| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 166, 28 August 2006
Welcome to this year's 35th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! The essence of this week's issue is a comment on the status of Linux distributions. Why are there so many of them? What motivates developers to create new ones? Wouldn't we be better off if there were only 10 - 20 major projects, instead of hundreds of one-man distros? We attempt to give some answers. Also in this issue: a long-term SUSE user explains why Kubuntu meets his needs better, openSUSE's Andreas Jaeger comments on the reasons behind removal of proprietary kernel modules from the popular operating system, and Gentoo's Donnie Berkholz argues that democracy is not always a good thing for the advancements of the largest source-based distribution. Updates on Fedora Core 6 and Mandriva Linux 2007, together with links to two resources comparing and rating several popular distributions conclude the news section. Happy reading!
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Kubuntu vs openSUSE, proprietary kernel modules, Mandriva and Fedora release updates, Gentoo pains
Let's start this week with a comparison between openSUSE and Kubuntu. Stephan Beal, a devoted SUSE user since 1998 both at home and work, has decided to try Kubuntu on his laptop and posted his experiences on the SUSE Linux mailing list. His conclusions? "After 8 full years of being a die-hard SUSE user, my laptop is going to stick with Kubuntu. My desktop PC will stay SUSE, if only because I've used YaST to set up the PC as my primary DSL connection and a router/firewall for the two laptops. If that was as easy to do in Kubuntu as it is in SUSE, I'd have reinstalled my desktop machine today. I'm that convinced that Kubuntu is what I'm looking for in a desktop OS." As always, any such comparison is bound to create some controversy and sometimes furious reactions from other users, but it might also help those who are undecided about which Linux distribution to try. A good, unbiased account of one's experiences with the two popular KDE-centric operating systems.
* * * * *
Of course, one user's positive experience with Kubuntu doesn't mean that Ubuntu and its derivatives are perfect. In fact, last week's update fiasco left many affected users question the quality control and, by extension, trust in the popular distribution. Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, had this to say on his web log: "As a team we made a series of errors, and the result was a desktop that was broken for thousands of users, for several hours. An incident report is being compiled by the team and we will publish that for our broader community and users as soon as it is complete. My apologies to those who have been affected, I know that a blue screen of death is the very last thing anybody ever wants to see on Linux desktops." Let's hope that the project has learnt from the mistake and that a similar situation won't happen again!
* * * * *
The issue of binary-only driver modules for popular graphics cards continues to divide the Linux community. On one hand, all of us would like our Linux-based computer hardware to work to their full capabilities, but on the other, introducing a closed-source, closely guarded code into the Linux kernel can bring serious instabilities, discourage hardware vendors to open-source their code, and (as some would like us believe) it could even be illegal. openSUSE's Andreas Jaeger explains the project's position in his web log: "Supporting a proprietary kernel driver is a nightmare because such a driver might change the kernel in an unpredictable way. The Linux kernel developers will not investigate bug reports if a binary-only kernel module is loaded." Later he adds: "I think that we as community really need to constantly encourage companies to support the development of open source kernel drivers." The article is worth reading if you want to understand why many distributions are reluctant to include and support proprietary kernel modules in their products.
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In contrast, Mandriva has announced that its upcoming version 2007 will include "sexy effects" with AIGLX/Xgl and Compiz, similar to those found in Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10: "We're enabling both AIGLX and XGL technologies in Mandriva Linux 2007. The selection will be automatic, so it's a transparent process for you (unless you want to tweak and hack and break and make). We handle Intel, NVIDIA and ATI chipsets through both proprietary and free drivers. It works on both KDE and GNOME desktop environments." This will likely only be available in the company's commercial releases, not the freely available ones. For more information please read the full press release. Mandriva Linux 2007 is expected to be released in late September or early October 2006.
* * * * *
Another popular project which is shifting closer to a release date is Fedora Core. Its upcoming version 6 has started getting some attention on the project's Wiki pages and the first draft of the FC6 Release Summary is now available for your reading pleasure. The page summarises many of the important changes in the popular distribution, such as the new default font (DejaVu), ability to run Java Applets in Firefox using GCJwebplugin, better visualisation and eye candy through the Compiz window manager, new Fedora updater applet called Pupplet, new desktop theme and icon set, the latest GNOME 2.16 and KDE 3.5.4, and many other improvements. Although the summary page is considered work in progress, most Fedora users who intend to upgrade to the new version will find it highly informative. Fedora Core 6 is scheduled for release on 9th October 2006.
