| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 336, 11 January 2010
Welcome to this year's second issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Linux distributions come in many flavours; some include thousands of packages on a half a dozen of DVDs, while others fit on a 30 MB media. SliTaz GNU/Linux falls into the latter category. But despite its small size, it is a highly versatile and modern distribution, featuring the latest Linux kernel and many extra applications in its online repositories. Read our first-look review to find out more. In the news section, Debian project leader hints at a possible release date of the project's next version, Slackware removes the last vestiges of the old IDE/ATA system from its current kernels, BSD Magazine transforms itself into an free online publication, and Foresight Linux promises to re-activate the development of its GNOME-centric distribution. Other topics covered in this issue include release roadmap for Mandriva Linux 2010.1, a comparative review of several netbook-oriented distributions, and a quick tip on restoring the GRUB bootloader in case of trouble. Happy reading!
- Reviews: Examining SliTaz GNU/Linux
- News: Debian "Squeeze" release hints and installer changes, Slackware "Current" kernel updates, Mandriva community editions, BSD Magazine changes, future of Foresight Linux, UNR vs Moblin
- Questions and answers: Restoring GRUB
- Released last week: Toorox 01.2010
- Upcoming releases: Pardus Linux 2009.1, Mandriva Linux 2010.1 roadmap
- New distributions: FortMacTux, Linvo GNU/Linux, LPS-Public, NexentaStor, sipXecs, Tango GNU/Linux
- Reader comments
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (34MB) and MP3 (35MB) formats
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Examining SliTaz GNU/Linux
When it was suggested to me that I review SliTaz GNU/Linux, my first reaction was less than enthusiastic: SliTaz, the one with the spider icon? I wasn't sure if I was in for a creepy horror film experience or something cooked up by a developer who had read too many Marvel comic books. I decided to take a look at the project's website and see what it had to offer and I was pleasantly surprised. Not just by the project's claim to fit a modern desktop into a 30 MB image, though that in itself is impressive; not just the professional, friendly look, which is delightfully easy to navigate; not just by the wide variety of supported languages, there are six; but by the clear communication presented there. There is no fluff or cryptic messages on SliTaz's website. It's all clean, direct information which explains what the project is about on a level that both hardcore Linux veterans and newcomers will understand.
The project offers up several flavours of their distribution, including a "Stable" live CD, which weighs in at about 30 MB. There's a development snapshot, called "Cooking", which is also a live CD image of about 30 MB. In addition, the SliTaz developers offer a method to create a custom CD. For my test drive of this distribution, I grabbed the latest "Cooking", version 20091104, and burned it to a CD.
My test machines included a generic desktop, with a 2.5 GHz CPU and 2 GB of RAM and I also tried SliTaz on my LG laptop, which runs at 1.5 GHz and also boasts 2 GB of RAM. To see how this tiny distribution would run with more limited resources, I created a virtual machine and varied the amount of memory between 64 MB and 512 MB.
First boot and software selection
The SliTaz live CD starts off with a fairly standard boot menu and, if left alone, will start the live image. Before getting to the desktop, the user is asked to select their preferred language, keyboard layout and screen resolution. Brief seconds later, a desktop is displayed. The black spider icon sits in the middle of a red desktop, reminding me of a certain super hero costume. In the top left-hand corner, there are three icons for accessing the user's home directory, an application launcher for a text editor and an icon which leads to documentation. The documentation icon launches a local web page, which links to other documents on the project's site. These documents continue in the helpful, to-the-point form which I mentioned previously. Also on the desktop are the application menu and shortcuts to a file browser, virtual terminal and a re-branded Firefox 3.5. In the bottom-right corner, there are controls for adjusting the volume and handling the system's network connections. There's a display for tracking CPU usage, a package manager icon and the ever popular clock.
Despite its small size, SliTaz GNU/Linux includes nearly 200 software packages.
