| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 429, 31 October 2011
Welcome to this year's 44th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! As Linux Mint prepares to overtake Ubuntu as the number one distribution in our Page Hit Ranking statistics, there is no doubt that the developers of this user-friendly operating system have attracted large following by making the right decision where it counted. This week's feature story is a look at the project's "other" edition, the Debian-based rolling-release variant that is designed for the more knowledgeable Linux user. Is it as good as the Ubuntu-based Mint? Read on to find out. In the news section, Slashdot readers discuss the advantages of CentOS over Red Hat Enterprise Linux, while the company behind the latter issues a joint whitepaper with Canonical on the implications of Microsoft's "Secure Boot" requirement. Also in the same section, on the eve of the OpenBSD 5.0 release the project's developers gather in Ljubljana, Slovenia for the annual "hackathon"; read below for a link to an interview with Theo de Raadt. Finally, don't miss the Questions and Answers section which offers a fresh perspective on the controversial issue of software patents. Happy reading!
- Reviews: Debian, with a hint of Mint
- News: Interview with OpenBSD's Theo de Raadt, CentOS versus Red Hat, Canonical's position of "Secure Boot"
- Questions and answers: Software patents
- Released last week: Puppy Linux 5.3 "Slacko", Linux From Scratch 7.0
- Upcoming releases: OpenBSD 5.0
- New additions: Bio-Linux
- New distributions: Burhani Linux, Cinux, DeLi(cate), Pacman Linux, Phinx Desktop, RRAbuntu, Sage Live CD, Tizen, Ubuntu GNOME Shell Remix
- Reader comments
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (20MB) and MP3 (28MB) formats
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Debian, with a hint of Mint|
In September the Linux Mint team released a much anticipated update to the Debian-based branch of their project. Linux Mint "Debian" is a rolling-release edition of Linux Mint which uses Debian's "Testing" repository for its base. The goal of this branch is to provide users with the same Mint tools and the same feel as the Ubuntu-based editions of Mint, but with Debian's performance and a regular flow of updates. At this time Linux Mint "Debian" discs come with either the Xfce or the GNOME desktop and are available in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavours. I opted to try the 32-bit GNOME DVD.
Before getting into the install it's a good idea to read the release notes. One thing which stands out is the 32-bit version of Linux Mint "Debian" uses a kernel compiled to work with i486 machines. This i486-compatible kernel will not handle multiple cores or multiple CPUs. For this reason the Linux Mint developers recommend that people running modern hardware install the i686-PAE kernel package after installation.
After downloading the 1.1 GB ISO image file and burning it to a DVD I popped in the disc and got down to business. The installation disc boots into a live GNOME 2 desktop environment. The wallpaper shows the project's name with a little Debian symbol on a silver background. The application menu, task switcher and system tray all sit at the bottom of the screen. On the desktop we find icons for navigating the file system and an icon for launching the installer. Linux Mint "Debian" uses a custom graphical installer which is, for the most part, quite easy to navigate. We pick our preferred language, select our time zone and provide our keyboard layout. A word of warning here, the installer didn't properly detect my keyboard so it may not be safe to take the default option. Partitioning of the hard disk is handled by GParted and it is a fairly smooth process. Once GParted is finished we need to assign mount points. This is done by right-clicking on partitions displayed in the installer's window. Next we create a user account and, optionally, select where to install the bootloader. Though perhaps not as polished as the installer found in Mint's Main edition, the Mint "Debian" installer completed its job without any problems.
The Linux Mint team says they want Linux Mint "Debian" to work and feel similar to the Ubuntu-based Linux Mint editions and my first impression of the distribution is that they have succeeded. The environment looks the same (aside from the Debian logo), the Mint menu is present and all of the Mint tools for performing backups, updating packages and configuring the system are available. We find the same applications in the menu (more on that in a moment) and Linux Mint "Debian" comes with a full range of multimedia codecs and useful programs so people can get straight to using their computer. A bug I ran into early on was that whenever I logged in my keyboard would be set to a French layout. I was able to change this in the configuration settings to the desired US layout, but at each login the keyboard would revert back to its French mapping. C'est la vie.
