| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 326, 26 October 2009
Welcome to this year's 43rd issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Ah, the excitement of an Ubuntu release! Yes, "Karmic Koala", the distribution's 11th official version will hit the undoubtedly crowded download servers later this week amid the excitement of those who enjoy the popular operating system -- and also to the annoyance of some of the more vocal anti-Ubuntu crowds on Linux blogs and forums. But Ubuntu is not the only Linux distribution that gets attention in this week's DistroWatch Weekly. Our lead article is a review of GNOME SlackBuild for Slackware Linux, a third-party effort to provide quality GNOME packages for the oldest surviving Linux distro. In the news section, Mandriva finally updates the artwork in preparation for the upcoming stable release, openSUSE brings a number of interesting features to challenge the competition, and Funtoo hints at a possible new life as a "fork" of Gentoo Linux. Also not to be missed, an amusing and frightening analysis of a web site that charges US$125 to download Mozilla Firefox. Finally, check out the new section of DistroWatch Weekly where Jesse Smith attempts to answer some of the questions that our readers regularly post in the comments section. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Caitlyn Martin)
GNOME SlackBuild 2.26.3 for Slackware 13.0
Three weeks ago I reviewed Slackware 13.0 for DistroWatch Weekly. As I mentioned in that review, Slackware, at present, does not include GNOME or any applications which require the GNOME libraries. Back in March 2005, Patrick Volkerding, the creator of Slackware, wrote that GNOME was: "Removed from -current, and turned over to community support and distribution. I'm not going to rehash all the reasons behind this, but it has been under consideration for more than four years. There are already good projects in place to provide Slackware GNOME for those who want it, and these are more complete than what Slackware shipped in the past." There are three well-known GNOME distributions for Slackware: Dropline GNOME, GWARE and GSB (GNOME SlackBuild).
Despite the similarity in name to SlackBuilds.org, GSB does not simply provide build scripts - it includes a complete set of Slackware binary packages for GNOME. It also optionally provides packages related to, but which are not part of, the GNOME project, including OpenOffice.org, the AbiWord word processor and Bluefish, an editor for web developers. The current stable version of GSB is 2.26.3. GSB 2.28.0 is presently under development. Packages are available for both the 32-bit and 64-bit builds of Slackware. This review covers GSB 2.26.3 on the 32-bit architecture.
I chose GSB as the one I wanted to look at for some very practical reasons. GWARE hasn't released a version for Slackware 13.0 as of yet. Dropline replaces more Slackware packages than GSB. GSB also has a stated goal: it "aims to replace as few packages as possible." Slackware's great strengths include stability and reliability so I prefer to do as little as possible which may change that. Finally, I've had very good experience with GSB In the past.
For this review I used two systems, a new HP Mini 110 (1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB SATA SSD storage) and my nearly 7-year old Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204 (1 GHz Intel Celeron CPU, 512 MB RAM, 20 GB HDD). In my experience Slackware and most Slackware derivative distributions perform extremely well on older hardware even with the GNOME desktop environment added.
Installation and configuration
There are several steps required to install GSB and two distinct installation methods. These are well documented on the Download & Install Page of their web site and in the README.TXT file. There is a reference to a replaced packages file as well but the link on the web site is broken and the information is now contained in both of the other documents. Anyone who can install and configure Slackware should find the installation instructions pretty straightforward regardless of the method chosen.
Slackware Apt, a package management system used by many Slackware derivative distributions, is a pre-requisite for installing GSB irrespective of the installation method used. Technically the only required part of the system is slapt-get, a command-line tool very similar to apt-get in Debian and Debian-based distributions. Once slapt-get is installed you will want to check and customize your /etc/slapt-get/slapt-get.rc file. If you used the version provided with GSB then the GSB repository will already be included but you may wish to change the base Slackware mirror to something other than the very busy ftp.slackware.org. You may also wish to use a GSB mirror which is closer to home.
