| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 239, 11 February 2008
Welcome to this year's 6th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Slackware Linux isn't the most user-friendly distribution, but thanks to the effort of several independent projects, it has been turned into a more palatable operating system for novice users. One of them, Zenwalk Linux, has matured into a sophisticated distribution, complete with superb hardware detection, a graphical package configuration tool, and several setup utilities; read below for a first-look review of Zenwalk Linux 5.0. In the news section, Fedora and openSUSE present new development builds, Software Wydawnictwo launches BSD Magazine, gOS hints at the change of user interface for deployment on Everex Cloudbooks, and CIO.com interviews Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, the new openSUSE community manager. Finally, good news for the fans of SLAX - the long awaited version 6.0 of the Slackware-based live CD will finally arrive this week. Happy reading!
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
First look at Zenwalk Linux 5.0 (by Susan Linton)
It has been 18 months since I last tested Zenwalk Linux, version 1.3. So, when I was asked to take a look at 5.0, I knew it was long overdue. I spent last week testing the various aspects of Zenwalk 5.0 and, boy oh boy, has this distro grown up. The premise is the same, Slackware-based with an Xfce desktop, but Zenwalk has matured into a respectable desktop system.
Actually, Zenwalk now comes in four different editions. The Standard edition, the one I tested, is the traditional installable image. Zenwalk-Core is a minimal system without X or any window manager. It was developed for those who might want to design their own system. The Zenwalk Server edition, which as implied, is for those needing a "secure, fast, and reliable" server system. Zenwalk also comes in a live CD.
When the Standard edition boots, the user is given a few choices in how to boot the install system. Zenwalk now features a framebuffered install, but the older customized ncurses installer is still available, if needed, and started through a boot option (press F2 for those). The framebuffered install still resembles the customized Slackware installer Zenwalk has always used and the process remains mostly unchanged, but it is prettier. If you've never used Zenwalk's installer, it is a bit easier than Slackware's. You'll still need your target and swap partitions and Zenwalk provides cfdisk if you need it. Then you'll pick your target partition and off it goes. After the system install, the bootloader is addressed. A system of less than 2 GB results.
During the first boot you are given the chance to set up some system necessities. After agreeing to the license accompanying Intel firmware (regardless whether you actually use it or not), you can then set up sound, language, root password, user accounts, and numlock. These configurations go a long way in helping make this Slackware derivative much easier to begin using.
When Zenwalk is booted the user is taken to a nice login screen using a Zen theme which matches the Zen desktop theme and the pretty default backdrop. Zenwalk sports attractive icons and good-looking fonts. I like to see this kind of attention to detail - not overly customized and not left at default, but just right.
The Zenwalk Linux 5.0 desktop
(full image size: 216kB, screen resolution: 1280x800 pixels)
Zenwalk doesn't come with a blinding amount of software, but it's ample for a basic desktop with one application for about every common task. The basic foundation is made up of Linux 22.214.171.124, X.Org 7.3, GCC 4.1.2, Xfce 4.4.2. The menu starts with some nice Accessories such as Catfish, Galculator, Mousepad, Xpad, and Appfinder. Catfish is a search tool that I haven't seen before. It has some interesting options that seem to make it good choice. One of these is the choice of search engines. Your choices in Zenwalk are find, locate, or slocate, but it can actually use Doodle, Tracker, Beagle, Strigi* and Pinot* as well. It also features many of the same options one might expect to find in a search tool. I imagine I'll start seeing this tool more and more, especially in the performance-oriented distros.
In the Graphics menu we find Evince, The GIMP 2.4.3, and GQview. GQview is the system default image viewer and any image files clicked open in it. PDFs open in Evince, which has given me trouble in the past, but is behaving nicely in Zenwalk. It features thumbnails, page width, and a search among other things.
Multimedia is handled by applications such as Asunder, which rips audio tracks from CDs, and G-MPlayer that opens to play audio CDs when inserted. Asunder crashed and burned half way through the first test, but successfully ripped from a second CD. The right-click menu of the resulting OGG included the option to write to CD/DVD. Clicking this opens file in Brasero disc writer ready to burn. This completed successfully as well. DVDs open in G-MPlayer too. My encrypted DVD played just fine, smoothly with no dropped frames or unsynchronized sound, but no menu navigation seemed possible although I was able to browse and click the different content files from a side panel. Other media files, such as AVIs and MP3s, also opened and played in G-MPlayer. Also in the Multimedia menu are GMusicBrowser (that searches for music files and displays them in an elaborate browser), MPlayer, and streamtuner.