Linux Mint "Debian" - browsing the web and changing settings
(full image size: 272kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
Shortly after installing Linux Mint a notification icon appeared in the system tray letting me know that updates were available. At install time, five weeks after Linux Mint "Debian" was released, there were 420 updates available. This gives the potential user an idea of the pace involved when maintaining a rolling release. I kicked off the update process and, about halfway through, the updater came to a halt saying it had run into an error and had to stop. At this point I refreshed my package list and kicked off the update process again at which time the operating system crashed. Obviously we weren't off to a great start. I rebooted, found and unselected the conflicting package and re-ran the update process, which completed cleanly. Once I had updated to the latest update pack the conflict went away.
This seems like a good time to talk a bit about update packs. The Linux Mint team realizes that running an operating system on a rolling-release model can cause stability problems. For this reason the team has a sort of buffer in place between Debian's Testing repository and the Mint users. This buffer allows testers to find and resolve issues before updates get passed along to the end users. To help users cope with the flow of updates the mintUpdate tool features a new button labeled "Update pack info". This button lets the user know which update pack they are using, which is the latest pack available and it provides release notes for each pack. This way the developers can inform users about known issues before upgrades are performed. The update utility has the ability detect problems with the current APT configuration and suggest fixes. The user must carry out these suggested changes manually.
Aside from the update application Linux Mint comes with two package managers. On the application menu we find entries labeled "Package Manager" and "Software Manager". Clicking the former entry opens Synaptic, the venerable package management utility typically found in Debian-based distributions. Synaptic is reliable and allows the user to fine-tune their package selection. Most users, at least most casual users, will probably want to make use of the more modern Software Manager. The Software Manager is Linux Mint's custom package manager and it bears a resemblance to Ubuntu's Software Centre. The Software Manager displays software categories and the applications in those categories with a combination of labels and icons. Selecting an application for installation or removal causes the action to be added to a queue which is processed in the background while the user continues to browse the available software. I found the Software Manager to be responsive and easy to use, it provides detailed feedback and I encountered no problems.
Linux Mint "Debian" - managing software and backups
(full image size: 243kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
The distribution packs a good collection of useful software onto the DVD. We're presented with Firefox, the Thunderbird e-mail client, Pidgin for instant messaging, the Transmission BitTorrent client and a graphical PPP dialer. LibreOffice is included along with the Banshee music player, a disc burner, MPlayer, the VLC multimedia player and the Totem movie player. The GIMP is in the application menu along with the easy-to-use mintBackup program. There are graphical applications for handling the firewall, system services and user accounts. There's a domain blocker to filter websites and an upload manager. The GNOME 2.x configuration tools are included to alter the look & feel of the interface and we are given common applications like texts editors, archive managers, a calculator and Tomboy. I found that Linux Mint would play video and audio files out of the box and the distro includes the Flash browser plugin. The distribution also includes Java and GCC. On the DVD we find the 2.6.39 version of the Linux kernel, but at time of writing version 3.0 is available in the repositories.
Linux Mint "Debian" comes with a full range of drivers and firmware, including non-free items not found in plain Debian. As a result all of the hardware on my two physical machines was detected and properly configured. On the desktop box (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card) I found that Linux Mint performed well, the screen was set to its maximum resolution and the interface was responsive. On the laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card) performance was also smooth. My Intel wireless card was detected and used without any problems. My laptop's touchpad wasn't set to register taps as mouse clicks, but there's a setting in the configuration tool to change this, if desired. The Debian-based edition of Linux Mint is light on memory and generally used around 128 MB of RAM while sitting idle at the desktop.
