| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 440, 23 January 2012
Welcome to this year's fourth issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Minimalist Linux distributions are rare in this world of ever-increasing hard disks capacities and hardware power. Yet there are developers who remind us that it's still possible to run a full-featured and powerful operating system that come in just a few megabytes. Read our first-look review of Tiny Core Linux 4.2 to learn about one of the smallest Linux distros available on the market. In the news section, Mandriva faces a tough bankruptcy decision, sponsors of Pardus Linux promise to keep the distribution alive, Fedora publishes a new website with detailed software package information, and Gentoo reveals the secret behind its "zero-day" packaging method. Also in today's issue, an introduction to Bloathi, a community edition of Bodhi Linux, and an overview of ZevenOS, an Ubuntu-based distribution with a BeOS-like user interface. Finally, don't miss our quick look at Clang, a newly introduced compiler in FreeBSD 9.0. Happy reading!
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (27MB) and MP3 (29MB) formats
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Let's talk tiny - Tiny Core Linux 4.2|
Usually I don't get all that excited about Tiny Core Linux, the little distribution which fits into an ISO image approximately 10 MB in size. It's not that I don't appreciate the technology, it's quite a feat getting modern functionality into such a little space. So many projects these days are moving to DVDs for their installation media, so it's nice to know someone is working on the other end of the scale. But while I appreciate the work and the craftsmanship which goes into such a creation, I feel that Tiny Core Linux really only appeals to people with one focus: small size. Much the same way OpenBSD, while an interesting project, is really going to appeal (almost exclusively) to people whose primary focus is security. There's nothing wrong with those things, it's just a very specific niche. And size isn't a niche which draws my attention these days. That being said, I wanted to take a look at Tiny Core Linux 4.2 because of a new edition added to the project: CorePlus.
CorePlus, according to the project's website, is "a simple way to get started using the Core philosophy with its included community-packaged extensions, enabling easy embedded frugal or pen-drive installation of the user's choice of supported desktop, while maintaining the Core principle of mounted extensions with full package management." CorePlus isn't quite as tiny as the main edition; instead of a 10 MB ISO image it comes as a 48 MB download. Still quite small by today's standards.
Tiny Core Linux 4.2 - browsing the web with Firefox
(full image size: 93kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Booting off the CorePlus CD brings up a menu giving us the option of which environment we'd like to use. The list includes FLWM, Joe's Window Manager, Fluxbox, Hackedbox, IceWM, plain X and the command line. While each graphical environment is slightly different, what we generally get is a simple interface with a sky blue background and a launch bar at the bottom of the screen. The launcher contains icons for shutting down CorePlus, opening the distribution's control panel, bringing up the extension manager, opening a text editor, launching a virtual terminal and handling WiFi connections. Digging around a little we can find a system installer, basic GNU userland tools and the 3.0 version of the Linux kernel. It's all quite compact and the environment is very fast to respond. It really is a minimalist system upon which we can add the pieces we want.
The system installer that comes with CorePlus is pretty basic and requires that we do our disk partitioning ahead of time; for this task the fdisk program is included on the CD. Once we have partitioned the disk the way we want it the installer walks us through a few steps. We're asked to confirm where the source files are, where we want to install CorePlus and whether we wish to install a bootloader. We can choose the file system used (ext2, ext3, ext4 and VFAT are offered) and we can choose whether to install GUI software or stick to just console programs. We can also choose whether we need extra items like wireless support. The install goes quite quickly and I was able to boot into my local copy of CorePlus without any problems. You may have noticed I didn't mention creating user accounts or setting passwords. This is because CorePlus logs us in automatically as the default user, tc, and this user has the ability to perform administrative actions. At no point during my time with the distribution was I prompted for a password.
Tiny Core Linux 4.2 - running applications under IceWM
(full image size: 43kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Having a base like Tiny Core Linux wouldn't be very useful without the ability to add pieces to the foundation. For that reason the distribution comes with a simple package manager which allows the user to download and install new extensions. The manager works on both the CD and from a hard drive install and is fairly straightforward to use. When we connect to the remote repository we are shown a list of packages in alphabetical order. We can search through these items by name and by using keywords. Clicking on an extension's name brings up a detailed description of the highlighted software. We can then choose to download the chosen module. I particularly like that we can queue multiple actions, so once a download has started we can choose to find and install other items while the first one is being fetched. Not much progress is shown during the download process, but I found that the manager worked reliably on my systems and dependencies were automatically resolved. The remote repository isn't nearly as large as those found in mainstream distributions, but enough is provided to give us the basics in most categories. For example, the repository contains AbiWord, Gnumeric, OpenJDK, Gnash, Firefox, GCC, a music player, instant messenger and several others. Really we have the tools to make what we want as long as we're willing to hunt down the pieces.
