| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 122, 17 October 2005
Welcome to this year's 42nd issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The timely release of Ubuntu Linux 5.10 and its sister distributions last Thursday was the event of the week - this issue naturally starts with a closer look at "Breezy Badger". We'll also investigate wireless network configuration on SUSE Linux 10.0, feature the unusual, Slackware-inspired Kate OS distribution, and ask why the otherwise Linux-friendly Google has expended so little effort to make Google Earth available on our preferred operating system. Happy reading!
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in mp3 (6.96MB) format (courtesy of Shawn Milo).
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
"Breezy Badger" has landed
New versions of Ubuntu Linux and its two sister projects hit the download mirrors on schedule last Thursday. Unlike the earlier releases of SUSE 10.0 and Mandriva 2006, the Ubuntu download servers and mirrors withstood the onslaught with much greater dignity, although it has to be said that the single-CD Ubuntu 5.10 is a considerably smaller product than either of the two other distributions. The first reactions on the release were mostly positive, although not even Ubuntu is perfect and some bugs remained unresolved.
As many of you have noticed, Robert Storey published his observation of Ubuntu's testing process and final release in a review entitled The Ubuntu Juggernaut: The Resistance Is Futile. We have had a fair amount of feedback already, both in public forums and in the form of private emails. Some people seem to maintain their childish attitude of dismissing the distribution on the grounds that it comes with a brown desktop and uses unusual internal development names, such as "Breezy Badger". Others believe that Ubuntu has become too dominant in a very short time and fear that the project will turn into a bullying monster with further clashes with the Debian developer community. Of course, it is difficult to predict how things will turn out in the future but right now Ubuntu Linux is certainly an amazingly successful project, a fact that, we believe, will have a serious impact on the many existing Linux distributions, even the well-established ones.
One thing that frequently came out during the review and feedback was the issue of "sudo" on Ubuntu. In his review Robert suggested an easy way to restore the root password with a simple "sudo passwd root", which will eliminate what many consider an annoying need to type the word "sudo" (and password) before every command that requires superuser privileges. While this is indeed a possible solution, some would argue that a more elegant and security-friendly way to maintain superuser privileges in a console session is with "sudo -s -H". After you execute the above command you will remain "root" until you type "exit" or press Ctrl+D.
One more issue worth mentioning here is the subject of the kernel supplied on the Ubuntu installation CD for the i386 architecture. It seems that many people installing Ubuntu Linux on a modern computer do not realise that they might be running their operating system with a seriously underpowered kernel. That's because the Ubuntu installation CD contains only one kernel, which quite naturally is the one that will work on all x86 architectures. However, if you are using a modern processor, such as Intel Pentium or the AMD processors, you will get a much better performance if you download and install one of the kernels specially compiled for those processors. Just run "apt-get install linux-image-686" if your system is powered by at least an Intel Pentium II processor or "apt-get install linux-image-k7" on systems with the AMD K7 processor. You can check your current kernel version with the "uname -r" command.
Robert originally reported this issue as a bug. However, the Ubuntu developers dismissed it explaining that there just isn't enough space on the installation CD to provide more than one binary kernel. It is up to us, the users, to install the optimal kernel after the initial installation.
* * * * *
Setting up wireless network on SUSE Linux 10.0
Improved hardware support, easier installations, up-to-date packages, new features - these are just some of the popular phrases interweaving many press releases issued by commercial Linux distributions. But are they just words made up by the ever-creative marketing departments, or are the "new features" and "improvements" real? To find a partial answer to the question, I decided to test the wireless networking features in SUSE Linux 10.0.
My expectations were high. SUSE never misses an opportunity to tout its superb networking features and it was, in fact, the first distribution to offer the concept of "roaming profiles" for laptop users who travel frequently. But after installing SUSE Linux 10.0 on a 1.4 GHz Pentium 4 laptop, I found, to my disappointment, that the status light of my 3Com USB wireless adapter was off.
I dreaded this moment because I knew nothing about configuring wireless networking under Linux. Not willing to give up easily, I set out to investigate whether it was possible to bring my wireless network adapter to life under SUSE 10.0, and if it was so, why couldn't SUSE's hardware detection program configure it the same way it had configured the built-in ethernet card.
