| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 322, 28 September 2009
Welcome to this year's 39th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! This week's issue is almost entirely dedicated to netbooks. First, we'll take a look at a Linux-based HP Mini 110 and its customised user interface called HP Mi. As part of the review we'll also investigate possible Linux alternatives to install on the netbook, including the latest alpha release of Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10. The news section then provides further netbook-related news as both Canonical and Mandriva announce products built around the new Moblin 2.0 user interface, while the Fedora community launches Fedora Mini, a custom distribution specifically built with netbooks in mind. But if netbooks are not your cup of tea, the news section also has some other distro news: Slackware releases official KDE 3.5 packages for its latest version 13.0, Debian developers launch two new alternative package management systems, and Ubuntu publishes a full development schedule for its first release of 2010 - version 10.04 "Lucid Lynx". All this and more in this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly - happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Ladislav Bodnar)
First look at HP Mini 110 Mi edition
The Linux netbook market has gone through an interesting and sometimes controversial evolution. Starting as 7-inch, Linux-only ultra-portable PCs with Solid State Disk (SSD) drives in place of hard disks, the early netbooks were quickly superseded by slightly larger machines with 9- and 10-inch screens, near full-size keyboards and real hard disks. Linux, despite its early success, was replaced by Windows XP - no doubt due to Microsoft's stick-and-carrot pressure on hardware manufacturers. They now universally "recommend" that "we use Windows for everyday computing". As a result, less than two years after the launch of ultra-portable netbook PCs, finding one with Linux pre-installed is hard, if not impossible, in many parts of the world. (There will be readers arguing that most customers prefer Windows anyway, but that's just speculation. How can we be sure if computer stores offer no choice? Only when we have netbooks of exact same specifications with a choice of Windows or Linux displayed side-by-side in every store, will we know what the customers prefer.)
Ever since I bought my ASUS Eee PC 900 in April 2008, I was on a lookout for another netbook. The Eee PC is a very nice machine, but its crammed keyboard and its unfortunate placement of the right Shift key made any touch typing unproductive. Unfortunately, over the months that followed, the Linux netbook has become as rare as saffron in Taipei's computer stores, before it disappeared completely (I remember walking into no fewer than 20 different stores, large and small, all displaying an enormous range of netbooks, without finding a single one with Linux). So imagine my surprise when, two weeks ago, I entered a computer shop and saw a netbook that had no Windows key and carried no Windows sticker! I was so shocked that I didn't hesitate for long and minutes later I was walking away with a box containing an HP Mini 110-1011TU with Linux - a customised edition of Ubuntu with an interface called "HP Mi".
First, the specifications. This particular model of HP Mini comes with Intel Atom N280 processor (1.66 GHz, 512 KB L2, 667 MHz FSB), a 250 GB (5400 RPM) SATA hard disk drive, 2 GB of DDR2 SDRAM, 10.1-inch monitor (maximum resolution 1024x576 pixels), Intel Mobile 945GME Express integrated graphics controller, Intel 82801G audio controller, Broadcom BCM4312 802.11b/g wireless network card, and Atheros AR8132 Ethernet adapter (kernel driver atl1c). It has three USB ports, a port for plugging in an external monitor, an audio port for headphones, a built-in HP webcam, and a 3-cell Lithium Ion battery. It weighs 1.2 kg and cost an equivalent of US$400 (NT$13,000).
The most interesting part of the netbook is, of course, its software. The HP Mi (Mobile Internet) interface is a customised and simplified built of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS ("Hardy Heron"), which was released in April 2008. As such, the software packages aren't particularly up-to-date, with Linux kernel 2.6.24, GNOME 2.24.3, Firefox 3.0.13 and OpenOffice.org 2.4.1 all somewhat older than the current latest versions of these applications. But unlike Windows netbooks, which all come with the same standard (i.e. uncustomisable) desktop interface, HP Mi's default desktop is a different story. It is divided into three columns - the left one shows your emails (once email settings are configured in Thunderbird), the middle column has thumbnails of web pages (similar to Opera's "Speed Dial") and the right column is separated into two parts, with the top one listing any recently played music files, while the bottom one showing recently viewed photos.