The second part of the installation process is to replace five Slackware packages with versions from the GSB repository. These include key libraries: glib2, gtk+2 and alsa-lib, all of which are updated to newer versions. This is done as root with the command sequence "slapt-get --update && slapt-get --upgrade". The first command updates Slackware Apt's package list. The second will not only install the upgrades from GSB but also any as yet uninstalled security patches from the official Slackware repositories. This process also pulls a fairly large number of new dependencies from the GSB repository so you are, in effect, doing part of the GNOME installation at this point
For the third and final step you have the choice of using slapt-get to install a gsb-desktop metapackage or using the netinstall process described on the web page. Since I tested GSB on two systems I chose to do one of each. What I found was the difference between the two was negligible. The Quick and Easy Install uses lynx, the text-based web browser, to run slapt-get remotely on the GSB server while the metapackage runs the same process locally. With my fast Internet connection I found either method to be quick and easy and required no intervention on my part.
If you haven't done so already you may wish to edit your /etc/inittab file at this point to change the default runlevel to 4 to have the system boot directly into the GUI. The newly installed GDM display manager offers some significant features not included in KDM or XDM, the two display managers included with Slackware.
Running GSB 2.26.3
If you've chose to change the default runlevel to 4 the next time you log into the system GDM will present you with a graphical login screen. In addition to the user name and password you will have the option to choose the desktop environment or window manager to run. If you already had KDE, Xfce or any of the lightweight window managers included with Slackware by default you can change between them and GNOME on a session-by-session basis. You also can choose your language and theme for the session.
Slackware 13.0, GNOME 2.26.3 (GSB) desktop
(full image size: 573kB, screen resolution 1024x576 pixels)
By default GSB installs a minimal GNOME desktop. Additional applications can be added using slapt-get or, optionally, the graphical gslapt package manager, which is similar to Synaptic on Debian-based systems. In additional to the afore-mentioned applications you'll find all the typical GNOME programs, including the Gnumeric 1.8.4 spreadsheet, the Dia 0.9.7 diagram editor and GnuCash 2.2.9 financial software in the GSB repository. In all cases the latest stable version of the application as of the time GNOME 2.26.3 was released are included, including AbiWord 2.6.8 and OpenOffice 3.1.1. Applications installed by default include the Totem movie player, Brasero CD/DVD burner and the Epiphany web browser. One thing that was not installed by default was the Fusion icon for Compiz Fusion, which I found a little strange since all of the rest of Compiz was installed.
The controversial Mono C# development environment is not installed by default and, as you'd expect, neither are any applications or desktop extensions which require it. Mono and related applications, like Tomboy notes, are included in the GSB repository.
I generally found the performance of both systems with GSB installed to be excellent. The old Toshiba system, which is sluggish with some more popular distributions with GNOME, remained snappy and responsive. I attribute this both to the performance of Slackware and the minimal nature of the initial GSB installation. I had installed wicd on my systems from the official Slackware extra repository and, as expected, I had wicd's network status icon on my GNOME top panel and wicd remained problem free. GSB does not include network manager, though interestingly, the network-manager-applet for GNOME is in the repository.
I ran into only one intermittent but significant bug with GSB 2.26.3. On two occasions gslapt's window went blank when I clicked on the "Execute" icon. I had to force quit the application. Re-running precisely the same process again correctly performed the expected actions without problem. I use gslapt in VectorLinux Light on the Toshiba laptop regularly and have also used it in Zenwalk 6.2 without difficulty so this bug does appear to be specific to GSB.
Package Management and Security
Unlike vanilla Slackware, GSB does support automated dependency checking when you use Slackware Apt. The provided /etc/slapt-get/slapt-get.rc file uses tags to correctly prioritize between the various parts of the official Slackware repository and GSB. Generally, the GSB repository has first priority. I haven't run into any package conflicts between the two repositories so far. It should be noted that installing packages from the official Slackware repositories will work properly with slapt-get or gslapt but dependencies will not be resolved and you have to manually select and install them, much as on a vanilla Slackware system. However, if a GSB package requires an official Slackware package that dependency will be installed automatically.
If you use multiple third-party repositories in distributions using RPM packaging, such as Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and clones (including Oracle Enterprise Linux, CentOS and Scientific Linux), SUSE Linux Enterprise, or openSUSE, it's important to note that the ability to prioritize and sort repositories to avoid package conflicts is far more limited than what is offered by the Yum Priorities plugin. In my experience trying to manage assorted third-party repositories and correctly resolving dependencies across different repositories is exceptionally tricky with Slackware Apt and generally doesn't work well.
