| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 297, 6 April 2009
Welcome to this year's 14th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! One of the must-haves in the toolkit of any serious free software enthusiast is a decent partitioning tool. This week we take a look at the newly released Parted Magic 4.0, a live CD for managing hard drives. In the news, Intel hands control of Moblin, a distribution for netbooks and mobile devices over to the Linux Foundation, rumours about a possible purchase of Sun Microsystems by IBM spur speculations about the future of OpenSolaris, Debian announces support for kFreeBSD i386 and amd64 port, and Mark Shuttleworth talks about the upcoming release of Ubuntu 9.04. Also in the news, first hints about a possible major and more adventurous update of the GNOME desktop, version 3.0. Finally, we are pleased to announce that the recipient of the DistroWatch.com March 2009 donation is smxi, a project developing a variety of useful scripts for Debian and Debian-based distributions. Happy reading!
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Review of Parted Magic 4.0
Hot off the press, Parted Magic 4.0 has been released. In short, it's a lightweight Linux live CD with a firm focus on partitioning drives. From its web site, "The Parted Magic OS employs core programs of GParted and Parted to handle partitioning tasks with ease, while featuring other useful programs (e.g. Partition Image, TestDisk, fdisk, sfdisk, dd, and ddrescue) and an excellent set of documentation to benefit the user. An extensive collection of file system tools are also included." Linux supports a great deal of partition tables, partition types, and file systems and has a great tool called Parted which handles it all. Then came along GParted, a graphical front end to the Parted libraries, and then along came Parted Magic, the all-in-one tool. While you can easily use GParted to manipulate your partitions from within your installed distribution, it's better to do it while drives are not mounted, hence a live CD is very useful. These days most distribution live CDs include a graphical tool to manipulate partitions (usually GParted), but Parted Magic is the better tool for the job, being lightweight and including lots of extra tools to help. The name, no doubt, has come about as a play on the commercial product "Partition Magic" from Symantec, which boots directly to a graphical partitioning tool.
I decided to use VirtualBox with four hard drives to test this little distro. According to the press release, this new version includes Device Mapper support and as I had recently written a few articles on Logical Volume Management for DistroWatch Weekly, I was very keen to test this out! At 73 MB, the image is pretty small. It is designed for 32-bit systems and so should run on almost any machine, including those with as little as 64 MB of memory. Booting to the CD presents the GRUB boot loader with a dozen different options, but most users need only boot the first. Those with low RAM may wish to choose the third option - "Live with low RAM settings", although it does not boot the default desktop. The system does not take very long to boot and worked correctly with the hardware, detecting all the SATA drives.
Parted Magic 4.0 - live CD GRUB boot menu
(full image size: 29kB, screen resolution: 1024x768 pixels)
The environment is based on the Openbox window manager, with numerous lightweight, yet functional applications from the LXDE, Xfce and Rox desktops. The result is a very fast and responsive system which looks good and has excellent functionality for its size (it even has multiple desktops!). Even Conky is there, neatly presenting important information and constantly updating the state of system resources. The live CD loads directly into the environment as the root user, which is fine as this is not designed for everyday use but rather system administration tasks. My first impression of the desktop was very good, it looks really clean and uncluttered, with pleasing colours and icons. Overall it's very, very professional.
Parted Magic 4.0 - default desktop
(full image size: 170kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
The default desktop has several shortcuts for the user, including the Partition Editor itself, file manager, a tool to mount devices and one for starting the network, a terminal, and a graphical front-end for S.M.A.R.T monitoring tools to check the health of a drive. The programs menu has some additional graphical tools for:
The system also includes various other programs, including Firefox for browsing the Internet, gFTP and LFTP for transferring data over the FTP protocol, XChat for IRC communication, Conky for monitoring system resources, Midnight Commander - the ncurses-based file manager, the LXTask task manager with ability to kill and "nice" processes, Xarchiver for creating and extracting archives, Xfburn for writing CD images, GPicView, as well as a notepad, calendar, screenshot tool, hardware listing utility and search program. The distro supports extra packages, which can be loaded into the live system on boot. There is also a page on the website describing how to make your own, so if Parted Magic doesn't come with something you need, then you can add it yourself! When booting to the low RAM option, the system does not load the default desktop, but just the basic Tom's Window Manager which then loads the GParted program automatically.
