| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 356, 31 May 2010
Welcome to this year's 22nd issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Fedora 13 was finally released last week and, as promised, it is given prominent space in our weekly summary of events in the free OS world. Read the interview with leading Fedora personalities who discuss the many new characteristics of the release, then dip into our first-look review of the project's KDE edition. The news section also starts with a Fedora story, bringing attention to the large number of custom Fedora spins united under one web page for easy comparison and access. In other news, Red Hat focuses on green computing in the upcoming version of its enterprise Linux product, Sabayon developers prepare for a new release with a number of interesting enhancements, and a group of BSD hackers in Germany take over the development of DesktopBSD. Also in this issue, a reader's warning about the suitability of Qimo 4 Kids 2.0 for children, an update on the Mandriva 2010.1 roadmap, and a tutorial about creating PBI packages that can be installed on a PC-BSD system with one click. A big issue with something for everyone, happy reading!
- Feature: Fedora 13 - interview and first look
- News: Fedora spins galore, RHEL 6 green computing features, Qimo 4 Kids warning, Sabayon 5.3 features, DesktopBSD development update
- Tutorials: Creating PBI packages for PC-BSD
- Released last week: Fedora 13, Slackware Linux 13.1, MeeGo 1.0, Zenwalk Linux 6.4
- Upcoming releases: Pardus Linux 2009.2, Mandriva Linux 2010.1 RC2, Ubuntu 10.10 Alpha 1
- New additions: MeeGo
- New distributions: BackBox Linux, Elemental Linux Server, KXStudio
- Reader comments
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (39MB) and MP3 (45MB) formats
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Fedora 13 - interview and first look
Fedora is, in my view, one of the most interesting Linux distributions available today. It's a project which regularly walks a fine line between cutting-edge and bleeding-edge. Not only does the Fedora Project have up-to-date packages, but it also has a large infrastructure due to the support it receives from Red Hat. The combination results in an operating system which is constantly changing and putting forward new ideas. To learn more about the changes currently rolling through the Fedora community, I got in touch with some members of the Fedora team. I had the opportunity to ask them a few questions and their collaborative answers are provided here.
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DW: Among the new features listed for Fedora 13 is the automatic printer driver installation. This sounds like a very convenient way for users to get the required drivers. What steps have been taken to make sure this service isn't abused? There was some concern over giving (non-root) users the ability to download and install packages in Fedora 12. How is this different?
The installation of printer support packages including drivers is done by system-config-printer, which is designed and maintained by Fedora but adopted by all the mainstream distributions. It takes advantage of PackageKit, a distribution-agnostic tool maintained by Fedora for streamlining software management and integrating that function with the desktop. PackageKit in turn relies on PolicyKit, a framework for managing access to privileged operations by unprivileged processes, which is also maintained by Fedora upstream as well.
When a printer driver is needed, a message is generated on the desktop messaging bus (D-Bus) that lets PackageKit know that a software package is needed for installation. The request passes through the applicable PolicyKit policy, and in the current policy a dialogue is generated asking the user for the administrator passphrase. The system owner can change the system policy so that this is not required, if they desire.
There's a useful explanation of the history and development of software management policies in Fedora in this message from Owen Taylor
on fedora-devel mailing list. To address any concerns over security privileges, we now have a Privilege escalation policy that explains all the details, thanks to the Fedora QA team, and we welcome constructive community feedback.
DW: With the new release, we're seeing the Nouveau driver included. Is Nouveau capable of completely replacing the proprietary NVIDIA driver?
FP: Fedora is fully focused on free and open source software, and freedom is one of our core values. The lack of freedom and the inability to add features and fix bugs and maintain it, even though we have the deep expertise to do so, makes proprietary drivers an unsustainable option. Even though NVIDIA's nv driver was technically open source, it was an obfuscated piece of code that was not really maintainable by the community. Even NVIDIA has pretty much dropped maintaining this driver now.
