| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 236, 21 January 2008
Welcome to this year's third issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Continued efforts to resolve the leadership issues in Gentoo Linux, a controversy following the Manbo Labs deal between Mandriva and Turbolinux, and the unexpected purchase of MySQL by Sun Microsystems were the main headlines of the past week. But much has happened behind all the high-profile announcements too: openSUSE released the first prototype of its new, Qt4-based installer, Ubuntu published a free, 400-page desktop course, KDE continued to defend its decision to release version 4.0.0 in a seemingly unfinished state, and Dreamlinux announced the upcoming version 3.0 of its Mac OS X-like desktop distribution. Finally, don't miss our feature story, a hands-on report about Linux in Vietnam. Happy reading!
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Linux in Vietnam
One of the benefits of running a site like DistroWatch is the enormous network of "cyberfriends" -- either distribution makers or just passionate Linux/BSD fans -- that I have acquired over the years in just about every country in the world. So when I found myself in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam, in December last year, it didn't take me long to remember that I had a friend there too. Nguyen Quang Truong, the founder of Hacao Linux and the director of a company of the same name, was happy to welcome me at the brand new Tan Son Nhat international airport in Vietnam's commercial capital. And what a welcome it was! Holding a large sign with the words "DistroWatch" printed on it, the young man was soon driving me around the bustling city in style - on a motorbike!
"Getting around Saigon is much faster if you ride one of these two-wheel machines," explained Truong (pictured on the right) while passing long rows of stranded cars. (If I ever needed a shot of adrenalin, then navigating the Saigon traffic on a motorbike ridden by a local provided more than I could handle, but that's another story). In the next few hours we visited a number of computing hotspots in the city, stopping a few times in between to sample some local delicacies. Despite the obvious presence of Christmas advocated by shops and department stores, the temperatures stayed well above the 30 degree mark in the tropical south of Vietnam. It was only in a cool, trendy coffee shop that we eventually found some respite from the heat and bustle and I was eager to find out all there was about Linux in Vietnam in general and Hacao Linux in particular.
"I started Hacao Linux as a hobby, but I registered it as a company in 2006 in order to be able to bid for Government contracts." Introducing his young start-up, Truong continued: "We have about 15 employees, mostly technical, but also some sales staff. In the early days, much of the work concentrated on the localisation of Puppy Linux into Vietnamese and on adding some local specialities, such as Vietnamese fonts, input methods and even a media player capable of delivering a range of local TV stations live." Yes, Hacao is based on Puppy Linux, a light-weight distribution especially suitable for older hardware and under-powered systems in educational institutions.
That's when Hacao's trump card came out. "Right now we are bidding to supply Hacao Linux to 100,000 Intel Classmate PCs that the Vietnamese government has ordered for children in primary schools. Imagine if that contract came our way!" Does Hacao run on Intel Classmate, I asked. Pulling out a sample piece of hardware from his laptop bag, Truong replied: "Of course, it runs like magic! And what's even better, this is one sturdy machine - look!" He proved his words by dropping the laptop from the table to the tiled floor, then booted it up again as if nothing happened. "Very good, huh? Try that with an ordinary laptop and you might as well go to a shop to pick up a new one."
Sipping on a refreshing coconut juice, I spent a few minutes playing with the laptop running Hacao Linux. It was really fast, even OpenOffice.org opened up in just a few seconds. The usual open source applications were all neatly arranged in Vietnamese menus, running under the IceWM window manager. And the many local TV channels were all playing without a glitch - even over the wireless network connection provided by the drinking establishment. I was impressed; much more so than when I investigated Red Hat's OLPC machine a few months previously (admittedly though, the two laptops are in a somewhat different price range). So this is the laptop that a hundred thousand of Vietnamese school children will soon receive as part of their education.
But will they be delivered with Hacao Linux pre-installed? "Well, it has yet to be decided," explained Truong. "The government runs an institute called "Open Lab", an organisation in charge of evaluating different software solutions. They've been also looking at Windows, Ubuntu, and other options, but Hacao seems to be a front-runner right now. At least, it has been placed on a shortlist of possible deployment candidates."