The Network menu contains FuseSmbTool, gFTP, Icedove Main/News, Pidgin Instant Messenger, Transmission, Iceweasel 126.96.36.199, and Wicd Network Manager. Zenwalk's Iceweasel has decent fonts and performs well. I was able to watch Flash video as well those using the MPlayer plugin over the Internet at sites such Yeoh, zShare, YouTube, Google Video, and Apple.com Trailers. The only trouble I had was with full screen at Google Video. Wicd is this great graphical network connection tool. I'd heard of this tool a couple of times in passing, but this was my first real experience with it. It feels very light-weight, yet has some advance options available. It handles wired and wireless, WPA negotiation, and static or DHCP. It can run scripts if need be and it has a signal strength indicator. I put Wicd into the Xfce auto-started applications so it'd be right there at login. Zenwalk will connect at boot automatically, but Wicd is a nice light way to see scans and handle roaming. It's not overly fancy, but it works good. This is another little application I hope to see more of.
The Office menu is a little less exciting. AbiWord is there for word processing. It's okay, but most people probably prefer OpenOffice.org Writer. OpenOffice.org is so big and heavy, but developers like to include something, so AbiWord is a good compromise. Xfce's Calendar is of course included for day planning and Gnumeric is included for spreadsheets.
Configuration and package management
Then there's the Settings and System menus. The Settings menu contains all the Xfce setting configurations that make Xfce 4 so customizable and the System menu has system-wide configuration and monitoring applications. Some of these system tools include Grsync, Htop, LSHW Hardware Lister, New Login, Terminal, a NDISwrapper GUI, Hibernate, Standby, Netpkg, and Zenpanel. The LSHW Hardware Lister does just that - lists your hardware. It is a multi-pane tool that provides a bit of information on each of the detected components of your computer. Hibernate and Standby invoke these machine states. The NDISwrapper tool extracts and imports Windows drivers for wireless adapters not supported natively in Linux. It is the same wireless drivers tool I've seen in other distros like the *buntus and it worked really well for me.
Netpkg is the package management tool. The first step is to choose a repository, and it comes with several Zenwalk mirrors already listed. You can change mirrors at any time by clicking the Mirrors menu heading. There is a search mechanism and an inclusive listing for finding a package to install. It functions very well, but the repositories are a bit limited when compared to the likes of Mandriva's or openSUSE's. They seem to include just about what you'd find in Slackware repositories, but that too is limited. KDE, GNOME, LAMP components, and lots of games are among the available packages. You may add a Slackware mirror if you like, Zenwalk states that it is "almost entirely compatible with Slackware," although I didn't find anything on Slackware mirrors that wasn't on Zenwalk's. Netpkg can also upgrade the distro or remove software. It's pretty nice and worked really well including resolving dependencies for the few packages I tested.
Zenpanel, Wicd, and Netpkg on Zenwalk 5.0
(full image size: 226kB, screen resolution: 1280x800 pixels)
The Zenpanel is like the control center found in some other distros. It includes configurations such as Users Profiles, System time and date, Host and Domain, Kernel modules, Keyboard layout, System Language (that includes what looks like every language available), Network Settings (only missing WPA capabilities), and Video Configuration. The kernel modules is a nice little tool for adding desired modules (drivers) to the boot line-up. It's a two-pane application with one side containing what's available and the other what's loaded. Double-click to add or delete modules and click Apply Configuration. There's a checkbox for laptop mode and an input for Swapiness too. The Video Configuration tells me I need to exit X and run "videoconfig" to probe for video drivers and monitor. That's rather inconvenient, but at least it tells you how to do it. Next it offers to enable compositor, then configure the login mode (text or graphical). Composite worked on my laptop, but was hindered by my lack of RAM.
Hardware support on Linux has become so much better these past few years and with Zenwalk this is no different. I tested this release on my favorite test machine, an HP Pavilion dv6105us. This laptop is fairly well supported by Linux, with only the wireless Ethernet and dial-up modem excluded. I believe the modem to be a lost cause, but the Broadcom 4311 is usable with NDISwrapper and Windows drivers. Sound worked upon login. Although my volume buttons weren't supported, the software mixer adjusted volume accurately. My graphics needed only a resolution tweak. The wired Ethernet connection was "automagic" and removable media is auto-detected and opened in Thunar (or other associated application).
For my wireless network card, I used the NDISwrapper Wireless Drivers GUI application to browse to and install the drivers from my Windows partition. Then I used Wicd to set up the configuration, including WiFi Protected Access passphrase, and connect. There's not much more to say about that, it was that quick and easy.
For CPU Frequency Scaling I used the kernel modules tool to have the powernow-k8 module loaded at start and I put
/usr/bin/echo ondemand > /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/scaling_governor in the /etc/rc.d/rc.local file. I'm sure there is a more correct way of doing this for Zenwalk, but this way is so quick, easy, and universal across distros. There's a battery monitor in the xfce-plugins package that works good for percentages but not time remaining. Hibernate works from the menu item really well with the stock "nv" driver, but my laptop can't wake up from stand-by.