When Nouveau was originally launched, we realized the great potential of the project. Nouveau was first introduced in Fedora 7 as an optional driver, and became the default driver for NVIDIA graphics cards in Fedora 11. Red Hat also supports this effort and hired Ben Skeggs, one of the key developers in the Nouveau project, to help move it forward.
While we were working on further stabilization in the driver, Linus Torvalds wanted to see this driver get merged in the Linux kernel sooner, in part because he is a Fedora user with an NVIDIA graphics card. With the quick help of Red Hat's Dave Airlie, the upstream DRI subsystem maintainer for the Linux kernel, this process has happened smoothly and the driver has been adopted by other distributions as well to the benefit of everyone.
In Fedora 13, we are the first distribution in the world to introduce experimental 3D functionality for NVIDIA via the fully free and open source Nouveau driver. You can enable it by installing the mesa-dri-drivers-experimental package. You can then restart any X application to take advantage of it. It is always amazing what a group of dedicated individuals can accomplish, although it's ironic that we have to do it without the support of the vendor because good free and open source drivers will only increase the sales of the hardware from that vendor.
We still need to work on improving the stability, performance and power management capabilities, among other features. But we're already ahead in some areas including kernel mode setting support, and making rapid progress on closing the gaps. This is especially notable because Nouveau is an audacious effort, and works without any support from the hardware vendor and in the complete absence of hardware specifications. An X.Org display driver for a widely used piece of hardware is too important to be under the control of a single vendor and considered a trade secret.
Only the Nouveau 3D support is still at an experimental state. We'd like to stabilize it and include support out of the box for the next release. The free software community can join and participate in this effort by providing us with valuable feedback. Since we have a culture of working closely with upstream projects, even if you're not a Fedora user, your feedback will benefit everyone.
DW: A new feature, boot.fedoraproject.org (BFO) gives users with fast Internet connections the ability to run the Fedora installer over their network. At the moment, the BFO web site is a bit short on details. Could you please explain what BFO is and how it will help Fedora users?
FP: In short, BFO is a great new way for users to install Fedora, run it live without installing, and do other cool things related to boot and installation. It's a powerful, flexible and user-friendly method of doing a network installation and Fedora is the first distribution to integrate it into our releases. A user can easily download a single tiny ISO image and burn it to a floppy, CD/DVD, or USB stick and then boot the host off of that media. Like magic, the user is then presented with a menu of different boot and installation options.
The benefit to Fedora users is that a single, tiny image file is all you need to get started with Fedora. Furthermore, all currently supported versions of Fedora as well as pre-release versions will be available on all supported architectures from this single image, which doesn't need to change from release to release. One possibility is that the BFO method would replace DVD downloads in places where bandwidth is plentiful, and it clearly targets users with reliable high-speed Internet connections. Mike McGrath from Red Hat, who leads the Fedora Infrastructure team, led this effort because he is interested in cutting down the number of release images we manage by providing better solutions to our users.
BFO is essentially a Fedora-branded version of boot.kernel.org. Many thanks to John "warthog9" Hawley, administrator of kernel.org and a good friend of the Fedora Project, for pioneering the effort with BFO.
DW: We're seeing some improvements to the Btrfs file system, such as snapshots and easy rollbacks. At the moment, Btrfs still seems to be treated as an experimental add-on. Will we soon see this file system offered on equal footing with other file systems, such as ext4?
In Fedora 13, Btrfs is still considered an experimental file system, but you merely have to pass "btrfs" as a option to the installer to enable it. Btrfs has some exciting new capabilities which users will appreciate, such as snapshotting, and Fedora 13 will also include a yum plugin to take advantage of it. The yum-plugin-fs-snapshot package is designed in a generic fashion, and works with Btrfs or LVM volumes to take snapshots. A snapshot before any package transaction, such as updates or removals of packages, can provide a form of atomic package changes and reversible package updates, enabling a user to recover from any issues more quickly. Btrfs also has the interesting ability to do in-place conversion from ext3 or ext4, which is pretty awesome!
