| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 248, 14 April 2008
Welcome to this year's 15th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! The release of Mandriva Linux 2008.1 last week started a small avalanche of distro releases that will keep us busy downloading and installing new distributions for weeks. But which of them will eventually become the "keeper"? One way to evaluate them all is to follow the development branches of the major distributions as they converge towards the point when they are declared stable and ready for deployment. This is the topic of today's feature story. In the news section, Debian elects a new project leader, ASUS releases a Software Development Kit for the Eee PC, gOS and Symphony OS continue to experiment with unusual user interfaces, and Darkstar Linux announces the availability of Disk Manager, a new utility for managing hard disk partitions. Also worth a read - a rare interview with Texstar, the founder of PCLinuxOS, and another with Jeremy Katz, a well-known Red Hat and Fedora developer. All these topics and more in this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly - happy reading!
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Testing, one two three...
The release of Mandriva Linux 2008.1 last week started an exciting period of distribution releases and major product announcements that every "distrowatcher" looks forward to with great expectations. Mandriva has given us the first glimpse of things to come, but others will soon follow. Ubuntu's "Hardy Heron" will reach release candidate status later this week, while Fedora 9 is also closing on the final stages of its development, with the delayed preview release expected tomorrow (Tuesday). A new Slackware can't be far off either. Then in early June, it will the all-new, highly ambitious openSUSE 11.0 with Qt/KDE 4.x, before we get to download "Lenny", Debian's latest and greatest, in September or thereafter.
So how exactly do we decide what is the best distribution for our particular needs? One good way of evaluating them all is to follow their development. This is exactly what I started doing three weeks ago - I downloaded the development releases of all major distributions -- Ubuntu 8.04 beta, Fedora 9 beta, Mandriva Linux 2008.1 RC1, openSUSE 11.0 Alpha 3 and Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 Beta 1 installer -- and installed them all on different hard disk partitions. Then every few days I booted into each of them, one by one, and updated all installed packages to their latest versions. This is a fairly simple task - all of these distributions now come with a system tray utility that can effect software updates with a mouse click or two, and they all have pre-configured package sources lists.
When comparing distributions in this way, it has to be born in mind that they could be in vastly varied stages of their development. As an example, I found the latest openSUSE barely usable, with Konsole crashing right after the installation - a fact that made me give up on the system early. On the other hand, Mandriva's development branch that I installed on the same weekend was almost completely trouble-free. Of course, Factory (openSUSE's development branch) was in an alpha stage at the time, while Cooker (Mandriva's development tree) was already nearing stable release. Still, even if it isn't always easy to compare the distributions directly, following development in this way gives an interesting indication about what we can expect once the work is completed and the development branches converge towards the point when they are declared stable.
Besides Mandriva, I found both Fedora 9 and Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 to be in a very good shape. Some Fedora testers reported problems with the latest kernel and the upcoming preview release, originally scheduled for last week, was also delayed apparently due to kernel problems, but I found the latest Rawhide (the Fedora development tree) to be very stable and usable. (I've especially enjoyed the new update icon in the system tray which provides a way to perform package updates without launching Pirut or any other package management tool.) Debian too was very stable during my tests. At first glance, "Lenny" doesn't seem to brim with many user interface changes and the Debian installer itself comes with only minor improvements, but that can be misleading. Neither Debian, nor Fedora have integrated any new artwork into their upcoming products, which perhaps also contributes to the feeling that they are just "point" updates, rather than major new versions.
Ubuntu's "Hardy Heron" too is nearing the final stages of development, so I expected a fairly smooth ride after installing the beta some three weeks ago. For the most part it was, although I had to do without the proprietary NVIDIA graphics driver (the legacy one for NVIDIA GeForce 4) as it caused a loss of window decorations on all GNOME windows). Other than that, "Hardy" looks good, and the new artwork is a pleasant change from the picture-less backgrounds that Ubuntu used to ship in their previous releases (except, of course, the infamous nude "art" in "Warty").
The more advanced users can also add Slackware Linux to the list of distributions to test. As always, the oldest surviving Linux distro does not provide any one-click update mechanisms in the system tray, so the recommended way to keep up with updates is to download all new packages one by one, then use Slackware's "pkgtools" to install them. Alternatively, there are several third-party package management tools (e.g. Swaret, GSlapt, etc.) which can resolve dependencies and which can keep a Slackware installation "current" in a fashion similar to apt-get, urpmi or yum.