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Our recent article highlighting some not-so-flattering comments about the state of Gentoo Linux from the developers' point of view brought some radically disagreeing reaction from some of the project's members. Nevertheless, web logs of certain Gentoo developers continue to fill with negative sentiment towards the largest source-based distribution. In an article entitled [Gentoo] Democracy: No silver bullet, Donnie Berkholz writes: "Gentoo used to be a courteous, friendly development community where nobody was afraid to speak his mind for fear of insult and injury. I see a clear correlation between the growth in democracy and the departure of courtesy. Once people are empowered to vote on every decision, rather than just having their discussion taken as input in a decision, they get a lot more vehement, argumentative and forceful about getting their way. Flame wars and loud arguments going on for hundreds of posts have become commonplace." While some Gentoo developers will argue that this is a normal way of life in any large democratic community, the increasing numbers of voices of discontent among the Gentoo developers suggest that there is indeed a problem. As they say, if there is no wind, the tree will not sway...
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Comparing and rating different distributions seem to be a popular pastime these days. In How to Pick a Linux Distro: Live CD Edition, the author describes and rates the latest versions of a number of popular Linux live CDs including Damn Small Linux, Freespire, Gentoo Linux, KNOPPIX, Kubuntu, Mandriva One, openSUSE, PCLinuxOS, SLAX, Ubuntu and Xubuntu. Four of them received a rating of 5 out of 5 stars. In a separate article, Channelweb compares three popular Linux distributions -- Ubuntu 6.06, openSUSE 10.1 and Freespire 1.0 -- according to a number of criteria. The final score? Ubuntu wins, but not convincingly: "Choosing Freespire, openSUSE or Ubuntu to build a Linux business on should meet the needs of most system builders. All offer advantages and disadvantages. Much like the cola wars of the 1990s, it will all come down to taste." How true!
|Quo vadis, Linux distribution?
Last week's DistroWatch Weekly might have been thin on content, but it still managed to generate a record number of readers' comments. The news about Ubuntu Christian Edition (UCE), combined with the link to a Linux distro timeline, produced a large number of opinions, many of which were rather philosophical. How many distributions does the Linux world need? And what exactly is a distribution, as opposed to just an edition of another distribution? Why is it that there are so many developers who feel inclined to start their own project instead of joining another, more established one?
When DistroWatch was first launched in May 2001, it listed just ten Linux distributions that had global reach: Caldera, Corel, Debian, Libranet, Mandrake, Progeny, Red Hat, Slackware, SuSE and Turbolinux. It was a static market and a demise of one distribution always created major headlines in the Linux media. Remember when Corel announced that it would stop developing its Linux products? And how many users were disappointed when Storm Linux collapsed? Of the ten distributions mentioned above, only two continue their work under their original names (Debian and Slackware), three others have undergone name changes (Mandrake has become Mandriva, Red Hat Linux has turned into Fedora Core, and SuSE is now known as openSUSE), while Turbolinux has become a regional distribution with focus on Japan and China. The remaining four are history. Besides the above ten, there might have been ten more specialising in producing distributions for a specific geographical market (e.g. Conectiva, Kondara, Linpus, Red Flag, etc). That's how simple the world of Linux distributions was just five years ago!
Today, DistroWatch lists over 500 Linux distributions. Of these, about 90 have been officially discontinued, while a large number of those that are flagged as "active" will probably never release another version. Still, the number of active distributions currently stands at about 350, with another 160+ on the growing waiting list. Very few readers will disagree if I assert that this number is clearly unmaintainable and the vast majority of them will disappear in the course of the next couple of years, if not months.
But things don't look as bleak as they sound. The truth is that, realistically speaking, not much has changed since 5 years ago as far as the number of "real" Linux distributions is concerned. Weeding out all the "also-runs", it's not hard to see that we still only have 10 desktop Linux distributions. Besides the five survivors from five years ago, it's Ubuntu, Gentoo, KNOPPIX, PCLinuxOS and Arch Linux. The remaining 340 active distributions are either based off one of the above, or specialise in filling a niche market. In other words, they don't matter.
It's highly likely that the above paragraph will be contested by many of you reading this commentary. Where is MEPIS?, some would ask. Well, MEPIS was an exciting project when it started, but there are signs that it is starting to suffer from a burn-out - long development cycles, too many bugs, lack of solid income despite honest effort and endless hours of work, the founder's health problems... One has to wonder how long MEPIS will still be around. Compared to PCLinuxOS, it lacks energy and excitement. How about Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux? Yes, these are excellent projects, but they are not designed for the average user's desktop.