I'm really impressed with the progress Zenwalk Linux has made in the last 18 months. It has become a great looking system that works really well overall. It's full-featured while remaining light and fast. I don't see any reason why even a newcomer couldn't enjoy running this system as is, but I'd really like to see Nano replace Vi for them. In addition, I wish the developers of Zenwalk could look into including one of the proprietary graphic driver installers used by other systems. If anyone needs any help, there's a Zenwalk Manual online as well as a Wiki and Forum. I personally only encountered a few little niggles here and there, but as a whole Zenwalk was a pleasure to use. Congratulations to the development team for such a nice release.
Fedora and openSUSE alpha tests, interview with Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, gOS desktop switch, update on BSD Magazine
Last week was an unusually quiet one as far as distro releases are concerned, but those wishing to engage in some productive beta testing had their chances. The Fedora project announced the first alpha release of Fedora 9, with a number interesting surprises. The distribution's system installer has finally caught up with the competition by including an option to resize existing hard disk partitions - a feature most other distributions have had for years. Another unexpected characteristic of the release is the "promotion" of KDE 4 to the position of the default KDE, complete with KDE 3.x libraries to ensure that the older KDE applications still work on the new desktop. And finally, another new package management option makes its first appearance in this alpha; while not installed by default, the third-party and distro-agnostic PackageKit attempts to create a more intuitive solution for adding and removing software packages in Fedora. More details can be found in the release notes.
* * * * *
A few days after the release of Fedora 9 alpha, the openSUSE development team also announced a new development release. The most important part of the second alpha of openSUSE 11.0 is the continued integration of both the Qt 4 toolkit and the KDE 4 desktop; while the YaST suite of configuration tools had been ported to the new toolkit even before alpha 1, the elevation of KDE 4 to the position of the default KDE is a new feature. Besides this major change and a few package updates, the only other update worth noting is the availability of openSUSE live CDs (with either GNOME or KDE) as live media designed to test new features and as alternative methods of installing openSUSE 11.0 to one's hard disk.
openSUSE has made the bold step of switching to KDE 4 as the distro's default KDE desktop.
(full image size: 809kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Still on the subject of openSUSE, the project has announced the appointment of a new community leader, Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier. Those of you who have been following Linux for a while will almost certainly have heard of Zonker - he has written countless articles and reviews for such reputable publications as Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, IBM developerWorks, Linux Weekly News, Unix Review, NewsForge.com, Linux.com and many others. But switching from a position of a well-known Linux journalist to a community manager of a major Linux distribution is a big step, so what exactly is the attraction? "A few things. First, I've been covering Linux and open source as a journalist since 1999, and I'm very interested in seeing Linux and free/open source software succeed, so the opportunity to be directly involved with a project like openSUSE is extremely exciting for me. Second, I think although openSUSE is an excellent distribution, it hasn't been quite as well-promoted as it could be, so I want to have a hand in getting the word out about openSUSE."
* * * * *
As we reported two months ago, a printed magazine for BSD users is scheduled for launch in the second quarter of this year. As the time of the first issue draws near, we know a bit more; the publisher of the magazine is Software Wydawnictwo, a Poland-based publishing house that also produces a variety of other print magazines with open source content, including Linux+, Hakin9 and PHP Solutions. The BSD Magazine's web site was made available last week at BSDMag.org, with an introductory offer of US$9.99 for the inaugural issue. What can we expect to find there? "More than 60 pages full of news, great articles, tutorials, HOWTOs and extras: what's new (section for news - new releases, upcoming events, latest products); get started (installation and configuration articles); HOWTOs (tutorials, HOWTOs, guides on various topics); administration (articles about system administration and security); MMS (multimedia section); tips & tricks (useful tips for beginners and advanced user); let's talk (a section where BSD users and professionals can share their general thoughts about BSD and open source)."
* * * * *
gOS, the Ubuntu-based distribution featuring the Enlightenment window manager and made famous by being pre-installed on a US$200 Walmart desktop computer, is changing its user interface from Enlightenment to GNOME. That's according to this story by CLICK and based on a discussion with the reseller of the upcoming Everex Cloudbook laptops during the Southern California Linux Exposition last weekend: "The gOS desktop was as green as ever, but something looked different. Earl Malmrose, the CTO of ZaReason told me that the version of gOS on the Cloudbook includes the GNOME desktop and all the GNOME tools. It's still green in hue, still has that toolbar across the bottom for all the Web 2.0 applications that gOS is built around, but with GNOME instead of Enlightenment, doing any kind of configuration will be much, much easier."