(full image size: 151kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
The application menu is a treasure trove of software and I was pleasantly surprised to see how many applications could be squeezed into a 30 MB image - there are exactly 190 packages in total. The application menu contains a number of categories, including a Documentation section, which links to various help files. There is a Graphics group, which allows the user to take screen shots, view images and perform simple image editing. The Multimedia section doesn't have any video player, but it does have an audio player and a CD ripping tool. The Office section is light, with a note-taking application and some links to third-party websites. The Preferences category contains applications to change the system's look and feel and the user's password.
There is a Utilities sub-menu, which holds a CD/DVD burning application, a calculator, a program for searching for files, an archive manager and a virtual console. Last, but far from least, is the System Tools section. Here we have applications for configuring the network connection, a program for hardware detection and links to the package manager and the system installer. Also in the Tools group is GParted, for handling disk partitions; a useful program called System Information and the central configuration tool, called the Control Box. The System Information application looks especially polished and offers a quick way to discover information about the system's hardware and attached devices. The Control Box is an easy way to change most of SliTaz's settings. The Control Box isn't pretty and the organization takes a little getting used to. But it is a powerful tool and it gets the job done. I was able to manage my boot configuration, create user accounts and tweak the network settings from this central location.
SliTaz GNU/Linux offers many popular software applications for the web.
(full image size: 122kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
System installation and hardware support
After playing with SliTaz as a live CD for a while, I decided to install it to my local hard drive. The installer starts by asking if the user would like to begin a fresh install or upgrade from a previous version. As this was my first time using SliTaz, I began a fresh install. The installer requires that the drive be already partitioned. Fortunately, the operating system comes with a copy of GParted, which makes creating and adjusting partitions an easy, though manual, process. Once a partition is selected, the installer offers to format it. The user is then asked to create a name for the machine and the installer copies the required packages to the local drive. The last step of the process is to choose whether to install a fresh copy of the GRUB boot loader. The installer then offers to reboot the machine. I would like to point out that the installer does not reset the root password, nor does it create a password for the regular user account. These functions can be done post-install if the user wishes.
Though SliTaz is designed for computers with low-specification hardware, it comes with a modern Linux kernel. This means SliTaz has a similar level of support for devices that you expect to find in larger distributions. And, for the most part, my devices were handled very well. On both my desktop and laptop, the network connection was detected and enabled. My laptop's Intel wireless card was picked up and used without any manual configuring. Sound worked on both of my machines without any tinkering, though my laptop's volume was set very low. I have a Novatel USB mobile modem for my laptop, which was picked up, but not enabled. There doesn't seem to be any way to get the modem working through the system's Control Box, but a determined user could get it working from the command line.
Plugging in USB devices, such as Flash drives or a camera, causes the device to appear in the file browser and devices can be mounted with a mouse click. I was also happy to find that SliTaz comes with NTFS support, which means it can be used to rescue data from Windows partitions. My only concern with my hardware was related to my video card. When SliTaz first boots, it asks the user to pick a desired screen resolution. This is fine, except that the list of available resolutions includes settings which aren't supported. This may cause some users to pick the highest (default) setting and then wonder why their screen goes blank. I found that SliTaz generally used between 80 MB and 120 MB of memory, depending on what I was doing. Because the installer doesn't create a swap partition, this means users should have around 128 MB of RAM in their machine if they're going to run SliTaz.
Package management and security
The package manager for SliTaz is an interest beast and is unique to this distribution. There are two front-ends for package management, one is command line driven and the other is a nice graphical interface. The command line interface is called tazpkg and works in a similar manner to apt-get or yum in other distributions. The tazpkg program comes with a wide range of options for downloading, installing, listing, finding and removing software. It also has some other fun features, such as displaying lists of known bugs in the available packages and displaying a dependency tree. The GUI version of the package manager has the same basic functionality, but with a simple point-and-click interface. Packages can be listed based on whether they're installed or available to be installed. Adding and removing a package is as easy as double-clicking the item and confirming the desired action. The graphical tool works smoothly and I encountered no problems with it.
