| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 345, 15 March 2010
Welcome to this year's 11th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! With the first development release of Fedora 13, the focus of the online Linux community has once again turned to this popular distribution. But, as emerged in an online report last week, the project's developer and user community is up in the arms over the project's update policy and its blatant disregard for end users' needs. In other news, the openSUSE community releases new live CDs with Xfce and LXDE desktop environments, OpenBSD announces the upcoming release of version 4.7, and Wolvix resumes the development of the Slackware-based distribution with a new development build. Also in this week's issue, a first look at Haiku, an operating system that strives to be a successor of BeOS, and a questions and answers section that looks at loopback devices. All this and more in this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly - happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
A first look at Haiku (alpha)
When talking about kernel scheduling and desktop responsiveness, it's common to hear people in the tech community talk fondly of BeOS, a desktop system which hails from the 1990s. BeOS had a well-deserved reputation for providing users with a polished desktop and smooth interaction, even when the processor was under heavy load. Unfortunately the product was not a financial success and BeOS largely disappeared from consumer machines. The Haiku project attempts to pick up where BeOS left off and, though Haiku includes very little code from BeOS, it strives to maintain the same sort of look, feel and snappy user interface.
I grabbed the Haiku install image, which weighs in at about 400 MB and acts both as installation media and as a live CD. Upon booting from the CD, Haiku starts up a graphical environment and asks if the user wishes to run the installer or move on to the live desktop. Selecting the latter option deposits the user at a fairly standard-looking desktop. The wallpaper is a soft sky blue and contains the Haiku logo. In the upper-left corner are icons for navigating the user's (and system's) directories. There are also icons linking to the project's release notes and manual. Lastly, there's an icon which launches the installer. Over in the upper-right corner we find a compact combination of application menu (represented here by a blue feather), system tray and taskbar. By default, the system tray displays a digital clock and system monitor. Clicking on the system monitor enables the user to manage running processes.
Considering this is the first alpha release of the operating system, Haiku comes with a pretty wide array of applications. Most of them are small, simple apps, but there's a good variety. The menu provides links to a web browser (which appears to be a re-branded Firefox version 2), a text editor, calculator, CD player, archive manager, a webcam tool (which wasn't able to detect my webcam), screen magnifier, media player, task manager, command-line terminal and an e-mail client. There are also tools available to assist the user in configuring the system, including tools to change the general appearance of the desktop, adjust the mouse, manage printers, select screen savers, adjust the time, configure the network connection and manage virtual memory. While using the system, I tried to play some music and video files. Clicking on a media file would launch the player, but I was unable to get picture or sound out of the program. The system likewise doesn't seem to have the ability to play DVDs nor does it have Flash installed.
Web browsing with Haiku
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For my experiment with Haiku, I used a generic desktop machine (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM and NVIDIA graphics card), my HP laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM and Intel graphics card) and a VirtualBox virtual machine with 512 MB of RAM. Haiku's ability to handle (or not handle) my hardware is where it surprised me the most. On both of my machines, the video card was handled perfectly. Likewise, the OS didn't have any trouble picking up USB devices, such as a mouse or keyboard. My laptop's touchpad worked without any problems and my desktop's network card was properly detected. On the other hand, I wasn't able to get sound out of either machine, my laptop's network port and wireless card were not picked up and my Novatel USB modem wasn't detected. During my time with Haiku, I wasn't able to get the system to print, even to Haiku's virtual PDF printer. Things worked fairly well when running the OS in my virtual environment, except for the network connection. A little experimenting revealed Haiku wouldn't detect Virtual Box's default network interface; it needed to be offered one of the Intel card options.
Besides the Be file system, Haiku supports a few common partition types. The system was able to detect a NTFS partition and my ext3 partitions, but not my ext4 partition. When running from the live CD, Haiku doesn't automatically mount local drives, but the option is there to mount supported partitions. When a partition is mounted, a corresponding icon is created for the user on the desktop.
Kicking off the system installer displays some documentation about the install process. Specifically, the user is warned that the installer might not be able to manipulate partitions and so a partition should be created for Haiku ahead of time. Instructions for adding Haiku to an existing GRUB boot menu are also covered. As is mentioned in most of the project's documentation, the user is warned about the risks of using alpha-stage software. Moving beyond that screen, we get to the installer itself. It has a terse layout that is likely to appeal to the more technically inclined. From here, the user can select the source media (which is wisely defaulted to the live CD) and the destination partition.