HP Mi - the default desktop
(full image size: 389kB, screen resolution 1024x576 pixels)
While interesting and innovative, the HP Mi default desktop left me somewhat unimpressed. This was partly due to the fact that I am not a fan of white elements on black backgrounds, but also because there is no clear separation of components to lead the eyes along the different sections of the screen. I don't want to be too critical here, because this is a highly personal factor. Besides, I am obviously not the primary target market of this particular product. Nevertheless, it's nice to see that HP has made an effort to create something fresh and unusual, something that might appeal to a certain group of users, although I still think that it could do much better on the aesthetics front. That, or at least allow some sort of a customisation, like changing the colours, moving around the elements, etc.
HP Mi - the software launching interface
(full image size: 100kB, screen resolution 1024x576 pixels)
Software applications are accessed via a large "Start New Program" button located just under the middle section of the home screen. Clicking on it takes the user to a familiar tabbed interface, similar to what Xandros used to build for the Eee PC in the distant days when ASUS still cared about Linux. Clicking on the oversized icons will start the desired application, but they only contain a subset of what is available on the system. For example, there is no icon for the GNOME Terminal, so if you'd like to do some command-line work the only way to bring up the terminal is to press ALT+F2 and type "gnome-terminal". Similarly, the software installer only contains a very small list of applications available for installation, but running "aptitude" on the command line provides a way to install a lot more. The /etc/apt/sources.list points to a special "hpmini" archive on canonical.com with the "main", "universe", "multiverse" and "restricted" repositories all enabled by default. On the positive note, one nice piece of software on the system is Elisa, a well-integrated media player and digital photo viewing tool that will probably appeal to most home users.
HP Mi - the Elisa media player
(full image size: 103kB, screen resolution 1024x576 pixels)
As hinted above, HP provides very little for customising the default desktop - no extra themes, no colour options and no element positioning choices. On the "Settings" screen, invoked by clicking on the same word located in the top right corner of the home desktop, one will only find the standard GNOME settings modules. This isn't a criticism -- after all, these options will probably be sufficient for most home users -- but since this publication is read by more seasoned Linux fans and even experts, this information might come useful to those who consider buying the computer for their less technical family members. Of course, the popular gconf-editor is available and if you dig deep, you'll probably find a way to change the colours and other objects of the HP Mi desktop, but it won't be through some intuitive graphical user interface.
HP Mi - the settings screen
(full image size: 146kB, screen resolution 1024x576 pixels)
After a few days on HP Mi, it was time to investigate some of the available alternatives. The first thing I tried was Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix (UNR), which has been working perfectly on the Eee PC and which I have learnt to appreciate, especially because of its screen real estate space saving features. Indeed, comparing HP Mi with UNR makes it obvious whose developers have given more thoughts to the overall organisation of the available space. While HP Mi comes with two toolbars (one at the top, the other at the bottom of the screen) and with application windows containing the full title bar, Ubuntu's UNR is extremely space efficient, sacrificing parts of the otherwise useless title bar to display icons of open applications and the system tray. With the HP Mini's screen height being only 576 pixels, the unnecessary toolbars and title bars just take away too much of the limited screen height that could be used more productively.
Ubuntu 9.04 booted, installed and worked just fine and almost every piece of hardware worked - almost, because there was one exception: the internal speakers. This is apparently a known bug. Then I continued experimenting by installing Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 6, the most recent development release of the upcoming version of Ubuntu, code name "Karmic Koala". This also booted without problems, but trying to install the Broadcom proprietary wireless drivers wouldn't work for some reason. It must have been a temporary bug because a later UNR Karmic daily build allowed installing the Broadcom drivers without a hitch. Sound from speakers worked and that's when I decided that Karmic was a keeper. It has a few bugs here and there, but for an alpha, it is remarkably trouble-free and stable. I also tried booting Mandriva Linux 2009 from an official USB media; this worked OK, but the system failed to detect either the wired or the wireless network adapter. On the other hand, the recently-released Moblin 2.0 wouldn't boot at all - it simply hanged at the first splash screen and only a merciful reboot with the power switch saved the netbook from further misery.
Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha provides decent hardware support for HP Mini
(full image size: 344kB, screen resolution 1024x576 pixels)
So after experimenting with the HP Mini for the past two weeks, how would I rate it? Overall I'd say it's a very nice little netbook, but it does have its annoyances. Probably the biggest one on my list is the placement of the two touchpad buttons - instead of being under the touchpad, they are on the two sides of the touchpad, which takes a bit of getting used to. Worse, I haven't figured out how to efficiently "middle click" on the device. On the Eee PC there is an option to simulate the middle click with a two finger tap (useful for opening web pages in a background tab in Firefox), but this is not available on the HP Mini. The only way to middle click that I know of is to use both index fingers and try to click on the two buttons simultaneously - a rather error prone exercise. If anybody knows of a better way, I'd appreciate hearing about it.