Regardless of which interface is used, the tools are quick and powerful, resolving dependencies and prompting before doing anything permanent to the system. One drawback I ran into is that SliTaz supplies about 2,000 software packages. This is a good number for a mini distribution, but it falls short compared to larger projects. So while you're likely to find popular programs, such as AbiWord, Apache, instant messaging clients or the GNU Compiler Collection, less popular software isn't likely to be on offer. At first it seemed as though there weren't any packages for KDE or OpenOffice.org. However, a package search for "office" turned up a program called get-OpenOfffice3, which will try to install the large office suite. The get program kindly warns that the install process will take some time. For those who want to see what software is available in SliTaz before they download the distribution, there is a helpful web page which allows the user to search for software by name or by category.
SliTaz GNU/Linux - package management and desktop configuration
(full image size: 134kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Security on this distribution is a mixed bag and I get the impression it's designed to be used more as a live CD than a locally installed operating system. The installer leaves the root password as the default, "root", and the regular user account, "tux", is left without a password. These passwords can be set post-install by using the user manager or the command line, but it strikes me as something which should be handled, or at least mentioned, during the install. The home directories of users are left open to be read by all other users on the system, which is also a bit lax. On the other hand, no network services are running on SliTaz by default. From what I have seen thus far, the project's software packages receive regular updates and it's trivially easy to install these fresh packages.
During my time with SliTaz, I had the chance to exchange e-mails with one of the developers, Christophe Lincoln, and he had some interesting things to say about the project. He mentioned that SliTaz is already entering freeze and the development team will be doing testing and fixing bugs from now through to their next release in March. He also mentioned that SliTaz is being used in some organizations and the project is getting a lot of useful feedback. From what I've seen so far, I think their next version will be well worth trying out. It's already stable and I've encountered no show-stopping issues.
There is a difference between what a system is and how it feels and that distinction is very noticeable in SliTaz. Through much of my test run with this distribution I kept searching my mind for other, similar operating systems so I could make a comparison. Take, for example, SliTaz's amazingly small image size of 30 MB. It's smaller even than the last release of DSL. But, aside from the unbelievable speed, the two systems don't feel anything alike. Where DSL was packed with useful applications, it didn't have the same smooth, modern look that SliTaz carries. This distribution lets the user create their own flavours, allowing for further customization. In fact, one of the flavours of SliTaz runs in less than 64 MB of RAM. In this respect, the distro reminds me of Puppy. But again, that's where the similarities come to a halt.
It seems that SliTaz is very much a unique creation. This isn't to say that it's odd or that the controls are strange; I was able to pick up this distro and use it without any problems or relearning. But it's not a knock-off; it's not following in someone else's footsteps. While it's targeted at older machines, it will also service as a system rescue tool or a traveling live CD. It's a flexible operating system with enough of a personality to not get lost in the crowd. People who try this distro, whether to breathe life into an old PC or for curiosity's sake, are in for a treat.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Debian "Squeeze" release hints and installer changes, Slackware "Current" kernel updates, Mandriva community editions, BSD Magazine changes, future of Foresight Linux, UNR vs Moblin
Let's start this week's news section with a Debian-related news bit that was widely circulated on a number of Spanish-language web sites, but which wasn't picked up elsewhere. According to Software Libre en Venezuela (story in Spanish), Steve McIntyre, the current Debian project leader, wants the upcoming release of Debian GNU/Linux 6.0 "Squeeze" to happen before the next annual DebConf which will take place in New York in August 2010. This means that if McIntyre's wish is granted (a very big if), the new Debian release could be out in June or July this year. However, Debian still maintains its age-old "release-when-ready" policy, so any prediction as to when the next release might eventually arrive remains uncertain. Nevertheless, it's good to see some deadlines, vague as they might be; this way we are at least guaranteed some serious Debian bug-squashing sessions in the next few months.