While experimenting with CorePlus I ran it on two machines, a generic desktop box (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card) and my HP laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card). The distribution was able to detect and use all of my hardware, including my Intel wireless card. My screen resolution was set a little lower than normal, but still within a reasonable range. CorePlus runs almost no services, which makes it incredibly quick to boot and very responsive. Generally, with the window manager and a couple of applications running my memory usage was still below 170 MB.
Tiny Core Linux 4.2 - managing extensions and settings
(full image size: 59kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
When talking about small distributions I find that Tiny Core Linux often comes up in the same breath as projects like Puppy Linux and SliTaz GNU/Linux. While they certainly have the size characteristic in common, I think Tiny Core belongs in a different category from the other two. SliTaz and Puppy are very light distributions which provide common desktop functionality out of the box. They're basically the mini versions of more mainstream projects in that fashion. Tiny Core Linux feels more like a platform upon which we can build things. It's not a small house so much as a foundation. Tiny Core provides a minimal base upon which we can stack things, rather than bundle general purpose software. And, based on my experience this week, I'd say the distribution is doing it well. I've found the distro to be stable, fast and able to handle all of my hardware. There is a small, but useful collection of software in the repository and the project's website features clear, well-written documentation. Tiny Core Linux is probably not going to appeal to a wide audience and it does have a narrow niche, but it is useful and it is interesting and I feel it's an idea well executed.
* * * * *
Since talking about all the features of TinyCore doesn't take up much space I'd like to devote a little time to another project, FreeBSD. The FreeBSD team recently announced the availability of FreeBSD 9.0 and there are some interesting new features and improvements in the open-source operating system. Some of the highlights include soft updates to the file system, which will greatly reduce recovery time after a crash or power failure. In theory, recovering a file system after a crash should now take a few seconds instead of minutes. User level DTrace has been added, which should make debugging and fine-tuning easier. The ZFS file system receives a big update and the LLVM compiler has been imported into the base system. All in all the release looks interesting. This past week I was visiting with a friend and we dusted off a machine (1.8 GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card) which had been sitting, unused, in the corner and gave FreeBSD 9.0 a whirl.
The first change most users will notice moving from FreeBSD version 8 to version 9 is that the default installer is different. FreeBSD previously used a program called sysinstall, which has been replaced by bsdinstall, though some parts of sysinstall can still be found on the FreeBSD installation media. The new installer is a bit more streamlined, but I can't say I'm a big fan. The reason I say this is that while sysinstall might have been a bit overwhelming to new users with the various menu options and its flexibility, as long as a person read all the prompts and stuck to the defaults they could get through quite quickly. Installing FreeBSD 8 on a test box was pretty much a case of selecting "default", "default", "default", "auto", "auto", "ok". I found the new bsdinstall program to be good in that it kept us firmly on the rails, presenting one option after another so there was no way to get lost. On the other hand, there are a lot of steps. One can still get through selecting defaults, but the difference is we have to do so around two dozen times.
At any rate, after fifteen minutes of typing and waiting for files to copy the installer prompts us to reboot. Unfortunately the machine wouldn't boot. We tried installing again, making sure to stick with defaults and safe options, and again the system wouldn't boot. We read through the install section of the FreeBSD Handbook (which is an excellent resource) and asked for help on the FreeBSD forum where we received helpful advice. Unfortunately, after five or six install attempts we'd used up our advice and were still stuck with a box which wouldn't boot. Looking around the forums we found a few other early adapters who had encountered the same issue, so far without any solution. (We later installed a Linux distro just to confirm the hardware was functioning properly.) I'm sorry to say my experiment with FreeBSD will have to wait until I get around to trying the latest versions of GhostBSD and PC-BSD on my usual hardware.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Mandriva and Pardus status update, Fedora packages, Gentoo zero-day packaging, Bodhi's Bloathi, ZevenOS overview
Following some recent rumours about Mandriva's imminent financial collapse, the company has posted a brief update on the company's official blog: "We would like to inform that a proposal to acquire Mandriva has been submitted by an external entity. As required in such a situation, the major shareholders have been asked to determine their position. As per today, Mandriva has not received any determination in written form and will, in consequence, wait until January, 23rd to decide on the future of the company." The post was written by the company's Chief Operating Officer, Jean-Manuel Croset, who only joined the company late last year. Unfortunately, his brief message doesn't offer much optimism, but one can always hope for a last-minute solution that would avert the closure of one of the oldest and most prominent Linux companies in Europe.