After several unsuccessful attempts to set up wireless networking through the YaST utility and after obtaining more information about my 3Com wireless adapter, I discovered that it could be activated with a kernel module called "zd1211". Although there are several open source editions of this particular module floating around the Internet, none of the main distributions, it seems, wants to include it in their products. Is it because of the potential side effects of "kernel tainting"? Or perhaps because this network adapter is not all that common? Anybody knows the answer?
While compiling and loading the new kernel module was easy enough, I still had much trouble getting the wireless adapter work (it could ping the wireless router/DHCP server, but refused to ping anything beyond). Following several hours of trying all sorts of tricks and much searching on Google, I finally found the solution. To get the wireless network adapter going, I had to assign a static IP address to the built-in ethernet card! Simply disabling or de-configuring the ethernet card wouldn't work - it had to be configured with a static IP address and told not to start up at boot time!
Is this a bug or is there a reason for this unusual behaviour? If it's the former, is it a bug in YaST or in the wireless network module? Or perhaps in the wireless router? It's hard to tell. But the fact remains that this bug (and workaround) was reported by others so it did affect a fair number of other people.
The good news is that the 3Com USB wireless adapter is now working happily on SUSE Linux 10.0. What a pity I had to spend the better part of a weekend to get it going.
|Featured Distribution of the Week: Kate OS
Kate OS 2.2
If you visit the Kate OS project web site your first impressions are unlikely to be overly positive. With broken grammar and misspelt words all over the front page, you'll be forgiven if you simply decide to go elsewhere for your distribution fix. But behind the unsightly web site, there is a product that intrigues - with an enhanced Slackware installer, fast and light-weight desktop and a good-looking default theme.
Although the developers of Kate OS tend to get upset if one hints that their distribution is "based on Slackware", the influence of the oldest surviving Linux distribution on Kate OS is apparent right from the start. The curses-based installer certainly comes from Slackware, with only light modifications of some of the configuration dialogs. This, however, is one of the very pleasant aspects of Kate OS - unlike Slackware, which leaves any X configuration and user setup to whoever is the first person that boots into the newly installed operating system, Kate OS auto-configures the graphical part of the system and also helps to set up a user account. These two extra steps can make the Kate OS experience a lot more palatable for new Linux users.
The default desktop environment of Kate OS is the fast XFce desktop with an intriguing theme. Although it might not be to everybody's taste, it makes for a refreshing change from the usual variations of blue that most distributions seem to prefer these days. Of course, a dozen or so other themes are just a mouse click away in the XFce "User interface" dialog.
On the application side, if you only downloaded the first of the two CDs and installed all available packages, your menus will not be brimming with software and you certainly won't find any heavy-duty programs, such as OpenOffice.org. But applications for most basic tasks are all there - you'll find AbiWord for light office work, GIMP for graphics manipulation, MPlayer and xine for playing media files, and Firefox, Gaim and Thunderbird as your Internet applications. This could easily be considered another great feature of Kate OS - you can start small and only add applications that you really need. Updating and installing packages is also very convenient - the 'updateos -update-dist' command will bring your installed application set up-to-date with those available on Kate OS servers, while the 'updateos -install package_name' will download and install a new package and its dependencies.
For those who enjoy more applications than the ones provided by the Kate OS CD, a DVD edition, complete with KDE, GNOME and related software, is also available for download. One disappointing aspect of Kate OS is lack of English documentation on its web site and many broken links on the Wiki pages. On the positive side, Kate OS users are welcome to exchange their experiences and seek help on Kate OS forums.
Kate OS 2.2 - a nicely designed distribution with elements borrowed from Slackware.
(full image size: 555kB)
|Google Earth - Time To Eat Your Own Dogfood
Google Earth - time to eat your own dogfood
- by Robert Storey
Googol is the number 1 followed by 100 zeros. That term was coined in 1938 by a nine-year-old, Milton Sirotta, whose father was a mathematician. Such trivia is the kind of thing people hear once and quickly forget.