On a related note, the Debian-Installer project has announced some interesting changes in their product. These include default installation of "recommended" packages, user-friendly improvements to language, country and locale settings, improved mirror selection, option to select UTC as time zone, support for ext4 file system during partitioning, and other small changes: "setting up RAID, LVM and crypto is simplified - it's no longer required to first set the correct usage for a partition; installed systems get console-setup (instead of console-tools plus console-data); [x86] installs grub-pc (GRUB 2) by default; [armel] support for Marvell's Kirkwood platform (QNAP TS-110, TS-119, TS-210, TS-219 TS-219P, Marvell SheevaPlug, Marvell OpenRD-Base and OpenRD-Client) and Intel Storage System SS4000-E; compatibility support for installing Lenny...."
* * * * *
Slackware Linux is a distribution that generally stays away from adopting any cutting-edge features for its base operating system. However, once a new technology has been sufficiently well-tested, it might be eventually accepted into the "Current" tree for testing. Such was the case last week when the last pieces of the old IDE/ATA system have been removed from the kernel: "New kernels... and this deserves a mention/warning: the last bits of the 'old' IDE/ATA system have been removed now. Everything should be using the libata-based drivers now, so if you have any drives that are currently running as /dev/hda, /dev/hdb, etc., when you reboot with these kernels all drives will be renamed as /dev/sda, /dev/sdb, etc. If you had any /dev/sd* already, they might get renamed. Adjustments may be required in /etc/lilo.conf, /etc/fstab, the initrd, and elsewhere. Good luck!" In case you are wondering, the default kernel in Slackware "Current" is the very latest - version 184.108.40.206.
* * * * *
Mandriva Linux is quickly becoming a popular base on which to build custom distributions. We have already mentioned some in a recent issue of DistroWatch Weekly, but that was just a tip of the iceberg. In his blog, Mandriva developer Fabrice Facorat provides a much more complete list of the various community-built Mandriva variants: "One 64 community - a 64-bit edition of the Mandriva One live CD with KDE and GNOME; LXDE live CD - the German community has release a Mandriva-based LXDE live CD, it can be used from a USB stick; One XFCE 2010 Live - a XFCE Mandriva-based live CD created and maintained by the Mandriva community; Skiper's Xfce 2010 - a fork of the XFCE Live Mandriva project which aims to integrate more testing features; MUD Netbook edition - a Mandriva-based Netbook edition featuring the Ubuntu Netbook user interface, it can be used as a live CD or dumped on an USB key...."
* * * * *
Launched in December 2007, the BSD Magazine is the only English-language print magazine with BSD focus on the market. Despite that, it has had trouble winning subscriptions from BSD users and has occasionally threatened to close down unless business improved. It didn't. However, instead of shutting down the magazine completely, the publisher, Poland's Software Press, has decided to transform it into a free online publication: "We are happy to announce that BSD Magazine is transforming into a free monthly online publication. The online edition of BSD Magazine will stay in the same quality and form. Please sign up to our newsletter at BSDMag.org and get every issue straight to your inbox. Also, you can now download any of the previous issues from our website. The first online issue -- 2/2010 -- is coming out in February 2010. Please spread the word about BSD Magazine."
* * * * *
The developers of Foresight Linux, an rPath-based distribution featuring the very latest of GNOME and GNOME-related technologies, used to provide us with regular releases, but we haven't heard from them since May last year. Is the distribution dead? Og Maciel, the Foresight Linux community manager, answers a concerned mailing list post written by one of the distribution's users. The reply is a definite "NO": "To answer the original question posted by Thilo, 'is Foresight Linux dead?', I can gladly say 'far from it!' I predict that the Foresight community will rally together in 2010 to get back to being the most 'GNOMEic' and bleeding-edge distribution out there! As the Foresight Community Manager I can honestly say that we have always been and will always be a niche distribution! We don’t have the man power that distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva or openSUSE have to provide the same level of documentation or user support. But I can guarantee one thing: Foresight is here to stay!"
