| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 313, 27 July 2009
Welcome to this year's 30th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! When you buy a new computer, how do you go about choosing an operating system for it? With today's powerful hardware and specific user requirements, combined with ever-increasing number of excellent free distributions, it is not unusual for many of us to spend weeks on testing and evaluating before we find the ideal match. Read this week's feature story which describes a typical journey of a geek after getting a brand-new, powerful machine. In the news section, Gentoo celebrates its 10th birthday, Rahul Sundaram presents a new release of Omega - a custom Fedora with built-in multimedia support, Linux Mint chooses the newly open-sourced Launchpad for bug tracking, and FreeBSD publishes a paper on its release engineering process. Finally, don't miss any of the regular sections, which include summaries of the five new distributions submitted to DistroWatch last week. Happy reading!
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
A distro odyssey - looking for the best fit, part 1 (by Michael Raugh)
It happens to us all sooner or later. My trusty desktop, the PC I spent more time with than any other machine in the house, failed. It was time to replace it. My natural impatience and need to be up and running again led me to buy a new box that day, but even before I had it home I was beginning to wonder: what Linux should I use on it?
Since it was Sunday night, I waited for the next morning and posted on DistroWatch asking advice (comment 12). Based on the wisdom of the group I realized that I had an opportunity here to try out as many distros as I had the time and desire for until I find the one that fits my needs best. This might even be a chance to give back to DistroWatch by documenting the experience in an article form. I can't be the only one with more curiosity than time.
To give you context, here's a quick run-down of the key factors:
These are the hardware, requirements, and user experience level that will make up the standards by which each distro I try gets evaluated. Any distro that meets all the needs will get at least a week's use, probably more, to give me a good feel for how it holds up in the face of updates and daily surprises. Any that doesn't will get wiped and replaced without mercy. Let the games begin!
- The hardware: A generic desktop, the local store's house brand assembled from off-the-shelf components - Intel Core 2 Quad CPU, 4 GB of RAM, dual 500 GB SATA drives, standard 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, generic sound chip, dual-layer DVD burner, and one of those six-in-one media card readers inserted into a small drive bay. The box had an NVIDIA 7100 graphics chip on board, but I installed the NVIDIA GeForce 9500GT from my old system because I wanted the two digital outputs to drive my pair of 1680x1050 screens.
- The user: I think of myself as a reasonably experienced Linux user. I've been building, supporting and managing Linux servers for about six years and using it as my primary desktop for five. The command line is my friend and I've worked both the RPM and DEB sides of the package-management divide. I've installed minor apps from source and hunted down obscure packages to meet special needs, but I've never tried to configure X by hand or compile my own kernel. Haven't needed to yet. As a Linux user I don't mind tinkering a little but I prefer to do it on my terms -- that is, I'll happily Google and play to figure out how to do something I want, but I get very annoyed when something breaks and I am forced into tinker mode to fix it. I fully expect to learn a lot from this journey.
- The applications: Everyone has their set of critical apps -- things that they use every day, that have to work well on a given distro if it's going to be workable for them. For me, that list is fairly short:
- VMware -- I'm still dependent on a couple of old Windows applications that support my RPG gamemaster duties (did I mention that I'm kind of geeky?) and at least one of them won't run under WINE. Fortunately the new PC came with a legal license for Windows Vista Business with downgrade rights for XP. Having purchased VMware Workstation for Linux I haven't felt a strong need to play with KVM or VirtualBox yet.
- Skype -- yes, it's closed and proprietary, but it works very well and it's what the people I talk to regularly use. That makes it a requirement for me.
- vpnc -- my day job is IT support; the ability to remotely access my systems is vital and the vpnc client provides the Cisco-compatible connectivity I need.
- Audacity -- In my second job I do a fair amount of audio recording and editing. I have a studio-quality mic and preamp/mixer connected to the PC by USB for voice recording and I dabble in binaural beats and other mixing tricks as well. Audacity is my favorite tool for this.
