| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 290, 16 February 2009
Welcome to this year's 7th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest story of the past week was the release of Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 'Lenny'. After nearly two years of continuous development and a controversial vote or two, we finally get the chance to take a quick look at the finished product - the new live media as well as the 'netinst' network installation CD. In other news, Ubuntu announces that Jaunty will ship with Linux kernel 2.6.28, Wiley publishes OpenSolaris Bible and makes three sample chapters available for free download, openSUSE's Zypper gains Bash-completion improvements, Red Hat publishes a 'State of the Union' address, the Woof project releases version 0.0.0 with support for Arch Linux, and Cuba develops their own Gentoo-based variant distribution called Nova. Also in this issue are links to two interviews - the first with Steve MacIntyre, the head of the Debian project, and the second with Scott Ritchie, an Ubuntu community developer. Happy reading!
- First looks: Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 live CD and network installation
- News: Debian 'Lenny', Ubuntu 9.04 kernel updates, OpenSolaris Bible, Zypper improvements, Red Hat 'State of the Union' address, Woof 0.0.0, Nova - Cuba's national distribution
- Released last week: Debian GNU/Linux 5.0, antiX MEPIS 8, sidux 2009-01
- Upcoming releases: Frugalware Linux 1.0 RC1
- New additions: Progex
- New distributions: Debris Linux, Dotsch/UX, Nova
- Reader comments
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
First look at Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 live CD and network installation
Debian GNU/Linux is the one of the oldest surviving, independently developed Linux distribution and the grand-daddy of many others, including the ever popular Ubuntu. Each release is named after a character from the Pixar animated movie 'Toy Story', and so as it is with 'Lenny' - the pair of binoculars with feet. Debian is unique in that the project is entirely community driven and is one of the largest open source projects in the world. It is governed by two major documents, the Debian Constitution and the Social Contract, the latter being at the centre of the recent firmware debate.
Debian has a huge binary repository, consisting of four branches; stable, testing, unstable and experimental. Packages begin in experimental or unstable and make their way down once they have proven themselves suitably stable and bug-free. Only once packages are thoroughly tested do they make it into testing, which in time becomes the next stable release. Debian also includes official support for more architectures than any other Linux distro, with this latest release adding support for ARM EABI (armel), increasing the total number to eleven.
Debian is great for servers as they focus on stability and security, over features and the latest packages. That may be great for a server, but how does it fare as a desktop operating system? The problem with Debian stable in this regard is that it is very slow moving, especially when compared to other distributions. Two years between releases is a long time in the open source world, especially when purchasing new hardware which is not supported by the stable tree! This has brought about the 'and a half' release which made its début in the previous stable release, Etch. It provides support for newer hardware by way of a more recent kernel, X.Org and installer, while leaving all other packages at their current stable versions. This latest release includes the K Desktop Environment 3.5.10, GNOME 2.22.2, Xfce 4.4.2, new lightweight desktop environment LXDE 0.3.2.1, X.Org 7.3, and OpenOffice.org 2.4.1, many of which are already dated.
Debian is famous for not releasing on time, preferring to instead "release when it's ready". Given what Debian sets out to achieve though, this philosophy does not come as a surprise. How can one release a new stable product which has not been thoroughly tested!? As we have seen with the release of Lenny, internal political issues can also hinder the release of the stable version. So, it was with relief to a great many that Lenny finally made it out the door over the weekend. I took this opportunity to see what Lenny had to offer in the way of a desktop. As previously mentioned, Debian's release cycle is much slower than that of Ubuntu, which pushes out a new version every six months. As such, Ubuntu also includes more up-to-date software and has more liberal support for binary drivers and other non-free software, as well as including numerous scripts and automated enhancements. So what does Debian have to offer?
Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 default GNOME desktop
(full image size: 318kB, screen resolution: 1680x1050 pixels)
The first images I downloaded were the GNOME and KDE live CDs. Unlike many other distros, the Debian CD appears rather basic as it boots up. There is no fancy splash screen or progress bar, just the default terminal resolution and the usual text passing by. Apart from a little artwork, the Debian environments appear to be fairly standard. They all load straight into the desktop as 'user' and you're ready to begin! The first thing that struck me was how complete this live CD was, probably the most complete I have ever seen. For a start, it included OpenOffice.org, something that is rarely on a live CD these days due to its size. The KDE version also had a few GTK+ applications, including Iceweasel (Debian's browser built from Firefox) and the GIMP. One thing that annoys me in distributed GNOME environments is the default view setting in the file manager Nautilus, which opens everything in a new window.
The environments come with the Synaptic graphical package management tool, including a system updater. Under GNOME, plugging in my media player caused Rythmbox to start up and my music was available, but I was unable to play it. To my surprise, the same MP3 file played out of the box in Totem. The GStreamer plugins appear to have been installed by default, so other proprietary codecs may also be supported out of the box. Unlike Ubuntu, there are no graphical single-click helpers for installing proprietary software and drivers. Debian does however have a great tool called 'module-assistant' which automates much of the task of building external kernel modules. Installing 'fglrx-driver' downloaded the required packages for my video card, including module-assistant and the development build tools and libraries. Once I had this installed I ran the required module-assistant command:
Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 KDE desktop
(full image size: 476kB, screen resolution: 1680x1050 pixels)
sudo m-a prepare && sudo m-a autoinstall fglrx
This downloaded the kernel headers, built the module and installed it. Next I had to prepare the X Server configuration file and load the module:
sudo aticonfig --initial && sudo modprobe fglrx
Restarting the X server all worked as expected and after installing 'compiz' and 'fusion-icon', I could test out a 3D desktop, which worked well.
For a long time Debian had the reputation of being a hard-to-install, hard-to-use distro. It's true that the default installer is console-based, but there is also a graphical installer available (although it's not the default). To test the installer, I downloaded the network install image, which includes a base system on the CD and downloads the rest of the environment via the Internet. The installer is a simple GTK+ front end to their console installer, but it looks quite nice. There is the option for an 'expert mode' for users who want a little more control (such as the ability to install from FTP mirrors). It would be great to see it include a summary of steps on the left hand side, to give the user some feedback on the overall process. The network I was installing on has a proxy which blocks unauthenticated traffic, which caused lengthy delays when refreshing the repositories.
One of the coolest features of the Debian installer is the ability to take screenshots. Simply click the 'Screenshot' button and they are saved on the virtual environment. Pretty neat! The partitioner is not the most user friendly out there, but once you understand how it works, it does the job well. You have to double click on each partition to edit it and complete each task in the panel above, or select an entry and hit the 'Continue' button down the bottom. It does however present the option to automatically partition the drives in a guided manner and also offers LVM and encryption. In expert mode, the installer asks whether you want the initial RAM disk to support all available drivers, or just those needed for this system. It's a nice new feature to help create a more customised system.
Once the base system is installed and configured, the installer prompts for a password for the root account and also to set up a local user. It does not check the provided passwords for complexity, which would be a good feature to add. Expert mode asks whether the root account should be enabled at all. If it is not, then root commands are performed via the 'sudo' command, similar to the default configuration under Ubuntu. One little gripe about the installer is the inability to abort easily. One has to hit the back button to get to the initially hidden step menu, select 'Abort the installation' then hit 'Continue'. All in all, the installer is rather simple, but it works very well.
Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 install partitioner
(full image size: 318kB, screen resolution: 1680x1050 pixels)
Debian is simple, yet it has very powerful tools for building packages and configuring the system. It is a very stable distribution as it is not overly interested in lots of shiny new features, but rather concentrates on creating an environment that is reliable. For users who want the latest fancy desktop, Debian doesn't provide this out of the box in their stable tree. For this reason, the majority of users run testing or unstable on their desktop, or a combination thereof. This provides them with newer packages, at the cost of supreme stability. Out of the box, Lenny includes all the software that most users would want, with tens of thousands more available at the click of a mouse, or tap on the keyboard. For low-end systems, the new LXDE environment appears to work well, using around 130MB RAM on my test machine. For experienced Ubuntu users, Debian may also be a good fit as it does not automate as much and provides greater control over the system from the get go.
Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 LXDE desktop
(full image size: 679kB, screen resolution: 1680x1050 pixels)
Debian 'Lenny', Ubuntu 9.04 kernel updates, OpenSolaris Bible, Zypper improvements, Red Hat 'State of the Union' address, Woof 0.0.0, Nova - Cuba's national distribution|
We're never quite sure whether it's going to happen on time, but happen it did! As recently re-scheduled, Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 'Lenny' was finally released - not quite on St. Valentine's day (unless you live in Samoa), but not too late for a good weekend party. The release was followed by several interesting announcement, including one by Marc Brockschmidt explaining the new numbering scheme for point releases (formerly revisions): "We would also like to point out that the numbering scheme for Debian releases has been changed - point releases now use a true micro version number, so the first point release will be 5.0.1 instead of 5.0r1. The minor release number will be used for efforts such as Lenny and a half." With the stable release of 'Lenny', the testing branch has now been renamed to Squeeze, which will also be the code name of the next stable Debian release.
Before Debian 5.0 Lenny actually made it out the door, Computer World UK posted an interview with the head of the project, Steve MacIntyre. Steve discusses the release of Lenny and what users can expect: "It's the focus of lots of the work we've been doing for the last two years or so, with many new and updated versions of everybody's favourite packages," he writes. "Many members of our community are happy to run from our testing and unstable branches," he continues, "but the stable releases are very important to the rest where they trust us to just make things work and keep them working." They also discuss the upcoming Debian conference in Spain and what's in store for the coming year - more discussion on non-free firmware!
* * * * *
Recently on the Ubuntu kernel mailing list, developer Tim Gardner put to rest the rumour that the upcoming release of Ubuntu 9.04 'Jaunty Jackalope' may ship with the 2.6.29 kernel, expected to be available before the time of release: "Jaunty will absolutely, positively, and without a doubt, release with a 2.6.28 kernel. Is that clear enough to dispel all rumors?" It was a fair enough question, though, as the release of 8.10 'Intrepid Ibex' went the other way, shipping the latest kernel at the time. You may remember that version 8.04 'Hardy Heron', a Long-Term Support release, shipped with a beta version of the Firefox web browser, while 'Intrepid Ibex' released OpenOffice.org 2.4.1, rather than the newer 3.0 version.
Ubuntu focused technology website, 'Works With U', has published an interview with Scott Ritchie, a community developer who packages the Wine application, which allows some Windows software to run under Linux. So what's in store? "For 'Jaunty' (codename for the upcoming Ubuntu 9.04), it will become very easy to install and launch Wine applications for a first-time user without any prior instruction - just double clicking the executable will guide you through it much like how codecs are installed." His biggest piece of advice for users is to "avoid using the latest Wine unless something is broken or you want to help us beta test. People are often frustrated by Wine regressions, but you'll never encounter them if you just use the working installation you have."
* * * * *
On the documentation side of the news, The Observatory is reporting about the availability of several free chapters from the just published OpenSolaris Bible, the first-ever book on Sun Microsystems' open-source operating system. These include the excellent 'OpenSolaris Crash Course' and a useful section on ZFS, Sun Microsystems' much-envied file system. All 16 pages from the first introductory chapter are also available. The book may be purchased from Amazon.com (US$31.49), so if you're interested in OpenSolaris, this is a great way to get a take of what the book holds, for free! Currently this is the only OpenSolaris reference book available, but on the horizon sits Pro OpenSolaris, a book expected to be published by Apress in late April. You can download the three free chapters from here:
* * * * *
In the middle of last year, we featured an article on Zypper, the package manager developed by openSUSE. While it is very fast and powerful, this doesn't mean that there is nothing left to improve! This week, openSUSE developer, Josef Reidinger, announced improved Bash completion support, which allows you to auto-complete options and commands for Zypper. He writes that as he has had some spare time, so he used it to add support for global options and short versions of commands, as well as help for names of repositories, services and locks. He confirms that his changes will be available in the upcoming 11.2 release, but those running 11.1 will need to download the script themselves.