There's a button which brings up a partition editor and, for this release, it seems the editor is really just there to format an existing partition to the Be file system. Once a suitable partition has been selected, the user can optionally choose to use the Haiku boot loader. There's a button which offers to install additional components, but the list of extras is empty. With all the options taken care of, the installer copies the live system to the destination partition. The copy process is quick, taking just a few minutes, and it carries a bonus. If the user has created files in the live environment before running the installer, those files will be automatically copied over to the hard disk.
The Haiku system installer at work
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When the installer is finished, the user can reboot and run their new Haiku system from the local drive. This process is very similar to running from the CD, though noticeably faster and the installer icon is missing from the desktop. When installed locally, the OS used around 100 MB of memory for simple tasks and, after the boot-up process completed, the desktop remained responsive regardless of what I threw at it. I didn't do any scientific comparison, but the system felt like it was performing about on par with a mid-level Linux desktop environment, such as Xfce.
At no point during the installation process was I asked to create user accounts, set a password, or confirm settings. At each boot up, the user is automatically logged into the desktop and given full control of the operating system. Haiku uses command-line programs and a file system layout which will be familiar to anyone who works with the UNIX family, so it was easy for me to create new user accounts and set passwords from the command line. However, doing so does not prevent the administrator, called "user", from being automatically logged in at boot time. In fact, there doesn't appear to be any way to sign in locally as a different user. This leads me to believe the user accounts are only used for network services, like secure shell, at this time. Otherwise Haiku is effectively a single-user system. While on the topic of network services, Haiku doesn't appear to be running any by default, preventing remote bad guys (and gals) from accessing the machine.
After searching around the application menu and the Haiku community forum, I'm unable to find any working package manager or update utility. In other words, the user is left without security updates. Installing new programs or patching existing packages must be done manually by downloading and compiling the desired software. To assist in this process, Haiku comes with the GNU Compiler Collection, version 2.95.3, and other development tools, such as GNU Make. These utilities worked well enough, enabling me to create small programs, but the handful of packages I downloaded and tried to build all failed to compile. I suspect incompatible library versions and the age of GCC 2.95.3 are the prime reasons for the software not building properly.
Using the command line in Haiku
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As the project's documentation regularly points out, Haiku is still in the alpha stage. It may be a developer's and hobbyist's playground, but it's definitely not in a position to move into the home desktop or business markets. The system is quick enough and shows promise, but it's missing a lot of features available in other modern operating systems. In some ways, it feels like Haiku is stuck in the 1990s. Separate user accounts, package management, and a wider range of applications would go a long way to making Haiku more appealing and will hopefully be added later. With the alpha now out in the wild and the system equipped with development tools, I suspect new software and ports will spring up fairly quickly. In conclusion:
- Project in alpha
- Off to a really good start
- Not for production
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Fedora developers stage "unrest", a look at Mandriva's history, openSUSE 11.2 "LXDE" and "Xfce" live CDs, Wolvix 2.0.0
With the alpha release of Fedora 13 early last week, the online Linux world has once again started focusing its attention on this popular and highly innovative distribution. What new features will the final release come with? And will there be, as has often been the case with the last few releases, any breathtaking and controversial changes that would make some end user shake their heads in disbelief while making others appreciate the new challenges? As always, we will have to wait another two months before the final version is out, but early information about some of the more interesting characteristics of Fedora 13 are now available: "BFO is one of the unique features in Fedora. This effort by Fedora community hopes to completely remove DVD installations in long term. It allows users to download a single, tiny image and install current and future versions of Fedora without having to download additional images." Also found in Fedora 13 is the ability to use the roll-back feature of the Btrfs file system: "Btrfs lets you take lightweight snapshots of the file system which can be mounted or booted into selectively. This means that you can easily take a snapshot of the partition and in case something bad happens, just boot into the older snapshot."
