| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 302, 11 May 2009
Welcome to this year's 19th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! With mobile computing being the next operating system battleground, it's hardly surprising that many industry players are focusing on these increasingly popular devices. One of the most promising among them, Moblin, has been through some major changes recently, both in terms of ownership and development goals. Read our feature story for the roundup of its recent past and probable future to learn more about the project. In the news section, Debian ditches the GNU C Library in favour of the more flexible Embedded GLIBC, Fedora finalises all features for the upcoming Leonidas release which includes delta support for RPMs, Slackware switches to packages compressed with LZMA compression mechanism, and the Ubuntu community looks to create yet another derivative based on the LXDE. Finally, don't miss our tips and trick section which provides a step-by-step guide of upgrading a stable Mandriva Linux 2009.1 to the latest Cooker, Mandriva's bleeding-edge development branch. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Caitlyn Martin)
The future of Moblin
Back in February Chris Smart took a first look at Moblin V2 alpha 1 and found it to be a very promising distribution for netbooks. In the three months that have passed since Chris wrote his feature on Moblin a lot has changed, both in terms of the code and in terms of who is directing the future of Moblin. It's time to take a look at the flurry of Moblin news over the past three months and also to look at what we can expect from the netbook-specific distro in the coming weeks and months.
A brief history of Moblin
Intel launched Moblin in July 2007, just one month after ASUS announced the Eee PC. Version 1.0, based on Ubuntu, was released in April 2008 to coincide with the first release of Intel's Atom processor. The original version targeted Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) which was probably fortunate since that release actually wouldn't run on netbooks, including those with Intel Atom CPUs. Intel originally hoped that Moblin powered devices would reach market by summer 2008 but they never materialized.
In July, 2008, a year into Moblin development, Intel announced a major reworking of Moblin. The Ubuntu kernel was replaced by one from Fedora, the RPM package management system was adopted, a new GUI was developed, and a new set of GNOME mobile applications were slated for inclusion in the next release. For version 2 Intel all but started from scratch, this time targeting netbooks and nettops as well as embedded devices.
In August of last year Intel acquired OpenedHand, a company specializing in embedded Linux. OpenedHand developed Clutter, a framework for simplified GUI development. Clutter is designed to offer improved graphics and fluid movement, and is now part of Moblin. In October, 2008, Novell began contributing to the Moblin project.
The first alpha of Moblin 2 was released in January and this was the version Chris Smart reviewed so favorably. In March a second alpha was released which offered faster boot times. Phoronix benchmarked alpha 2 and found that the actual boot time was 16 seconds on a Samsung NC10 netbook with a solid state device (SSD) for storage. From a user's perspective booting seems even faster since X was loaded in just three seconds and Xfce 4.6 was running at seven seconds. Alpha 2 also added support for MSI Wind netbooks, an updated version of Clutter, a release candidate of GNOME 2.26, and a 2.6.29rc7 kernel. Alpha 2 is still the version currently available for download on the Moblin website.
At the beginning of last month Intel turned over control of Moblin to the Linux Foundation though Intel remains heavily involved in the development of the distro. Imad Sousou, director of Intel's Open Source Technology Center stated: "Big corporations are not good shepherds of open-source projects." A week later Sasou announced that future releases of Moblin would boot in just two seconds. The ultra-fast boot process is needed by auto manufacturers for embedded computers in cars, a market targeted by Intel for Moblin. Sasou also stated that parallelisation, or initializing multiple components at the same time, which is used by other distros to achieve fast boot times, isn't good enough for Moblin: "Parallelised bloat is still bloat."
Last week Moblin was in the news again as Novell announced a major commitment to the distribution, including a version of SUSE Linux based on Moblin. SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) is already available on some netbooks by HP, Lenovo and MSI but has been plagued with serious configuration issues on some netbook models. According to a report on DesktopLinux.com published on Thursday, the new SUSE product "appears to be more of a 'SUSE-fied' version of Moblin rather than a 'Moblinized' version of SUSE".
Guy Lunardi, Novell's director of client preloads, stated: "It's very possible you will see Novell going to market with OEMs on pre-installations on netbooks as early as a few weeks after the final release of Moblin 2.0." He added that the new Moblin version of SUSE could "be compelling to disenchanted Windows users who are finding it to be too slow."
What's next for Moblin?