One last word of advice: if you are going to install the above-mentioned distributions and don't want to mess with setting up the bootloader manually, be aware that neither Fedora, nor Slackware will detect and set up any alternative Linux operating system in their default bootloaders. But if you install any of the remaining four (i.e. Debian, Mandriva, openSUSE or Ubuntu) as the last distro, you will get your GRUB populated with all Linux distributions that exist on the hard disk. This way you can boot any of them at your will - and according to your current mood.
This also seems like a good topic for today's discussion. Do any of the DistroWatch readers follow the development in this manner? If so, what are your impressions? Which of the distribution do you believe to be the winner in this round of distro releases? Do you enjoy booting into different distributions each day to update them and to check out their progress? Please discuss below.
Mandriva 2008.1, DPL election results, CentOS vs Ubuntu, gOS Space, Eee PC SDK, Darkstar's Disk Manager, interviews with Jeremy Katz and Bill Reynolds
Mandriva Linux 2008.1 was released as scheduled last week. The first reviews and blog posts seem to be positive - a few minor issues here and there, but otherwise a solid release that should appeal to both novice and advanced desktop users. The big news here is the out-of-the-box support for the Eee PC, together with the usual hardware compatibility improvements, updated applications, new artwork, a parental control utility, the PulseAudio audio server and Elisa multimedia centre, and a host of small usability and user interface improvements. There is much more, so if you are interested in further details, head for the detailed release notes and take the Mandriva 2008.1 Tour. Finally, a warm congratulations to Mandriva for reaching its 10-year anniversary (well, almost anyway). While the road hasn't always been as smooth as the company's founders and shareholder would have liked, there is little doubt that the distribution has greatly contributed to the spread of Linux as an operating system for the desktop. So once again, congratulations and many happy returns!
Mandriva Linux 2008.1 delivers compatibility with Eee PC, updated applications, and new artwork.
(full image size: 769kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
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The Debian GNU/Linux project has published the results of the Debian Project Leader (DPL) elections which took place last week. The winner? Steve McIntyre (pictured on the right), a 34-year old Englishman from Cambridge, United Kingdom: "The winner of the election is Steve McIntyre. I would like to thank all the candidates for their service to the project, for standing for the post of project leader, and for offering the developers a strong and viable group of candidates. Finally, I would like to congratulate Steve McIntyre, the Project Leader-elect, for his success. The details of the results shall be soon up here." Steve McIntyre is a "debian-cd" team leader responsible for generating the official Debian CD and DVD images. If you'd like to learn more about the new DPL, please visit Steve McIntyre's personal page.
In other Debian news, Martin Zobel-Helas has posted a semi-regular release update with updated "Lenny" release goals and architecture status, while Alexander Schmehl has announced the availability of the eighth and final revision of Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 "Sarge".
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Red Hat Magazine has published an interview with Jeremy Katz, a Red Hat employee and a Fedora developer responsible for maintaining the package management tools, the installer and the live CD tools: "Since the first official live CD release for Fedora Core 6, we've spent a lot of time on improving the tools used for building live images and helping to make them less of the 'this is a quick hack job that works' into tools that actually can be built upon, maintained, etc. One of the big pieces there is around wanting to have reproducibility for your images - we accomplish this through using a Kickstart configuration for the live CD definition. Fedora 8 was really the first release where we were starting to have more people building live CDs using the tools - the KDE Special Interest Group has been active in doing so since Fedora 7, but with Fedora 8, we also gained the Electronic Lab (FEL) spin, the Developer spin, and the Xfce spin."
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Choosing a server distribution for a production e-commerce web site is never an easy task. So how do you go about it? Here is an interesting blog post that details the decision process at a service provider which accepted a task of setting up a LAMP server for several of its clients. While no distribution was perfect during the test, the provider has eventually settled on CentOS: "When I ask some Linux guru colleagues who manage production Linux clusters on a regular basis, they all point to CentOS or Red Hat due to its stability and performance record. In other words, you won't get the latest cutting edge packages like with Ubuntu or Fedora - but it is guaranteed to be much less flawed. The bottom line is that distro preference is a personal decision. Personal to the individual who administers the systems and personal to the organization. We've chosen CentOS over Ubuntu, Fedora, and Red Hat. The only option I see that might change is adopting Red Hat due to the technical support that is offered for a fee. Hands down, CentOS provided the fastest configuration time, lowest learning curve, better ROI, superior package management system, and a good fuzzy feeling of stability. Thanks to CentOS, we can get back to our main passion: web development."
