| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 266, 18 August 2008
Welcome to this year's 33rd issue of DistroWatch Weekly! The explosion of low-cost, ultra-portable laptops that started to appear in computer stores is a dream come true for many technology enthusiasts and free software developers who are keen to offer solutions for the new computer class. In this week's issue we take a first look at Mandriva Flash 2008.1, one of the first distributions with official support for the ASUS Eee PC. Does it really work "out of the box" as claimed? Read on to find out. In the news section, Slackware introduces KDE 4.1 into the development tree, Fedora hints at a major problem with its update infrastructure, and Linux Mint suffers from a crippling attack on its web site. Also in this week's issue, links to two excellent interviews with Ubuntu's Scott Remnant and gOS's David Liu. Finally, after a short break, we have resumed adding new distributions to the DistroWatch database - one of the new ones introduced last week is FaunOS, an interesting Arch Linux-based desktop distribution optimised for USB Flash drives. Happy reading!
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Mandriva Flash 2008.1 on ASUS Eee PC 900
After some three months of keeping the default Xandros installation on my ASUS Eee PC, it was time for a change. While the Eee PC variant of Xandros Desktop is an extremely well-designed and an excellent entry-level Linux for anyone looking for basic Internet and computing functionality, it's unlikely that it would satisfy an average computer geek for too long. Sooner or later its limitations in terms of power computing and software installation, not to mention the "don't leave it alone" desire to tinker with any new toy, would likely see many of these netbooks' flash drives being wiped clean, making room for a new, more powerful operating system.
But which one to choose as a replacement? Ever since the appearance of the first Eee PCs, many Linux distribution developers have started working on their own alternatives to Xandros Desktop, complete with full hardware support and a variety of desktop solutions. For my first deployment I chose Mandriva Linux 2008.1, sometimes referred to as "2008 Spring". (Personally, I prefer to call it "2008.1", since I don't think that a product designed for international markets should carry a name of a season - especially while a big part of Mandriva's own development team lives and works south of the equator!) Not only was Mandriva Linux 2008.1 the first major Linux distribution to add full support for the Eee PC, it also received excellent reviews, both in mainstream computing media and on personal blogs.
The Mandriva USB key arrived in a parcel resembling a shoebox. It could easily hold another fifty or so USB keys and I think there must be a reason for this peculiar choice of packaging (why not just use one of those bubble-lined envelopes?), but I could not spot one. Besides the USB key, the box also included a mini-CD packed in a hard plastic case. The product's image, as provided at the Mandriva Store, certainly doesn't do it justice; the USB key that I received was, in fact, a "slim" version, much slicker than the one on the picture (see image on the right) and about half the size of the 4 GB Mandriva Flash 2008. I've never seen such a small and cleverly-designed USB key before! The first impression was good.
Next, booting the USB key. This can be done by pressing the Esc key during the initial start-up in order to bring up the boot menu where Mandriva Flash was listed as one of the options. But booting Mandriva Flash wasn't nearly as fast as the original OS; while Xandros Desktop is up and running in its full graphical glory in around 17 seconds, Mandriva 2008.1 Flash took exactly two minutes to boot into its KDE 3.5.9 (that was the second boot; the first boot is always longer since it requires extra configuration steps). Of course, this is a generic operating system that is meant to work on a variety of hardware, so it's hardly surprising that it took this long to arrive at the desktop. Maybe Mandriva could work on this - it shouldn't be hard to detect the Eee PC and pre-optimise the boot process for this particular piece of hardware.
When the KDE desktop finally appeared on the screen, my first steps led to checking whether everything worked out of the box as Mandriva had claimed. And here came the first little disappointment; while the wireless network worked perfectly, launching Skype and attempting to make a call gave a "problem with audio" error. Luckily, this was easy to fix - I simply started Mandriva's Control Centre and disabled PulseAudio in the hardware configuration section. After this, Skype worked just fine. Other than the audio, everything else did seem to work out of the box - the screen resolution was set up correctly and the rest of the hardware worked fine as well. I didn't test the suspend and hibernate functions.