- Cloning drives or partitions, both locally and across networks
- Converting the Live CD into a bootable USB stick
- Encrypting and decrypting data
- Erasing drives via dd or shred commands
- Manipulating CD ISO images
- Recovering data from drives with corrupt partitions or file systems
- Recovering lost partitions and making non-booting disks bootable again
- Transferring data using rsync
Parted Magic 4.0 - low RAM option
(full image size: 23kB, screen resolution: 779x523 pixels)
I configured my virtual system with four drives to test out various aspects of LVM, but first I wanted to test basic partitioning. I kicked up GParted which listed all my blank devices in a drop-down menu on the right-hand side. When I attempted to create a partition on a drive, the program rightly prompted me to select a partition table as the device was completely blank (like a brand new hard drive). I selected gpt as it allows me to have an unlimited number of primary partitions, but most computers will use msdos. I then created eight partitions, each with a different file system. Although Parted Magic includes support for the promising btrfs file system in the kernel and on the command line, it was not supported by GParted. I did however get to play with it for the first time thanks to this project, so thanks! GParted does not actually perform any changes until you select Apply, so you can feel free to fiddle to your heart's content. It also lets you resize and move partitions, so long as there is free space either side. It does not let you move the order of partitions around, unfortunately, perhaps this would be a useful addition in the future. You can use it to partition any drive you have in your machine, whether it's an IDE or SATA drive, Firewire, a connected external drive or a USB memory stick. If you want to test out GParted yourself, it will undoubtedly be included in your distro's package management system.
Parted Magic 4.0 - applying pending operations
(full image size: 151kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
When I first read the release notes and saw the inclusion of Device Mapper support, I was pretty excited. I had just written a few articles on LVM and specifically mentioned that GParted could not handle these devices. Finally a graphical tool to handle everything I need to do with partitioning! Unfortunately, I was dead wrong. GParted does not support LVM; in fact, it still lists the 8e partition type as unknown. It makes sense really, as GParted is a front-end to Parted, and Parted has nothing to do with logical volumes. So, yes, I was disappointed at first, but realised it was my own perceptions that lead to it. Perhaps a graphical tool to manage logical volumes is something that Parted Magic could look at including in the future. I think it would be a helpful addition to the distro. For now, I'm happy that they have included support for Device Mapper at all. I did test this via the command line and it all worked as expected.
For me, it is easy to think of Parted Magic as a free and open-source variant of Symantec's Partition Magic, but it isn't - it's so much more. It's a complete Linux distribution which boots to a fully-functional desktop environment, that also includes a graphical partitioning tool. When I read the announcement that Device Mapper support had been included, I immediately thought this meant to GParted or other graphical tools. I forgot that Parted Magic is a real distro, and so support for Device Mapper really means they have included support in the kernel and the usual userspace tools. Nevertheless, Parted Magic really is a brilliant little distribution. It is extremely well polished and it looks great. It focuses on doing one thing really well, but also includes Firefox and other handy utilities. It's a very cut-down environment, but it doesn't feel like it's missing anything. Only the packages you want are there, without all that other guff that gets in the way. I can't recommend it highly enough. Seriously, if you don't have a copy of Parted Magic, do yourself a favour and get it today!
Linux Foundation to control Moblin, speculations on future of OpenSolaris, two interviews with Mark Shuttleworth, kFreeBSD support for Debian sid, GNOME 3.0 plans
Moblin has been making quite a splash of late, with an initial alpha and now a second release both received well by the community. The project is sponsored by Intel who is developing technologies for Linux distributions optimised for their Atom processor, which is found in most netbooks. Various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu's Netbook Remix, are based on technology from the project. On April Fools day, the New York Times pre-empted the Linux Foundation by announcing the group was taking over from Intel. This was later confirmed on both the Moblin website and that of the Linux Foundation: "The Linux Foundation (LF), the non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating the growth of Linux, today announced it will host the industry's most advanced and open Linux-based mobile project, Moblin. Created in 2007, the Moblin project will be supported by the Linux Foundation. With technical support from the industry's highly respected kernel developers and a neutral, third party host, the Moblin project is primed to be the most advanced and open mobile Linux platform." Executive director of the Linux Foundation, Jim Zemlin adds: "Moblin offers a truly open platform and already has some of the best and brightest minds focused on its architecture and development. Through the Linux Foundation, an even broader community can contribute to Moblin becoming the predominant Linux-based platform for mobile devices." It's great to see Moblin in the hands of such an organisation which should see the technology developed transparently in conjunction with the community.