Slackware has an excellent reputation for making security patches available promptly. One very nice optional package in GSB is slapt-notifier. This adds an icon to the GNOME, KDE or Xfce panel when updated packages are available and makes the process of applying updates and patches as simple as in any of the more popular distributions, i.e.: Ubuntu or Mandriva. It works very well with just the GSB and official Slackware repositories enabled. When you click on the notification icon a window opens letting you know which updates are available. If you choose to update your system gslapt is opened and automatically installs the required packages.
gslapt 0.5.1b graphical package manager
(full image size: 62kB, window resolution 724x511 pixels)
Internationalization and localization
Adding GSB to a Slackware system greatly simplifies the task of localization. If graphical logins are enabled the GDM display manager allows the user to choose their language on a session-by-session basis and to set their default language. So long as the required language packs, fonts, and dictionaries are installed the system should then function correctly in the chosen language. This works regardless of whether GNOME, KDE, or Xfce is chosen as the desktop environment.
In addition to the language packs, i18n/i10n packages and dictionaries in the official Slackware repositories, GSB includes a full set of OpenOffice.org i10n packages. Enchant, the spell-checking interface for AbiWord, is included in GSB. As long as the correct Aspell dictionaries from the Slackware extra repository are installed AbiWord should be able to check spelling in the selected language as well.
GSB provides an integrated, easy-to-install, and rather complete GNOME desktop environment. In keeping with Slackware philosophy it installs just a minimal set of GNOME packages and then allows the user to add the applications he or she may need. GSB also includes packages which add improved package management and simplified localization to Slackware as well as offering some popular applications not included in the official Slackware repositories.
I found only one significant bug which could be attributed to GSB. Performance is generally excellent as I have come to expect from Slackware. In general, GSB provides an excellent add-on to Slackware for those whose desktop preference is GNOME.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Canonical limits free Ubuntu 9.10 CDs, Mandriva nears 2010 release, best features of openSUSE 11.2, Funtoo as a Gentoo "fork", Firefox download scams
Only a few days remain before the final release of Ubuntu 9.10, the 11th stable release of the distribution that is clearly marching from strength to strength. As is always the case on release days, don't expect the main Ubuntu server and its mirrors to function at lightning speeds, at least until the initial demand is satisfied. Fortunately, there will likely be alternatives to watching the snail-like progress of the download indicator as early Ubuntu reviews, analyses, commentaries and interviews will surely fill many technical web sites, big and small. If you are eager to start reading on "Karmic Koala", the page carrying the official release notes is an excellent starting point. But for those who are eagerly awaiting the freshly pressed Ubuntu CDs to arrive in their mail boxes, there is some bad news - for the first time in its history, Canonical has decided to limit the free media to certain categories of users, such as official user groups, Ubuntu contributors or people who are unlikely to have access to other forms of obtaining the distribution: "We will continue to supply CDs to LoCo teams and Ubuntu members. And we hope to make CDs available to everyone who is just discovering Ubuntu. But we are limiting shipments to people that we think have alternative paths of getting Ubuntu."
* * * * *
While Ubuntu will undoubtedly steal much of the media spotlight in the next few days, the dark horse among the established distributions, Mandriva Linux, is also nearing the final release of its new version. Expected on 3 November, Mandriva 2010, is set to retain its customised KDE3-like look of the KDE 4 desktop despite dropping all KDE 3 components from the distribution. Some of the new features will include redesigned partitioning screen in the system installer, ext4 as the default file system, a new temporary "guest" account enabled by default, Fedora's Plymouth as the default bootsplash manager, Linux kernel 2.6.31 with kernel-mode setting and Tomoyo security framework, X.Org Server 1.6.5, KDE 4.3.2 and GNOME 2.28.1, Moblin integration, and, as usual, various improvements to Mandriva's configuration tools. Last but not least, there will be new artwork, some of which has finally started filtering down into "Cooker" (Mandriva's development branch) over the weekend - always an exciting part of each distribution's development process. This is just a fraction of what the new Mandriva will offer so head for the official release notes if you'd like to learn more.
Mandriva Linux 2010 is scheduled for release next week.