A third alpha release of Moblin 2 is imminent according to a report on The Register published last Thursday. A project roadmap, including a schedule for beta releases, is expected to follow soon after. This roadmap should provide the first clues on whether there are any changes in Moblin's direction now that the Linux Foundation is in charge. The big question is whether Moblin will be expanded to support more than just Intel processors and graphics chipsets. The Register believes this change is "inevitable" if Moblin is to survive. They believe ARM, PowerPC and possibly even MIPS processors will have to be supported. VIA Technologies, an Intel competitor in x86 space, is still actively developing netbook/nettop chipsets as well.
Moblin faces stiff competition on netbooks from Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Xandros Presto, and Linpus Lite. Google has also gained a lot of mindshare for its Android embedded Linux distribution currently used on smart phones. The first ARM CPU powered netbook running Android was announced late last month. Major netbook manufacturers included ACER, ASUS and HP are already testing Android on netbooks and Dell is reported to be readying trials of their own.
With so many changes in a relatively short time and no successful track record of marketing, some see bleak future for Moblin. Others see real potential, particularly in light of the Novell partnership. The current alpha version supports Intel Core Duo processors as well as the Atom, so it should be possible to give Moblin a try on some desktop systems. In addition Moblin provides KVM and VMware images, making it possible to use the distro on a virtual nettop. After trying Moblin 2 alpha 2 the only thing I can be certain of is that it is an interesting distribution with some unique and compelling code.
Moblin's early alphas use a standard Xfce desktop, but this will be replaced with a custom interface in the final release
(full image size: 462kB, screen resolution 800x600 pixels)
|Tips and Tricks (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Running Mandriva "Cooker"
Once upon a time, Linux was a highly technical operating system that few outside of computer engineering circles dared to use or even heard of. In those days, even a stable release was often a challenge to install, but once the system was brought under control, many technical users were quick to jump onto the next challenge - installing a new beta version, keeping up with the changes in the development trees, and interacting with the developers on mailing lists and bug reporting facilities. Although those days are gone and nowadays most distributions are comparatively easy to install and use, there is no reason why some of the more confident Linux users shouldn't try running a development tree of their favourite distribution.
This has many advantages. Firstly, the user will feel more involved with his or her preferred project by running exactly what the distro's developers use on their system (remember, free and open source software is all about sharing, rather than just consuming). Secondly, by running the development tree, users can greatly contribute towards the stability of individual packages and the entire distribution by reporting bugs and talking to the developers on the mailing lists. And thirdly, using the development tree will mean that you'll be running the absolute bleeding edge of what the open source software world has on offer. Of course, there is one big disadvantage - your system can break at any time. Although it is often possible to fix any problem with some online help, it is often faster to re-install the system from scratch and continue from there.
Two weeks ago, Mandriva announced that its development tree, called "Cooker", had undergone a major post-release update, with many bleeding-edge packages now available for those who dare to run them on their computers. Most notably, the KDE desktop has been upgraded to the first beta release of version 4.3 (labelled 4.2.85). This is an excellent way to try out the next major update of the popular desktop and to contribute towards its smooth release, scheduled for 28 July 2009. The question is, how do you upgrade to Cooker? It's actually very simple. Once you decide that that's indeed what you want to do (preferably on a test system), just follow these steps:
* Note: Commands in steps 4 and 5 can be combined into one command: # urpmi --auto-update
- Remove the existing repositories: # urpmi.removemedia -a
- Add the Cooker repository: # urpmi.addmedia --distrib --mirrorlist 'http://api.mandriva.com/mirrors/basic.cooker.i586.list'
- Optionally add the PLF repository: # urpmi.addmedia --distrib --mirrorlist 'http://plf.zarb.org/mirrors/cooker.i586.list'
- Update the package list: # urpmi.update -a
- Update all installed software: # urpmi --auto-select
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 daily to ensure that you are always in sync with the Cooker development.
I upgraded my Mandriva 2009.1 installation (on a test machine) to the latest Cooker over the weekend and encountered few problems. Sometimes, depending on how fast the mirrors synchronise with the main server, you might end up with some dependency issues or other errors, but these often "automagically" correct themselves the following day. While the usual warnings apply, don't be paranoid over running a bleeding edge system - remember that this is all that Mandriva developers and active contributors run on their computers year after year! Who knows, maybe you can even become a contributor or you can adopt an "orphaned" Mandriva package yourself!
