| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 15, 15 September 2003
Mandrake Linux 9.2, an "adware" release
If you've ever had doubts about the real popularity and usage of Mandrake Linux, then last week's controversy over MandrakeSoft's announcement to place advertisements into the next Mandrake release should have cleared them convincingly. The story, first reported by PCLinuxOnline, where it generated over 12,000 page views and nearly 200 comments, and later picked up by all major Linux news sites, was taken from Mandrake's advertising page. The page has since undergone substantial modifications and Mandrake has also released further clarifications about the issue.
For those who missed the story, here is the recap. According to the original announcement, the upcoming Mandrake Linux 9.2, due for release later this month, will feature sponsored content on its installation screens, it will have sponsored bookmarks in all web browsers, which will also come with pre-set home pages leading to the advertisers' web sites. Additionally, the freely downloadable edition was to have screensaver advertising, but this plan has since been scrapped. Interested parties could sign up for these sponsorship deals for a fee of US$7,000 and up, although the pricing structure is now also gone from the web page carrying the announcement.
This story has caused a massive outcry even among the most devote Mandrake users and supporters. This is a Microsoft-like idea, they claimed, going against the spirit of open source software and fearing that other similar and more intrusive measures will follow. Many users expressed strong interests in exploring other Linux distributions if Mandrake goes ahead with their advertising plans. No wonder that Mandrake's founder Gaël Duval was quick to issue further clarifications, trying to calm down the community with statements claiming that "the ads will be non-intrusive" and "users will be able to remove them easily".
Is there anything wrong with Mandrake Linux 9.2 turning into an "adware"? No, there isn't. Is there anything wrong with Mandrake's implementation of the "adware" concept? Yes, there is.
The adware concept is nothing new, even in the Linux world. Take the Opera web browser as an example; the advertisements present in the freely downloadable edition of Opera can be turned off by buying a license and registering the software. This is in essence how all adware works. However, according to MandrakeSoft's announcement, the planned advertisements will be present in all Mandrake editions - the freely downloadable one, as well as the commercial boxed products. There has been no word about offering an ad-free edition of Mandrake Linux to the US$60-per-annum Mandrake Club members who are effectively the company's main lifeline. No wonder sparks were flying as soon as the news got out!
MandrakeSoft's decision makers have to tread very carefully here. On one hand, they cannot afford to alienate their loyal users and club members by introducing obtrusive advertising. On the other, they cannot make it too easy to turn the advertising off - that's if they are serious about attracting sponsors. But there should definitely be no advertising in Mandrake's PowerPack and ProSuite editions, while the Mandrake Club members should also get access to an ad-free edition of Mandrake Linux. As for those who download it for free without ever contributing to the development of the product, they will have few valid reasons to complain about sponsored installation screens or a handful of commercial browser bookmarks.
Of course, one of the most wonderful aspects of Mandrake Linux is that the company, unlike many others in the Linux world, does listen to the community and maintains a constructive dialogue with their users and fans. As such, it is more than likely than MandrakeSoft will diffuse the current advertising controversy and come up with a more reasonable solution to everybody's satisfaction. But if not, and if you absolutely refuse to accept any compromise over this issue, then you are on the right web site to explore any potential replacements for Mandrake Linux :-)
|Released Last Week
Server Optimized Linux (SoL) 17.00 has been released: "antitachyon - Manalo & Willner OEG proudly announces the fourth stable release of SoL - Server optimized Linux 17.00. SoL 17.00 is a milestone in the SoL - series. The ideas and concepts of SoL were consequently enhanced and the requests of the SoL - community all over the whole world were considered in this release. SoL 17.00 is the first of the SoL - releases to be installed with the new installation system SoLIv2, which includes many features such as Software-RAID creation, a quick-install mode for automatic mass-installations and a clear step-by-step installation menu. As usual, with SoL 17.00 a complete and ready-to-use server can be installed within 30 minutes." See the rest of the press release.
Damn Small Linux 0.4.7
A new Damn Small release is out. Changes in version 0.4.7: "New apps and features: parted (partition tool), rdesktop (RDP client for Windows NT/2000 Terminal Server), Xpacman (fun and tiny Pacman game), updated the Firebird script to 0.6.1, update lilo, added an option to set frequency for the Xvesa server. Bugs and Cleanups: fixed some post-install bugs (sudo, swap), did a little post install script cleaning, fixed irc bug, fixed screensaver bug. There have been a lot of requests for rdesktop and GNU/parted. On the entertainment side, Xpacman couldn't be passed up with a binary of just 22k. I've been working on smoothing DSL out, so some time was put into fixing bugs and getting DSL install on the hard drive will less knocks." The full changelog and package list.
- Mandrake 9.2rc2, the beta information page.
- Slackware Linux 9.1 beta-1, an unexpected announcement given that version 9.0 was released in March this year and that Slackware had seemingly settled into a one-release-per-year routine in recent years. The busy changelog has all the details.
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Red Hat Linux
Expect a major announcement from Red Hat later today - that's if their promise to provide new information about the Red Hat Linux Project on or before 15 September holds true. But it should, according to Mike Harris and this message on the Red Hat beta mailing list: "You will be given further information about the project on September 15th, as the website rhl.redhat.com states. To stay updated on all information, you can visit that website. Chances are if [information] isn't on the website, then it isn't public or is not decided upon yet."