* * * * *
Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO of Red Hat, recently published a 'State of the Union' address. He writes: "Red Hat's accomplishments help us better serve our customers and reflect the tremendous work of our associates. In addition, significant events in the external environment helped shape our business environment and influence our work and lives." Whitehurst then discusses some of the highlights over the past year since his appointment as CEO, covering Red Hat during tough economic times, recent company acquisitions, Fedora and the community, wins in the patent field and finishes up with that quote from Gandhi on fighting the good fight.
* * * * *
In last week's DistroWatch Weekly, we brought news of a new project called Woof, by Puppy Linux creator Barry Kauler. His new project is essentially a set of scripts which allows end users to build their own Puppy-like operating system by pulling packages from various other distributions. This week Kauler announced the release of Woof version 0.0.0, and then more recently, an alpha release. He also announced support for Arch Linux: "I have just done a test build, the desktop comes up, sound works, looks OK." The project is starting to gain interest among the community and Barry insists that he's still having fun.
* * * * *
The last big news story of the week is the announcement that Cuba has launched their very own Linux distribution named Nova. The distribution is based on the popular source-based distribution, Gentoo Linux, which by its nature is extremely flexible and makes building a binary distribution relatively easy. Motivation for the distribution appears to be mostly centred around 'technological independence': "The Cuban variant, called Nova, was introduced at a Havana computer conference on 'technological sovereignty' and is central to the Cuban government's desire to replace the Microsoft software running most of the island's computers. According to Hector Rodriguez, dean of the School of Free Software at Cuba's University of Information Sciences, about 20 percent of computers in Cuba, where computer sales to the public began only last year, are currently using Linux." Hopefully the development of this distribution will also allow improvements to feed back into the Gentoo project, as well as the open source community at large.
Nova 1.1.2 - a new Cuban distribution based on Gentoo Linux
(full image size: 465kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
|Released Last Week
antiX MEPIS 8
antiX MEPIS 8, a lightweight edition of the upcoming SimplyMEPIS 8.0, has been released: "The antiX team is proud to announce that antiX MEPIS 8 - a fast and light complete desktop and live CD based on SimplyMEPIS and Debian Testing, with a little bit of sidux - is now available at MEPIS mirrors. This release defaults to a fully customised IceWM desktop (Fluxbox is also installed). In addition to the SimplyMEPIS 8.0 foundation with its 2.6.27 kernel and assistants, antiX has an improved antiX Control Centre, new scripts for screenshots, and phonebook. There are improved and extended themes and artwork for IceWM and Fluxbox. Localisation is much improved in this version. As well as including usual applications such as Iceweasel 3.0.6, Pidgin 2.4, AbiWord 2.6.4 and Gnumeric 1.8.3, antiX 8 also includes the sidux meta-installer, an updated ceni and wicd for wired and wireless connections, UMTSmon - a simple connect program for users using 3G USB modems...." Read the rest of the release announcement and release notes for further information.
antiX MEPIS 8 - a lightweight desktop distribution with IceWM
(full image size: 736kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Andrew Gillis has announced the release of trixbox 126.96.36.199, a CentOS-based distribution featuring the popular, open-source PBX and telephony platform called Asterisk: "I just released trixbox 188.8.131.52. This is a roll-up release with a bunch of bug fixes and the latest version of all our packages. All trixbox users are recommended to upgrade to this release. This release resolves the problems with the package manager not working and some PSTN cards causing kernel panic when the system is rebooted. There are also a number of small GUI fixes and enhancements. I also added support for some of the new Realtek network chipsets that are not supported by CentOS 5.2. For existing systems please do a yum update from command line: 'yum update trixbox'; this will get the fixes to the GUI and the package manager. You can also update ZapTel to get the kernel panic fix." Here is the brief release announcement.