You can run a very early build of Mandriva Linux 2010 with just a few commands
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|Miscellaneous News (by Chris Smart)
Debian ditches glibc, Slackware switches to TXZ, Fedora adds delta package support, Ubuntu eyes LXDE, interviews with Jonathan Thomas and Linus Torvalds, Marble Live CD
Unbeknownst to many outside the Debian embedded developer community, the project has long been struggling with the GNU C Library. The main issue has centred on disagreements with the upstream developer who is a Red Hat employee. Aurélien Jarno posted on his blog that Debian has now ditched GLIBC. He writes: "I have just uploaded Embedded glibc (eglibc) into the archive (it is currently waiting in the NEW queue), which will soon replace the GNU C Library (glibc). The eglibc is a variant of glibc which stays source and binary compatible with the original glibc." He goes on to provide reasons for the change, citing a more friendly upstream (especially with regard to embedded architectures), better support for embedded architectures and support for building with -Os, among others. He concludes the post by saying: "We do not use some of these features yet, but this upload is a first step. From the user point of view, the package names are unchanged (except the source package and the binary package containing the sources) so no transition is needed." While eglibc is currently backwards compatible with the original glibc, how might this change over time? Hopefully this will be a good move for Debian and help further improve the popular distro, especially on embedded architectures like ARM.
* * * * *
With Fedora 11 now just a fortnight away, all 52 features for the new release have been marked 100% complete and the release looks dead on track. One such feature is Presto, a plugin for Fedora's update manager which makes use of RPM deltas. This greatly reduces the amount of data required when users perform updates, as only differences to the previous update are downloaded. It's not a new idea by any means and other distros have had it for years, but it's still a nice update to include in the new release and one which will be of great benefit to all. Users who pay for the amount of data they download and those not connected via fast connections will be the biggest winners. The major catch is that although now complete, the feature is not enabled by default and requires users to install the package to activate it. The command, yum install yum-presto should do the trick. Josh Boyer: "We'll probably still have a few hiccups here and there, but the infrastructure is now in place." Either way, it's a step in the right direction for one of the world's most popular distributions.
* * * * *
Slackware, the oldest surviving Linux distribution, has made a small but important change to its packages - switching the compression from gzip to xz. Patrick Volkerding's announcement in the change log says it all: "This batch of updates includes the newly released KDE 4.2.3, but more noticeably it marks the first departure from the use of gzip for compressing Slackware packages. Instead, we will be using xz, based on the LZMA compression algorithm. xz offers better compression than even bzip2, but still offers good extraction performance (about 3 times better than bzip2 and not much slower than gzip in our testing). Since support for bzip2 has long been requested, support for bzip2 and the original lzma format has also been added (why not?), but this is purely in the interest of completeness -- we think most people will probably want to use either the original .tgz or the new .txz compression wrappers. The actual Slackware package format (which consists of the layout within the package envelope) has not changed, but this is the first support within Slackware's package tools for using alternate compression algorithms." Now that Slackware supports packages with different compression algorithms, it firmly puts the idea of having a standard suffix for all Slackware packages (such as "package.slk") to bed.
* * * * *
Another day, another Ubuntu derivative. This time it's LXDE, a lightweight desktop environment, which is causing a stir in the Ubuntu community: "Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE) is an extremely fast, high-performance and energy-saving desktop environment. LXDE uses less CPU and RAM. It is especially designed for cloud computers with low hardware specifications like netbooks, mobile devices or older computers." With Ubuntu's foray into cloud computing, perhaps this desktop makes sense for the project. Not content just to support the desktop environment, however, the community is looking to create yet another derivative. Mario Behling writes on the LXDE blog: "As a first step Mark [Shuttleworth] invited us to become a self-maintained project in the Ubuntu community. This means we will be able to manage LXDE inside Ubuntu, ultimately offering an Ubuntu derivative, ergo Lubuntu." Indeed it may not be long before we see "Lubuntu" as the URL lubuntu.org already re-directs to the LXDE project page. This new environment is a hot competitor to Xfce, the current lightweight desktop champion. But as we have seen in recent weeks, the Xubuntu implementation is not exactly lightweight. Hopefully the community will let this new LXDE derivative stay true to its roots and not burden it with heavy, resource-hungry services.
* * * * *
Enjoy travelling the world without leaving the comfort of your computer home? Then check out Cornelius Schumacher's Marble Live CD, a live media booting straight into Marble, a popular virtual globe and world atlas application similar to Google Earth, but open source and released under a free license: "Marble is one of my favorite applications. I especially like it in combination with OpenStreetMap. Free software and free maps, a brilliant combination. But I also love the historical map or the moon view. Marble is also great as a demo application. It's easy to grasp and makes an attractive showcase. To make demonstrating Marble a bit easier, I thought it would be nice to have a Marble live CD." Created with SUSE Studio, the CD includes Marble 4.2.3 with additional data from Blue Marble. For further information and download links please visit the author's Marble in a Box page.