- AcidRip, Avidemux, mkvtoolnix -- I'm also a budding video geek. It's fairly common for me to rip something off a DVD I own so that I can view it on my Nokia N810 tablet, or to download (legal!) video files from anime fansub sites and then transcode them into a format that the tablet with its low-power CPU can play. The old system didn't have the processing power for this, forcing me to do all that work on my Dell (Ubuntu "Hardy") laptop; I want the new system to be able to do the same things.
- Basic multimedia -- like any other user, I want the system to be able to play commercial DVDs and music files in the common formats. I don't mind having to hunt down the codecs to do it if need be.
- Simple office stuff -- also like most users, I have my requirements for writing, email, and browsing the web. I prefer OpenOffice.org, Thunderbird, and Firefox respectively. I also have a strong fondness for Eterm thanks to a lengthy affair I had with Enlightenment 17 a while back.
The baseline: Ubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty Jackalope", 64-bit
Before I could start my distro auditioning in earnest, I had to face a bit of reality: my old PC had died abruptly and I had to be able to function right away, not after trying a half-dozen distros and picking the one I liked most. I needed something I could throw on the box quickly, that I knew would do what I needed, and could perhaps serve as the baseline for evaluation distros to come. For this role I picked Ubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty Jackalope". Why? Because the old machine had been Xubuntu 8.10 "Intrepid Ibex", so I knew the packages and apps I needed would be readily available from the repositories and there would be a minimum of surprises to work around. Ubuntu was the devil I knew.
For this first installation I wiped the drives, which had come with XP pre-installed, and changed them from the initial RAID1 configuration into separate non-redundant disks. I plan to put my test distros on the first disk and use the second to store local data that need to be available to any distro, such as the virtual machine files. (And maybe more distros -- 500 GB is a lot of space for local data.)
Based on feedback from the DistroWatch "forumites" I went with the 64-bit edition of Jaunty to make the best use of my CPU and RAM. It booted and installed smoothly. I gave Jaunty 100 GB on the first drive and set up an 8 GB swap space on the second drive. It only took about 10 minutes to install and reboot into a fully functional default Ubuntu system. The boot-up time was an impressive 24 seconds from Power-On Self Test (POST) to GDM login. The new login screen artwork in Jaunty was also strikingly attractive. GNOME is still GNOME, though, and Ubuntu's familiar brown and orange Human theme seems identical to prior versions.
Next came what will be the first challenge for each distro to come: configuring X for dual head. I knew from bitter experience to keep the second monitor unplugged until I could download and install the NVIDIA proprietary binary driver. Jaunty, however, offered to install a proprietary driver package for me. That package was the 180.44 version of NVIDIA's driver, which is what I had used on the old system, so I let Ubuntu's installer do the work for me. A reboot with the second screen attached got me a single screen GNOME desktop again, but all I had to do was start NVIDIA's configuration utility to enable the second screen and set it up for Twinview. Since X.Org has disabled by default the ability to restart X with Ctrl-Alt-Backspace the easiest way to restart X was with another reboot.
A standard dual-screen GNOME desktop came up at the next login. Compiz was installed and running thanks to auto-detection, though Ubuntu hadn't provided the usual "Desktop Effects" simplified configuration utility for it. I installed the full Compiz Config Settings Manager (CCSM) from the repositories and quickly set up my favorite set of glitzy desktop effects. One change I noted from Intrepid was that while GNOME presented the two screens as a single desktop, with a single background stretched across them, the Compiz cube effect defaulted to treating each screen as a separate cube. The rotation effect is interesting that way but can be changed to a single wide cube through CCSM for those who prefer it.
VMware Workstation 6.5.2 installed smoothly. I created a data partition on /dev/sdb, mounted that, and built my XP virtual machine there so that future distros will be able to just open and use it. One of the interesting features of VMware 6.5.x is Unity mode, a display mode that hides the virtual Windows desktop and allows the virtual machine's applications to sit on the Linux desktop. It's analogous to the Fusion product for OS/X and when it works it's very slick. On Intrepid it didn't work because of issues between VMware and X.Org, so I fully expected VMware to choke and die when I clicked the Unity button on my new installation. To my surprise, though, Unity mode worked exactly as advertised -- a pleasant bonus.