What is Hacao's business model, I asked. "We sell Hacao Linux in software shops around the country, but the CD only costs the equivalent of US$2, so there isn't much money in it. Nevertheless, we've sold around 50,000 copies already." Truong continued: "The biggest opportunity right now is the small business. With the Vietnamese government and police cracking down hard on illegal software, it has become a lot easier for us to sell Linux solutions. All we have to do is to visit these businesses and show them what our product can do. Often they are in a shock - all that software for only US$2? Incredible!" The company also offers technical support contracts if needed. "Making money with Linux is very easy," asserts Truong enthusiastically. "Look at all this fantastic software that costs virtually nothing. How can Microsoft or anybody else compete with us?"
In the course of the day we visited a number of other interesting companies in Saigon. We spent a few minutes talking to Pham Thien Nghe (pictured on the right), President of Khai Trai, the importer of Intel Classmate PCs to Vietnam. We then called on the headquarters of Intel Vietnam, where we had a productive discussion with Bui Trong Hinh about Intel's role in the rapidly developing Vietnamese IT industry. Intel is very supportive of Linux, we were assured; in fact, the microprocessing giant had just donated a powerful Quadron server to the Saigon Linux User Group, which would serve as a local repository of open source software. "Linux is good for us," explained the Intel representative. "Just look how successful the Linux Eee PC has been so far. And it runs on Intel!"
It has often been said that Linux is a more interesting platform for countries whose IT infrastructure is not yet well developed. Not having to explain the cost of migration from established document formats and proprietary software to free alternatives is certainly a big bonus for Vietnam. As such, the country's government can make a more objective decision (assuming that the proprietary software vendors don't resort to "dirty tricks" in order to win contracts) about the direction of its IT future and about the best solution for its educational system. Indeed, Linux and open source software do seem to have a bright future in Vietnam; the country has a well-educated population and the few hotbeds of Linux activity, such as Hacao Linux and the Linux user groups in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, should provide enough reasons for Linux to prosper.
Gentoo discusses Foundation issues, Mandriva launches Manbo Labs, openSUSE unveils new installer, Ubuntu delivers desktop course, Geubuntu becomes OpenGEU
Gentoo Linux and the status of Gentoo Foundation continued to make headlines on many Linux news sites. Is Gentoo on the verge of collapsing? Or is the fact that nobody seems to be in charge of the project just a small inconvenience that can be brushed aside? As always, opinions varied, and in line with tradition, many were directed at the "incompetent" media (DistroWatch too received a fair amount of "how dare you write negatively about the great Gentoo" type of emails). However, a good proportion of opinions were positive, with the consensus being that although the status of Gentoo Foundation is indeed unclear and the planned release of Gentoo Linux 2007.1 had been cancelled, the project itself continues working as normal.
One of the more sensible articles on the subject was the post by Donnie Berkholz entitled Is Gentoo in crisis? as published by Linux Weekly News. The author cited lack of communication as the main reason for the current status; while the distro developers continue to work as hard as ever, their failure to connect effectively with its users and media has created a negative perception among those not directly involved in Gentoo. A more factual article was later published by Grant Goodyear under the title of Foundation Updates. Here, the author summarises the current state of affairs at the foundation and outlines a possible action plan that needs to be taken in order to resolve the situation. Furthermore, the main page of Gentoo Linux received no fewer than six updates during the week, the first time the page was updated in nearly three months. A lot more has probably happened behind the scenes.
(Can you still say that the Linux media (even if it's critical at times) doesn't have a positive effect on some projects? If only more users and developers admitted to problems instead of blindly dismissing critical media reports as being wrong...)