Despite such useful capabilities, a file system is a very critical piece of software. We have to take a more systematic and conservative approach with Btrfs as a new file system, since users have to be able to trust their data with it. We are more confident with Btrfs since it does provide strong data integrity, unlike other file systems which only focus on protecting the metadata. Still, file system bugs can be critical and we want to ensure it is well tested before we make it the default.
We strongly believe that Btrfs is the next generation file system for Fedora. Other than Oracle, Red Hat is the major contributor to this file system, and since Fedora benefits from the expertise provided by our sponsor we'll be leading in the integration of and migration to Btrfs. We are looking towards not only making it the default but also integrating it fully and exposing the capabilities in useful ways. In addition to the yum plugin, we hope to integrate it better with the desktop. One current proposal is to take snapshots of the file system in regular intervals and providing a file manager extension with a timeline that can roll back and forth between user data as needed. We intend to make it the default file system within the next few releases.
Btrfs has reached a important milestone recently by narrowing down on the current on-disk format, which is an important step towards a production quality file system. Even if it must be altered in the future, Btrfs developers have committed to supporting the current format for compatibility. Josef Bacik, Btrfs developer from Red Hat is working full-time to stabilize the file system, smooth the remaining rough edges upstream, and help us achieve our plans for Btrfs in Fedora. You can read more about his thoughts in much more detail here
DW: The release notes say the PowerPC is now a secondary architecture. Does this mean we won't see any official spins for the PowerPC architecture? Will the Fedora Project host community spins?
FP: Starting from the Fedora 13 release, PowerPC will be a community-maintained secondary architecture of Fedora. Anyone interested can join this effort to support and manage the builds. The primary architectures, x86 and x86_64 will be managed by the official Fedora release engineering team.
The real difference is that if and when packages successfully build on primary architectures, we will push forward independently of the builds for PowerPC. Fedora will continue to provide support for the infrastructure necessary to enable PowerPC and other secondary architectures, and will host any community PowerPC releases. We have also secondary architecture teams for ARM, SPARC and others. Whenever a group of people are interested in driving an effort and form a community around their special interests, we would like to enable them to do so. This diversity helps us provide greater portability and flexibility, which is a worthy goal. These teams require more of the community to participate to push things forward. If you have an interest in this, your participation would be most welcome.
DW: There is always some speculation as to how many users are in the Linux community. With tools like Smolt, I suspect Fedora is in a better position to judge their community size than most. How many users do you have?
Smolt is designed and maintained by Fedora for users to submit their system profiles. It has been adopted by other distributions including openSUSE
, and we welcome everyone to join. Rather than counting the number of users, it is more useful for users to quickly share their system details to help us fix issues and gain an understanding of which hardware we need to prioritize our efforts on. Smolt is only used on Fedora on an opt-in basis and users are only prompted once to enable it during the end of the Fedora graphical installation.
That being said, we do transparently maintain some metrics about the number of systems downloads and yum connections to the Fedora mirror manager. With all the caveats as stated in the Wiki page, over the lifetime of Fedora 7 to Fedora 12, we have over 21 millions unique IP addresses that have checked in with us. Some older releases have larger numbers because they've had more time to accumulate users, and as forums and mailing lists show, there are substantial numbers of people worldwide who still install and use older releases of Fedora. These numbers do not directly translate to a particular number of users however, because we do not register people directly. We understand that it is several millions of users and we take that responsibility seriously.
DW: There are quite a few different spins for this release. There's one just for security and recovery, for example. Are we going to see a push toward fitting Fedora into various niches, rather than a general purpose OS?
Fedora will continue to remain a good general-purpose operating system. Fedora Spins are a venue for interested contributors to target a particular niche and form a community around that. Users appreciate the well-defined user experiences that these spins offer. Many of the spins are quite unique and have brought in new contributions and enable more integration of various upstream projects we collaborate with. This is an ever growing community. We now also have a redesigned website as a platform for Fedora Spins. Take a look at spins.fedoraproject.org
to see the ways that spin owners can show off their work.
