| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 314, 3 August 2009
Welcome to this year's 31st issue of DistroWatch Weekly! The most controversial news of the week was the open letter written by several developers of CentOS, one of the distributions on the DistroWatch's top ten list, to the project's co-founder, pleading for the resolution of a number of key issues. This was taken to the public as a way of getting attention after failing to resolve the issues internally. It turned out to be a good solution; by the end of the week all has seemingly returned to normal in the CentOS land. Another piece of news that stirred much interest on the Internet was the Debian announcement about its planned switch to a time-based freeze model. This was often incorrectly misinterpreted as a switch to a time-based release model, but as many Debian developers were quick to point out, nothing has changed in the "released when ready" Debian release strategy. As for our feature article this week, it is a quick look at the "Core" edition of Slax, a minimalist distribution in 50 MB, which can be a surprisingly good rescue and educational tool. Finally, we are pleased to announce that the recipients of the DistroWatch.com June and July 2009 donations are LiVES and Osmo. Happy reading!
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (21MB) and MP3 (20MB) formats(many thanks to Sonny Chauvin)
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
A look at Slax 6.1.1 "Core" (by Jesse Smith)
My very first Linux distribution was called Pygmy Linux, a mini-distro based off Slackware. It had no graphical desktop, no compiler, no office suite, no package management and it didn't recognize my modem. Obviously it didn't qualify as a replacement for my main desktop system at the time. Nor was it supposed to. But it did do what I wanted it to and that was to teach me the UNIX command line and the structure of a UNIX file system. It did those things very well and I learned a lot. It has been ten years since I plunged into the Linux depths. To celebrate ten years with Linux, I decided to give a mini-distro based on Slackware a test drive. Pygmy is long gone, but others live on. This week I installed Slax on my system and put it through its paces.
I'd never tried Slax before, but I'd heard good things about the project and I can understand why. Right from the start, I noticed the Slax website is very pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate. It's a small thing, but first impressions have a way of sticking. Furthermore, the Slax team has something most other distros do not: Slax allows visitors to their website to roll their own version of Slax with a few mouse clicks. The default Slax download is about 200 MB, a fairly compact size considering it comes with a complete KDE desktop, office applications and development tools. However, I wanted something more bare-bones for this trip down memory lane. I selected the core packages only, bringing my download down to about 50MB; a small size, even for people working off slow Internet connections.
Slax's boot screen
Slax booted off its CD and I was given a fairly typical list of boot options. I wasn't fast enough to change the default and the CD tried to boot into a KDE desktop. Since I didn't have any desktop packages, the system crashed and I had to reboot. The second time I was paying better attention and selected a text-only boot option. The text-only mode is well done with a helpful welcome message, which includes the live CD login information and some common commands for quick reference.
Poking around the system, I found things pretty much where I'd left them ten years ago. No graphical desktop, no office suite, no compiler; just me and a command line. It made me a bit nostalgic, honestly. My network connection was detected and enabled automatically, which was a nice touch. Sadly, the Lynx web browser wasn't installed in the core packages. But it is available as an add-on. Any downloads would have to be handled by wget or the FTP client.
There isn't any system installer included in the core packages, but there is a handy tutorial on the Slax forum explaining how to get Slax working directly from the system's hard drive. This takes a few minutes to go through, but worked flawlessly in my case. The important thing I learned from this, more so than how to install Slax to a hard disk, is that the live CD also makes for a good rescue tool. Most common file systems are supported and one can easily mount local drives and work with the files.
Logging into Slax
With Slax installed, it was easy to get a regular user account set up and play around without the risk of damaging anything important. I was able to manage files with Midnight Commander, a text-based file manager, and write some awk scripts just to see that they worked.
Remote log-in via secure shell was disabled by default, but enabling it allowed me to remotely log in to my new Slax box and work (or play) from another computer. I couldn't help but think that considering Slax's small footprint (about 125 MB once installed) it would be an ideal home file server, especially on older hardware.
Earlier I mentioned that the Lynx browser was available as an add-on. One of the more interesting features of Slax is the way it manages packages. Packages are distributed as "modules". A module can be added to the initial ISO image download or downloaded and installed later. The modules are broken down into categories on the Slax web site and include such goodies as graphics, Internet applications, console applications, drivers, languages, security and multimedia packages, as well as many others. Installing a new module is as simple as downloading the package you want and typing "activate module" on the command line. The only downside to this system is, as far as I can tell, that there is no update utility, nor dependency checking in the core install. I tried a few modules and everything worked without any problems.
Running the Lynx web browser
Though the core utilities haven't changed a lot over the past ten years, it's easy to see that there have been improvements. Things feel smoother, the documentation is more user-friendly and the system is rock solid. Actually, to get a real idea of how far Linux has come since I started using it, consider that I decided to also run Slax in a virtual machine on my main desktop. I was able to play with Slax, take screenshots, perform word processing, listen to music, browse the web and run updates from my regular desktop all at the same time. I couldn't have imagined doing these things all together when I first got into Linux a decade ago.