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gOS, the new Ubuntu-based desktop distribution that caught the attention of Linux users when it came pre-installed on the low-cost Everex CloudBook laptops, continues with its user interface experiments. The latest version, labelled as "gOS Space 2.9", includes GNOME as the default desktop, combined with the Avant window manager: "With a stunningly beautiful interface and fun MySpace applications, gOS Space 2.9 introduces a Linux-based operating system designed for the 100,000,000 MySpace users. Now with the new gOS Space dock, you can email, IM, surf the web while surfing through popular TV, movies and music at the same time. The gOS Space dock aggregates the most popular web applications into neat, usable stacks for MySpace, News, Photos, Videos, Music, TV, Tools, and Fun." Although the project hasn't made a formal release announcement, an installable live DVD image is available for download from several mirrors; get it from here: gos-space-20080406-1226.iso (769MB, MD5).
gOS 2.9 Space combines GNOME with the Avant window manager to create an eye-catching desktop.
(full image size: 1,409kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
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Last week's new release of Symphony OS was a somewhat surprising event. The project, which is best known for the radical departure from standard computer user interfaces, appeared to be dormant for months, but then it suddenly sprang to life with a new web site and a CD image. Unlike the project's previous releases, the new SymphonyOne 2008.1 is not available as a free download, but as little as US$1.00 will buy anyone access to a download server. This looks like an acceptable amount for many users and the sole Symphony OS download mirror was hammered hard during the weekend. Ryan Quinn, the founder of Symphony OS: "We have had an overwhelming response to our $1 donation-to-download experiment. So overwhelming, in fact, that our server can not keep up. I am spending today doing my very best to locate and set up additional mirrors. To those of you who made a donation but have been unable to download the ISO due to the slowness of the server, we apologize and hope to have this problem corrected soon. We will certainly know to have a much better infrastructure in place for our next release before making it available. If you have been unable to download and would like us to, we are happy to refund your $1 via PayPal. This experiment was never intended to leave anyone unhappy and that is the last thing we intend to do. Those who wish to bear with us will see new download links added today."
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Here is an interesting development complementing the highly successful Eee PC. According to this announcement, ASUS has released a complete Software Developer Kit (SDK) for the Eee PC, based on Xandros Desktop, Open Circulation Edition: "ASUS, a leading company in the new digital era, today announced the release of a comprehensive software developer's kit (SDK) for the ASUS Eee PC. The new SDK enables third-party developers to easily enhance and extend the popular, mobile, open source platform for educational, telecommunications, and many other uses. The Eee PC SDK provides a complete development platform, including an Eee PC-compatible Open Circulation Edition of the Xandros Desktop OS, the Eclipse development environment, a Qt4 toolkit, a developer's guide, sample applications, and a multilingual VMware testing and debugging environment." See also this story by ITWire. The ASUS Eee PC SDK, together with the Eee PC installation ISO images, is available for free download from the project's SourceForge page.
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Traistaru Claudiu, the lead developer of Darkstar Linux, has emailed us about the release of an interesting new utility called Disk Manager. Similar to GParted, Disk Manager is available as a separate download (with source code) or as part of a small live CD: "Our team has the pleasure to announce Disk Manager version 0.9.14, a graphical partitioning tool by ALICE (Advanced Linux Installation and Configuration Environment). Disk Manager 0.9.14 is a graphical partitioning utility, with a easy-to-use interface, capable of working with 13 file systems to perform different operations, e.g. verify, format, resize, create, delete, and more. Also, a small live system that is powered by Disk Manager, has all the necessary utilities (a bootloader, networking, even SSH) so you can use it as a recovery console in case of emergency." The Darkstar Disk Manager live CD is available for download from here: darkstar-diskmanager-0.9.14.iso (78.6MB, MD5).