My familiarity with Ubuntu from the old machine made the rest very simple. Adding the smbfs package so that I could mount the Samba shares from my CentOS home server was also simplicity itself and gave me access to my vital data from the server and my media volume. I added the Medibuntu repository, which gave me all the multimedia apps and codecs I needed plus the Skype client. Soon I was able to watch a test DVD and play test videos and MP3 files. PackageKit offered to download the MP3 codec for me and did so quite easily. Skype turned out to be the biggest challenge: the year-old client hasn't kept up with PulseAudio development and took a lot of trial and error to find a combination of settings that would work.
With all the basics working, I turned my attention to some optional creature comforts. OpenOffice 3.0.1 and Firefox 3.0 are nice, but there are newer versions that are even nicer. In Ubuntu it's pretty simple to get these through the PPA system. Those installs were uneventful, which is always good.
Next I considered the desktop environment (DE). GNOME is a good DE for a lot of people, but Ubuntu's implementation of it has always struck me as distinctly unappealing. Part of that is the cosmetics, which are easily changed with a visit to gnome-look.org, but I have yet to find a DE that really appealed to me aside from Enlightenment 17, and even that had major downsides like being in constant alpha state, meaning frequent crashes and a lot of manual twiddling to keep it running. In Intrepid I had Xfce configured in a way reminiscent of E17, using just a small panel with necessary tools and leaving most of the screen open and available.
I'd flirted briefly with KDE 4.0 and found it seriously lacking in creature comforts and confusing. Based on comments by DistroWatch readers, though, I thought I'd give it another look. Rather than bloat the new system with a bunch of KDE packages that I may not want, I tried it on a spare laptop that already had Jaunty installed.
KDE has come a long way since 4.0. The 4.2 version that comes with Jaunty is visually stunning, as was 4.0, but now the available plasmoids and little creature comforts in the interface have developed to the point where I was most pleasantly surprised. The Activities feature, which I hadn't heard of before, is a marvelous way to essentially wipe off and redeploy your desktop gadgets depending on what kind of thing you're doing at the time. Kwin's built-in compositing does many of the same tricks as Compiz, like the popular desktop cube, right out of the box. KDE 4.2 even has a little touch that brought joy to my heart: using the mouse wheel to rotate the cube. It's a simple little thing, I know, but if you've experienced having to move the mouse all the way across a dual-widescreen desktop to change screens you know what a boon the mouse wheel can be. KDE 4.2 is the first DE I've tried where that feature worked with the cube. Between that, Activities, and the overall beauty of the new KDE I was dying to install it on the new system.
My second date with the KDE beauty queen was a little disappointing. Some of the features I loved on the laptop did not translate well to the dual-screen desktop. For instance, KDE 4.2 would not allow me to stretch one background image across two screens. I Googled this and some people have it working, so it appears to be a disagreement between KDE, X, and probably my NVIDIA binary driver. The Xinerama feature, which is apparently supported, doesn't seem to work with this combo. Twinview gives me two screens which KDE treats as separate desktops. Zooming out shows me the same two panels on each screen, and when I click to create a new Activity the new panel appears shifted too low on the monitor to access the controls below it. Updating to a newer NVIDIA driver, downloaded in binary form from their website, actually killed X and forced me to do a lot of rework to get back to where I was. For now, at least, I guess I won't be using Activities on the desktop.
Aside from that disappointment KDE 4.2 is working and is still beautiful even with the default theme in place. I'm learning the KDE 4 way of things and finding it easier this time around. My desktop cube rotates with the mouse wheel and I simply have two of my favorite images side by side instead of one wide one. I can live with that.
So now I have my system functioning again and able to do what I need. Jaunty will be my base camp, the place I can go back to when/if I run into show-stopping difficulties. Now comes the exciting part: trying new distros and seeing how they compare to this baseline.