What impressed me most about Linux Mint "Debian" is that the day-to-day use of the operating system is virtually indistinguishable from the Main edition. Linux Mint is a distro which I think does an amazingly good job of "just working". There is plenty of software on the DVD and it provides a friendly, complete environment. Most users should be able to put the install disc in their machine and be using their computer -- no tweaks, no configuration, no installing extra software -- inside twenty minutes. Office software, compilers, music players, codecs, firmware, graphic editors... it's all there. The developers have taken this experience, typical of their Main edition, and merged it with a lighter, rolling distribution and made the transition between the editions virtually seamless. Linux Mint "Debian" is arguably one the most user friendly distributions I've used. I haven't been running it long enough to comment on its stability, but the repository buffer between Debian "Testing" and the Mint end users should make Mint more stable than running plain Debian "Testing" or the various other distributions based off Debian "Testing".
That being said, before a user installs Linux Mint "Debian" they should be aware that there is more work and more technical knowledge required with this edition than with other Mint editions. For one thing when new update packs come out users need to make changes to their configuration manually. The rolling-release model does lend itself to the occasional glitch and users should be comfortable trouble shooting issues that come up after an update. Having a moving kernel and an evolving desktop environment can be both a rewarding ride and a rough one.
Linux Mint "Debian" - many multimedia options
(full image size: 235kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
People familiar with Linux Mint's other editions may miss the extras which come from the Ubuntu base. For instance, the Debian edition doesn't appear to support PPAs or the Ubuntu One services. Though it's not likely to make a big difference one way or the other, the Ubuntu-based editions of Linux Mint coming out later this year will have a few thousand extra packages in their software repositories compared to Linux Mint "Debian". So there is a slight downgrade in features in exchange for the rolling Debian base. Having said that, my week with Mint's Debian edition was a pretty rewarding experience. I ran into a package conflict right away, but aside from that and the keyboard issue it was smooth sailing. Also, the Mint desktop in this edition is just as polished and as easy-to-use as the Ubuntu-based editions. On my hardware everything was detected and worked straight out of the gate and it's nice to have the low-resource usage of Debian combined with the useful collection of drivers, firmware and codecs that come with Mint. My feeling is that people who already use Mint probably won't find any benefit in switching to the Debian base, unless they're quite taken with the rolling-release model. However, users of other rolling release distributions and other Debian-based operating systems will probably enjoy the convenience and friendliness that comes with the Mint experience.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Interview with OpenBSD's Theo de Raadt, CentOS versus Red Hat, Canonical's position of "Secure Boot"
Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the OpenBSD 5.0 release day. Even though the round version number does not make this a more "major" release than version 4.9, it will still be a significant moment for any OpenBSD fan or user. Preceding the new release was a "hackathon", the annual conference of OpenBSD developers, which was held recently in Ljubljana, Slovenia. OpenBSD founder Theo de Raadt was duly present and was even approached by a local daily newspaper for a brief interview, which was later translated into English and re-published at Undeadly.org. Here is a short excerpt: "Q: What is the main focus for new releases? Fixing bugs and improving the performance or do you always also offer new features? A: Every new release contains new features, especially regarding the network protocols like tunneling and packet filtering. We have a lot of our own implemented network technology built in. We can for example completely replace/emulate the functionality of Cisco devices and maintain full operability of the OS while doing so. We have a lot of functions that are built in the OS itself like encryption. Functions and features that no other OS has." A series of detailed articles on the s2k11 general hackathon gathering were published by the above-mentioned web site; here are the links: part 1, part 2 and part 3.
* * * * *
It has been a rather slow week for interesting news, but as is often the case when there is little exciting to report, Linux users will start debating some old topics that just never go away. Over the weekend Slashdot posted yet another one-never-gets-bored-of CentOS versus Red Hat Enterprise Linux story which, unsurprisingly, led to a great debate (or heated flame war, if you prefer). From "How can I justify using Red Hat when CentOS exists?": "I recently spec'd out a large project for our company that included software from Red Hat. It came back from the CIO with everything approved except I have to use CentOS. Why? Because 'it's free Red Hat.' Personally I really like the CentOS project because it puts enterprise class software in the hands of people who might not otherwise afford it. We are not those people. We have money. In fact I questioned the decision by asking why the CIO was willing to spend money on another very similar project and not this one. The answer was 'because there is no free alternative.' I know this has come up before and I don't want to beat a dead horse, but this is still a very persistent issue. Our CIO is convinced that technical support for any product is worthless."