* * * * *
Finally, great news for those who have been waiting impatiently for the release of the much delayed SLAX 6, the original Slackware live CD. It will be released this week: "Almost everything is done, most importantly, some possible in-kernel race conditions with FUSE + Aufs have been fixed. Linux live scripts 6.2.0 will be released tomorrow after the standard Monday release of Aufs and SLAX 6 will be ready one day after that. The new site is not fully finished but is usable. It will be much easier to finish it after SLAX 6 is out." SLAX 6.0 will come with Linux kernel 2.6.24 and KDE 3.5.8, all compressed with LZMA 4.57 to fit on a 200MB CD image. Do keep an eye on the SLAX download mirrors this coming Wednesday!
|Released Last Week
Pioneer Linux 3.1
Pioneer Linux 3.1 has been released: "Technalign, Inc. has announced the release of the Pioneer Basic 3.1 workstation, Stagecoach 3.1, and its enterprise server MigrationSERVER 3.1. These workstations utilize the KDE desktop and run off a live CD for users to test before installation. The new releases maintain the 7-year life cycle and those running previous versions of Pioneer Basic will be able to run the update manager to bring them up to the current version. Changes to the version include Technalign's Electricity, powered by Wine-doors, software which allows the user to run many of their Windows applications. Along with Electricity; the Cowboy, Cowgirl, and Wrangler Repositories, which were created in partnership with Automatix, are included and are available to other communities." Here is the full press release.
Bluewhite64 Linux 12.0r1
Attila Crăciun has announced the availability of the first maintenance release of Bluewhite64 Linux 12.0, an unofficial port of Slackware Linux to the 64-bit processor architecture: "I am pleased to announce Bluewhite64 12.0-Live-DVD-r1, a maintenance release of the Bluewhite64 12.0 stable live DVD edition. Many packages have been updated and new features added. Merged updated packages from the Bluewhite64 12.0 patches directory which fixes one ore more possible security issues, the kernel has been updated to the latest stable version 2.6.24, including tickless system support, virtualization, more wireless drivers. Also, another important feature of this release is KDE 3.5.8 in 65 languages, MPlayer 1.0rc2 media player and ALICE (Advanced Linux Installation and Configuration Environment) with six GUI managers, written in Qt, which will help you to easily manage different system settings." Read the full release announcement for further information.
Bluewhite64 Linux 12.0r1 includes QtSwaret for painless installation of Slackware packages
(full image size: 934kB, screen resolution: 1680x1050 pixels)
Yellow Dog Linux 6.0
Terra Soft has announced the release of Yellow Dog Linux 6.0, a CentOS and Fedora-based specialist distribution designed for the Power architecture: "Terra Soft today released Yellow Dog Linux (YDL) 6.0 for Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3), Apple G4/G5, and IBM System p. YDL 6.0 delivers the professional quality of an enterprise level Linux distribution to a just-works desktop experience for both PS3 and Apple PowerPC. Built upon CentOS with select Fedora 7 components, YDL 6.0 integrates the Enlightenment 17 desktop to provide a lean, uncluttered interface. Yellow Dog Linux 6.0 key features: Enlightenment 17 and GNOME installed by default, KDE included; Gnash, the Flash work-alike; Ekiga VoIP, Pidgin IM/IRC, and Fluendo codec installer; kernel 2.6.23, GCC 4.1.1, glibc 2.5, and Eclipse 3.2.2; the only Linux distribution to include by default Cell SDK 3.0; IBM iRT (interactive raytrace) demo available via YDL.net Enhanced." Read the rest of the press release for further details.
Nexenta Core Platform 1.0
Alex Ross has announced the release of Nexenta Core Platform 1.0, a free and open source operating system combining the OpenSolaris kernel with GNU application userland: "The Nexenta team is pleased to announce Nexenta Core Platform 1.0 release - the 1.0 release. List of the changes and highlights: OpenSolaris b82-based (x86, 32bit and 64bit, non-debug); Ubuntu Dapper-based; project integration: NWS, AVS, COMSTAR, in-kernel CIFS client; apt-clone - ZFS-integrated safe upgrade via remote APT repository; support for in-place (live) and safe upgrades; installer - multiple improvements, installs from USB; small memory requirement - 256 MB; Nexenta Zones - multiple improvements, integrated automatic Zone upgrades; CIFS client included in the default installation; Xen DomU and Xen Dom0 (32bit); GRUB-integrated memory test; Nexenta ISO Builder; APT repository - status complete, stable repository (elate-stable) ready for usage." Here is the complete release announcement.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- Piren. Piren is a Debian-based live distribution, with Freevo as the main user interface. It's suitable for building a Home Theatre Personal Computer (HTPC) or a firewall system, or to add HTPC features to a home server.
- Runtu. Runtu is a Russian Ubuntu-based Linux distribution pre-configured for full support of Russian.
- VicidialNOW. VicidialNOW is a CentOS-based Linux distribution with a fully-automated process of installing Vicidial, an open source call centre suite.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 18 February 2008.
If you've enjoyed this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly, please consider sending us a tip.
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