In conclusion, I have to say that Slax is an excellent tool. The ability to create a custom live CD is wonderful and easy and I sincerely hope other distros adopt this feature as it vastly reduces the bandwidth required to download the project's ISO images. Slax comes across as polished and clean. It's very flexible and everything worked as advertised. The core install is obviously not for a regular user, though the default live CD would be ideal for someone who wants to take a secure operating system with them wherever they go. The core system is an excellent utility for someone getting into a system administration course and wants to learn the Linux way. Slax has a lot to offer the curious and makes for a handy system rescue live CD. I heartily recommend it.
|Miscellaneous News (by Chris Smart)
CentOS developers plead with founder, Debian adopts time-based freeze process and publishes "Squeeze" planned feature list, Novell releases SUSE Studio 1.0
Perhaps the biggest news of the past week was the publication of an open letter from key CentOS developers to co-founder Lance Davis. The letter revealed the sad state of the project from a management perspective, claiming that Davis had "crawled into a hole," not passed on promised funds, failed to hand over control of the domain, and numerous other issues. The story is all too common among Linux and open source projects, especially those with a single leader and no proper organisational structure. The letter pleads: "Please do not kill CentOS through your fear of shared management of the project. Clearly the project dies if all the developers walk away." The good news is that the project is now reporting that many of the major issues have been resolved, following a meeting with Davis in response to the letter. The site reads: "The CentOS Development team had a normal meeting today and Lance Davis was in attendance. In the meeting a majority of issues were resolved right away and a working agreement was reached with deadlines for any unresolved issues. There should be no impact to any CentOS users moving forward." This is great news and no doubt a relief to many users and fans of the operating system. Here's hoping that the project can now move from strength to strength!
* * * * *
Reports have surfaced that Debian would be switching to time-based releases, similar to those of Ubuntu. At least, that was the news as interpreted around the Internet. However, core members of the world's largest free software community project had a completely different story to tell. The announcement was in fact, only in relation to having a time-based freeze process and the distro will still be released "when it's ready". As such, this is good news for many who love Debian. While the constant delays between stable releases may be frustrating at times, users know that this is an important aspect to ensuring the system will indeed be stable when it is finally released. It's a fine balance between latest features, timely releases and a stable environment.
Ubuntu developer Matt Zimmerman put it well when he said: "The difference is that they will schedule the freeze date in advance. This means that there is a bounded time period available for new development, where things sometimes need to be broken in order to make progress. Once the freeze point is reached, Debian developers will minimise breakage and focus on stabilisation. Once the release-critical bug count drops to zero, they'll release as usual. That could happen soon after the freeze, or it could take a long time, depending on how many bugs are introduced during development." As Debian is one of the only major Linux distributions without a commercial entity rushing it to release, it has the ability to work at its own pace. It would be a shame if Debian was to settle for anything less, but then as Linux becomes more popular how can Debian compete with others when it only has a stable release every two years?
In other Debian news, the project has published the goals for their upcoming stable release, version 6.0 and code name "Squeeze". This will be the first release to implement the new policy of timed release freezes, as mentioned above. Planned for inclusion in the new release are a dozen major features, such as multi-architecture support, full IPv6 support and several package related changes. The page also list improved boot performance: "Improved boot performance using Dash as the new default shell, and a dependency-based boot system that will both clean up the boot process and help performance through parallel processing." Could this mean that Debian is finally following Ubuntu's lead and switching to Upstart? Another major update is support for the FreeBSD kernel, which will makes its official début in "Squeeze", heralding the first non-Linux architecture for the project. Debian GNU/kFreeBSD will be a coupling of the GNU toolchain and user space with the FreeBSD kernel. With GNU/Hurd still as elusive as ever, this might offer yet another good option for the free software world as it mixes the familiar GNU tools with BSD.
* * * * *
The openSUSE Build service has become a valuable community tool for developers to develop and maintain packages for a variety of distros. Now, SUSE Studio 1.0 has been announced, an online project which enables the assisted creation of appliances. Nat Friedman writes: "SUSE Studio is a web service that makes it fun and easy for anyone with a couple of years of Linux experience to build a software appliance, or your own custom Linux distribution, in less than ten minutes." The service is designed to provide an easy way of creating a custom virtual machine for a specific set of tasks, ready to deploy straight into a production system. The service currently provides images in a variety of formats, including live CD, hard disk and USB images, as well as virtual machines ready for VMware and Xen. Support for KVM does not yet exist, but will it? Given that it's Red Hat's virtualisation technology of choice, it's unlikely. Novell plans to displace the number one Linux vendor and this latest piece of technology is one more tool which the company hopes will help it achieve that goal. The service certainly appears to be popular, with almost five thousand appliances having been built this last week. Will it revolutionise the creation of Linux servers and help Novell secure much needed market share?
|Released Last Week
SLAMPP Live 2.0
SLAMPP is a Zenwalk-based distribution and live DVD designed for use as an instant home server. After over three years of inactivity, the project released version 2.0 of the distribution yesterday: "Today I am glad to let you know that SLAMPP 2.0 is available for public download. There are a lot of enhancements in this new release, some of them are the following: Linux live kernel 126.96.36.199, provides pre-configured servers and related utilities to ease your work in setting up an instant home server; provides full web and Linux development environment: LAMPP and Ruby on Rails, IDEs, frameworks, compilers, interpreters, utilities; equips with fancy bootsplash and progress bar, nice desktop wallpaper, complete OpenOffice.org suite, multimedia, graphics, audio and video applications; maintains the Slax modularity; can be installed on hard disk or USB storage device; supports persistent partitions on USB devices...." Here is the full release announcement.