* * * * *
For users not involved in enterprise Linux computing perhaps the most interesting story of the week was the development in the Microsoft's "Secure Boot" controversy. As a result the two most influential Linux companies, Canonical (the makers of Ubuntu) and Red Hat (the world's largest enterprise Linux company) have published a joint whitepaper explaining the implications of Microsoft's new requirement placed on the shoulders of hardware manufacturers. From Secure Boot impact on Linux as published on the official Canonical blog: "Canonical successfully partners with computer manufacturers to ship millions of Ubuntu pre-installed systems every year. While this distribution will continue to thrive, we are concerned for users wanting to install any Linux distribution on a PC sold with Secure Boot 'ON'. Any new Windows 8 PC will have Secure Boot switched 'ON' when it leaves the shop and will be able to boot Microsoft approved software only. However, you will most likely find that your new PC has no option for you to add your own list of approved software. So to install Linux (or any other operating system), you will need to turn Secure Boot 'OFF'. However, we believe that you have the right to have your cake and eat it too! It's possible to have Secure Boot and the ability to choose your software platform." The whitepaper, authored by Jeremy Kerr (Technical Architect at Canonical), James Bottomley (Linux kernel developer) and Matthew Garret (Senior Software Engineer at Red Hat), is available here (PDF format).
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Curious-about-patents asks: I was thinking about patents and thinking that you might want to consider an article about the patent problem with software?
DistroWatch answers: When discussing patents I'm, thankfully, a bit of an outsider. Where I live patents haven't crept into software development, at least not yet. From where I sit software patents and the lawsuits which swarm around them like bees around a hive seem like awful wastes of time and resources.
The concept of patents, in general, I think makes sense. Encouraging people to innovate by protecting their investment for a short period of time so that they may recoup their development costs seems reasonable. At least if we assume the patent expires after a reasonable amount of time. However, software has some special characteristics which do not make patents practical. First of all, software development happens very quickly. What is useful and popular now will probably be old news five or ten years down the road. In light of this, having software patents which last for decades is overkill. Another problem is software patents tend to cover concepts. It's one thing to invent a new type of database and be able to produce it, show it off, let people use it. It's quite another to just think about a new type of database and decide the thought needs to be protected.
Unfortunately this is what we're seeing a lot of these days. People are applying for patents for very simple ideas, ideas for which they may not have an implementation. The effect of this is, all too often, one person will come up with an idea and apply for a patent. Another person will come up with a similar idea, put the work into developing the code to make the idea a reality, and then find they are on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Patents originally were designed to protect people who were willing to invest their time and money into creating new things, but software patents often cover relatively trivial concepts which may be developed in parallel independently of each other. This means if two people come up with the same idea around the same time it becomes a race, not to see who can put out the best implementation, but who can file for a software patent first.
This has brought about an environment where companies will create and collect large numbers of patents as much for self defence as anything else. Red Hat, for example, owns several patents, seemingly not to keep others from using their work, but to protect themselves against other technology companies. It's becoming more expensive and more risky to develop software in countries where software patents exist. Which is a shame, patents were put in place with the hope of encouraging development and innovation and, instead, we're seeing patents used to threaten software companies like a Sword of Damocles. Microsoft, for example, has pushed the idea that Linux distributions infringe on their patents and that Linux companies should pay royalties. They've had more success recently collecting money from companies shipping Android phones, like Samsung.
However, it's one thing to identify problems, such as the flaws in software patents, it's another to be able to do something about these problems. I spent twenty minutes doing searches for "reform software patents", "fight software patents", "stop software patents", etc. The results weren't all that helpful. There are plenty of websites out there explaining why software patents are bad and there are plenty making calls to arms (and even more making calls for donations), but they're generally vague on how a person can get involved. So I'm going to wing it here and offer some suggestions.