My next step led to Mandriva's Rpmdrake to install any security and bug-fix updates that have been made available since the product's release. Mandriva's default USB installation comes with a lot of software, so I wasn't surprised to see that over 100 updates were listed as available, including a new kernel. I duly applied all what the distribution's package management tool proposed and rebooted the Eee PC into the updated kernel. Problem number two: this time the system took over 10 minutes to boot! This was due to an extended period of inactivity just after the "Starting udev" message. The same system started without a similar delay on another computer, so I assume that this is something hardware related. I haven't been able to find a solution for this problem, so my Mandriva Flash 2008.1 now takes over 10 minutes to boot.
As a compensation, the Eee PC now runs an operating system that is familiar and easily extensible. It also looks great; I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I am always astonished how great the default Mandriva fonts look on an LCD monitor. I don't know what exactly makes the fonts look this perfect (or is this just a subjective observation?), but in terms of visually pleasing default fonts there is no other distribution (with the possible exception of Fedora) where font settings don't require extensive tweaking before they look reasonably good (but never as good as on Mandriva!). Maybe some readers will be able to comment on this - do you agree that Mandriva's default fonts look exceptionally beautiful? And if so, what makes them look better than those of the competition?
Mandriva Flash 2008.1 running on ASUS Eee PC 900.
(full image size: 618kB, screen resolution: 1024x600 pixels)
I was contemplating whether I should install Mandriva Linux on Eee PC's internal Flash drive or not. As at the time of writing, I still haven't made a decision - it runs great from the USB Flash drive and, according to some information I found on the Internet, any speed difference between the internal and external Flash drives would be negligible. With this setup, I effectively have a dual-boot system - the original, but rather limiting Xandros Desktop that the Eee PC came with, and a portable and highly customisable Mandriva USB key that can be booted on another computer. I've found the speed of Mandriva's KDE desktop acceptable for the tasks I am likely to ever perform on this ultra-portable laptop, although the hardware limitations are sometimes obvious, e.g. when copying a large number of images from an SD card to the USB key. The only real disadvantage of this setup is the ever-present danger that the USB key gets unplugged by accident, which would probably result in a nasty crash.
Conclusion? I am reasonably happy with Mandriva Flash 2008.1 on my Eee PC. Although certain things did not work "out of the box" as promised in the release announcement and I still haven't found a solution for the shocking 10-minute boot delay, it has now become my primary operating system on the Eee PC. Its KDE desktop is faster than I expected, the default fonts look absolutely gorgeous in all applications, and its utilities, especially the package management system that allows extending the Mandriva installation with thousands of programs, is heavenly, especially when compared with Xandros Desktop. It might yet replace the original distribution on the internal Flash drive - provided that I manage to solve the 10-minute boot annoyance and that I don't find any new issues.
Slackware tests KDE 4.1, Fedora suffers from update outage, attackers crack LinuxMint.com, interviews with Ubuntu's Scott Remnant and gOS's David Liu, Zypper tips and tricks
Last week, the home page of Slackware Linux got updated! If that's not already a good enough reason to throw a party, then consider the two items that have been deemed interesting enough to make the front page - the inclusion of KDE 4.1 in Slackware's testing branch and a new, "bi-directional" Slackware logo: "That's right -- KDE version 4.1 is now part of Slackware -current (in the /testing directory), so for everyone who can't wait to try it out, have a look at it! We're all (very happily) using it here now, and it has come a long way since the first 4.x release. Congratulations to the KDE team for the fine work (and many thanks to Robby Workman and Heinz Wiesinger for all the help with build scripts and testing for the initial Slackware packaging of KDE4). Have fun! :-) Also, we recently commissioned Mark from Senile Felines Designs to create a unique new Slackware Logo, as we were getting a number of bug reports that the old logo could not be read easily while standing on one's head. ;-) We think he did a great job with it!"