The second annoyance is the choice of hardware devices. The Broadcom wireless network card is problematic since there is no working open-source driver, so distributions that don't ship any modules that would taint the kernel with proprietary code (e.g. Fedora) will not work correctly out of the box. It would be much nicer if HP chose hardware with available open-source drivers for their Linux netbooks, but perhaps that's too much to ask from the netbook production point of view. That said, I don't want to criticise HP too much; in fact, I am extremely happy that there is a company that has the guts to market and sell a Linux netbook. The ASUSes and Acers have long given up on Linux, while most others never even bothered, so high marks to HP for that. That's why it was HP that got my money.
Apart from these two annoyances, I am generally pleased with HP Mini. It isn't the prettiest netbook on the market, but I really appreciate the size of the keyboard and the correct location of the Shift keys (in relation to the Eee PC 900). The large, 250 GB hard disk will allow for further experimenting, so Ubuntu 9.10 is unlikely to remain the only distribution running on the machine. Those who don't mind the oversimplified and somewhat older Ubuntu as the pre-installed operating system on the netbook will be able to perform all the common computing tasks, but for those who'd prefer something newer and more cutting-edge, the latest Karmic alpha offers decent hardware support for the netbook. With the hardware specifications much superior to the Eee PC 900, I find HP Mini a much better value for money. The final rating? Eight stars out of ten.
|Miscellaneous News (by Chris Smart)
Slackware adds KDE 3.5 to repository, Debian announces two new package management systems, Ubuntu and Mandriva announce Moblin-based systems for netbooks, Fedora community launches Mini
It seems the migration to KDE 4 is still hurting as distributions make the switch. Recently, the ever popular Slackware Linux reached version 13.0 and broke away from its previous mould by switching to the new desktop. It hasn't been as smooth as many were hoping, however, caused in part by the shipping of an older version 4.2.4 instead the 4.3 series. Unfortunately, this means that the 10,000 odd improvements made were not available in the new version of Slackware - a risky move for a desktop which has caused much controversy since its very first release. Last week, Patrick Volkerding released official packages of KDE 3.5.10 for Slackware Linux 13.0. While it's a welcome update for some, the future of the KDE 3 desktop on Slackware remains in question. Slackware will not be releasing any more updates to KDE 3, claiming that KDE 4 is the future, but some feel that it is still not on par with its predecessor. There are those who are trying to find a way to keep KDE 3 alive, but without support from the development team, is it just wishful thinking? Version 4 will undoubtedly become the greatest KDE desktop ever, but for some it's a slow road to success.
Have you ever wanted to keep your Slackware system up-to-date via a package management system? It's not as hard as you might think, especially with this helpful guide to follow: "If you haven't played with Slackware within the past couple of years, you may still believe that the word 'easy' doesn't go well with the words 'update' and 'package management'. But, two fairly new utilities, 'slackpkg' and 'sbopkg', may help to change your mind." The utilities allow users to easily update the system, even between releases. There is still no automatic dependency resolution though: "If you choose a package that uses the GTK+ image libraries, which aren't installed by default on Slackware, you'll get an error message when you try to build the package. You'll then need to search for and install any packages that are needed to resolve the dependencies." This is one of those infamous aspects of Slackware which are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
* * * * *
If Debian is famous for anything aside from its rock-solid releases and long, proud history, it's the package management system. The suite of tools which encompass this is called APT (Advanced Packaging Tool). The low-level package management tool is dpkg, which handles simple requests such as installing and removing packages. Acting as a wrapper around dpkg are a few different programs, such as apt-get, which include dependency resolution. While some so-called "modern" package management systems struggle to perform their most basic functions, APT has been faithfully updating systems at lightning speed for over a decade. But when you're at the top, it's not always a safe place. Now there's a new challenger called Cupt: "Some time ago (4th quarter of 2008), after working on the APT suite, I started to develop Cupt to substitute APT for myself in areas where APT fails due to design or implementation problems." Although the current system works very well, perhaps it is time to re-visit package management on Debian. Cupt could be just the catalyst needed, after all, competition fosters innovation. And if Cupt isn't to your liking, there is also APT2, another new and improved package management system for Debian announced last week.