Stay tuned for part 2 of Michael Raugh's distro odyssey...
|Miscellaneous News (by Chris Smart)
Gentoo celebrates tenth birthday, Omega offers latest Fedora with extras, Linux Mint switches to Launchpad and Github, FreeBSD outlines internal engineering process
The most popular source-based Linux distro is turning ten years old. That's right, Gentoo Linux will soon reach double figures. The web site reads: "For the last ten years, Gentoo has been committed to bringing the cutting edge source-based distro to users that need more flexibility than binary packages can give them. With a vibrant community and over 300 developers, much has been accomplished since the beginning, Gentoo remains true to its origin." So how did this data come about? Founder Daniel Robbins gave a chronology of the events which lead to the very first release: "The anniversary date of 1999-10-04 was decided on by a couple of key dates in Gentoo's history. The name Enoch was changed to Gentoo and the domain name gentoo.org was registered." There has been a lot of discussion recently about the future of the distro. Many developers have not been happy with the leadership of the project, which culminated in Daniel Robbins making an offer to take back leadership. This was then rejected by the trustees. Nevertheless, it's great to see this amazing distro reach such a major milestone and hopefully it will reach another ten!
* * * * *
The ability to remix Fedora into your own customised distribution has brought about some interesting new projects. One of the latest is called "Omega" which is based on version 11, Leonidas. The project is a completely free and open-source Linux based derivative which includes all the latest security and enhancement updates, as well as some additional software not distributed by default in Leonidas. Specifically, these are "multimedia players and codecs [which are included] by default. Omega plays any multimedia content (including MP3) or commercial DVDs out of the box." With other projects already offering updates to the original Fedora release, does this new remix bring anything new to the table? Well, there might be little for a seasoned Fedora veteran, but for users new to the distro it has much to offer. Omega includes the RPMFusion repositories, which includes the software Red Hat doesn't want to ship, such as proprietary drivers and codecs. It's not too hard to add these to a standard Fedora system but Omega does all of this for you out of the box, all as an installable live CD. It's an easy way to get a complete and up-to-date Fedora system which will work with all your hardware and data. According to the website, Omega aims to be "Fedora for the rest of us," part of which is including all those little extras to make life easier.
* * * * *
One of the hottest new distros at the moment is Linux Mint, a distro derived from Ubuntu with lots of nice little extras. Its goal is to "provide a more complete out-of-the-box experience by including browser plugins, media codecs, support for DVD playback, Java and other components. It also adds a custom desktop and menus, several unique configuration tools, and a web-based package installation interface." Canonical has finally released the source code to Launchpad, the bug and enhancement tracker for Ubuntu and many other projects. As such, Linux Mint has recently decided to use this for their future releases. While Launchpad offers a distributed version control system via Bazaar, the team instead decided to go ahead with Linus Torvalds' Git and make use of services from Github. The team hopes that using these tools will help to deliver an even better operating system in the future, as the development team is able to share the direction and status of the project more easily. Founder Clem Lefebvre states that progress for version 8 "Helena" is well under way and can be clearly seen in the project's blueprints.
* * * * *
Still on the subject of development, this week saw the release of a paper outlining the engineering process of FreeBSD. The announcement on FreeBSD News says that the paper details the "different phases of the release engineering process leading up to the actual system build as well as the actual build process and very important discussion on the future directions of development." The paper discusses how the team maintains two branches, one which advances the technology and the other which is stabilized and made into a production release: "The rapid pace of FreeBSD development leaves little time for polishing the development system into a production quality release. To solve this dilemma, development continues on two parallel tracks. The main development branch is the HEAD or trunk of our CVS tree, known as 'FreeBSD-CURRENT' or '-CURRENT' for short." If the FreeBSD operating system itself or the development thereof is of interest to you, then this paper is certainly one to look at.
|Released Last Week
CDlinux is a compact live CD from China suitable for use as a mobile system or a rescue tool. Half a month after our CDlinux 0.9.2 review, the developer announced a new release, CDlinux 0.9.3: "This version added two missing blocks to CDlinux: devel and dri. The new devel module is an attempt to help users compile additional drivers and applications for CDlinux. It now supports compiling the official Linux kernel as well as some third-party kernel modules. And Mesa3D was added to the Community edition for those who may want to run 3D applications or games. This version also fixed several bugs found in previous versions: a possible race between amount and hal, a bug that prevents udev's persistent rules from working properly, and a bug that may make CDlinux fail to save persistent data. All major packages were upgrade to their latest versions." Visit the distribution's news page to read the release announcement.