* * * * *
There has been a lot of buzz around the Internet with news that IBM is poised to purchase Sun Microsystems. The deal has yet to become official, but that hasn't stopped many pondering what the future might hold for OpenSolaris and other technologies from Sun. IBM has been a staunch supporter of Linux for many years and certainly Sun has a number of interesting technologies that IBM could benefit from by either owning themselves, or removing from the market altogether. There are still many companies spending a great deal of money on support contracts for Solaris, but would IBM continue to support it or kill it off in favour of Linux? IBM, who last year set a record for the highest number of software patent applications, would also gain Sun's own portfolio including those around Java and the ZFS file system. Might we see IBM release ZFS and DTrace code under the GPL for inclusion in the Linux kernel? IBM has had a long-time love affair with Java and the company would most likely accelerate the opening of the code, which would be great for open source distributions that currently mostly ship Sun's proprietary runtime. Software like MySQL would probably also stay to help compete with Oracle. What the acquisition might mean for open source projects is currently unclear, but it hasn't stopped OpenSolaris-derived distros, like Nexenta, from pondering the question. But in the end, all the speculations were in vain; according to the latest reports, IBM has withdrawn their offer due to payments it would have to make to Sun executives, engineers and managers if the company changed hands. Sun is now free to negotiate with other companies, including IBM's rivals. Just where this might go is not yet certain.
* * * * *
The deadline for Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope 9.04 is fast approaching, with under a month to go before the latest version of popular distribution hits the mirrors. Will it be the greatest release ever? Or a big let down? Time will tell! In the meantime a number of interviews with founder Mark Shuttleworth have emerged. The first is with the Ubuntu Podcast group: "Mark Shuttleworth joins us for a video podcast to discuss the upcoming 9.04 release, Ubuntu history, Linux on the desktop, impacts of cloud computing, Ayatana, the community and Ubuntu, Ubuntu and Canonical, Google Summer of Code, Ubunet, and much more!" The second is with InternetNews, discussing the future of Ubuntu on the world's computers. The article focuses on how the distribution will compete on the netbook market, with 9.04 releasing an updated version of the official Netbook Remix edition, optimised for the Atom processor. Sean Kerner quotes Shuttleworth as saying: "We've been somewhat inspired to do something a little different for the netbook market. You can run a standard Ubuntu release on an Eee PC but the experience is enhanced if you treat it more like a consumer electronics device then a PC." He continues, "The next billion PC users won't be as interested in compatibility with Microsoft Office as they are in connecting to Twitter and staying connected to their social network through the web." Ubuntu is clearly still the most popular desktop distribution, and is available on computers from various manufacturers around the world. Will Ubuntu continue from strength to strength, or will there be another open source challenger on the horizon?
* * * * *
The Debian project has announced that support for i386 and amd64 architectures running the GNU userland with the FreeBSD kernel are now in the archive. Jörg Jaspert announced on a Debian mailing list: "We just added two new architectures to the Debian archive. Everybody please welcome: kfreebsd-i386 aka GNU/kFreeBSD i386 and kfreebsd-amd64 aka GNU/kFreeBSD amd64. Note that this enables porter NMUs for those two. In case you have a bug with a patch waiting for your package that has to do with one of them, please either fix it soon or expect a porter NMU to be done soon. The two new architectures (well, better named OS I think, as they use a different kernel) are available in unstable and experimental. We do start out empty, importing only what is needed to get a build running. For this reason you will not be able to directly use it immediately. Please wait until they catch up, which I expect to happen soon." While many people argue that Linux distributions do not need to be called GNU/Linux as Richard Stallman would like, Debian is one project that does. It does so as the project does not just support the Linux kernel, but NetBSD, kFreeBSD and even GNU's unfinished kernel, Hurd. Debian is one of the oldest surviving, independently-developed distribution and one of the most widely supported operating systems in the world, running on some 15 architectures using the Linux kernel.
* * * * *
The beta release of Fedora 11, released last week, ships with the brand new GNOME 2.26.
(full image size: 1,164kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
|Released Last Week
Karanbir Singh has announced the release of CentOS 5.3, a Linux distribution rebuilt from source package for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3: "We are pleased to announce the immediate availability of CentOS 5.3 for the i386 and x86_64 architectures. CentOS 5.3 is based on the upstream release EL 5.3, and includes packages from all variants, including server and client. This release brings in a completely new artwork stack. Given the widespread requests for user contributed packages directly being hosted within the CentOS repositories, the contribs repository is now back with CentOS 5.3. There are no packages yet, but over the next few weeks we hope to have a policy and process in place that allows users to submit and manage packages in the contribs repository." See the release announcement and release notes for a detailed list of changes.
