia support, OpenAFS, R, YumEx and many others. Please read the release announcement and release notes for further information.
Porteus 1.0, a distribution created by the user community of the inactive Slax project, has been released. The 32-bit edition comes with Trinity KDE 3.5.12, while the 64-bit variant ships with KDE 4.6.4 (both flavours also include LXDE as an alternative desktop). From the release announcement: "Porteus version 1.0 has finally hit the streets. This lightweight, hard-hitting and lightning-fast portable Linux distribution is now available in both 32-bit and 64-bit editions. While aesthetically it is similar to Porteus v09, there have been vast improvements under the hood; the most notable change is the upgrade from LZMA to LZMA2 compression. The use of this new and far superior compression algorithm means that we have been able to pack in even more features while remaining under the 300 MB mark, with an even faster boot time! Features: Linux kernel 220.127.116.11; userland bumped to Slackware 13.37; refined linuxrc; Porteus package manager."
Porteus 1.0 - a Slackware-based live CD with a choice of KDE 3, KDE 4 and LXDE desktops
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Sabayon Linux 6
Fabio Erculiani has announced the release of Sabayon Linux 6, a Gentoo-based desktop distribution with KDE 4.6.4 or GNOME 2.32 desktops: "We're once again here to announce the immediate availability of Sabayon 6, one of the biggest milestones in our project. Letting bleeding edge and reliability coexist is the most outstanding challenge our users and our team are faced with every day. Features: Linux kernel 18.104.22.168 and blazing fast, yet reliable, boot; natively supporting the Btrfs file system; completely redesigned artwork and boot music introduction; improved themes for 16:9 and 16:10 widescreen monitors; X.Org Server updated to 1.10...." Read the complete release announcement for further information.
Sabayon Linux 6 - a Gentoo-based distribution for the desktop
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* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
Annual package database update|
This is the final list of upcoming changes in our package database:
Many thanks to everybody who has submitted suggestions for the list. If your preferred package did not make it it's because it only received one vote. Perhaps in the future it will have more support so please try submitting it again in one year's time.
- Current list of packages earmarked for inclusion: Clementine, DeVeDe, GNOME Shell, libvirt, Mesa 3D, Midori, GNU nano, GNU Octave, OpenShot, Transmission, XZ
- Current list of packages earmarked for removal: checkinstall, hal, kaffeine, nedit, mod_ssl, mono, netatalk, yaboot
- Current list of packages which will be listed under a different name: OpenOffice.org --> LibreOffice, qt-x11 --> qt, xfce --> xfdesktop
The package list will be updated later this week.
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- NetRam. NetRam is a Brazilian Debian-based distribution which runs in a client-server mode similar to LTSP (Light Terminal Server Project). The project's website is in Portuguese.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 4 July 2011.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• 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|
|• Issue 637 (2015-11-23): NixOS 15.09, Antergos introduces ZFS support, MINIX shares new features, copying an OS to a new computer|
|• Full list of all issues|
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