My first suggestion is, if you're developing or using software and are charged with violating a patent, fight it legally. According to Google's general counsel, Kent Walker, "Many software patents are simply overbroad and vague. In fact, when they've been re-examined by the patent office, they're either invalidated or cut back, roughly 80 percent of the time."
Another option is to avoid using software from companies who are paying patent royalties or who are threatening legal action over patents. The PNG image format owes its creation to dodging patent issues, as does the Ogg multimedia container format. Almost all software falls under one patent or another, but we can try to avoid using software that would support or finance companies that use software patents aggressively. This also applies to mobile devices. As previously stated, some Android phone manufactures are paying royalties to Microsoft. If you decide to purchase an Android phone consider buying one from a company that is fighting against paying royalties.
Last, but not least, write to your local politician and ask them to push for patent reform. If enough people speak out against the expensive lawsuits and the trivial patent claims perhaps we will see steps taken to fix the problems.
|Released Last Week
Puppy Linux 5.3 "Slacko"
Here comes a new edition of Puppy Linux: "Slacko Puppy". As the name suggests, it is a distribution which maintains binary compatibility with Slackware Linux and which is pre-configured to access some of the more popular Slackware package repositories. From the release notes: "Puppy Linux 5.3 'Slacko' is a child, or better a pup, of Barry Kauler's Woof build system. It has binary compatibility with Slackware 13.37 which means that it is a Puppy built with packages from Slackware, Salix and Slacky repositories. The main version has kernel 18.104.22.168 compiled with Aufs and layered file system support. Some new features of Slacko are a rebuilt GtkDialog, a program which allows Bash scripts to run in GUI. A showcase of this are Pmusic and Pequalizer, tiny applications to organise and play your music collection. Slacko Puppy introduces Frisbee Network Manager to connect wirelessly. There is also Simple Network Setup and Network Wizard to offer choice."
Puppy Linux 5.3 "Slacko" - a new Puppy with Slackware flavour
(full image size: 133kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Anthony Nordquist has announced the release of SalineOS 1.5, a Debian-based distribution with Xfce as the preferred desktop: "New SalineOS 1.5 images are now available. Changes in this release include: LibreOffice is now the default office suite; NetworkManager has now replaced wicd by default; the Remastersys GRUB restore utility has been replaced by grub-doctor; installer has been patched to only offer to start Magix if you have an ATI or NVIDIA card; AutoUpdate will now use the GTK+ graphical interface for configuring packages if they require user input; new wrapper for aptitude that will use the GTK+ graphical interface for configuring packages; updated the user manual; all security updates installed; clean will now clear the cache of Iceweasel, Firefox and Google Chrome...." Read the rest of the release announcement for more details.
Joël Cugnoni has announced the release of CAELinux 2011, an Ubuntu-based distribution with a large collection of software for computer-aided engineering and scientific tasks: "Today we are really proud to announce our new release - CAELinux 2011. CAELinux 2011 is based on Ubuntu 10.04.3 LTS 64-bit distribution and contains a unique suite of open source simulation tools like Salome_Meca 2011.2, Code-Aster 11.0, Code-Saturne 2.0.2, OpenFOAM 2.0.1, Elmer 6.2 and many others. CAELinux 2011 represents a complete update of the distribution with up-to-date software for better support of modern hardware and a significantly enhanced ease of use, and we hope that you will enjoy it. This release is only available in the form of a live DVD image for AMD/Intel 64-bit CPUs that can be burned on a DVD or installed on a USB key for 'mobile' use and testing and then installed on hard-disk for best performance." Visit the project's home page to read the brief release announcement.