CentOS 5.3 - a new update of the popular free enterprise distribution
(full image size: 909kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Mark Spencer has announced the release of AsteriskNOW 1.5.0, a CentOS-based Linux distribution and software appliance that includes Asterisk (the world's leading open-source telephony engine and toolkit), AsteriskGUI, and other software needed for an Asterisk system: "AsteriskNOW 1.5.0 is immediately available for download (existing users can run 'yum update' to keep up with releases, in some rare cases, users may need to run 'yum update glibc' first). Notable changes since beta 2: updated several packages to latest versions (Asterisk, DAHDI, etc); fixed more permissions issues between Asterisk and httpd/FreePBX; updated to CentOS 5.3." Here is the brief release announcement.
VectorLinux 6.0 "Light"
Robert Lange has announced the release of VectorLinux 6.0 "Light" edition: "The VectorLinux team is pleased to announce the final release of VL 6.0 Light. Light is aimed at users with some Linux experience. It is biased towards technical simplicity and high performance. Based on VL 6.0 Standard, the most resource hungry applications have been removed or replaced with lighter alternatives. Running services are kept to a minimum. The default user interface is IceWM with PCManFM as your file and desktop manager. The alternate window manager is JWM. Opera provides a fast and standards-compliant web browser with Flash Player 10 and MPlayer plugins, as well as e-mail and BitTorrent clients. Firefox is also available. For local multimedia playback you will find XMMS, GMPlayer and Xine." Read the rest of the release announcement for further information.
Parted Magic 4.0
Patrick Verner has released Parted Magic 4.0, a specialist live CD featuring a collection of hard disk management tools: "Parted Magic 4.0. A new release with some exciting new features! Parted Magic now has full support for partitioning Device Mapper RAID partitions. The initrd was completely trashed and Parted Magic now boots from an initramfs. The new initramfs is only about 500 kB and all drivers needed to boot the media are built directly into the kernel. The 'Low RAM' option was changed to boot Xvesa, TWM, and GParted at 800x600x4; it now runs very well on a computer with 64 MB of RAM. You can now 'save session' with the CD version (CD-RW required). The PXE version can merge initramfs for module installation. We also have new artwork in a clean blue theme that matches the look of the new website." Visit the project's home page to read the complete release announcement and changelog.
xPUD is a minimalist live CD which contains a simple user interface with a web browser and a media player, and which boots in under 10 seconds. Version 0.8.9 was released this weekend: "It has been a while since our last update and we are really excited about this new version of xPUD, a fundamentally improved release with lots of new features, including: Linux kernel 2.6.28 applied with fast boot patch from Moblin, full set of tools for network configuration, a totally rewritten build system mkxpud, and our experimental user interface plate which is now shipped as XUL application. Other new features: better hardware support; more powerful Plate user interface, a bunch of handy tools (ifconfig, iwconfig, wpa_supplicant for WiFi setting, wvdial for 3G connection, and ppp, dhclient for Ethernet)." Read the rest of the release announcement for further information and some screenshots.
François Dupoux has announced the release of SystemRescueCd 1.1.7, a Gentoo-based live CD for hard disk management and data rescue tasks. What's new? "Updated the kernels (standard and alternative) to Linux 126.96.36.199; updated NTFS-3G to version 2009.3.8; FSArchiver to 0.4.7 (file systems backup and deployment tool); added gPXE 0.9.6 (Etherboot images boot from network using an image on the CD-ROM); updated the Intel Gigabit e1000 and e1000e network driver in the standard kernel; fixed boot on dmraid and LSI devices; fixed a problem related to the bootdisk images in sysresccd-custom; updated GParted to 0.4.4." See the project's changelog page for more details.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
FreeBSD 7.2 Roadmap
The FreeBSD release engineering team has published a release schedule for the upcoming stable version 7.2. The schedule calls for one beta release (already made available last week) and two release candidates, with the final version expected on 4 May 2009. This is a considerably faster development cycle than was the case with either 7.0 or 7.1, but as is always the case with FreeBSD, the project tends to release when ready, often delaying the release by weeks. But with 7.2 being a relatively minor update, don't expect more than a few days of delay. For more information please see the FreeBSD 7.2 Release Process page.
* * * * *
Summary of expected upcoming releases
March 2009 donation: smxi receives US$200.00|
As requested by a number of DistroWatch Weekly readers, we are happy to announce that the recipient of the March 2009 DistroWatch.com donation is smxi, a project developing a variety of interactive scripts for Debian and Debian-based distributions that help users to maintain their systems.
It receives US$200 in cash.
The smxi web site includes extensive documentation, but here is a brief extract of the principal conveniences that smxi brings to Debian GNU/Linux and some of its direct derivatives, such as sidux or SimplyMEPIS:
Besides smxi, the project develops several other scripts; see the documentation page for more details. All scripts are released under the General Public License (GPL).