However, the term Google is solidly embedded into the brains of millions of web surfers. Indeed, it's even become a verb, as it "I googled for travel info." Chances are good that even many among the computer illiterate have heard of it, especially with all the recent hoohah in the news media about the Microsoft-Google lawsuit.
Despite Google's wide-spread fame and growing fortune, the actual inner workings behind this biggest of search engines is poorly understood by the public. True, there are some things that Google, Inc can't hide - it's headquartered in Mountain View, California and employs over 4000 workers. The company was founded in 1998 and is listed on the NASDAQ (GOOG). Google holds a number of software patents, which might not be a bad thing now that they've attracted the wrath of Microsoft.
Despite what we know about Google, the company is rather secretive about the technology that makes their amazing search engine possible. For instance, corporate insiders maintain Ziplock lips about how many servers are needed to power the whole search-and-index operation. Tristan Louis estimates that Google runs between 45,000 and 80,000 machines - you can see how he deduced these figures here.
Although the number of Google servers may be a mystery, and the search/index software is proprietary, the operating system that powers these machines is an open secret - Google has since its inception run Linux. The company has been a big fan of Red Hat in particular, though we outsiders can only speculate on what other distros they might have experimented with. Without a doubt, the company has saved millions of dollars by running open source software.
All of which should have Linuxistas jumping for joy. Unfortunately, the celebrations are being soured by the recent launch of Google Earth, a "3D interface to the planet". This slick new service - which is still in the beta stage - lets you view high-quality images of locations all over the world. One of our favourite geeky web sites, The Register, ran a great contest recently where viewers sent in their favourite images of black helicopters on the ground. While it's a little early yet to say if Google Earth will prove to be a successful business venture, it's certainly attracted a lot of attention - the coolness factor cannot be denied.
So what's not to like? Just this - in order to use Google Earth, you need to download a proprietary application. And - you guessed it - that app is only available for Windows.
"We'd like to thank all the little people who made this possible..."
We trust (hope and pray) that Google will not forget their roots, and will correct this oversight as soon as possible.
|Released Last Week
B2D Linux 20051011
B2D Linux is a Taiwan-made live and installation CD based on KNOPPIX with full support for the traditional Chinese character set. Version 20051011 of both "PureGNOME" and "PureKDE" editions were released yesterday. The most significant changes are the kernel update to version 188.8.131.52 and the option to upgrade an existing B2D installation without having to re-install. Many other small changes to commonly used applications, resources and printer sharing tools, and settings saving mechanism were also implemented. More details and screenshots can be found in the release announcements (in Chinese).
Ubuntu Linux 5.10
Right on schedule, a new stable version of Ubuntu Linux has been released: "The Ubuntu team is proud to announce Ubuntu 5.10. This is the official Ubuntu 5.10 release, and includes installation CDs, live CDs, and combination DVDs for three architectures. Ubuntu is a Linux distribution for your desktop or server, with a fast and easy install, regular releases, a tight selection of excellent packages installed by default, every other package you can imagine available from the network, a commitment to security updates for 18 months after each release and professional technical support from many companies around the world." A long list of new features and download links are included in the release announcement.
Hot on the heals of the new Ubuntu release, Kubuntu 5.10 is now also available: "The second release of Kubuntu, codenamed 'Breezy Badger', is now available for download. This release comes with the very latest KDE 3.4.3 and includes the new Guidance configuration tools. If you missed our testing releases for Breezy you will be pleased to see the other new additions in Kubuntu Breezy including Adept package manager, System Settings and KDE Bluetooth." Read the complete release announcement for further details and screenshots.
Frugalware Linux 0.3
Frugalware Linux 0.3 has been released: "The Frugalware Developer Team is pleased to announce the immediate availability of Frugalware 0.3, our third stable release. A short list of most important improvements and news since 0.3rc2: added Spanish translation, GNOME updated to 2.12.1. Frugalware comes with the latest versions of upstream stable releases, including Linux kernel 184.108.40.206, GCC 4.0.2, Thunderbird 1.0.7." Read the complete release announcement on the distribution's home page for more details.