Although it is always exciting to report about new features in a Linux distribution, not everybody is happy with this rapidly changing world, frequent package updates and potential quality problems. Jonathan Corbet, the founder of Linux Weekly News, incited a heated debate last week when he reported about an "unrest" on the Fedora developers' mailing list: "At LWN.net this week, Jonathan Corbet reports unrest on Fedora mailing lists about the frantic pace, growing quantity, and shoddy quality of package updates. Noting that this may be more than 'yet another Fedora flame war,' Corbet writes that a growing number of Fedora users are fed up with the accelerating churn in a distro that they believe should begin mellowing out into the more sustainable pace of middle age." A number of proposals have been suggested to solve these problems: "Proposals for taming this chaos include moving to a rolling release schedule, as well as freezing releases, or making releases look like 'a moderately-slowed version of Rawhide.' ... So far, writes Corbet, Fedora's governance institutions have yet to agree on solutions. He concludes: 'Until those institutions act, Fedora risks looking like a contentious organization lacking a clear idea of what it is trying to do.'" The LWN.net article is currently available to subscribers only, but DesktopLinux has a nice summary of the events here. In response to these debates, the Fedora project has published a Wiki page entitled Stable release updates vision.
To conclude the round-up of Fedora-related news, here is a link to a fairly technical interview with Fedora project leader Paul Frields, talking about some of the lesser-known features of Fedora 12: "One of the most prominent features is the toolset for working with virtual guests, outside the virtual environment itself. With libguestfs and guestfish, a system administrator can make changes on a guest image without having to actually boot up that system. ... Another major improvement is memory management across multiple guests. In a lot of cases, virtualisation is used to host a large number of very similar guests. With Fedora 12, we've introduced a kernel shared memory feature that eliminates duplicate memory areas across guests, pointing instead to a single page in memory. So if you have any two virtual guest machines, each assigned, say, 512 megabytes of RAM, that load many of the same things into memory, the actual memory usage of each machine may be much lower than that 512 MB. Of course, that means that on the same host hardware, you can now fit more guests into the same amount of physical RAM. And this is managed without any special fiddling with configuration, again making life easier for the busy system administrator."
* * * * *
Mandriva Linux came into existence in 1998 and since then both the distribution and the company have had a fair share of ups and downs. Last week, H Open Source published a lengthy and well-researched article summarising the long and sometimes turbulent history of one of the world's most prominent Linux distributions: "KDE 1.0 had just been released (12 July, 1998), but Red Hat had yet to include the desktop environment because of reservations about the licensing of the Qt C++ cross platform GUI toolkit, on which KDE was built. [Mandriva founder Gaël] Duval not only included the latest version of KDE, but added touches of his own such as making 'access to the CD-ROM and floppy drives transparent.' When Duval returned from his two-week holiday there were more than two hundred messages waiting for him, 'including new ideas, one patch, and two companies (located in the US and Australia) announcing that they had already started selling Mandrake on CDs.' The combination of Red Hat and KDE proved a winning combination for Linux Mandrake, and began a roller coaster ride for Mandrake/Mandriva and its developers that has continued to this day."
* * * * *
More interesting openSUSE spins were announced last week. First, there was news about an openSUSE-based live CD with LXDE and this was followed by another live CD, but this time containing the Xfce desktop: "Yesterday Andrea announced the live CDs for LXDE, which he built in Build Service with the help of Dmitry Serpokryl. It was a very easy task for me to replace the LXDE packages with Xfce ones in Kiwi definition, so I can present you the Xfce live CDs! The default user is 'linux' with no password, user 'root' uses the same empty password. Some points first: currently the Qt YaST is used (I had some issues with GTK+ one); after the login a warning message is shown (about putting 'linux' into /etc/hosts); you can install the system to hard drive using the Live Installer icon on the desktop." Both of these live CDs are based on the current stable version of openSUSE (11.2) and both are available for the i686 and x86_64 architectures. Quick download links: openSUSE-LXDE-11.2.i686-1.0.0-Build25.1.iso (464MB, SHA256), openSUSE-LXDE-11.2.x86_64-1.0.0-Build8.1.iso (466MB, SHA256), openSUSE-Xfce-11.2.i686-1.0.0-Build9.2.iso (473MB, SHA256), openSUSE-Xfce-11.2.x86_64-1.0.0-Build2.2.iso (474MB, SHA256).