CentOS, you ask? A great project -- for servers. Xandros, Linspire? Too commercial and detached from the Linux user community. Yes, Linspire's Freespire is trying to rectify things, but it still acts as if it was something special, something better and revolutionary, rather than just a Debian-based Linux distribution with a few proprietary kernel modules and usability enhancements. Worse, although it claims to target Windows users, it is always ready to attack other distributions and show them in bad light. In contrast, take a look at Arch Linux - an unpretentious, independently developed distribution with a great package manager, knowledgeable user community, and large software repository. That's what I'd call a "real Linux distribution"!
The rest? One often hears good reports about, say, Zenwalk Linux or VectorLinux. But if those were to fold tomorrow, can you honestly say that you'd miss them? Maybe one or two of you would, but let's be honest about it - the majority of Linux users probably wouldn't even notice their sudden departure from the Linux scene.
And yet, it is fascinating to see the Linux distribution world evolving in this way. Even though the vast majority of new distributions are nothing but re-mastered editions of the existing ones with a different package set and new desktop wallpaper, every now and then somebody comes up with something unique. Remember when KNOPPIX started? Who would have thought that one day it will become a de-facto standard among Linux live CDs, with its concepts copied to BSD, Solaris and even Windows!
Today, unusual ideas can still emerge from the minds of some open source developers. GoboLinux is a great example of a small team trying something new with the source code available on the Internet. Nexenta is another fascinating project that is likely to generate some momentum as it matures. And you can't but admire the ideas behind the Mezzo desktop on SymphonyOS, even if a project's progress is rather slow. We need more ideas like that, more distributions that bring something unique to our world. Those of you who intend to create another live CD by remastering SLAX and send an email to DistroWatch about it, then please don't! You'll be wasting your time.
* * * * *
One other point that was discussed in the forums last week was the difference between DISTRIBUTION and EDITION. Why is Kubuntu called a separate distribution while SLAX "Popcorn" is considered just an edition of SLAX?
The answer is fairly simple. If a distribution has its own web site (listed as a separate domain name), then it's a DISTRIBUTION. But if a project produces a number of different ISO images, which are all listed under the same domain name and are obviously developed by the same person or team, then it's just an EDITION of a distribution. Based on that, the different products by SLAX or Puppy Linux are just editions, not distributions, while Ubuntu Christian Edition would have to be classified as a separate distribution (despite the name "edition" in its name).
As for the status of all the different Ubuntu derivatives, some might remember that originally Kubuntu wasn't an official subproject of Ubuntu, but rather an independent initiative to create a KDE-centric Ubuntu. The same goes for Edubuntu and Xubuntu. It was only later that they came under the Ubuntu umbrella and became essentially editions of Ubuntu, rather than separate distributions. By that time, of course, all three of them were already listed on DistroWatch as separate distributions.
As the above example suggests, the line between distributions and editions is not always clear. Nevertheless, Kubuntu and other Ubuntu derivatives have their own domain names and the essential parts of them are developed independently from its parent - hence the main reason for their continued listing as separate distributions, not just Ubuntu editions.
|Released Last Week
PCLinuxOS 0.93a "Big Daddy"
Texstar has announced the availability of PCLinuxOS 0.93a "Full Edition aka Big Daddy": "PCLinuxOS Full Edition aka Big Daddy is now available for download or online ordering. The full edition comes with Kernel 18.104.22.168, KDE 3.5.3, OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Thunderbird and Nvu. Digikam, Gimp and GQview for your digital photo needs. Amarok, Audacity and Audio Creator for your digital music needs. Frostwire, BitTorrent and gFTP for file transfers and p2p file sharing. MPlayer and Kaffeine for video viewing. (libdvdcss2 required for DVD encrypted playback). Kopete and Xchat for online chatting. Blogging and podcast software also included. PCLinuxOS Big Daddy is the full monty!" The release announcement.
BU Linux 4.6
Version 4.6 of Boston University Linux (BU Linux) has been released: "The Office of Information Technology presents BU Linux 4.6 (Stormy). Pre-made installation CDs are available for $5 from the Office of Information Technology, or check out the installation page for instructions on burning your own. This is the latest in our desktop operating system releases, and features almost 3000 open source and free software packages drawn from the Fedora Project and from many other sources, combined with locally developed custom software and pre-configurations." Read the complete release announcement for more details.
How-Tux is an Italian Slackware-based, desktop-oriented Linux distribution enhanced by GWARE GNOME, OpenOffice.org, and several multimedia and graphics applications. After months of development, the project has announced its 1.0 release. It is built on top of the Linux kernel 2.6.16 and includes X.Org 6.9.0, GNOME 2.14.3, OpenOffice.org 2.0.3, the latest versions of AbiWord, Firefox and Thunderbird, as well as a cvs version of Emacs 22. Please visit the project's home page (Italian) to read the full release announcement.