DW: A little while back it was announced the Fedora team was looking for a new Project Leader. Has that position been filled?
FP: The current Fedora Project Leader (FPL), Paul Frields, indicated in his blog post that the process would take some time. This is of course a very crucial effort for the Fedora Project, and we're not in a rush. We don't have any permanent dictators (benevolent or otherwise!) for Fedora, and we believe in new leadership in regular intervals to bring forward new and fresh ideas to the project. We have been fortunate enough to have the expertise of several FPLs in the past, and look forward to working with the next project leader.
Paul Frields has been with us since the inception of Fedora, and will continue to be a regular contributor to Fedora and help us with a smooth transition. Since the FPL is an employee of Red Hat, the position is subject to a hiring process, but a substantial number of people are involved in the process, including the Fedora Board. The decision on a new FPL will be announced as widely as possible once it's made.
DW: Some of the big-name companies, such as Google, Microsoft and Canonical are focusing on the much-hyped cloud. Will Fedora be offering cloud-based services, such as document sharing?
FP: We recently formed a Special Interest Group (SIG) around cloud computing to take advantage of our long-standing expertise and contributions around virtualization. Our infrastructure is, like the rest of the project, exclusively free and open-source software, and we have absolutely no interest in proprietary web services. The Fedora Project already runs services such as Gobby and Fedora Hosted for project-wide collaboration. While we don't have any plans at the moment to offer such services for end users, and certainly not to generate a profit, if it's feasible to do so we would be happy to offer fully free alternative services that provide useful capabilities for our users and don't trample on their freedoms.
The Cloud SIG is currently focused on integrating cloud into our release engineering process, so that each release of Fedora will produce official images for use on cloud services starting with EC2. While our primary focus is on the availability of the Fedora platform, and providing services for contributors and participants, wherever possible we want to make opportunities for more collaboration. We encourage interested individuals who are willing and able to participate to join our Cloud SIG to expand our efforts.
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I downloaded the KDE live edition of Fedora 13 and burned it to a CD. Unfortunately, things got off to a rough start. I kicked off my test drive by trying Fedora on my HP laptop (dual-core 2.5 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card) and found the boot process was a bit slow. Upon reaching the live desktop environment, I found my laptop operating at a crawl. Opening simple applications, such as a terminal window, would take about twenty seconds. A quick (or not so quick) check showed no desktop effects were enabled and I shut down all unneeded services. A little poking around showed X was taking up about 80% or more of my CPU while nothing was happening visually and more cycles were used while opening or moving windows. Trying different video configurations and turning off kernel mode setting didn't improve the situation.
This wasn't a complete surprise as my laptop had the same problem when running Fedora 12. What did surprise me were other regressions in hardware recognition. Recent versions of Fedora had properly detected and made use of my Intel wireless card and my Novatel mobile modem automatically. Such was not the case this time around; my wireless card wasn't picked up and my mobile modem required some tweaking to get it to work. My laptop's touchpad, as with prior releases, didn't detect taps as mouse clicks. I believe this is to keep in line with upstream settings, a policy which I would applaud if it didn't require manually editing text files to provide the same experience almost every other Linux distribution provides out of the box.
At first things didn't seem to be going much better on my desktop machine (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA graphics card) where booting from the live CD took eight minutes to get from GRUB to the desktop. However, once I arrived at the desktop, performance was good and about on par with other modern KDE 4 live environments. I also found that my desktop was set to a reasonable resolution and sound worked out of the box. As a result, most of my testing going forward was done on the desktop PC.
Fedora 13 - partitioning the hard drive
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The Fedora installer hasn't changed much on the surface and there won't be any surprises for people who have set up this distribution before. It begins by asking the user to select their keyboard layout and the type of storage device they will be using (for example, a regular local disk or network storage device). The user is asked to pick a hostname for their machine and select their time zone. The user is then asked to create a password for the system's root account before moving on to disk partitioning. The installer offers quite a few options for dividing up the disk; users can choose to hand over the entire disk to Fedora, replace an existing install, shrink existing partitions to make more room, use any available free space or create a custom layout. The custom layout screen is both simple and flexible, probably one of the easier and more powerful I've used.