* * * * *
On a much more serious note, if you've had trouble updating your Fedora installation during the past week or if you've been mystified by the sudden lack of updates, there is a reason for it. It would appear that Fedora's update infrastructure has been through some major trouble. The exact extent of the problem remains a secret at the time of writing, but if you can read between the lines, here are some hints by Fedora project manager Paul Frields: "The Fedora Infrastructure team is currently investigating an issue in the infrastructure systems. That process may result in service outages, for which we apologize in advance. We're still assessing the end-user impact of the situation, but as a precaution, we recommend you not download or update any additional packages on your Fedora systems." The above was published late Thursday, with a follow-up email arriving on Saturday: "The Fedora Infrastructure team continues to work on the issues we discovered earlier this week. Right now, we're getting the account system restored to service, along with some of the application servers. We're also taking advantage of the outages to upgrade a few systems at the same time. Some services such as the Account System and the Wiki should return to normal over the weekend, but we expect outages to continue for some other systems. Please be patient as we continue to work the problem." Stay tuned for further updates.
* * * * *
Fedora isn't the only distribution that suffered from a major problem last week. The increasingly popular Linux Mint became a target of some unscrupulous attackers who managed to crack the distribution's web site and insert a malicious trojan horse into its PHP code: "Our server was hacked and code was injected into it to make connections on our behalf to pinoc.org and download a trojan called JS/Tenia.d. If you visited LinuxMint.com in the last two days we recommend you scan your computer to make sure this trojan isn't present. As this attack exploited vulnerabilities within our PHP code, we took the opportunity to clean it all and secure every single page against injections in the future. LinuxMint.com is now clean and secure, but we experienced almost 20 hours of downtime and we lost almost 2 days of work into fixing this. I personally received a lot of emails from the community, warning us about the problem. I haven't had time to reply but I would like to thank the people who came forward. If you observe a problem in the future please do not hesitate to report it."
* * * * *
Whatever your opinion about Ubuntu there is one thing that is hard to deny - Mark Shuttleworth's vision and relentless pursuit of his goals have been responsible for Ubuntu's success on the desktop. A view shared by Sam Varghese in this article entitled Shuttleworth and Ubuntu keep moving on up : "Ten years from now, if Linux has managed to gain something like 10 per cent or more of the desktop market and continues to maintain its lead in the server market, one person would have to take a goodly share of the credit - Mark Shuttleworth. The way he has gone about establishing Ubuntu as the desktop Linux distribution most in demand by enthusiasts is remarkable. And he is now quietly beginning to muscle in on the enterprise market." The article concludes: "Though it feels like Ubuntu has been around for a long time, it's not even been four years since the distribution was launched. And Shuttleworth himself got into business for the first time just 13 years ago. Remarkable progress, indeed."
Mark Shuttleworth might be one of the most glamorous personalities in the Linux world, but for many it might be more interesting to read interviews with developers who are directly involved in day-to-day work on the world's most popular desktop Linux distribution. Last week, Scott James Remnant, the leader of the Ubuntu Desktop team, spoke to Hardware.no about the current status of of Ubuntu and the future of Linux in general: "Q: Red Hat, Novell, IBM and several other companies have paid developers working on the Linux kernel and other Linux-related projects. Does Canonical do something like this? A: We're a rather smaller company than those you mention; they have teams of people working on single open source projects that are larger than our entire company! This obviously means if you count and compare the simple number of commits, we appear to come out badly in comparison. Canonical has paid for work on a number of upstream projects, and we have developers who have provided significant contributions to them. As we grow as a company, that number will increase."
* * * * *
Speaking about interviews, here is a great one with the creator of gOS, a fast-growing Ubuntu-based project which has created a unique desktop and which has focused on integrating popular Google applications into its distribution. David Liu, the founder of gOS: "Q: Does gOS have a set release schedule or do you release whenever you can add something new to the mix? A: What we try to do is make something new every 3 to 4 months. Our focus is totally on the consumer. Traditionally, a Linux company has a server product line and the consumer side is a sort of way to brand it and point back to the server where they actually make their money. Our team is a little bit smaller and just focused on the consumer. Every 3 to 4 months, we try to do an update and look around during in-between times to see what's a really good fit for the particular hardware that we're looking at. A lot of the software that's preloaded on lots of the distributions was created a while ago and was originally meant for workstations and standard-size computers. As we get into non-workstations and into netbooks and Internet appliances, the software needs to change and adapt to make the experience more real. We try to release more often and try to pick the best applications to fit the hardware."