* * * * *
Another Linux distribution facing a potential end of the road is Turkey's Pardus Linux, whose sponsor, The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, is rumoured to be in the process of restructuring some of its projects. Ekin Meroğlu has offered more information about the situation on the distro's mailing list: "As there have been several discussions on the future of Pardus Linux, I wanted to clear things up a bit. Firstly, Pardus project is alive - despite the word on the forums and mailing lists, the project is not closing its doors. But it is fair to say that we are reorganizing. As most of you know, Pardus is a project funded and supported by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK). As a part of this reorganization process, TÜBİTAK plans to arrange a workshop entitled 'Future of Pardus'. This workshop's aim is to determine the future of Pardus and work on the technical roadmap of the distribution. Following this workshop, a roadmap will be planned and announced."
* * * * *
Last week the Fedora project revealed a new website designed to facilitate looking up information about the many packages included in the distribution. The H Open reports: "The Fedora Project has launched a beta version of the Fedora Packages website, which provides access to various information on the software contained in Fedora. The website, which is primarily aimed at developers, gives a brief description of and shows the contents of the packages that make up the distribution. Users can also find out which version of the packages are used in which Fedora versions and which bugs are assigned to a package in the bug-tracking database. Additionally, the web site can display RPM spec files, containing commands for compiling source code packages for different architectures. Patches applied to the software source code can also be viewed.".
* * * * *
One of the major advantages of running a compile-from-source Linux distribution, such as Gentoo Linux, is the speed with which the users are able to run the latest software on their systems. But how does Gentoo do it? Andreas Hüttel explains the technique of providing the latest and greatest in a blog post entitled "Gentoo zero-day packaging of new KDE releases explained": Usually, whenever a new KDE release is published, Gentoo users can update already the same day, as suddenly a complete and polished set of ebuilds appears in the portage tree. (Stay tuned on the upcoming Wednesday for KDE 4.8.0, it's shaping up very nicely!) How is this possible? Well... let me explain. If you're a stable version user, you may have never heard of so-called live ebuilds. This is a special variant, usually denoted by a version number ending in 9999 that does not rely on a source tarball. Instead, it contains a URL of a revision control system (say on anongit.kde.org). When you emerge such a version of a package, the sources of the specified branch are checked out or updated to the newest upstream state, and that is used for building the installation package."
* * * * *
Although relatively new on the distro scene, Bodhi Linux is now probably the most widely-used distribution that features Enlightenment 17 as the default desktop. Its only fault, at least in the eyes of some users, is the lack of applications in the distro's default state. If you are one of those users, here is a new option for you - Bloathi Linux. Susan Linton introduces this community-built Bodhi in "Meet Bodhi's Bulky Brother: Bloathi": If Bodhi Linux was a little too minimal, then perhaps Bodhi's beefy brother Bloathi Linux will fill the bill. Jeff Hoogland posted today of a new community spin of Bodhi that comes with 'a slew of pre-installed software.' Bloathi retains the Enlightenment desktop environment and comes with lots of themes and several hardware profiles. These are setup upon reaching the desktop through a pop-up configuration. The hard-drive installer icon normally found on the desktop doesn't show up in a lot of themes, so check in the file manager under Desktop. The menu is populated by lots of places, settings, and applications. Some of these are LibreOffice, Inkscape, Pinta, VLC, Firefox, Pidgin, Envision, and DeaDBeeF."
* * * * *
The last item of this week's news section is a link to an article about ZevenOS, a niche distribution that attempts to recapture the bygone days of BeOS. "Michael Reed introduces the project" in Linux Journal: BeOS was a much loved and highly advanced desktop operating system that ceased active development in 2001. ZevenOS is a Ubuntu 11.10-based system (with a bit of help from Xubuntu) that attempts to recapture some of the BeOS look and feel. The GUI of ZevenOS is based on a custom theme for the Xfce desktop. I have a little experience with BeOS and some of its clones, and I confirm that, from the outset, it does look quite like BeOS. Naturally, the most famous element of the BeOS user interface, the small yellow title bar, has been retained. As with the original BeOS, the dock is located in the top right hand side of the screen and expands vertically. You bring it to the front by touching the right hand corner of screen, and when clicked on, it pops up an application launcher."
ZevenOS 4.0 - an Ubuntu-based distribution with a BeOS-like Xfce theme
(full image size: 110kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Clang went the compiler
When FreeBSD 9 came out earlier this month one of the changes which caught my eye (and the eyes of many others) was the move to include the Clang compiler with the Low Level Virtual Machine (LLVM) backend. There is a move underway to slowly phase out the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) from the base install and put LLVM in its place (the GCC will still be available through FreeBSD Ports). One reason for this move is that LLVM is licensed in a very similar manner to FreeBSD and recent versions of the GCC are licensed under the more restrictive General Public License version 3. The developers see this as an incompatibility and want to get all their tools under a compatible license.