Piebox Enterprise Linux 3-U6, 4-U2
Piebox Enterprise Linux is a distribution rebuilt from Red Hat's source packages. Following recent upstream updates, the Piebox developers have also released updated versions of their two supported products. Pie Box Enterprise Linux 3 AS U6: "Update 6 of Pie Box Enterprise Linux 3 was made available today. This update includes the following enhancements: improved support for dual-core processors; kernel and user support for 2 TB partitions on block devices...." Pie Box Enterprise Linux 4 AS U2: "Update 2 of Pie Box Enterprise Linux 4 was made available today. This update includes the following enhancements: improved support for dual-core processors; improved Logical Volume Management administration tool...." Both products are available for purchase from the company's online store.
The CentOS project has released a new set of ISO images of its distribution, based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, incorporating all recent upstream updates and security fixes: "The CentOS development team is pleased to announce the availability of CentOS-4.2 in the following architectures: i386, x86_64, ia64, s390, s390x, alpha. Major changes in this version of CentOS include: yum has been upgraded to version 2.4.x, which adds a SQLite database backend for local metadata storage; CentOS-4.2 contains a technology preview release of SystemTap, a dynamic system profiling framework; updated and added packages." Detailed information can be found in the release announcement.
Kate OS 2.2
A new version of Kate OS has been released: "Kate OS 2.2 released! Kate OS 2.2 has many up-to-date packages which were available earlier in the repository. The new version is using Linux kernel 2.6.13 with Reiser4 filesystem support. With the kernel update, Kate OS now supports more hardware, so users shouldn't have any problems with their ethernet adapters. Our system also has a new version of GCC compiler series 3.3.x and GTK+ library 2.8.3. The distribution was designed to use the GNOME 2.12 desktop environment which will be available in the repository soon. There are also changes in installer which helps to configure the system." See the full release announcement on the project's home page.
The inaugural release of Edubuntu, a new member of the Ubuntu family of projects, has been released: "The Edubuntu team is proud to announce the first Edubuntu release Edubuntu 5.10. The Edubuntu 5.10 release consists of an Install CD for the PC (Intel x86), 64-bit PC (AMD64) and PowerPC (Apple iBook and Powerbook, G4 and G5) architectures. Edubuntu is a flavour of the Ubuntu operating system, which is optimised for classroom use. It has been developed in collaboration with teachers and technologists around the world. The aim of Edubuntu is that an educator with limited technical knowledge and skill should be able to set up a computer lab, or establish an on-line learning environment, in an hour or less, and then administer that environment without having to become a fully-fledged Linux geek." Here is the full release announcement.
Zenwalk Linux 1.3
Zenwalk Linux (formerly Minislack) 1.3 has been released: "The stable Zenwalk Linux 1.3 is available as a CD-ROM ISO. More than a hundred packages have been updated, including kernel 220.127.116.11 with Reiser4 support. Many new features have been added. The fast and complete XFce desktop environment (4.2.2) has been updated with the new Xffm file manager (18.104.22.168) that allows desktop icons and 'icon view' mode of operation. Zenwalk is leaning towards the GTK toolkit API and provides its own gnome-libs packages (2.10.2), but runs both GTK and QT environments at will. Installing and running KDE as your primary desktop is optional. Zenwalk 1.3 is a complete desktop and multimedia environment including a host of graphical (GTK) system configuration tools." The release announcement.
* * * * *
Development and unannounced releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
The plans for Debian 'etch'
Steve Langasek has published a preliminary timeline for the release of the next stable version of Debian GNU/Linux, code name 'etch'. According to the document, 'etch' is currently scheduled for release on 4 December 2006, with a various levels of system freezes starting some four months prior to the release. Although Debian has rarely succeeded in adhering to a formal release plan, the document is a good overview of the planned features and release issues that need to be addressed before the final release of 'etch'.
* * * * *
Summary of expected upcoming releases
|Web Site News
New on the waiting list|
- MitraX Linux. MitraX Linux is a Serbian 50MB mini live CD based on Slackware Linux. It is mainly intended as a tool to be used by system and network administrators. Here is a brief review by Linux.com.
- Voyage Linux. Voyage Linux is a Debian-based distribution built from scratch. It is best run on a x86-based embedded platform such as Soekris 45xx/48xx and WRAP boards.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
That's all for this week. We hope you've enjoyed this issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
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