Scientific Linux 4.8
Connie Sieh and Troy Dawson have announced the release of Scientific Linux 4.8, a distribution compiled from source packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.8, but enhanced with scientific software, a cluster suite, additional file systems and other packages: "Scientific Linux 4.8 has been released. It doesn't have any exciting new features, it is just a nice, stable release. Scientific Linux release 4.8 is based on the rebuilding of RPMs out of SRPMs from Enterprise 4, including Update 8. It also has all errata and bug fixes up until July 20, 2009." Some of the extra software found in Scientific Linux 4.8 include: "915resolution, Alpine, CFITSIO, cluster suite and GFS, FUSE, Unionfs, OpenAFS, Intel wireless firmware and NDISwrapper, JAVA...." See the release announcement and release notes for further details.
Darin VanCoevering has announced the availability of SuperGamer Supreme, a VectorLinux-based distribution and live DVD with a large selection of games: "The world's first dual-layer live DVD. SuperGamer is a games-oriented Linux desktop operating system. It has all the normal Linux desktop applications, such as the Firefox browser, OpenOffice.org, etc., but also has a great many native-to-Linux games added, as well as some demos of proprietary games. This SuperGamer version will work on both 32-bit and 64-bit PCs and fills a full dual-layer DVD. It includes support for Ethernet, wireless and dial-up Internet connections. It can run in 'live' mode directly from the DVD and can be optionally installed to hard drive. A few key includes are 184.108.40.206 kernel, Azureus, GParted, Limewire, GIMP, K9copy, KOffice, OpenOffice.org 3, Hardinfo (system profiler and benchmark tool) along with all the plugins for Firefox. Games: Quake Wars, Doom 3, Prey, Unreal Tournament, Quake 4...." Here is the full release announcement.
Clonezilla Live 1.2.2-26
Steven Shiau has announced the availability of a new stable release of Clonezilla Live, a Debian-based live CD containing an easy-to-use partition and disk-cloning software called Clonezilla: "Clonezilla Live 1.2.2-26 (stable) has been released. This release adds a newer kernel 2.6.30 from backports at undebian.org, a new upstream syslinux 3.82, a newer Partclone 0.1.1, and genisoimage instead of mkisofs. A workaround to avoid using Partclone to save FAT file systems has been added. The smartmontools package has been added. The makeboot.sh script has been improved to allow USB devices /dev/ub[a-z]. A '--rescue' option has been added in ocs-onthefly for Partclone. Some bugs were fixed." Here is the brief release announcement.
antiX MEPIS 8.2
Warren Woodford has announced the release of antiX MEPIS 8.2, a lightweight variant of SimplyMEPIS designed for older computers: "The antiX team is proud to announce that an updated antiX MEPIS 8.2 final is available at MEPIS mirrors. This release defaults to a fully customised IceWM desktop (Fluxbox is also installed) using a SimplyMEPIS 2.6.27 kernel and tweaked MEPIS Assistants for better compatibility in antiX. Ten languages are fully supported out of the box, with the language chosen at live CD boot carrying over to install. Boot time should be faster, particularly if the 'Faster' option is chosen at live CD boot menu and RAM usage low. antiX-Control Centre has been further improved, new scripts for screenshots, phonebook, mouse configuration have been added." Read the rest of the release announcement for further details and system requirements.
antiX MEPIS 8.2 - a new release of the well-designed distribution for older computers
(full image size: 590kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Sabayon Linux 4.2 "CoreCD"
Kelly Schwartz (aka "wolfden") has announced the release of Sabayon Linux 4.2 "CoreCD" edition: "Sabayon Linux CoreCD is a new type of release for Sabayon. The CoreCD is designed with a minimalist feature set to provide a foundation for building a customized installation tailored to the user's specific needs. The CoreCD is a text-based release. There is no X Server, GNOME, or KDE provided. The Feature list is intentionally short: bootable image suitable for a CD or USB thumb drive; text-based installer; basic default networking; Entropy and Portage ready. The CoreCD release is targeted at advanced users who want to take full control of the features and packages installed on their systems." Read the release announcement and take the visual tour for further details.