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Finally, here is a rare interview with Texstar, the elusive founder and lead developer of PCLinuxOS: "My name is Bill Reynolds aka Texstar. I am a 46-year old former banking professional with 17 years experience in retail banking management. I retired from banking in 1997 and started a small home-based computer repair business. Most of my time is spent either repairing computers or working on PCLinuxOS. I enjoy barbecuing, hanging out with friends by the pool in the summer months, watching Nascar auto racing and American football. ... In the summer of 2003 I became interested in live CD technologies after looking at KNOPPIX and MEPIS. I was interested in helping Warren with MEPIS at the time but I had no clue how to build DEB files. Coming from 5 years of packaging RPMs and not really wanting to learn a new packaging system I happened to come across a South African fellow by the name of Jaco Greef. He was developing a script called 'mklivecd' and porting it to Mandrake Linux."
|Released Last Week
Mandriva Linux 2008.1
Mandriva SA has announced the release of Mandriva Linux 2008.1, officially labelled as "2008 Spring": "Mandriva, the leading European Linux distributor, today announces the launch of Mandriva Linux 2008 Spring, the major new release of Mandriva Linux, featuring hundreds of improvements which make for a quicker and more powerful distribution that is easier to use than ever. Changes include: a new parental control utility; the Elisa multimedia center; easy support for synchronizing many mobile devices with the GNOME and KDE environments; the Codeina framework; the PulseAudio audio framework has been adopted by default; significant improvements to the Mandriva software installation tools; customized support for the popular ASUS Eee PC; KDE 4.0.2 available in repositories." Read the rest of the press release for further details.
Linux XP 2008
Linux XP is a Fedora-based Russian distribution with the goal of porting the Windows XP user interface to the GNOME desktop. The latest version is 2008, released earlier this week: "Linux XP Desktop 2008 is officially released. It includes many new features and modern desktop themes. There are several exclusive applications in Linux XP to simplify system administration and user data migration from Windows to Linux XP. Features: Windows-like interface; 3D desktop; advanced control panel, simple file system layout, Windows migration tool; advanced network functions; easy installation; full NTFS file system support; easy program installation; advanced security functions; support for all modern file formats..." See the brief release announcement on the distribution's home page and the more detailed release notes with screenshots for more information.
Nonux is a Slackware-based distribution optimised for Dutch-speaking office environments. Version 4.4, released yesterday, comes with the following changes and improvements: updated Linux kernel to version 184.108.40.206; updated Mozilla Firefox to version 220.127.116.11; updated OpenOffice.org to version 2.4.0; updated a number of other applications, including GParted, GnuCash, VLC and MPlayer plugin; added GSlapt, an alternative program for installing Slackware packages, together with a repository from Slacky.eu; added extra drivers for HP printers; added a desktop icon for switching to Belgian keyboard layout (azerty); replaced Aufs with Unionfs on the live CD; removed LZMA compression. Please visit the project's news page (in Dutch) to read the full release announcement.
Ryan Quinn has announced the release of SymphonyOne 2008.1, an Ubuntu-based distribution with Mezzo, an alternative desktop environment: "The Symphony OS Project is pleased to announce the release of SymphonyOne 2008.1, our first major release in almost a year. SymphonyOne is an almost 100% rewrite of all the Mezzo desktop code, taking advantage of more features of FVWM to provide a smaller footprint and more stable environment. Based on Ubuntu 7.10, SymphonyOne provides a complete desktop environment and full Ubuntu compatibility on systems with as little as a 200 MHz processor. Some of the key features include: based on Ubuntu 7.10 with all the latest updates; completely rewritten Mezzo Desktop; Web App System (similar to Mozilla Prizm but implemented in Orchestra and fully integrated into the system); removed the old desklet system...." Read the rest of the release announcement for more details.
Stefan Lippers-Hollmann has announced the release of sidux 2008-01, a desktop distribution based on Debian's unstable branch: "A lot later than planned, but now we have the pleasure to announce the immediate availability of sidux 2008-01 'Nyx'. Nyx concentrates on KDE 3.5.9, the large changes implied by kernel 18.104.22.168, the newly added 'resolvconf' facilities to deal with DNS settings in combination with 'Ceni', and our new build system for sidux. Furthermore, a large number of individual functionality enhancements and bug fixes have been applied to the full package line up. The Linux kernel 2.6.24 has merged 'i386' and 'x86_64' as sub-architectures for the new generic 'x86' architecture. Another major topic has been the dissolution of the former 'sidux' menu into the XDG compliant menu categories." Read the detailed release notes for additional information.
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Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- AltimatOS. AltimatOS is a new Linux-based operating system featuring the KDE desktop. The project is currently in the very early stages of development.
- IntuxOS. IntuxOS is a new PCLinuxOS-based live DVD developed by a group of engineering students in New Delhi, India.
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DistroWatch database summary
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 21 April 2008.
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