CAELinux 2011 - an Ubuntu-based distro designed for scientific work
(full image size: 700kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Linux From Scratch 7.0
Bruce Dubbs has announced the release of Linux From Scratch (LFS) 7.0, a complete e-book providing users with the steps necessary to build a working Linux system from scratch, primarily as an educational exercise: "The Linux From Scratch community is pleased to announce the stable release of LFS Version 7.0. It includes numerous changes to LFS 6.8, including updates to Linux kernel 3.1, GCC 4.6.1 and glibc 2.14.1. A somewhat major change was made in this version of the book by adding a new top level directory, /run. This directory has a tmpfs mounted and is used by programs like udev to store run time information. The directories /var/run and /var/lock are also linked to this directory. The boot scripts have been updated to accommodate this change. The boot scripts have also been modified to place supporting scripts in /lib/boot. Another significant change is the addition of an md5sums file, allowing users to check the integrity of all downloaded packages." See the project's news page to read the release announcement.
* * * * *
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
- Burhani Linux. Burhani Linux is a desktop Linux distribution based on Ubuntu and Linux Mint.
- Cinux. Cinux is an independently developed Linux distribution designed for a variety of specialised uses, such as education, media playback and web kiosks.
- DeLi(cate). DeLi(cate) is a fork of DeLi Linux 0.8 targeted at very old and low-RAM computers (i486 - Pentium III). It is developed independently of DeLi's successor (ConnochaetOS).
- Pacman Linux. Pacman Linux is a desktop-oriented distribution with an ability to perform every-day common tasks, such as creating documents or working with graphics.
- Phinx Desktop. Phinx Desktop is a PCLinuxOS-based distribution featuring the Xfce desktop.
- RRAbuntu. RRAbuntu (Rivendell Radio Automation live CD installer for Ubuntu) is a modified variant of Ubuntu. It has been customised using the Ubuntu Customization Kit (UCK) and the Rivendell DEB packages.
- Sage Live CD. Sage Live CD is a Puppy-based Linux live CD with Sage, a free mathematical package.
- Tizen. Tizen is a new open-source project for mobile devices based on Linux and other popular upstream projects. Tizen will support multiple device categories, such as smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, netbooks, and in-vehicle infotainment devices. The Linux Foundation will host the project, where Tizen development will be completely open and led by a technical steering team composed of Intel and Samsung.
- Ubuntu GNOME Shell Remix. Ubuntu GNOME Shell Remix is an unofficial remix of the Ubuntu operating system where the Unity desktop environment is replaced with the GNOME 3 desktop environment.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 7 November 2011.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Issue 648 (2016-02-15): XStream Desktop 153, Raspbian unveils OpenGL feature, free hardware, Ikey Doherty talks desktop design|
|• Issue 647 (2016-02-08): Tails 2.0, KDE project launches Neon, Manjaro unveils ARM support, FreeBSD's quarterly report|
|• Issue 646 (2016-02-01): deepin 15, Mint plans X-Apps, FreeBSD to support boot environments, logging into the desktop as root|
|• Issue 645 (2016-01-25): Linux Mint 17.3 "Xfce", Chromixium changes its name, Ubuntu tablets coming soon, Linux vs BSD comparision|
|• Issue 644 (2016-01-18): Kwort 4.3, Sabayon tests ARM images, Slackware adopts PulseAudio, running Linux without GNU software|
|• Issue 643 (2016-01-11): Solus 1.0, Mint provide upgrade path to 17.3, Fedora developers work on stability, running the LXQt desktop|
|• Issue 642 (2016-01-04): paldo GNU/Linux, vetting distro repositories, Fedora plans to adopt GCC 6, Ian Murdock passes|
|• Issue 641 (2015-12-21): Arch Linux, Qubes OS to ship on Librem laptops, ALT offers start kit images, the spread of systemd and launchd|
|• Issue 640 (2015-12-14): Chakra GNU/Linux 2015.11, removing meta-data from files, Ubuntu to remove on-line dash searches|
|• Issue 639 (2015-12-07): OpenBSD 5.8, openSUSE gathers Summer of Code proposals, running WINE on a live disc, Enlightenment adds Wayland support|
|• Issue 638 (2015-11-30): Qubes OS 3.0, KaOS with Plasma, NetBSD 7.0, Fedora seeks Wayland testers, scheduling tasks|
|• Full list of all issues|