| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 318, 31 August 2009
Welcome to this year's 35th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Operating systems come in many different shapes and sizes. While there is no shortage of projects seemingly wanting to test the upper limits of modern hardware requirements, it's not every day that we discover exactly the opposite. Welcome to Kolibri - a bootable operating system in under 3 MB of download, requiring just 5 MB of hard disk space and less than 10 MB of RAM! Read on to find out more about this extraordinary project. In the news section, Slackware hits the magic 13 with a plethora of new features, Fedora announces the inclusion of a Moblin subsystem into its upcoming version 12, ClarkConnect undergoes a name change and renews its commitment to open source, Arch Linux introduces a new server-oriented kernel for better long term support, and BeleniX launches an early alpha build of its OpenSolaris-based distribution featuring KDE 4. Finally, if you run FreeBSD and want to keep your installed system constantly updated, don't miss a great document describing the various options. Happy reading!
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (26MB) and MP3 (24MB) formats (many thanks to Sonny Chauvin)
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
Kolibri - a desktop operating system in under 3 MB (by Jesse Smith)
How much memory and disk space do you need for an operating system? If you're running the latest offerings from Microsoft, you probably want several gigabytes of both. For the larger Linux distros, the answer is probably a bit smaller. For mini versions of Linux one might want a few hundred megabytes of disk space and nearly that much RAM. But what if I told you that I was recently running a modern operating system that requires about 5 MB of disk space and about 10 MB of RAM? That sounds like a stretch, doesn't it, even for Tiny Core Linux?
The tiny operating system I'm talking about is called Kolibri. It's a fork of the MenuetOS project and is currently licensed under the GNU GPL. The operating system is designed to run on 32-bit x86 processors and is written entirely in assembly language. Kolibri contains a lot of familiar features, yet stands out with its own identity.
I downloaded the latest release of Kolibri (version 0.7.5) and gave it a spin. The system boots from zero to functioning desktop in under three seconds on my test machine. The user is presented with an attractive background and icons for various commonly used programs. System tasks (text editing and file browsers) are in the top-left corner, documentation and settings are in the top-right. Games occupy both lower corners of the desktop. Some desktop applications have short or odd names, which might put off newcomers. I did a lot of point and click early on, just to see what would pop up. This problem does not extend to the application menu; there everything is named in clear English. The application menu is fairly standard and is located in the bottom-left corner, where Windows and KDE users might expect to find it.
The application menu is broken down into familiar groupings, such as Development, Games, Data Processing, Network and Help. There are also demo programs showing off various graphics and screensavers. Programs are easy to find and most applications work well. The help documentation is a bit scattered, as it covers a number of different topics, but there doesn't seem to be a pattern to what is explained and what isn't. In short, finding help is hit or miss, but what is explained is done so clearly.
Kolibri 0.7.5 - the main menu and some applications
(full image size: 43kB, screen resolution 800x600 pixels)
Kolibri is the Russian word for hummingbirds. This operating system lives up to its name, being both amazingly small and extremely fast. It uses very few resources; applications open virtually instantly and the entire time I was using the system my memory usage never went above 10 MB. The user interface is an interesting combination, mixing characteristics from Linux, Windows and DOS. While the system is different enough that no newcomer is going to feel "at home", it's familiar enough that I was able to fumble through trying things and experimenting without confusion.
Kolibri 0.7.5 - the terminal
(full image size: 158kB, screen resolution 800x600 pixels)
My hardware was handled fairly well. The keyboard and mouse worked without any problems. Sound was detected, but disabled by default and my screen resolution defaulted to a sane setting. I wasn't able to find any way to print or set up a printer. According to posts on the Kolibri forum, USB support is a work in progress, so many modern devices won't work. I found it was possible to get around this by running Kolibri in a virtual machine. But for now, on the physical box, don't count on USB devices working.
The system is customizable and comes with a number of different background images and a few dozen window themes. There is little chance of getting bored playing around with the different combinations and chances are there is something for everyone here.
Kolibri 0.7.5 - configuring backgrounds and themes
(full image size: 95kB, screen resolution 800x600 pixels)
Getting onto the Internet was straight forward. Kolibri detected my network card and my only contribution to the process was manually selecting a menu option to get an IP address. From there on I was connected. However, Kolibri is, currently, a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to accessing the Internet. The web browser that comes with the operating system is, frankly, close to non-functional. It's a bit like downloading the web page and viewing the contents in a text editor; the browser doesn't handle HTML, just displays the raw code. When I was using the web browser was the only time when the system became less responsive and I was able to get normal performance back by killing the browser window. On the other hand, the IRC chat client works fairly well. There isn't a SSH client (or server), but the system does have telnet and FTP clients. The FTP client didn't work for me, but telnet functioned with no problems.