* * * * *
In our recent comparative review of Slackware-based distributions that use Xfce as their preferred desktop, the author intentionally omitted one popular choice, Wolvix, citing lack of updates on the project's web site. Indeed, there has been no release, stable or unstable, for nearly a year. But just when Wolvix started to look like just another discontinued project, the lead developer announced a return of the living dead werewolf, together with new development builds of Wolvix 2.0.0: "It has been quite a while since there was any development here, but things are finally getting back on track now. The last couple of weeks I've been picking up the slack and I'm in the process of making a new public development release (beta 3). Many packages have already been updated and the development is ongoing." Although the new ISO images are provided for internal testing, they are also available from a public mirror. For those interested in checking out the current progress at this distribution, here is the quick link to the CD image of the most recent development build: wolvix-2.0.0-build54.iso (617MB, MD5).
The development of Wolvix 2.0.0 is now "back on track".
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|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Going-around-in-circles asks: What is a loopback device and how do I use it?
DistroWatch answers: The term loopback device can be confusing, in part because it gets applied in multiple areas. I'll cover two common ones here.
A loopback device may refer to a network interface that basically sends data to itself. This can be handy for testing network commands or for accessing services on your own computer. A loopback device will give you network access to your own machine, even if you're not connected to a physical network. On Linux (and other UNIX operating systems) the loopback network device is called "lo" and you can see this by opening a command line and running
You should see an entry called "lo" with a full name of "Local Loopback". The IP address for this device is 127.0.0.1 (or ::1 on IPv6-enabled machines). If you were running a web server on your machine or a secure shell service, you could connect to it by accessing IP address 127.0.0.1.
Another type of loopback device is a file which contains, inside itself, a file system. For instance, an ISO file is a disc image, which contains a file system and can, in turn, contain files. A loopback file can be mounted to the system in a similar fashion to the way a disk partition is mounted. For example, the following command will mount an ISO file under the directory "my_dir".
mount -o loop disc_image.iso my_dir
Loopback file systems are also useful if you want to preserve Linux file attributes and permissions on a drive which doesn't support those characteristics. You can store your Linux files and directories inside the loopback file and save the loopback container anywhere, like on a FAT file system. When you access the contents of the container, the Linux file system will be maintained inside. You can create a loopback device for yourself using a few commands.
First we need to create the container file. The following command creates a file 10 MB in size. You can make larger containers by increasing the number after the "count" parameter.
dd if=/dev/zero of=myloop.img bs=1024 count=10240
Next we need to format the container, as we would a regular disk partition. In this example, the container is being formatted with the ext2 file system. The "mkfs" command will probably warn you that the device is really a file, but then allow you to proceed.
We now have a container that has been formatted. The next step is to mount it so we may access the new file system. First we will make a directory to act as the mount point, then attach our container to that point.
mount -o loop myloop.img mydisk
From here on, we can explore the container in the "mydisk" directory. When we are done with the container, we can remove it by running
|Released Last Week
Frugalware Linux 1.2
Miklós Vajna has announced the release of Frugalware Linux 1.2, a general-purpose, community-built distribution for intermediate Linux users: "The Frugalware developer team is pleased to announce the immediate availability of Frugalware 1.2, our twelfth stable release. No new features have been added since 1.2rc2, but 62 changes have been made to fix minor bugs. If you didn't follow the changes during the pre-releases, here are the most important changes since 1.1: up to date packages - Linux kernel 184.108.40.206, GNU C library 2.11.1, X.Org 7.5, GNOME 2.28, KDE 4.3.5; KMS (Kernel Mode-Setting) is now enabled by default for Intel and Radeon cards; PAM (Pluggable Authentication Modules) is now part of the base system; introduced devtmpfs - you can now exclude /dev from backups, along with /proc and /sys; upgraded KDE (and related) packages to the 4.x branch...." See the full release announcement for further information.