BLAG Linux And GNU 50001
Jeff Moe has announced an updated release of BLAG Linux And GNU, version 50001: "BLAG 50001 (smack) has been released. BLAG 50001 is based on Fedora Core 5 and uses packages from Extras, FreshRPMS, Dries, and ATrpms. It includes all Fedora updates as of time of release. New CD packages include GnomeBaker, Graveman, StreamRipper and a few GStreamer plugins. Updates include AbiWord, Audacity, CUPS, Firefox, GIMP, GNOME, GnuPG, hal, Apache, Inkscape, Linux kernel, Liferea, Nautilus, NetworkManager.... Overall, 12 new packages were added, 89 updated." Read the rest of the release announcement for full details and download links.
PUD GNU/Linux 0.4.6.3
An updated version of PUD GNU/Linux, an Ubuntu-based Linux mini distribution with support for both traditional and simplified Chinese, is out: "PUD v0.4.6.3 has been released. It comes with a new plugin system 'opt-get', Gmail-based file backup and restore tool 'gmail-save', an installer to embed PUD into hard drive, and both simplified and traditional Chinese are fully supported in this version." More details about the new features can be found in the release announcement.
The IPCop firewall distribution has been updated to version 1.4.11: "IPCop v1.4.11 has been released with small changes in ids.cgi and vpnmain.cgi from 1.4.11rc1. As usual, this version can be installed as an update from previous v1.4.10 versions or with a ready-to-go ISO for a fresh install. What is newer is that it can now be installed from USB key or from a PXE package. To install the update, it is necessary that kernel 2.4.31 is running. Kernel 2.4.29 is suppressed during the update to let free space for a new kernel on next release." Read the complete release announcement for full details.
Aldas Nabazas has announced the release of T2 6.0.0, a system development environment for building a custom distribution directly from source code: "After a lot of testing, security updates and work on details, we are proud to announce the immediate availability of 6.0.0 final. The release features udev, early user-space, fully modular kernel, X11R7, C++ cross compilation, PowerPC64 and MIPS64 support, as well as a whole lot of updates and re-factoring under the hood. The x86 flavour already includes support for latest Apple Macintosh Intel hardware." Find more details in the release announcement.
Johnny Hughes has announced the release of the 8th update to the legacy CentOS 3 series, available for both i386 and x86_64 architectures: "The CentOS development team is please to announce the release of CentOS 3.8 for i386 and x86_64. CentOS 3.8 is available on all mirrors and via BitTorrent. This release corresponds to the upstream vendor U8 release together with updates through August 11th (depending on architecture). The serverCD edition (1 CD) is available for i386 and x86_64. The work for the other architectures is still in progress." Here is the complete release announcement.
* * * * *
Development and unannounced releases
- NetBSD 3.1-rc1, the release announcement
- SLAX 5.1.8-rc, the changelog
- Underground Desktop 023-alpha, the release announcement
- Sabayon Linux 3.0-rc2 "miniEdition", the release announcement
- Damn Small Linux 3.1-rc1, the release announcement
- DSL-N 0.1-rc4, the release announcement
- Slackware Linux 11.0-rc3, the changelog
- Tilix Linux 2.0-test3, the release announcement (in Bulgarian)
- Puppy Linux 2.10-alpha, the release announcement
- 64Studio 0.9.3, 0.9.4
- Kurumin Linux 6.1-beta3
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
LinuxCD.org, an online store selling low-cost Linux and BSD CDs and one of the main sponsors of DistroWatch, has announced two important improvements on its web site: "We are proud to announce two great changes on our web site. Firstly, our customers can now choose from several currencies: in addition to US dollars, Canadian dollars, Great Britain pounds, Australian dollars and euros are now also available. Secondly, LinuxCD.org has been completely translated into French. A simple click on the flag button will switch between English and French interfaces, hoping that the new features will promote Linux in French-speaking countries around the world!" For more information and to order your favourite Linux/BSD CD or DVD, please visit LinuxCD.org.
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- gNewSense. gNewSense is an Ubuntu-based distribution with binary and restricted modules removed from the kernel, and with Emacs, build-essential and other software included as part of the default install.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
And that concludes our latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next issue will be published on Monday, 4 September 2006. Until then,
If you've enjoyed this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly, please consider sending us a tip.
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|• Full list of all issues|
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