Momonga Linux 6
Takaaki Tabuchi has announced the release of Momonga Linux 6, a Japanese general-purpose distribution loosely modelled on Fedora. Some of the new features in this release include: Linux kernel 2.6.29 with support for the ext4 file system, KVM virtualisation and improved hardware support; improved boot times due to init script optimisations and adoption of Fedora's Plymouth boot system; introduction of Bash 4.0; GCC 4.3 as the default compiler; RPM package manager version 4.7; adoption of Meguri as the default Japanese font; GNOME 2.26.3, KDE 4.3 RC2 with a compatibility layer for KDE 3 applications; 3D desktop effects with Compiz Fusion 0.8.2; new wide-screen wallpapers; miscellaneous improvements concerning Japanese character input.... Please read the release announcement and release notes (both links in Japanese) for further information.
Momonga Linux 6 - a Japanese distribution featuring GNOME 2.26 and KDE 4.3
(full image size: 242kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- Ice-Z Linux. Ice-Z Linux is an Ubuntu-based desktop Linux distribution featuring a GNOME desktop and focusing on office productivity. The product includes OpenOffice.org, a quick and lightweight browser called Mid-Browser, sound-editing software (Audacity and OggConvert), partition-editing packages, backup programs and network management utilities.
- pcubuntoo. pcubuntoo is a French desktop Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. The project's web site is in French.
- Photo Artists Workshop Live CD. Photo Artists Workshop Live CD is a Puppy-based live CD with software designed for graphics artists.
- sEEcher OS. sEEcher OS is a Debian-based live CD designed for data maintenance tasks. It includes features such as online partition management, anti-virus functionality, and data and partition recovery.
- Xin Yang Linux. Xin Yang Linux is a Chinese desktop Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. The project's web site is in simplified Chinese.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 3 August 2009.
Ladislav Bodnar and Chris Smart
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 686 (2016-11-07): FreeBSD 11.0, rolling release trial #2, Debian announces supported architectures, Simplicity switching to antiX base, farewell to Mythbuntu|
|• Issue 685 (2016-10-31): elementary OS 0.4, SUSE gains ARM support, Mint improves language support, Dirty COW explained, Rolling release trial #2|
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|• Issue 665 (2016-06-13): BunsenLabs Linux Hydrogen, Fedora 24 delayed, NetBSD grows in size, Clonezilla questions|
|• Issue 664 (2016-06-06): Sabayon 16.05, Debian updates install media, the cost of free software, Qubes explains secure build process|
|• Issue 663 (2016-05-30): Comparing live update methods, Ubuntu MATE's progress, distros debate systemd change, DistroWatch turns 15|
|• Issue 662 (2016-05-23): Clonezilla Live, new Fedora community repository, DragonFlyBSD runs Wayland, a live edition of Slackware and kernel components|
|• Issue 661 (2016-05-16): FreeBSD 10.3, OpenMandriva adopts Clang, Debian adds ZFS packages, PCLinuxOS drops 32-bit and comparing CentOS with RHEL|
|• Issue 660 (2016-05-09): Ubuntu MATE 16.04, Mint's xapps, FreeBSD Quarterly Report, Debian updates 32-bit support, addressing GPL violations|
|• Issue 659 (2016-05-02): Ubuntu 16.04, compiling custom kernels, Cinnamon 3.0, Sabayon launches ARM build, Devuan ships Beta release|
|• Issue 658 (2016-04-25): Kali Linux 2016.1, elementary OS 0.3.2, Debian elects Project Leader, Fedora 24 feature preview, Nard reaches 1.0|
|• Issue 657 (2016-04-18): Redox, Linux Mint improves update manager, planned Fedora 24 features, Ubuntu 16.04 getting Snappy packages|
|• Issue 656 (2016-04-11): Qubes OS 3.1, Whonix offers bug bounties, Puppy's family tree, setting up disk partitions and running bash on Windows|
|• Issue 655 (2016-04-04): Parsix 8.5, Sabayon's Community repository, Red Hat offers free subscriptions, Ubuntu tablets, command line tips|
|• Issue 654 (2016-03-28): PCLinuxOS 2016.03, Using signatures to create a web of trust, Arch Linux rolls out Pacman update, GuixSD packages GNOME|
|• Full list of all issues|
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