* * * * *
Two interesting interviews have made it into this week's DistroWatch Weekly. The first is with Jonathan Thomas, student and Kubuntu developer. The interview centres on the Ubuntu development cycle as they discuss the recent 9.04 release. The next release of Ubuntu will be 9.10, which the interviewer suggests should be a more KDE-centric release. Thomas replies: "I think I'd give it the same amount of work even if it was named 'Giggling Gnome', but I think that the K in there is pretty neat." The other interview is with Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux who follows up on part one of his interview for Linux Magazine. In this part, source management system, Git and the Linux kernel come under spotlight. Git has an undeserved reputation of being hard to learn as it has thousands of internal commands. But Linus Torvalds says that's a red herring: "I went through a totally ridiculous example of a few people working together, and noting every time we used a new git command. I think we ended up with something like fourteen commands being used. And even that's more than most end developers will ever need. That list of fourteen commands was for the whole 'multiple people working together, including the person integrating things' workflow." From the Git logs, Linus shows the number of commits to the kernel numbers 27,143. Of those, only 88 are patches that he himself authored.
* * * * *
Finally, in this Windows-dominated world, it is always a pleasure to come across a public computer proudly running Linux. The following picture was taken in a supermarket in Ecuador and published by EcuaLUG (web site in Spanish).
A cash register running Red Hat Enterprise Linux as spotted in a hypermarket in Ecuador
(photo courtesy of EcuaLUG)
|Released Last Week
Canaima GNU/Linux 2.0.1
Canaima GNU/Linux is a Debian-based desktop distribution created mainly for use in Venezuela's government departments, but also available to general public as a desktop operating system. Version 2.0.1 was released yesterday. Some of its characteristics include: Modified bootsplash and desktop theme with Canaima artwork and logos; inclusion of OpenOffice.org 3.0.1 with a Spanish (Venezuela) dictionary; additional Impress templates and support for extended picture gallery; addition of OpenOffice.org Presenter; addition of XChat, a software package facilitating access to the distribution's IRC channel; updates to Freemind, an application for creating mind maps; update to OpenProj, project management software; update to the Pidgin instant messenger; update to Firefox 3.0.10 with support for Flash and GStreamer plugins. Please read the release announcement and release notes (both links in Spanish) for further details.
Stephan Rickauer has announced the release of BSDanywhere 4.5, a live CD consisting of a base OpenBSD system plus a graphical desktop (Enlightenment 17): "We are pleased to announce the immediate availability of BSDanywhere 4.5 - Enlightenment at your fingertips. Here's a quick summary of the changes since 4.4: Upgrade base system to OpenBSD 4.5 and packages accordingly, please see the OpenBSD site for a list of changes since 4.4; contains official, standard, unmodified OpenBSD kernel - previously, we had to ship a slightly modified version of the OpenBSD kernel to make the boot off CD media less cumbersome, but thanks to OpenBSD developer Kenneth Westerback, this has been improved in OpenBSD 4.5; last but not least, we have great new artwork, provided graciously by Tim Saueressig." Here is the complete release announcement.
Parted Magic 4.1
Patrick Verner has released Parted Magic 4.1, a specialist live CD containing a collection of software for managing hard disks: "This version of Parted Magic fixes some bugs and adds some new features and programs. There was a scripting error that caused DEB packages not to load in some situations, mkfstab was moved later in the booting process to stop the new fstab from being overwritten by the one from the 'Save Session' package, and 'partimag' user was added by default for PartImage. The fstab daemon now detects device mapper RAID partitions while removing the unmountable mirrors from /etc/fstab. GParted and mount-gtk correctly display and mount these partitions. Added support for new package extensions .tbz, tlz, txz. Numlock is set to 'on' in and outside of X by default." Read the rest of the release announcement for additional details.
* * * * *
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
- MONOMAXOS. MONOMAXOS is an Ubuntu-based distribution and live DVD designed mainly for Greek speakers, with English also available as an optional language. It includes support for many popular media codecs and can be set up as a standalone media centre (with XBMC).
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 18 May 2009.
Ladislav Bodnar, Caitlyn Martin and Chris Smart
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