* * * * *
Right on track for world domination, Ubuntu sponsor Canonical has recently announced the availability of a Moblin-based Netbook Remix Edition for the Dell Mini 10v netbook. Before you get too excited, this is just a developer release designed to get Ubuntu into the hands of the community with the hope of improving it. It is only designed for that one specific model and currently some important features, like Bluetooth, aren't working. Nevertheless, it is a great example of collaboration between the community and several companies including Intel and the Linux Foundation, all of whom have made this possible. Whether a more general version of this will be available to the public is not yet known. Currently the focus appears to be with specific manufacturers, but there is, of course, Ubuntu's general non-Atom optimised Netbook Remix Edition which works on a wider range of x86 netbooks. Perhaps soon we'll also see a version released which is aimed at ARM-based netbooks.
Elsewhere in Ubuntu land the upcoming release of "Karmic Koala" has seen two new applications make their way onto the default desktop. The first is Ubuntu One, Canonical's on-line backup service, and the other is the Software Store. A store is for selling things (or storing things), so what is Canonical's plan with this product? It's starting to generate some questions from the community who are wondering just where this will go: "The official rationale for the project focuses on the need to simplify the task of managing applications, especially for users coming from Windows who are perplexed by the fact that Ubuntu doesn’t require them to download bloated installers from random untrusted web sites in order to install applications." The package manager works just fine for free software, so why introduce a new concept if it's not for selling software? The purpose has not yet been fully revealed. Either way, does the sale of Ubuntu specific software go against the projects ethos, that it "is and always will be free of charge"? The criticism was deemed valid by Canonical and by the end of the week the store was renamed to "Ubuntu Software Centre," which implies less and doesn't rule out the selling of software.
* * * * *
Yes, the world has gone netbook crazy. While Ubuntu has had an official netbook-focused release for a while now, Fedora should see its first official version with their next release. What does this mean for Ubuntu? Probably not a lot. It's just a good option for Fedora users with netbooks, but that hasn't stopped WorksWithU pondering that very question. Most use a specific version of Linux because they like how it works. Fedora Mini is being built by the community that wants to see their favourite distro well supported on the netbook computers. Of course, this new product is no threat to Canonical's plans for selling Linux to computer manufacturers as Fedora itself is not a commercial project. Interestingly, however, Fedora is the basis for Moblin's official products. So while Fedora won't be selling products directly, we might inadvertently see it find its way to more netbooks in a shop near you.
* * * * *
Finally, it was the turn of Mandriva last week to announce the availability of their very own Moblin-based edition called "Mandriva Mini". Details are scarce at the time of writing, but the company does reference their work with Classmate netbooks. The web site does not offer a download for the community; just contact details for OEMs that might wish to bundle the operating system with their products. Previously, Linux on the netbook segment of the market was very messy, eventually leading to its demise at the hands of Microsoft. With Moblin (which has just released the final version of 2.0), the tables might just turn around once again. A central, solid core provides the blocks for others to build upon and improve. As such, it shouldn't be too long before we see more and more computer manufacturers shipping Linux once again. Whether you prefer Canonical, Fedora or Mandriva, getting Linux onto mainstream consumer products is definitely a win for the free software community.
|Released Last Week
Ultimate Edition 2.3 "Gamers"
Glenn Cady has announced the release of Ultimate Edition 2.3 "Gamers" edition, an Ubuntu-based distribution for gamers: "Ultimate Edition 2.3 'Gamers' has been released. I am not going to make a huge deal out of this, but it certainly is a nice toy. Especially for you gamers out there. Ultimate Edition 2.3 'Gamers' has the following games pre-installed: 3D chess, Airstrike, Aisleriot Solitaire, Barrage, Blackjack, Boswars, Brutal Chess, BzFlag, Chess, Dream Chess, Five or more, Foo Billiard, Four-in-a-row, Freecell, Gbrainy, Glest, Gnometris, Gridwars, Hearts, Lango, Kslotski.... Play on Linux is included in this distro, which allows playing of Windows games in a nearly seamless manner. Many additional Linux games available though Ultamatix tool are also included in the distro. It uses the Ultimate Edition 2.4 theme pack, but is Jaunty-based." Here is the full release announcement.