* * * * *
Finally, something more technical, borrowed from the excellent openSUSE Tutorials web site. This time, it's about Zypper, which offers a number of little tricks to make a user's life managing openSUSE packages a little more enjoyable: "Zypper is a very easy-to-use and powerful package manager that is very underrated. With the latest rewrites in openSUSE 11.0 of libzypp, it is blazingly fast and has a few new features that many people are not aware of." Here are a few examples that the author finds useful or interesting:
Please visit openSUSE Tutorials for other interesting Zypper commands.
- Install metapackages or patterns: # zypper in -t pattern xfce
- Search for a metapackage or pattern: # zypper se -t pattern media
- List available repositories: # zypper lr
- View a description of a package: # zypper if package
- Simulate a zypper command: # zypper in --dry-run <package>
- Lock a package in its current state: # zypper addlock <package>
- Remove the above lock: # zypper removelock <package>
|Released Last Week
ClarkConnect 4.3, a specialist server and gateway distribution based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, has been released: "ClarkConnect Server and Gateway Community edition 4.3 is now available. What's new? The Office edition and Enterprise edition products have now merged! Unlimited mailboxes are now included in the Enterprise edition and this includes full groupware support. The full list of changes is available in the developer change log -- highlights include: Groupware support in webmail, OpenVPN for road warriors, system processes viewer, mail queue manager, RAID manager, default security keys for users, remote backup (beta). Known issues: blank screens on first boot with some types of hardware; some legacy Dell/MegaRAID RAID cards are not supported; localization is incomplete." See the detailed release notes for further information.
Scientific Linux 5.2 "Live CD/DVD"
Urs Beyerle has announced the release of the Live CD/DVD edition of Scientific Linux 5.2, a Red Hat-based distribution enhanced with scientific and educational software: "Scientific Linux Live CD/DVD 5.2 has been released for i386 and x86_64 architectures. New feature: changes can be stored persistently on a storage device like a USB key. Together with the possibility to start the live CD from a USB key, this feature allows you to carry around a portable Scientific Linux live system on a single USB stick. Features: can be installed to local hard disk, runs from USB key, can be mounted over NFS (diskless client). Software: Linux kernel 2.6.18, OpenAFS client 1.4.7, X.Org 7.1, 3D desktop with Compiz and AIGLX; ALSA sound libraries 1.0.14, GNOME 2.16.0 (standard desktop on live CD), KDE 3.5.4 (only on live DVD), OpenOffice.org 2.3.0, Firefox 3.0...." Read the complete release announcement for further information.
paldo GNU/Linux 1.15
Jürg Billeter has announced the release of paldo GNU/Linux, a hybrid (source and binary) distribution for the desktop with a custom package management system: "We are pleased to announce the release of paldo 1.15 with many bug fixes and updates. It features the latest stable GNOME 2.22.3 desktop, OpenOffice.org 2.4.1, Firefox 3.0.1, Eclipse 3.4, and VirtualBox 1.6.2. Also included are Linux kernel 188.8.131.52 to support new devices, X.Org 7.3, updated proprietary drivers for NVIDIA and AMD graphic cards, and Wammu 0.27 to simplify cell phone synchronization. NetworkManager 0.7 enables easy Internet connections with GSM/UMTS and DSL. With SMPlayer 0.6.1 playing videos and DVDs has a new comfort. The easy-to-use graphical installer has been updated to make the installation from the Live CD as simple as possible. All packages have been rebuilt with the updated toolchain: GCC 4.3 and glibc 2.8." Visit the project's home page to read the release announcement.
paldo GNU/Linux 1.15 - a distro with a custom package management and an option to compile applications from source code
(full image size: 338kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- Asterisk on IPCop. Asterisk on IPCop is a specialist Linux distribution consisting of IPCop, a firewall distribution, and Asterisk, an open source PBXi, telephony engine, and telephony applications toolkit.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 25 August 2008.
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