(full image size: 465kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
While talking about the interesting features of upcoming distribution releases we can't leave out openSUSE 11.2, expected next month. Here is a brief extract from openSUSE 11.2 - the Perfect KDE Distribution, talking about "live upgrade", a way of upgrading from one release to another without having to download an installation CD: "For the first time officially, openSUSE will support live upgrade in the manner of Debian's dist-upgrade. This feature has a powerful psychological impact at the enterprise level and a much more tangible impact at the small user level. According to the feature page, 'the rationale for pursuing this is to revoke the special status of coolness this functionality gives Ubuntu, and to terminate the negative influence that may have on our SUSE Linux Enterprise sales'." Another interesting innovation making its first appearance in openSUSE 11.2 is the YaST web interface: "openSUSE 11.2 will ship a technology preview of the web interface of YaST. The objective of YaST web interface is to enable remote 1:1 management of a machine. It is built using Ruby on Rail framework."
* * * * *
Daniel Robbins, the founder and former chief technology officer of Gentoo Linux has not been part of the project he created ten years ago for some time. However, after launching Funtoo in 2006 and providing unofficial "stages" for Gentoo Linux, he was effectively a highly active Gentoo contributor, albeit in an unofficial capacity. This is all set to change. In a recent post to the Funtoo developers' mailing list, Robbins -- for the first time -- talked about Funtoo as "more of a fork", while seeking feedback on some of the major changes he had been considering for his project: "As the title states, I've been thinking about the future of Funtoo and wanted to post some of my ideas here, so you can offer feedback. What does the future of Funtoo hold? Basically, more of a fork, supporting Mac OS X and other platforms if we want, while maintaining Gentoo compatibility in all areas possible." As for the ideas, here are some of them: "I want to have a simpler Linux core system. Everything in a stage3 these days is quite complex. So I would like to rewrite around 250 ebuilds of the core system. ... Move away from Portage for the core system, to a very minimal lightweight build system. The idea here is to allow more of an LFS-inspired core system -- very simple, and get rid of all the Gentoo-specific cruft."
* * * * *
Finally, a link to a story that many DistroWatch readers will probably consider amusing, but spare a thought for some of our fellow Internet users with less experience and knowledge who might fall into all sort of traps on the world wide web. The article, entitled "A Tour Of A 'Pay to Download Firefox' Site", looks at a web page that charges US$125.90 for downloading Firefox! Yes, the free and open-source web browser that can be had for nothing from the project's web site. The crooked people behind the shameless site use every trick in the book to add extra charges for technical support, security updates and other "features", with automatically selected checkboxes and additional monthly recurring charges hidden in small print added for good measure. The no-refund policy assures that once you hit the "pay" button, there is no way to get the money back or, indeed, cancel the recurring credit card charge. If you think it unlikely that there are Internet users who would fall for such a scam, then think again: "At Mozilla, we regularly get anguished emails from people who have paid to download Firefox, and have then discovered a) that it's actually free, and b) that it's very hard to get the company they paid to stop charging their credit card. For those who have never had the misfortune to visit one of these trap sites, I thought people might be interested in a walkthrough of the user experience." Incredible, but true....
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Distributions for older hardware
Keeping-it-small asks: What distribution would you recommend for older, low-specification hardware?
DistroWatch answers: This is a common question asked by newcomers to the Linux scene -- I know, I wondered that myself when I first got introduced to Linux. I spent about a month looking around and trying advice from various people. Truth be told, if you ask ten Linux users which distro they recommend, nine of them will problem give you the same answer: the one I use. (In case you're wondering, the tenth will probably avoid a direct answer and give you a list of about seven flavours of Linux. One of the great benefits of Linux is its diversity.)
I'm not sure what the specifications of your hardware are, which makes the question a bit tricky. What I'll do here is list some distros that I think will perform well with 512 MB of RAM or lower on computers with processors running below 1 GHz. From largest to smallest, I suggest:
- Slax. The Slax distro is based on Slackware and, I've found, most small distributions which are based on Slackware make for fast, solid operating systems for low-end machines. Slax is a bit heavy and is probably best suited for medium-level hardware, but in my opinion, it is really well-polished and has sane defaults. Certainly worth a test drive. My only complaint about Slax was a lack of steady security updates. But new releases come out fairly often and it's novice friendly.
- Puppy Linux. Puppy Linux is a really easy-to-use mini-Linux which does a fine job of balancing performance with ease of use. Chances are if you're new to Linux in general, the user interface of Puppy will put you at ease. I used to shy away from recommending this distro because it didn't really handle multiple user accounts, but I understand this has been improved upon recently.