Berry Linux 0.98
Yuichiro Nakada has announced the release of Berry Linux 0.98, a Fedora-based desktop live CD with support for Japanese and English. This is the first Berry Linux release based on Fedora 11 with KDE 4.3 as the default desktop. From the changelog: "Berry Linux 0.98 released. Based on Fedora 11; Linux kernel 22.214.171.124 SMP + ndev/udev, Squashfs 4.0, Unionfs 2.5.2 and NDISwrapper 1.54; glibc 2.10.1, GCC 4.4.1, BusyBox 1.14.2; KDE 4.3.0; Rasp-UI 0.12 window manager; Japanese and English editions of OpenOffice.org 3.1.1, Mozilla Firefox 3.5.3 and Mozilla Thunderbird 126.96.36.199; Samba 3.3.2; WINE 1.1.23; xlockmore 5.28; removed Digikam." Read the rest of the changelog for additional information.
Network Security Toolkit 2.11.0
Paul Blankenbaker has announced the release of Network Security Toolkit (NST) 2.11.0, a Fedora-based live DVD providing easy access to best-of-breed open source network security applications: "We are pleased to announce the latest NST release- version 2.11.0. This release is based on Fedora 11 using Linux kernel 188.8.131.52. The architecture for building an NST distribution has been completely redesigned and engineered. Starting with this release, all system, network and security applications are now included as RPM packages. This allowed us to take advantage of the Fedora live CD project for spinning off an 'NST Live' distribution. This project will also help make it easier to develop future releases of NST. Here are some of the highlights for this release: The entire NST distribution is RPM-based and an NST system can be maintained using redundant RPM repositories; NST is now extensible - add new applications with YUM...." Please visit the project's home page to read the full release announcement.
Imad Sousou has announced the release of Moblin 2.0, a Linux distribution optimised for netbooks and other mobile Internet devices: "The Moblin steering committee is pleased to announce three exciting new developments within the Moblin project: the project release of Moblin 2.0 for Intel Atom processor-based netbooks; a preview of the Moblin Garage and Moblin Application Installer; a community preview release of Moblin 2.1 for Intel Atom Processor-based netbooks and nettops for early development. The project release of Moblin 2.0 is now available. With this community release you can expect to see OSVs and OEMs shipping products based on Moblin 2.0 for netbooks. Moblin 2.0 features a rich user interface that was developed from the ground up, for netbook form factors and usage models, to provide an outstanding visual user experience that integrates Internet browsing, media consumption, and social networking." Read the rest of the release announcement for further details.
Moblin 2.0 - a distribution for Atom-based netbooks with a customised user interface
(full image size: 661kB, screen resolution 1280x800 pixels)
Absolute Linux 13.0.2
Paul Sherman has announced the release of Absolute Linux 13.0.2, a new update of the lightweight distribution based on Slackware Linux: "Absolute Linux 13.0.2 released. GTK+ themes engines included along with customized theme changing utility (gtk-chtheme) that calls script that changes IceWM theme, PCMan File Manager desktop background and ROX-Filer background. Makes our lightweight interface more cohesive, but if any setting should fail it does so silently so you can hack away changing stuff and it will not mess up your system. Brasero has replaced K3b. KDE libraries, KDE Multimedia and Arts have all been removed. If you want KDE, you can safely drop in the entire Slackware KDE packages, but for the UI-stay-out-of-my-way types, we've eliminated more overhead. Updates include: Firefox, SeaMonkey, Flash plugin, IceWM and a number of scripts in the a/etc package." Here is the full release announcement.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
The infrastructure around the recently announced Ubuntu 10.04, code name "Lucid Lynx" and scheduled for release in April 2010, is being set up at a rapid pace. The first alpha release of the new LTS (long-term support) Ubuntu is now just two months away, scheduled for 3 December 2009. But the entire development cycle has been altered; instead of six alpha releases, one beta and one release candidate (as is the case with Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"), the new version will have only three alphas, two betas and one quick release candidate - a total of six (rather than eight) development releases. The final build of Ubuntu 10.04 is scheduled for 29 April 2010. For further details please see the Lucid Release Schedule page on Ubuntu Wiki.
* * * * *
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 5 October 2009.
Ladislav Bodnar and Chris Smart
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|• Issue 613 (2015-06-08): Fedora 22, Cinnamon 2.6 released, FreeBSD's history, working around Secure Boot|
|• Issue 612 (2015-06-01): Manjaro OpenRC, Debian, Devuan and systemd, Fedora 22 released, Mandriva closes its doors|
|• Full list of all issues|
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