Voodoo Linux 3.0
The mysteriously low-profile Voodoo Linux has announced a new upcoming beta release, Voodoo Linux 2.3 rc 3.0: "We are in the process of releasing the new beta of Voodoo Linux (2.3) and the new signup form will be made available here soon. If you have a spare system and the time to fully test the release feel free to sign up. Your feedback will be most crucial as this will be a major release for Voodoo Linux 3.0." Sign up for the Voodoo Linux announcements if you'd like to take part in the beta testing process. Voodoo Linux is now a Debian-based distribution, although all their previous releases used to be based on Red Hat Linux.
Linux From Scratch 5.0
The Linux From Scratch project has published an updated roadmap of the upcoming Linux From Scratch 5.0: "Release LFS-5.0-RC1 Monday, Sep 15th and spend that entire week testing the book. If major issues have come up, release LFS-5.0-RC2 on Monday, Sep 22nd and spend that week testing as well. If no major issues came up, instead of releasing LFS-5.0-RC2 on the 22nd, we can release LFS-5.0 itself."
|Web Site News
New on the waiting list
- CDlinux. CDlinux is a CD based mini Linux distribution, which runs from a CD-ROM. It aims to be an administration/rescue tool for East Asian (CJK) users. CDlinux is also highly user configurable, and supports a wide range of hardware (PCMCIA, SCSI, USB, etc). At present time, only simplified Chinese is fully supported.
- Sentry Firewall CD. The Sentry Firewall CD-ROM is designed to be an easy to manage and configure CD-ROM based Linux operating system suitable for use in a firewall, IDS (Intrusion Detection System) or server environment. The system is designed to be immediately configurable for a variety of different operating environments via a configuration file located on a floppy disk, a local hard drive, and/or a network via HTTP(S), FTP, SFTP, or SCP. Currently, the system is based on a Slackware 9.0 installation. Various other packages and utilities have also been added to increase this system's functionality.
DistroWatch database summary
- Arrabix is a Knoppix-based live CD with support for Arabic.
- PXES Linux thin client is a micro Linux distribution allowing you to build thin clients or diskless workstations.
- evelyn is a linux distribution based on Mandrake; it's main purpose is to be kept secure and small, while providing basic functionality the system administrators might need.
- Number of distributions in the database: 172
- Number of discontinued distributions: 24
- Number of distributions on the waiting list: 64
Several readers have mentioned the release of Linare Desktop, a new commercial Linux distribution by Linare Corporation. As much as we would love to give you more detailed information about the product, we have to concede defeat here. The distribution's web site has very little useful information about the product (not counting the four screenshots of the KDE desktop) and all our email requests for further details or a review copy of Linare Desktop have met with a resolute silence. The product retails for just under US$20 and is apparently available for purchase. If anybody has some more information about Linare Desktop, we'd love hear from you!
Here is something for those of you with interest in distributions with old hardware, as submitted by one of the readers: "Just wanna let you that there is something, that can be viewed as Linux Distro, although it's only called a Desktop Environment: The Turbo Desktop Environement (TDE), a Linux distro based on Debian and KDE1 (initially, now also KDE3 or XFCE4) which is targeted on not so new computers (say from Pentium 1 on, in comparison to DeLi Linux, which is targeted for i386s and later architectures)."
- On Linux distributions for old hardware
"My compliments - you wrote a good, thought provoking essay on changes in the whole notion of the old distribution model. That model was born way back when CDs were new and bandwidth was 14.4 kbps. Nowadays, CDs are old, DVDs are middle aged, DVD burners are new, and broadband internet access is becoming mainstream. So yes, changing technology will bring about changes in distribution models.
- On rethinking the distribution model
Interestingly, as you point out, Mandrake was the first to get a clue and make the change. They distribute mostly over the internet, and collect payments from club members. (By the way, for the first time ever, I have been using Mandrake 9.1 daily for months as a primary desktop. Mandrake finally made the grade - 9.1 is quite stable and trouble free, and fairly user friendly - good job by the folks at Mandrake.) I guess when your corporate back is up against the wall, you tend to pull your head out of your ass and deal with reality a bit quicker. Given that notion, Red Hat is to be commended for some forward thinking, and one wonders about SuSE.
Debian has straddled both worlds. They have always made their distro available for download over the internet, and it is also readily available at low cost from CD resellers for those with limited bandwidth. Debian does it all yet again.
However, I sense a problem with distributing Linux distros exclusively over the net, and not as a physical, boxed product. What about hard copy documentation? Sure, sure, the hardcore Linux geeks either don't need hardcopy docs or can get whatever docs they want online when they try out a new distro. But what about all those Windows users who want to switch? They desperately need quality, hardcopy documentation.
Right now, Mandrake, Red Hat, and SuSE all offer hard copy documentation with their boxed versions. Red Hat offers all of its documentation available for purchase separately, as well as for free download in .pdf form too. But if Linux distros abandon the boxed distribution model, will they get lazy in time and also abandon hardcopy documentation? What happens then when the Windows users want or need to switch over and need some good documentation?
Professionally produced quality software should always be well documented, preferably with hard copy documentation made available. Red Hat seems to understand this quite well. The lack of such is one of the flaws of Debian. Will Mandrake and SuSE remain clueful?
That's all for this week, keep well and see you next Monday :-)
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