- Damn Small Linux. Damn Small Linux (DSL) used to be king of small Linux distributions, aimed at low-spec hardware. It's still worth a look, but it has been a while since a new release came out. This makes DSL, while impressive for its small size, a bit behind the times. I'd recommend DSL if you have really old hardware and have used Linux a little before.
|Released Last Week
Karanbir Singh has announced the release of CentOS 5.4, a free, enterprise-class distribution built from source code for Red Hat Enterprise Linux: "We are pleased to announce the immediate availability of CentOS 5.4 for i386 and x86_64 architectures. CentOS 5.4 is based on the upstream release EL 5.4.0, and includes packages from all variants including server and client. All upstream repositories have been combined into one, to make it easier for end users to work with. And the option to further enable external repositories at install time is now available in the installer. For the first time, we are also releasing the i386 CentOS 5.4 live CD at the same time as the main distro." See the release announcement and release notes for further information.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
- MOPSLinux 5.0-alpha2.7, 5.0-alpha3, the release announcement (in Russian)
- Fedora 12-beta, the release announcement
- Chakra Fuzzy, the release announcement
- Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu Studio, Mythbuntu 9.10-rc, the release announcement
- Elive 1.9.51, the release announcement
- sidux 2009.3-preview1, the release notes
- Greenie Linux 5.1J
- PelicanHPC GNU/Linux 1.9.2
- Untangle Gateway 7.0.1
- DEFT Linux 4.2.1
- Elastix 2.0.0-alpha
- Clonezilla Live 1.2.3-5
- trixbox 220.127.116.11
- NuTyX GNU/Linux 2009.1-rc1
- grml 2009.10-rc1
- ALT Linux 5.0.0-rc
- Berry Linux 0.99
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
- UPR. Ubuntu Privacy Remix (UPR) is a modified live CD based on Ubuntu. Its goal is to provide a completely isolated working environment where private data can be dealt with safely and to protect data against unsolicited access. Networking is intentionally disabled and saving data to mounted volumes is not allowed. The live CD is not installable to hard disk.
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- Leeenux. Leeenux is a new Ubuntu-based distribution designed for the ASUS Eee PC. It uses the Ubuntu Netbook Interface, but claims to be lighter, faster and optimised for the 7-inch screen of the Eee PC 700 series. It does not include any non-free applications or drivers and does not offer out-of-the-box support for patent-encumbered media codecs.
- Simplix Linux Simplix Linux is an easy-to-use operating system for home desktop computers. It is a live CD based on Debian GNU/Linux and is made for German-speaking users.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 2 November 2009.
Caitlyn Martin, Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Issue 693 (2017-01-02): Comparing small distros, fig language, video driver comparsion, Debian+PIXEL, Wayland on FreeBSD|
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|• Issue 690 (2016-12-05): Fedora 25, Ubuntu adopts rolling HWE kernel, running Android apps on GNU/Linux, Haiku working toward EFI support|
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|• Issue 679 (2016-09-19): OpenMandriva 3.0, 32-bit vs 64-bit performance, openSUSE updates, KaOS unveils first run wizard|
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|• Issue 675 (2016-08-22): Gentoo LiveDVD "Choice Edition", moreutils, Ubuntu improves terminal convergence, MATE packaged for Openindiana, FreeBSD improves video support|
|• Issue 674 (2016-08-15): Zenwalk Linux 8.0, Ubuntu phone follow-up, Lubuntu transitioning to LXQt, Steam running on FreeBSD|
|• Issue 673 (2016-08-03): noop linux and EasyNAS, Debian's GnuPG switch, Fedora "Flock", using "nice"|
|• Issue 672 (2016-08-01): Ubuntu Phone 15.04, Solus embraces rolling release model, interview with Jane Silber, FreeBSD Quarterly Report|
|• Issue 671 (2016-07-25): Slackware 14.2, Point Linux 3.2, OpenBSD disables usermount, KaOS releases significant changes, Fedora 22 reaches end of life.|
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|• 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|
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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|
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|• Issue 646 (2016-02-01): deepin 15, Mint plans X-Apps, FreeBSD to support boot environments, logging into the desktop as root|
|• Full list of all issues|
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