Parted Magic 3.6
Patrick Verner has announced the release of Parted Magic 3.6, a live CD featuring a collection of hard disk management utilities: "Parted Magic 3.6. This release offers a major overhaul in the way Parted Magic boots and behaves. The 'Live' option is back and Parted Magic runs on a machine with 128 MB of RAM. There is also a 'low memory' option that disables unnecessary daemons to speed up systems that only require trivial tasks, like running GParted. The 'Live' option was tested on a PII with 128 MB of RAM. There is a new way to mount devices too, mount-gtk creates a consistent interface to mount file systems found in fstab created by the pmagic_fstab_daemon. Last but not least, the updated package list: GParted 0.4.3, Linux kernel 184.108.40.206, e2fsprogs 1.41.4, NTFS-3G 2009.2.1." See the full release announcement for more details.
Marco Ghirlanda has announced the release of ArtistX 0.6, an Ubuntu-based distribution with 2,500 free multimedia programs for 2D/3D graphics manipulation, video editing and media playback: "ArtistX 0.6 is based on the great Remastersys software for creating live CDs and includes the 2.6.27 Linux kernel, GNOME 2.24 and KDE 4.1.3, Compiz Fusion and about 2,500 free multimedia software packages, nearly everything that exists for the GNU/Linux operating system. Main features: based on Ubuntu 8.10, Ubiquity installer (tried in VirtualBox, please back up your data as this is the first version shipped with ArtistX). A partial list of software included in the DVD: 2D graphics software: GIMP, Inkscape, Nip2, Krita, CinePaint, Synfig, Rawstudio, Skencil, Hugin; 3D graphics software: Blender, Wings3D, KPovModeler + POV-Ray 3.6, K3D; video software: Cinelerra, Kino, Open Movie Editor, Kdenlive, PiTiVi, Avidemux, DeVeDe...." Visit the distribution's home page to read the release announcement.
ArtistX 0.6 - an Ubuntu-based distribution featuring a large collection of multimedia software
(full image size: 855kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Stefan Lippers-Hollmann has announced the release of sidux 2009-01, a desktop Linux distribution based on Debian's unstable branch: "A little earlier than originally planned, we now have the pleasure to announce the availability of sidux 2009-01, shipping with kernel 220.127.116.11-rc1. It concentrates on integrating the changes caused by kernel 2.6.28, stabilising the init optimisations accomplished by insserv, and in particular improving the reliability of the installer and the USB installers. Kernel 2.6.28 doesn't only improve and stabilise hardware support for newer devices, it also adapts the I/O scheduler support for SSDs in order to improve prioritisation of disk access and to speed these up. Another major accomplishment is the deployment of the open-source OpenFWWF firmware for Broadcom wireless devices." Read the detailed release notes for further information.
sidux 2009-01 - a desktop distribution based on the latest Debian "sid" branch
(full image size: 861kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Debian GNU/Linux 5.0
Big day for the Debian fans - Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 "Lenny" has been released: "The Debian Project is pleased to announce the official release of Debian GNU/Linux version 5.0 (code-named 'Lenny') after 22 months of constant development. Debian GNU/Linux is a free operating system which supports a total of twelve processor architectures and includes the KDE, GNOME, Xfce, and LXDE desktop environments. This release includes numerous updated software packages, such as the K Desktop Environment 3.5.10, an updated version of the GNOME desktop environment 2.22.2, the Xfce 4.4.2 desktop environment, LXDE 0.3.2.1, the GNUstep desktop 7.3, X.Org 7.3, OpenOffice.org 2.4.1, GIMP 2.4.7...." See the release announcement and release notes for a detailed description of the release.
* * * * *
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
- Debris Linux. Debris Linux is a minimalist, desktop-oriented distribution based on Ubuntu.
- Dotsch/UX. Dotsch/UX a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu Linux. The purpose of the project is to create a Linux distribution for BOINC, which easily installs and boots from a USB stick, hard disk and diskless clients, and also has some interfaces to set up the diskless server and clients automatically.
- Nova. Nova is a Cuban, easy-to-use, desktop Linux distribution based on Gentoo Linux and incorporating technologies from Ututo and Sabayon Linux projects.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 23 February 2009.
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