Frugalware Linux 1.2 - the distribution's first release with KDE 4
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Andrew Gillis has announced the release of VortexBox 1.2, a Fedora-based Linux distribution with the goal of turning an unused computer into an easy-to-use music server or jukebox: "VortexBox 1.2 released. The VortexBox community has been working hard on this release. We have added a lot of new features to make VortexBox the best NAS for SqueezeBox. These include adding the new SqueezeBox Server 7.4.2 and fixing some critical bugs in VortexBox Player. VortexBox Player is now the highest resolutions (192/24) player available that is compatible with SqueezeBox Server (SBS). The new package manager allows new software packages to be installed from the GUI. The Sonos web GUI can now be installed from the GUI making VortexBox the best NAS for Sonos players. We have fixed the MP3 encoding with better support for genre and cover art that works well in all applications." Consult the complete release announcement for additional information.
Roberto Dohnert has announced the release of PC/OS 10.1, a Xubuntu-based desktop Linux distribution: "We are very pleased to announce the delivery of PC/OS OpenWorkstation 10.1 as well as PC/OS WebStation 10.1. With this release we bring many bug fixes and enhancements to the platform. This release is the last release before the LTS release of PC/OS 11. Some of the highlights of this release include: Linux kernel 2.6.31, OpenOffice.org 3.2, Firefox 3.5.8, Amazon MP3 downloader, Empathy for IM, GnomeBaker for burning CDs and DVDs, VLC as the default video player, WINE 1.2, Google Gears, new simplified menu structure, USB Creator can now be used to create a bootable USB drive, UI design is now unified with the GNOME release. With the last release we introduced the Developer Kit and Office Kit which proved popular and they are available for this release as well." Refer to the release announcement for further details.
eBox Platform 1.4-1
José Antonio Calvo Fernández has announced the release of eBox Platform 1.4-1, an Ubuntu-based server distribution for small and medium-size businesses: "eBox 1.4-1 installer released. I just wanted to let you know that we've done a lot of bug fixing and small improvements since the release of the first 1.4 release. Those all enhancements have now been included on a new installer. The installer itself contains some bug fixes and improvements, this is the changelog: X11 UI tweaks; added console-cyrillic package; install l7-protocols if traffic shaping is selected in advanced mode; quote passwords to avoid problems with strange characters; do not allow to enter 'root' or any other existing system user as admin user to avoid conflicts. Note that this installer include also the fixes and improvements from the 1.4-proposed repository." Here is the full release announcement.
eBox Platform 1.4-1 - an Ubuntu-based server distribution with a web-based administration module
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* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
The OpenBSD project has announced the upcoming release of version 4.7 and has published a product information page. Besides the usual improvements in hardware support and numerous bug fixes, there are a number of new features, such as: "newfs_ext2fs(8) tool for creating ext2 file systems; mkuboot(8) tool for creating U-Boot bootloader images; dynamic Buffer Cache now supported to a maximum size set with sysctl kern.bufcachepercent; dynamic VFS name cache rewrite, now uses Red/Black trees instead of linked lists; numerous NFS client stability fixes; nat-to, rdr-to, binat-to options replace the nat, rdr and binat translation rules in pf...." OpenBSD 4.7 is scheduled for release on 19 May 2010. Orders for the official CD sets (US$50.00) are now accepted through the project's online ordering system.
* * * * *
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- Crociato O.S.. Crociato O.S. is an Italian Ubuntu-based distribution with Enlightenment as the default window manager. The project's web site is in Italian.
- Pack4Linux. Pack4Linux is an enterprise-ready Linux distribution geared towards real-time applications. It is based on Slackware Linux, and aims to be powerful and robust, yet simple to use.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 22 March 2010.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Issue 632 (2015-10-19): Linux Lite 2.6, 32-bit build of CentOS, OpenBSD turns 20, Bodhi Linux releases AppPack|
|• Issue 631 (2015-10-12): Parsix 8.0, Manjaro seeks new artwork, sending commands to multiple servers, Debian drops LSB support|
|• Issue 630 (2015-10-05): Android-x86 4.4-r3, Ubuntu's new installer, Raspbian defaults to GUI interface, cleaning out dot files|
|• Issue 629 (2015-09-28): Open source desktops and touch interfaces, locking down user accounts, OpenMandriva opens gaming documentation|
|• Issue 628 (2015-09-21): Neptune 4.4, changes to pfSense, Pinguy OS releases updated ISO images, accessing hard disk images|
|• Full list of all issues|
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