- system upgrades (dist-upgrade / upgrade)
- kernel upgrades / kernel module upgrades
- automated video card driver installation (plus any needed patches), especially non-free drivers like NVIDIA and AMD/ATI fglrx
- installing extra software (including building a desktop/server from scratch, starting with just the base Debian system)
- removing certain software
- cleaning up your system (cleaning up APT archives, removing kernels and kernel modules, cleaning orphaned packages, etc)
- tweaking the system, Mozilla configurations, installing some small graphics tweaks, etc.
As always, this monthly donations program is a joint initiative between DistroWatch and two online shops selling low-cost CDs and DVDs with Linux, BSD and other open source software - LinuxCD.org and OSDisc.com. These vendors contributed US$50.00 each towards this month's donation to smxi.
Here is the list of projects that received a DistroWatch donation since the launch of the program (figures in US dollars):
Since the launch of the Donations Program in March 2004, DistroWatch has donated a total of US$20,433 to various open source software projects.
- 2004: GnuCash ($250), Quanta Plus ($200), PCLinuxOS ($300), The GIMP ($300), Vidalinux ($200), Fluxbox ($200), K3b ($350), Arch Linux ($300), Kile KDE LaTeX Editor ($100) and UNICEF - Tsunami Relief Operation ($340)
- 2005: Vim ($250), AbiWord ($220), BitTorrent ($300), NdisWrapper ($250), Audacity ($250), Debian GNU/Linux ($420), GNOME ($425), Enlightenment ($250), MPlayer ($400), Amarok ($300), KANOTIX ($250) and Cacti ($375)
- 2006: Gambas ($250), Krusader ($250), FreeBSD Foundation ($450), GParted ($360), Doxygen ($260), LilyPond ($250), Lua ($250), Gentoo Linux ($500), Blender ($500), Puppy Linux ($350), Inkscape ($350), Cape Linux Users Group ($130), Mandriva Linux ($405, a Powerpack competition), Digikam ($408) and SabayonLinux ($450)
- 2007: GQview ($250), Kaffeine ($250), sidux ($350), CentOS ($400), LyX ($350), VectorLinux ($350), KTorrent ($400), FreeNAS ($350), lighttpd ($400), Damn Small Linux ($350), NimbleX ($450), MEPIS Linux ($300), Zenwalk Linux ($300)
- 2008: VLC ($350), Frugalware Linux ($340), cURL ($300), GSPCA ($400), FileZilla ($400), MythDora ($500), Linux Mint ($400), Parsix GNU/Linux ($300), Miro ($300), GoblinX ($250), Dillo ($150), LXDE ($250)
- 2009: Openbox ($250), Wolvix GNU/Linux ($200), smxi ($200).
* * * * *
New distributions added to database
- Calculate Linux. Calculate Linux is a Russian Gentoo-based distribution and live DVD whose goal is to be easy to use, install and update on any number of computers. Two editions are available: Calculate Linux Desktop (CLD) and Calculate Linux Server (CLS).
Calculate Linux Desktop 9.4 - a Gentoo-based live DVD with support for English, Russian and Ukrainian
(full image size: 856kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
- Chakra. Chakra is a user-friendly and powerful distribution and live CD based on Arch Linux. It features a graphical installer, automatic hardware detection and configuration, the latest KDE desktop, and a variety of tools and extras.
Chakra Alpha 2 - an Arch Linux-based distribution featuring KDE 4
(full image size: 455kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 13 April 2009.
If you've enjoyed this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly, please consider sending us a tip.
(Tips this week: 0, value: US$0.00)
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|• Issue 637 (2015-11-23): NixOS 15.09, Antergos introduces ZFS support, MINIX shares new features, copying an OS to a new computer|
|• Issue 636 (2015-11-16): openSUSE 42.1, Fedora uses Wayland by default, Debian replaces live CD project, Steam consoles launch|
|• Issue 635 (2015-11-09): Fedora 23, Cinnamon 2.8 released, a Fedora KDE packager quits, Red Hat signs deal with Microsoft|
|• Issue 634 (2015-11-02): Ubuntu 15.10, Chakra upgrades to Plasma 5, OpenMandriva plans new editions, MINIX plans conference|
|• Issue 633 (2015-10-26): GhostBSD 10.1, Bodhi Linux to get new settings panel, Fedora 23 delayed, creating live image of existing OS|
|• Issue 632 (2015-10-19): Linux Lite 2.6, 32-bit build of CentOS, OpenBSD turns 20, Bodhi Linux releases AppPack|
|• Issue 631 (2015-10-12): Parsix 8.0, Manjaro seeks new artwork, sending commands to multiple servers, Debian drops LSB support|
|• Full list of all issues|