The partitioning tool supports regular, LVM and RAID configurations as well as one-click encryption. My only complaint was that when installing from the live CD, the installer forces the root partition (/) to be formatted as ext4. This quirk was also present in Fedora 12 and it strikes me as a strange choice. There are reasons for a user to mount / as ext4, but it seems to me a poor design to force users to go that route. The installer finishes off by getting the user to confirm their bootloader settings before copying the required files over to the disk. Once the install is complete, the user is able to reboot and is shown the first-boot wizard. The wizard displays a license agreement and prompts the user to create a non-root account. The user is then asked to set the current time and, optionally, submit a Smolt (hardware) profile to Fedora. I like the concept of Smolt as a way to track the sort of hardware Fedora should support.
Fedora 13 - working with the display and plasmoids
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The application menu has a generous collection of software. The 2 GB install gives the user a copy of KOffice 2.1, a few games, an image viewer, document viewer, blogging client, the Konqueror web browser, IM clients and a remote desktop client. Additionally, the user is provided with a video player, music player and K3b disc burner. Fedora also comes with tools for managing SELinux, a certificate manager and an encryption program. Aside form the usual accessories such as a text editor, calculator and note taking programs, the menu also has some useful applications to manage the firewall, configure system services and create user accounts. Oddly absent from the menu were popular software choices such as Firefox or GIMP. The project is dedicated to shipping free software only and does not include support for popular video codecs, MP3 libraries or Flash plugins. These add-ons can be found in a third-party repository called RPM Fusion.
To see how Fedora would work with fewer resources, I tried running the distribution in a VirtualBox virtual machine. The system started up, displayed a graphical boot screen and then stopped. After several minutes of not accessing the CD, I shut down the virtual environment and tried booting again without the graphical screen. I found that the system would lock up while trying to apply IPv6 firewall rules. Disabling IPv6 from the boot loader resulted in the system booting properly. Strangely, this bug only manifested itself in the virtual machine. I found that the operating system required about 750 MB of memory to run from the live CD and about 512 MB of RAM plus some swap space to function once installed.
Fedora uses yum for package management and there weren't any surprises when handling software. Neither the command-line interface nor the graphical interface appears to have changed in the past six months. I encountered no problems while installing, removing or upgrading packages. My only point of interest while managing packages on Fedora was the distro's Presto plugin. Presto is a plugin for YUM which allows the package manager to download delta packages and apply them as updates, rather than download the entire new package. In general, I found these delta updates reduced my downloads to about 20%-40% of their full package size. This is a very welcome piece of technology, which has been in place for a few releases now. Given the amount of bandwidth a single installation receiving updates can use over the length of its life, and given that Fedora probably has a few million users, this could be saving users and the project mirrors terabytes of bandwidth in the course of a year. It's a default behaviour I hope other distributions follow in the future.
Fedora 13 - handling packages and SELinux policies
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In general, I like the way the Fedora team approaches security. The installer insists on setting a root password and creating a regular user account. The distro enables SELinux out of the box and has convenient tools for managing SELinux policies. I like that encrypting partitions in the installer is very easy and intuitive. On the live CD edition, the firewall is enabled and OpenSSH turned off, though the firewall port for SSH is left open in case the user wishes to turn on the service later. The only quirk I found was non-root users had the ability to reboot or halt the machine. This probably isn't an issue for people logged in locally; after all it would be annoying to have to switch to the root account just to shut down the computer you are sitting in front of. However, the regular user accounts can also halt the machine remotely if secure shell is enabled without suing to root, a potential problem for the unaware admin.