Kolibri 0.7.5 - networking and games
(full image size: 82kB, screen resolution 800x600 pixels)
An unexpected addition to Kolibri is a copy of DOSBox, a program that allows users to run games from the DOS era on modern operating systems. This is a welcome surprise and means many games and small applications will run on Kolibri without requiring tweaks or recompiling from the end user.
Kolibri 0.7.5 - DOSBox running old DOS games
(full image size: 144kB, screen resolution 800x600 pixels)
There is a menu group called "Other", which contains some interesting tools, including a screen magnifier, calendar, clock and a program for taking screenshots. The multimedia section is a bit light, but does include a CD player. These all work well and show Kolibri isn't just about games and proving how small an operating system can get. There is a tool which looks like the beginning of a spreadsheet, image viewers and text editing too, demonstrating that, with some more work, Kolibri could be used as a simple, modern, desktop operating system.
Kolibri 0.7.5 - a demo of a light graphics application
(full image size: 30kB, screen resolution 800x600 pixels)
The system is said to support both English and Russian. Every so often I'd stumble into a screen written in Russian, but that was rare. I tried to change the system language to Russian, but everything stubbornly stayed English. This is actually good news for me (since I don't know much Russian) but probably is a negative point for Russian speakers.
According to the documentation, Kolibri will run off a NTFS partition and can co-exist with Microsoft Windows. I looked over their tutorials and the process looks straightforward. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to test this for myself. Kolibri supports FAT and NTFS, but does not support common Linux or Mac partitions, such as ext2 or HFS+. Hopefully, these will be added in time.
During my time with Kolibri, it appeared that the system did not support separate user accounts. This means the user is always the administrator and has full access to edit and delete files. There is no login prompt, so I'm fairly certain passwords aren't supported either. This makes me a bit leery of running Kolibri on the same disk or partition with another operating system. Accidents sometimes happen and I wouldn't want to wipe out a system folder while experimenting.
Something else that I missed was a package manager. Any new programs need to be manually downloaded and installed. At the moment, there probably aren't many packages out there for Kolibri, so this isn't a big loss. Given Kolibri's nature, I suspect people who crave a new program are expected to write it themselves, much like Linux in its early days.
In conclusion, I am blown away by how much functionality is packed into such a tiny package. The Kolibri ISO is less than 5MB and it has, for the size, a huge collection of software. While much of the operating system feels like a demo of what it can (or could) do, Kolibri shows an immense amount of potential. This project probably won't make it into an office or even onto most home systems, but it would make a great toy, both for hackers and for children. One could easily dust off an old Pentium or 486 machine and run Kolibri on it. With the built-in DOSBox, the possibility for running games is tremendous. My only real complaint about this operating system is its lack of a web browser. Even something small like Lynx would be a welcome addition. I hope we soon see a new release of this project, it has ability to be a great system.
The latest version of Kolibri is available for download from here: kolibri_iso_en.bz2 (2.85MB).
|Miscellaneous News (by Chris Smart)
Slackware upgrades to 13.0, Fedora releases Moblin edition, ClarkConnect becomes ClearOS, Arch Linux introduces new LTS kernel, BeleniX starts testing KDE 4, keeping FreeBSD up-to-date
We'll start this week's news section with information about Slackware Linux 13.0, a brand new release from Patrick Volkerding and his team of contributors. As pointed out in the release notes, the biggest news is that this version comes with an official port for 64-bit computers. Up until recently, users wishing to run Slackware Linux optimised for the x86_64 family of processors had to content themselves with one of the unofficial ports, such as Bluewhite64 Linux or Slamd64, but with Slackware 13.0 those days are now over. The second most interesting change is the switch to KDE 4 as the default desktop. Unlike other major distributions, the developers of Slackware Linux resisted the temptation to switch to earlier versions of KDE that were reportedly unstable and feature-incomplete, but version 4.2.4 was finally declared ready for the end user. Of course, there is a lot more: support for the ext4 file system in kernel 22.214.171.124, the GRUB bootloader in the /extra directory (finally!), a new package compression format (TXZ), updated development packages, including GCC 4.3.3 and Python 2.6.2, X.Org Server 1.6.3, and Xfce 4.6.1 as the alternative desktop. The first reviews should tell us how good this release is, but as always with Slackware, chances are that the new version will prove to be as stable and dependable as ever!