Fair enough, but as a developer my interest in the move to LLVM wasn't in the license, but rather in the compiler's performance. How fast is it? Is it compatible with code written with GCC in mind? Does the resulting executable have similar performance? The performance of a compiler doesn't just affect developers, the ability of the compiler to produce good code will also affect the performance of the whole operating system since the compiler will be building the kernel and all of the libraries. Looking at the comments on various news sites turned up a lot of debate on licensing (with the usual amount of thoughtful consideration and decorum), but I found very little discussion on the merits of LLVM as compared to GCC. Being of curious mind I decided to compare the two.
My series of tests were fairly simple and shouldn't be considered statistically significant benchmarks. What I did was take four applications of various types and compile them with GCC (version 4.6.1) and with Clang (version 2.9), both without optimization and with -O2 level optimization. I then compared the time it took to compile each project, the resulting executable size and the time it took to run the program.
The results, I'm happy to say, weren't all that interesting. The run times of programs were generally quite close. Sometimes the GCC binaries were faster, sometimes the Clang binaries were faster, but in each case the difference was a percentage point or two, hardly worth mentioning. Binary size tended to vary a little. Sometimes Clang's binaries were bigger and sometimes GCC's were, but in each case the difference was less than 10%. The only consistent result I found was with compile time. In my tests Clang was always slower, usually by about 10-20%. Not a huge gap, but on longer compiles it becomes noticeable. I thought this observation was interesting as one of Clang's big selling points is it should be much faster than GCC. My results did not reflect this.
The one significant difference I noticed between GCC and Clang came from the messages displayed during compile time. Most code, when compiled with default settings, will result in some warning messages about variable types, things which could be optimized, values not initialized before being used, etc. The warning messages I got from Clang struck me as being much more helpful than the messages displayed by the GNU compiler. Not only were the messages, the text, easier to understand, but Clang would usually display the line of code it was talking about with an arrow pointing to the offending character(s). It's a small thing, but one which I really appreciated.
From a technical standpoint I don't think there is a strong reason to use one compiler or the other. Sometimes one would make a slightly smaller binary, sometimes one would give a more efficient binary, Clang typically lagged behind a little in compile times, but neither provided a clear advantage other the other technically. Usually the results were fairly close. The only real differences appear to be the style of error & warning messages and the licenses under which the compilers are distributed. Both of which I feel are personal preferences rather than technical issues.
|Released Last Week
Jörn Lindau has announced the release of Toorox 01.2012 "GNOME" edition, a Gentoo-based desktop Linux distribution featuring GNOME 3.2.1: "Toorox 01.2012 'GNOME'. A new version of the 'GNOME' edition of Toorox featuring the recent stable GNOME 3.2.1 has been finished. Some GNOME Shell extensions have been added to give the user the old fashion of a window panel and a classic application menu. The Linux kernel 3.1.6-gentoo as basis; also included are X.Org Server 1.11.3, Mesa 7.11.2, LibreOffice 3.4.3, Thunderbird 9.0.1, Firefox 9.0.1 and WINE 1.3.37. Toorox 01.2012 'GNOME' is available in the download area as direct download (32-bit and 64-bit)." See the brief release announcement and changelog for more information.
Toorox 01.2012 - a Gentoo-based distribution featuring the latest GNOME 3 desktop
(full image size: 742kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
openSUSE 12.2 roadmap
Last week the openSUSE project has published the roadmap for version 12.2. Testing will officially commence with the first milestone release scheduled for 9 February and will culminate with the "gold" release on 11 June. From the announcement: "As Benjamin Brunner announced yesterday, openSUSE 11.3 has reached end of life. As a quick refresher, openSUSE releases new versions every 8 months, and each version has a life cycle of 18 months. As 11.3 was released in July of 2010, the time has come to embrace our newer versions, including the successful release of 12.1 in November of 2011. As Brunner's announcement indicates, we worked hard to maintain 11.3 while developing its subsequent two releases (11.4 and 12.1.) And of course, we're already gearing up for 12.2, slated for release in July. And the first milestone release is already just around the corner. You'll be able to try out Milestone 1 on February 9th. As always, testers and contributors are welcome throughout the release development process."
* * * * *
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- SparkyLinux. SparkyLinux is a Polish Debian-based distribution and live medium featuring the Enlightenment 17 desktop. The project's website is in Polish.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 30 January 2012.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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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|
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|• Full list of all issues|
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