For the most part, Fedora 13 feels very similar to Fedora 12, a stable, modern and well put-together operating system. However, there are some things which stood out that I feel the need to complain about. Generally I don't like to focus on hardware compatibility, but Fedora 13 was a big regression for me, especially on the laptop. It took more resources, performed slower than the last release and didn't work with some of the hardware Fedora 11 and 12 handled previously. Forcing users to download the entire DVD to choose their root file system is also, in my opinion, a poor design choice, one other distros with live CDs have avoided. Those problems aside, I generally liked my time with the latest Fedora, the project provides a good balance of new software with tried and true configuration tools. Worth a look if you're interested in trying new technology or would like to experience a polished SELinux implementation.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Fedora spins galore, RHEL 6 green computing features, Qimo 4 Kids warning, Sabayon 5.3 features, DesktopBSD development update
As mentioned briefly in this week's feature story, one of the most interesting aspects of Fedora 13 is the availability of "spins", or Fedora-based community distributions built with specialist features or designed for certain markets. In a way, the concept is similar to Ubuntu editions and remixes, but instead of being supplied by countless independent web sites, Fedora community spins are united under one web page at spins.fedoraproject.org. Here one can find the usual desktop-specific live CD spins with KDE, LXDE or Xfce, as well as some niche products created for security specialists, gamers or graphics artists. There is even a custom spin for Brazil - localised into Brazilian Portuguese and with OpenOffice.org packages renamed as BROffice to comply with local trademark laws. At the time of writing the page lists ten different Fedora spins, but chances are that this number will increase as more developers join the fun by designing their own custom Fedora builds.
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With the recent beta release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, the attention of system administrators in many large organisations will turn to the new version of the world's most widely-used enterprise Linux system. One interesting characteristic of the new version is its green computing features: "With the economy in crisis, IT departments worldwide are striving to reduce budgets and 'green' their IT architectures. With Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, and the numerous 'Green IT”' features being added to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, Red Hat offers a highly power-efficient environment that aims to be the most ecologically friendly operating system platform on the market. Red Hat Enterprise Linux was named the 'Greenest Operating System' in 2008 by Network World, beating out Microsoft Windows Server and SUSE Enterprise Linux, and was awarded the 'Best Greener IT Product' at the 2009 SYS-CON Virtualization Conference & Expo Awards. Many of our customers, like Bank of New Zealand, have also made significant strides in greening their organization's IT architectures with help from Red Hat Enterprise Linux."
On a related note, Triangle Business Journal reports that Matthew Szulik, chairman of Red Hat's board of directors, will step down from this position in August this year: "In a May 20 letter to Red Hat board of directors, Szulik says he will not stand for re-election to his board seat when his term expires on August 12. Szulik joined Red Hat as president in 1998 after serving as president and chief operating officer at Relativity Technologies, another Raleigh-based software company. He helped navigate Red Hat, a Linux software company, through its initial public stock offering in 1999 and was named CEO later that year. Szulik stepped down as CEO in December 2007 but remained as chairman of the board of directors. He was succeeded as chief executive by current CEO Jim Whitehurst. Earlier this year, Szulik signed a new agreement to stay on as chairman through February 28, 2010. But in the May 20 letter, Szulik says he has no disagreements or concerns about Red Hat and is stepping down to spend more time with his family."
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Last week's release of a new version of Qimo 4 Kids, an Ubuntu-based distribution for children, received many positive comments from parents who have booted it up on their children's computers and watched their sons and daughters spending happy times investigating the features of this custom operating system. However, not everybody was excited about the product. A reader has emailed us to say that Qimo 2.0 has one huge flaw - it comes with no parental control software to stop children from visiting unsuitable web sites. The reader even emailed the distro developers and received this reply: "Qimo is designed to run on a standalone computer, without access to the Internet. We include Firefox, but no built-in content filtering." Be warned, however, that Qimo 2.0 auto-configures network access on any DHCP-enabled system, potentially exposing children to some of the ills of the world wide web. One possible solution to the problem would be to install Linux Mint 9 which does come with parental control software, then install the qimo-session package from Ubuntu's Universal repository. We haven't tried this solution, so we don't know how well it works, but it's worth a consideration if your children use Qimo on an Internet-enabled computer.