Slackware Linux 13.0 - a major new version from the developers of the oldest surviving Linux distribution
(full image size: 448kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
The Fedora Project offers an easy way for users to create custom version of the distro, called "remixes". The official remixed projects are called "respins" and cover a wide array of specialities. Now, Adam Williamson reports that the project is offering daily live remixes built from "Rawhide", Fedora's testing repository: "We're now doing an automated Rawhide build of each official live Fedora spin every night, and publishing them here. Yep, nightly Rawhide live CDs! (Or DVDs, when the generated images are too big for a CD. Which happens.) If you need to quickly test something in Rawhide but you're not in a safe position to install it, just grab the last nightly live CD and boot it up." These live remixes are in addition to the stable releases available and offer a way to test the latest and greatest without having to put your own system at risk.
Elsewhere in Fedora land, just in time for the "Constantine" (version 12) alpha party comes "Fedora Mini", an interface optimised for the netbook using Moblin technology. Peter Robinson writes: "Still a work in progress, Moblin is now in a mostly usable state on Fedora for testing. While the core interface in now there, there's still a couple of packages that will arrive over the next week or so." It's great to see Fedora joining in on the netbook scene and releasing an edition optimised for netbooks, a hugely popular market. Users who are running "Constantine" alpha or Rawhide can test it out by installing the "Moblin Desktop Environment" group and selecting the option from the login screen. Robinson is looking for feedback on Fedora Mini, including information on which specific netbook configurations work well: "I look forward to feedback and help in making it great for Fedora 12, and all other Moblin and Fedora Mini feedback." An official, Moblin-optimised netbook edition would be a great addition to the project.
* * * * *
Linux is very popular in the server arena, and that's not just limited to clusters and mainframes. Many users are running Linux on home servers and some of those are using ClarkConnect, an easy-to-configure appliance-like distro optimised for servers. The company behind the project is undergoing some restructuring, which will result in a few changes appearing later this year. The first noticeable change will be the adoption of a new name - ClearOS. The company claims that it's more than just a name change though; re-committing to open source, they intend to include more "enterprise" features into their free version and focus more on their service delivery network technology. The announcement reads: "In the early days of ClarkConnect (2002), we struggled to keep the open-source business afloat. This included using -- what now seems to be ubiquitous in the open source world -- the 'Community' versus 'Enterprise' product differences. Our growth over the years has given us the freedom to unshackle these restrictions in the true spirit of open-source software." The free versions will continue to be available and users are guaranteed of being able to seamlessly update from ClarkConnect to the new ClearOS.
* * * * *
Arch Linux, known for its rolling-release method of keeping up-to-date with the latest software, is a popular distribution with many intermediate and advanced Linux users. It is also very flexible, with a ports style init system and build environment. However, the kernel updates can sometimes lead to hardware incompatibilities, which has resulted in some users being reluctant to upgrade to the latest kernel that shows up in the Arch repository. The solution? A stable kernel with long-term support. Andreas Radke writes: "Today I've added a second kernel, called 'kernel26-lts, to our SVN repository. The intention is to have a second choice for the kernel package that is better in certain situations and offer fallback when a reboot after updating the core 'kernel26' fails." The LTS kernel is designed to have fewer external patches and a minimal amount of changes made to it over its life time: "Modifications will be very small in the future during its life cycle. The kernel configuration is based on the last 2.6.27.x configuration form our core package, with optimizations for server usage taken from here. The main changes are: 100 Hz, no pre-empt, deadline I/O scheduler. There will be no third-party modules. And no further patching." Interestingly, considerations for the server configuration options have been taken from Ubuntu's server kernel.
In separate news, it appears that the Archlinux.org server was compromised over the weekend: "Archlinux.org will be down this weekend due to complex server maintenance. Mirrors, including ftp.archlinux.org will remain in operation, as will the AUR. Forums, mailing lists and Wiki will be down as well as the main Arch Linux site. The maintenance is due to an intrusion where an attacker was able to gain root access. The developers have verified that neither the repositories nor the DB were affected, but the machine was compromised, and will need to be cleaned and additional protections added. We're sorry for any inconvenience this has caused."