* * * * *
Mandriva Linux was another distribution that found itself in the headlines during the past week. The reason? An innocent-looking announcement about a cooperative project with Turbolinux called Manbo Labs. As explained by Mandriva's Oliver Blin, this is a purely technical project: "The initial goal is to merge our base system components, so that we can share these same base system packages between Mandriva and Turbolinux." But Pamela Jones from Groklaw found a problem with the deal: "Turbolinux signed a patent deal with Microsoft, joined Ecma to help out with MSOOXML, participates in the Interoperability Vendor Alliance, uses Windows Media and made Live Search the default. Since Mandriva and Turbolinux are sharing code now, I don't trust the code." In response, François Bancilhon, the Mandriva CEO, has rejected the accusations: "Our position about software patents is that software should not be patented and we have supported in Europe the fight against software patents. ... The agreement is written so that Mandriva can fully maintain its commitment to Free Open Source."
* * * * *
But let's get away from politics and focus on real development work instead. As announced by openSUSE last week, a new alpha release of the project's upcoming version 11.0 was made available for testing. The most interesting part of the release is the new-look installer, now ported to Qt 4, the same toolkit used by the new KDE 4.0.0. As a result, the installer looks radically different. Modern and stylish, it certainly has the potential to become the best-looking installation program on the market, giving the user that all-important good first impression. If you haven't tried it yet, do yourself a favour and download one of the installation CDs from the project's download page. Happy testing!
The new-look openSUSE 11.0 installer (screenshot courtesy of openSUSE News)
* * * * *
Ubuntu has announced the availability of the Ubuntu Desktop Course, a free, 400-page training manual for the desktop: "The long-awaited Ubuntu 7.10 desktop course is ready, waiting and all yours for the taking! Thanks to all the community members who slogged over writing, reviewing, editing, proof-reading and fixing the layout. This is just the beginning of the project which we hope will live and evolve with each new Ubuntu release. Yours to develop, enhance and branch off to your heart's content! There are 10 lessons in total. The course is modular - 2 days if all lessons are covered, however, topics and lessons can be selected as required. There are 2 versions of the course: an instructor's guide, and a student guide." The student's guide (in PDF format) is available for free download from here: student.pdf (72.5MB).
* * * * *
Geubuntu, a new Ubuntu-based distribution that uses the Enlightenment 17 window manager, has announced the change of its name to OpenGEU: "Geubuntu had to change its name to OpenGEU because of the trademark restrictions adopted by Canonical. This is because for Canonical, only a 'remix' can have 'buntu' in its name without violating any of Canonical's trademarks. A remix is an Ubuntu derivate using only software available in the official repositories, without any third-party or customized software. Geubuntu, however, uses custom repositories and tools created by the OpenGEU team. That's why we asked Canonical a permission to use the Ubuntu name but after several weeks we received no answer at all. Therefore, to avoid violating any of Canonical's rights, we have changed the name to OpenGEU."
* * * * *
The gOS distribution (sometimes erroneously referred to as Google OS), is a new entrant on the Linux distribution scene, but this fact hasn't stopped it from receiving a lot of attention in the media. But who is behind the development effort? And who runs the company that also produces the low-cost Everex gPC? Computerworld gives all the answers in the article entitled The 22-year-old behind Everex CloudBook's Linux OS: "A little more than a year ago, David Liu was sitting in a lecture hall at UCLA. After graduating, Liu worked as an IT contractor for several months before starting Good OS. Today, the young native of West Covina (a suburb 30 miles east of Los Angeles) is heading development for a flavor of the Linux operating system that is, in its own small way, throwing down a big challenge to Windows Vista."
|Released Last Week
Scientific Linux 5.1
Troy Dawson has announced the release of Scientific Linux 5.1, a Red Hat-based distribution with additional software for scientific and educational purpose: "Scientific Linux 5.1 is finally out. This release has the ability to easily make sites (customized Scientific Linux distributions). The ability to make sites was missing from SL 5.0. We also managed to add back some of those packages that didn't make it into SL 5.0, as well as a few packages new for this release. Scientific Linux release 5.1 is based on the rebuilding of RPMs out of SRPMs from Enterprise 5 Server and Client, including Update 1. It also includes all errata and bugfixes up until January 16, 2008." Some of the extra software added to Scientific Linux include 915resolution, Alpine, CFITSIO, dropit, FUSE, Graphviz, IceWM, Intel wireless firmware, Java, MadWiFi, GStreamer plugins, NdisWrapper, NEdit, NumPy, OpenAFS, R and others. Read the release announcement and release notes for a detailed list of features.