* * * * *
Comparative reviews are a great way to find out the similarities and differences between distributions if one doesn't have the time to try them yourself. Last week, Tux Radar published a lengthy review comparing two netbook-oriented products -- Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) and Moblin -- and adding a thought or two on a few more, including Jolicloud, Slax and gOS: "Moblin is dramatically quicker at booting, even though the wireless connection is delayed, and you can see why Canonical has been watching Moblin development very closely, and why both distributions are promising further improvements. It's also noteworthy that the UNR desktop appears with a working wireless connection immediately, whereas we have to make for Moblin to make the same leap, which shows that UNR is performing certain tasks at the same time. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why Moblin is faster to the desktop?" A great read which should help you to choose the best netbook distro for your particular needs.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Can't-boot-any-more asks: Distro hopping wiped out my GRUB. How can I reconstruct it?
DistroWatch answers: Sometimes when making changes to a hard drive, such as installing a new operating system, the disk's master boot record (MBR) will get wiped or corrupted. When that happens, GRUB will no longer function. This has the unfortunate side effect of preventing the user from being able to boot their operating system and, in those cases, it's important to be able to get the system up and running again, preferably without re-installing the operating system(s) from scratch.
The easiest way to get GRUB back on-line is with a live CD. It doesn't really matter which live CD, so long as it comes with a copy of GRUB. Place the live CD into the computer and boot from it. We're then going to venture into command-line territory. The next thing to do is run the "grub" command as root or, if you are running a live CD that uses sudo, run "sudo grub". This will start GRUB and provide us with a prompt.
We'll then find out where the GRUB files are located:
grub> find /boot/grub/stage1
The find command will return a disk location for us. Probably "(hd0,0)" or "(hd0,1)". We now know where the GRUB files are stored. Next, we'll tell GRUB to use this location in the future. In the following step, type "root", followed by the location we were given above. In my case:
grub> root (hd0,1)
GRUB now knows where its files are located and we need to re-setup GRUB in the master boot record. To do this, we type:
grub> setup (hd0)
The above step should work for most people, who have GRUB installed in the MBR. For folks who have installed GRUB onto a partition, the "setup" command can be modified to include the partition number. The catch is, you need to know where you originally installed GRUB. In these cases, remember that GRUB starts counting partitions from zero, not one. So, for example, if GRUB was installed on the third partition of the first hard drive, the "setup" command will look like this:
grub> setup (hd0,2)
When we get back to the prompt again, we can quit GRUB:
And then reboot the computer. Remove the live CD from the drive and we should be back to normal.
|Released Last Week
Joern Lindau has released Toorox 01.2010, a Gentoo-based distribution and live DVD with the latest KDE 4, a graphical system installer, and advanced networking capabilities: "With the beginning of this new year it's time for a new release. With the release of Toorox 01.2010 you can get a 64-bit edition, too. It contains the 2.6.32 kernel and the KDE was updated to version 4.3.4. The Toorox installer is now able to set up your /home folder on another partition and you can install the bootloader into a single partition or a floppy disk. There's a new entry in Systemconfig - Mobile Broadband, where you can configure your mobile UMTS connection and bring it up. All packages for a PPTP VPN connection were included and you can configure it via NetworkManager and the nm applet. KFTPgrabber was replaced with gFTP and there is a new audio mixer - mixxx." See the full release announcement for further details.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Mandriva Linux 2010.1
Following this week's first alpha release of Mandriva Linux 2010.1, the developers of the popular distribution have published a release roadmap leading to version 2010.1. It will arrive later than usual, with the expected release date set to 3 June 2010. Before that happens, there will be two more alpha releases, two beta ones and a release candidate in the middle of May. For further information please see the 2010.1 Development page on Mandriva Wiki.
* * * * *
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 18 January 2010.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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