* * * * *
Are you a fan of FreeBSD? If so, Richard Bejtlich has just published an updated draft of his article on how to keep FreeBSD up-to-date, a highly valuable document for anybody who has ever attempted to upgrade a running FreeBSD system: "Four years ago I wrote an article entitled 'Keeping FreeBSD Up-To-Date'. The goal was to document various ways that a FreeBSD 5.2 system could be updated and upgraded using tools from that time, in an example-driven way that complemented the FreeBSD Handbook. I decided to write an updated version that starts with a FreeBSD 7.1-RELEASE system and ends by running FreeBSD 7.2-STABLE. If you'd like to read the document and provide feedback, I'd appreciate constructive comments. The draft is available as a PDF file here. Thank you." The author is hoping to publish the final version of the updated book once the upcoming FreeBSD 8.0 is released.
* * * * *
Finally, something that could be of interest to some OpenSolaris users. BeleniX, a KDE-based live distribution built from Sun's open source operating system is an interesting choice for those who prefer OpenSolaris with KDE 4 (as opposed to the default system that uses GNOME). Last week, the project's founder and lead developer Moinak Ghosh announced the availability of a network installer for version 0.8 alpha: "There is an alpha release of BeleniX 0.8 that can be installed directly off the package repository via a network installer. There is no live CD release yet - that will come later. The network installer can be used if you are already using OpenSolaris 2009.xx or BeleniX 0.7.1. It will install 0.8 alpha into a new boot environment leaving your current system untouched. While booting, you will get a GRUB menu option to boot into this environment." As always, a use-at-your-own-risk disclaimer is added to the announcement: "This is an alpha release so things may not work or horribly crash in the new boot environment, although the KDE 4 desktop should be usable. Feedback and bug reports are welcome."
|Released Last Week
Vine Linux 5.0
Daisuke Suzuki has announced the release of Vine Linux 5.0, a Japanese community distribution for desktops and servers: "This is Vine Linux version 5 release. Since this is not a commercial edition, non-free applications and fonts are not included on the CD/DVD. Instead of proprietary ATOX Japanese input and Ricoh/Dynacomware fonts, this FTP edition contains Anthy and free TrueType fonts. Vine Linux 5 has the following new features: lightweight and high-speed; restructured software collection; support for x86_64 architecture; look and feel improvements; new user-friendly tools; new USB/DVD installable images." Vine Linux 5.0 is based on Linux kernel 2.6.27 with glibc 2.8 and GCC 4.1.2, the default desktop is GNOME 2.26 using X.Org Server 1.6.3. Besides Japanese, the distribution offers full support for American and British English. Read the release announcement (in Japanese) and release notes (in English) for more information.
Vine Linux 5.0 - a major new release of the popular Japanese distribution
(full image size: 530kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Warren Woodford has announced the release of SimplyMEPIS 8.0.10, an updated build of the beginner-friendly distribution and live CD based on Debian GNU/Linux: "MEPIS LLC has released SimplyMEPIS 8.0.10, an update to the community edition of MEPIS 8.0. SimplyMEPIS 8.0 uses a Debian 5.0 'Lenny' stable foundation enhanced with a long-term support kernel, key package upgrades, and the MEPIS Assistant applications to create an up-to-date, ready-to-use desktop computer system. The updated components on the SimplyMEPIS ISOs include recent updates from the Debian 'Lenny' pool and also the security-patched Linux kernel 126.96.36.199, rt2860 driver 188.8.131.52, Firefox 3.5.2, Google Gadgets 0.11.0, ALSA 1.0.20, BIND 9.6.1-P1, and KNetworkManager 0.7. In addition, some minor tweaks have been applied to the MEPIS installer and the MEPIS utilities." Here is the complete release announcement.
iMagic OS 2009.9
Carlos La Borde has released iMagic OS 2009.9, a commercial desktop Linux distribution based on Ubuntu: "The new iMagic OS has arrived. Now featuring the newest software, upgraded plugins, a new way to install Windows software, and the new magicOnline, iMagic OS 2009.9 is all about making your life cleaner and faster. Combined with parental controls, transparent updates, automatic data backup, MP3 decoding, and with help always just a click away, iMagic OS is ready to go. The new magicOnline is now web-based, and has a brand new interface, to make installing software easier than ever. With iMagic OS comes PlayOnLinux, a relatively new way to install Windows software on Linux, in an easy and direct software installation tool that supports more Windows applications and games." Read the rest of the release announcement for more details.