Zenwalk Linux 5.0
Jean-Philippe Guillemin has announced the release of Zenwalk Linux 5.0: "Zenwalk Linux 5.0 has been released! Version 5.0 is the first Zenwalk release to introduce the Freedesktop HAL system. Noticeable enhancements found in version 5.0 are numerous software updates, including the latest X.Org 7.3 suite of X servers, drivers, fonts and other software. Other updates include the latest version of the Iceweasel web browser, the Icedove email client and hundreds more! WiFi support in Zenwalk 5.0 is probably the very best of what you can expect to find in the GNU/Linux world. The modern and powerful Wicd WiFi browser replaces WiFi Radar, while the Intel wireless device firmware is provided out of the box. Following tradition, Zenwalk's default desktop environment is based on Xfce, which is now at version 4.4.2." Further details can be found in the release announcement.
Zenwalk Linux 5.0 - a major update of the Slackware-based distro
(full image size: 189kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
FreeBSD 6.3 has been released: "The FreeBSD Release Engineering Team is pleased to announce the availability of FreeBSD 6.3. This release continues the development of the 6-STABLE branch providing performance and stability improvements, many bug fixes and new features. Some of the highlights: KDE updated to 3.5.8, GNOME updated to 2.20.1, X.Org updated to 7.3; BIND updated to 9.3.4; Sendmail updated to 8.14.2; lagg driver ported from OpenBSD / NetBSD; Unionfs file system re-implemented; freebsd-update now supports an upgrade command. FreeBSD 6.3 is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Junichiro Hagino for his visionary work on the IPv6 protocol and his many other contributions to the Internet and BSD communities." Read the release announcement and release notes for further information.
SystemRescueCd 0.4.3, a Gentoo-based live CD designed for hard disk partitioning and data rescue tasks, has been released. From the changelog: "Updated the kernel to Linux 126.96.36.199 with Reiser4; updated the alternative kernel to Linux 188.8.131.52 with Reiser4; patched the kernel with a fix for sis190 network driver; updated the build files to Catalyst 2.0.5 and genkernel 3.4.9; patched GParted (refreshing the devices crashed the program); fixed the LVM initscript; added boot option 'dodebug', enables verbose messages in the linuxrc script; added boot option 'lowmem', prevents non-critical things to be loaded into memory; added ATI and NVIDIA drivers; added ksh and tcsh shells; added pbzip2 (Parallel bzip2 compression for SMP computers); added lzma-utils (compression tools based on LZMA); added the missing mount-cifs tool."
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
The developers of Dreamlinux have announced the dates for the upcoming beta release (to be made available this week) and the final release of version 3.0: "Just to let you know that the final release date for Dreamlinux 3.0 will be the 27th February. Main changes: kernel 184.108.40.206; support for a large variety of wireless cards; two window managers - Xfce and GNOME, sharing the same Dreamlinux exclusive themes; Dreamlinux is now a completely independent modular system, based on Debian, no more Morphix or KNOPPIX dependencies, no KANOTIX kernel; the installer was improved technically and visually; the proprietary codecs were removed from the distro, but are easily installed at any time by Easy Install; AWN (advanced window navigator) was included, together with the traditional Engage." More details can be found in the announcement.
* * * * *
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- iloog. iloog is a Gentoo-based live CD produced by the Ioannina Linux User Group (ILUG), targeted mainly at students and scientists.
- VAFEO. VAFEO is a project developing a set of easy-to-use Debian-based distributions covering most computing needs for businesses and individuals. VAFEO is distributed as a set of live CDs with graphical installers and multi-lingual features.
- XtreemOS. The XtreemOS project aims at investigating and proposing new services that should be added to current operating systems to build Grid infrastructure in a simple way. XtreemOS targets the Linux operating system, extending it to Grid with native support for virtual organisations.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 28 January 2008.
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