Tiny Core Linux 2.2
Robert Shingledecker has released Tiny Core Linux 2.2, a minimalist desktop distribution in 11 MB: "Tiny Core 2.2 is now posted. Change log: new boot option 'embed' to stay on initramfs; upgraded ISO now using isolinux 3.8.2 to easily support isohybrid; upgraded upgrade_tce.sh fixed false error warning and added to 'Tools' menu section; upgraded upgrade_tce.sh to support microcore's .core. elements; upgraded usbinstall with 'need root warning' also added to 'Tools' menu section; upgraded tce-load to use -c 'continue' option of wget to better support downloading; upgraded BusyBox, replaced missing dc applet, also added 'Length' to wget applet output; upgraded boot time F2 to display better message regarding kmaps; upgraded boot time F3 to display missing options, no icons and laptop...." Read the rest of the changelog as published on the project's user forum.
Soren Jacobsen has announced the release of NetBSD 5.0.1: "The NetBSD Project is pleased to announce that version 5.0.1 of the NetBSD operating system is now available. NetBSD 5.0.1 is the first security/critical update of the NetBSD 5.0 release branch. It represents a selected subset of fixes deemed critical in nature for security or stability reasons. Please note that all fixes in security/critical updates (i.e., NetBSD 5.0.1, 5.0.2, etc.) are cumulative, so the latest update contains all such fixes since the corresponding minor release. These fixes will also appear in future minor releases (i.e., NetBSD 5.1, 5.2, etc.), together with other less-critical fixes and feature enhancements." See the detailed release notes for a complete list of all changes, security fixes and known issues.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
June and July 2009 DistroWatch.com donations: LiVES - US$300.00, Osmo - €200|
We are happy to announce that the recipient of the June 2009 DistroWatch.com donation is LiVES, a free and open-source video editor and VJ tool, while the July 2009 DistroWatch.com goes to Osmo, a personal information organiser. LiVES receives US$300 and Osmo gets €200.
Both projects have been nominated for donations by DistroWatch readers. LiVES is a well-known application designed for video editing and other related tasks: "LiVES combines real-time video performance and non-linear editing in one professional-quality application. It will let you start editing and making video right away, without having to worry about formats, frame sizes, or frame rates. It is a very flexible tool which is used by both professional VJs and video editors - mix and switch clips from the keyboard, use dozens of real-time effects, trim and edit your clips in the clip editor, and bring them together using the multi-track timeline. You can even record your performance in real time, and then edit it further or render it straight away."
Osmo, on the other hand, is a GTK+ tool for managing and organising personal information: "Osmo is a handy personal organiser, which includes calendar, tasks manager and address book modules. It was designed to be a small, easy-to-use and good-looking PIM tool to help to manage personal information. In its current state the organiser is quite convenient to use - for example, the user can perform nearly all operations using the keyboard. Also, a lot of parameters are configurable to meet the user's preferences. On the technical side, Osmo is GTK+ based tool which uses a plain XML database to store all personal data." The program was reviewed by Susan Linton in January 2009.
As always, this monthly donations programme 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 the donations to LiVES and Osmo.
Here is the list of projects that received a DistroWatch donation since the launch of the programme (figures in US dollars):
Since the launch of the Donations Program in March 2004, DistroWatch has donated a total of US$21,533 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 Sabayon Linux ($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), Python ($300), SliTaz GNU/Linux ($200), LiVES ($300), Osmo ($300).
* * * * *
New distributions added to database
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- ArchOne. ArchOne is an Arch-based live CD designed to run on the Acer Aspire One netbook.
- LiveAndroid. LiveAndroid is a live CD for Android, a mobile operating system developed by Google, designed for a standard i386 computer.
- Mesk Linux. Mesk Linux is an Arch-based distribution with an intuitive system install and optimised for Arabic-speaking users. The project's web site is in Arabic.
- Nexradix. Nexradix is an Ubuntu-based distribution specifically designed to be easily and freely usable and redistributable, even for commercial purposes.
- Omega. Omega is a completely free and open-source Linux-based operating system. It is an installable live CD that includes comprehensive multimedia functionality out of the box. Omega is 100% compatible with Fedora, only including packages from Fedora, RPM Fusion and Livna software repositories.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 10 August 2009.
Ladislav Bodnar and Chris Smart
If you've enjoyed this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly, please consider sending us a tip.
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