Scientific Linux 4.8 "Live CD/DVD"
Urs Beyerle has released a set of live CD/DVD images containing Scientific Linux 4.8, a distribution built from source packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but enhanced with additional software: "Scientific Linux 4.8 Live CD/DVD has been released for the i386 and x86_64 architecture. The Scientific Linux live CD/DVD is a bootable CD/DVD that runs Linux directly from CD/DVD without installing. It is based on Scientific Linux 4.8. Features: can be installed to local hard disk; runs from USB key; changes can be stored persistently on an external device; can be mounted over NFS (diskless client). Software: Linux kernel 2.6.9; OpenAFS client 1.4.7, X.Org 6.8.2, KDE 3.3.1, IceWM 1.2.37, GNOME 2.8.0 (only on DVD), GIMP 2.0.5, Unionfs and Squashfs for read/write live system...." More information can be found in the release announcement.
Zafer Aydogan has announced the release of Jibbed 5.0.1, a NetBSD-based live CD with automatic hardware detection and Xfce desktop: "It's NetBSD time. The long awaited new version of the live CD has finally arrived. It is freshly built from the NetBSD 5.0.1 sources which includes many bug fixes and contains the latest packages from pkgsrc including Filezilla. As always, it contains X.Org from base and the Xfce desktop. Jibbed is a bootable live CD based on the NetBSD operating system that works directly from a CD without need for a hard drive. Automatic hardware detection provides support for a wide variety of graphics cards, sound cards, network interfaces, and USB devices. This live CD showcases a complete NetBSD environment, including compiler sets, and provides features like tmpfs to simulate read-write access on read-only media." More information can be found in the release announcement.
Jibbed 5.0.1 - a NetBSD-based live CD with Xfce
(full image size: 59kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Slackware Linux 13.0
Patrick Volkerding has announced the release of Slackware Linux 13.0, a major update of the world's oldest surviving Linux distribution: "After one of the most intensive periods of development in Slackware's history, the long-awaited stable release of Slackware 13.0 is ready. This release brings with it many major changes since Slackware 12.2, including a completely reworked collection of X packages (a configuration file for X is no longer needed in most cases), major upgrades to the desktop environments (KDE 4.2.4 and Xfce 4.6.1), a new .txz package format with much better compression, and other upgrades all around -- to the development system, network services, libraries, and major applications like Firefox and Thunderbird. We think you'll agree that this version of Slackware was worth the wait. Also, this is the first release of Slackware with native support for the 64-bit x86_64 architecture!" See the release announcement and release notes for more information.
VectorLinux 6.0 "Light Live"
Robert Lange has announced the release of VectorLinux 6.0 "Light Live" edition: "The VectorLinux team is happy to announce VectorLinux 6.0 'Light Live'. This edition is intended as a preview of the traditional installable release. It closely mirrors the original VectorLinux 'Light', but some packages have been added or upgraded, including the 184.108.40.206 kernel. This is a great way to test VectorLinux before committing to a hard drive install. For us who already use it, our favorite operating system is now portable. Another practical use is as a live toolbox for troubleshooting and/or repair. There is a boot option for using it as a rescue disc for a previously installed system. Re-mastering VectorLinux 'Live' has been made easy for those who want their very own, personalized edition." Here is the brief release announcement.
* * * * *
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
- Spri Linux. Spri Linux is an Ubuntu-based distribution that replaces many of the heavier applications with smaller, lighter alternatives. Most notably, GNOME and its windows manager is replaced with IceWM.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 7 September 2009.
Chris Smart and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• 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|
|• Issue 653 (2016-03-21): Antergos 2016.02.21, Debian prepares for election, a Unix-like OS written in Rust, watching Netflix on FreeBSD|
|• Issue 652 (2016-03-14): ReactOS 0.4.0, Debian swaps Iceweasel for Firefox, Fedora moving forward with Wayland, Verifying ISO files|
|• Issue 651 (2016-03-07): Korora 23, Linux Mint improves security, Ubuntu MATE on Raspberry Pi 3 computers, trying different file systems|
|• Issue 650 (2016-02-29): Haiku in 2016, running Android apps on GNU/Linux, 30 years of MINIX, Fedora plans Atomic Workstation|
|• Issue 649 (2016-02-22): Zorin OS 11, openSUSE launches new editions, Linux Mint website compromised, sandboxing applications using Firejail|
|• Issue 648 (2016-02-15): XStream Desktop 153, Raspbian unveils OpenGL feature, free hardware, Ikey Doherty talks desktop design|
|• Full list of all issues|