Qimo 4 Kids 2.0 - a distribution for kids without parental control software?
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Preparations are under way for a new release of Sabayon Linux, version 5.3. Internally on release candidate 2, the new release is also available for testing via the public daily ISO builds found on most Sabayon mirrors. What can we expect to find in the new release? "Some of the changes include bug fixes, of course, Btrfs file system support, Mono removed from GRUB, and installer fixes. Keep in mind that Btrfs is very young in development and should not be used in a stable environment. I did try it out in a virtual box setting and it seemed to work well for the little bit of time I worked with it. Mitch follows the progress of it and has been a good source for information. It sounds like in kernel 2.6.36 things will even be better for Btrfs." For those users who run the unstable version of Sabayon Linux, here is an important warning about Entropy, the distribution's package manager: "It's important to always make sure you have the latest Entropy. When you see the message that there is a new entropy version and it's important to install that first, it's not kidding. You can solve a lot of issues by making sure you always have the latest Entropy."
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Finally, good news for users and fans of the defunct DesktopBSD project. It seems that a group of developers in Germany are taking over the work on the operating system that was suspended after the release of version 1.7 in September 2009: "On 20 May 2010 the development of DesktopBSD was taken over by a small German developer group. The team consists of four people and stands under the direction of Daniel Hilbert. Furthermore, this web site is being redesigned. If you'd like to take part in the creation of the web site or the development of DesktopBSD, please send us an email." DesktopBSD was a project that attempted to turn FreeBSD into a desktop operating system by introducing many user-friendly features, including an intuitive system installer, a graphical package management utility and easy-to-use configuration tools. However, Peter Hofer, the founder of the DesktopBSD project, abandoned the development last year citing lack of time.
|Tutorials (by Jesse Smith)
Creating PBI packages for PC-BSD
A few months ago when I reviewed PC-BSD 8.0, some people mentioned the reason they weren't attracted to the FreeBSD-based operating system was the lack of available PBI packages. The PC-BSD system can make use of the large FreeBSD Ports collection, but for people who want to access their software in a point-n-click manner, they need Push Button Installer (PBI) files. This strikes me as a classic chicken and egg problem: more people would be attracted to PC-BSD if it had a greater number of pre-built packages and additional packages would get built if there were more people running PC-BSD. In an effort to help break that vicious cycle, I set out to learn how to make PBI packages and I want to pass on the knowledge I gained along the way.
Before we get into the details, I'm going to assume in this walk-through that you already know how to compile software. You don't need to have previous experience packaging software into other formats, such as DEB or RPM files, but you should feel comfortable compiling programs from source code. To get started, we'll need to have a copy of PC-BSD 8 installed on our computer or in a virtual machine. The first thing we will want to do is install the PBI Creator program, which can be downloaded from here. The PBI Creator is in a self-extracting PBI file and, once it has been downloaded, can be installed by double-clicking the package in the system's file browser or by running
The next thing we need is some software to package. For this walk-through I'm assuming we've downloaded version 1.0 of a software project called Foobar. We need to unpack Foobar and compile it. Those steps might look like this:
tar zxf Foobar-1.0.tar.gz (unpack the software)
cd Foobar-1.0 (enter the software directory)
./configure (check the configuration)
make (compile Foobar)
At this point we should have a new copy of Foobar in the current directory, ready to be run. So far, the process has been fairly typical of retrieving and compiling a software package. What we'll do next is turn this software into a PBI. To do that, we need a new folder where we can put PBI-specific files.
Inside the Foobar-PBI directory we should create two sub-directories. One called "bin", which will hold our newly made program, and "autolibs" which will hold any dependencies we may need.
Building PC-BSD PBIs - creating the directory structure
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With our directories created, we need to place our program, Foobar, into the PBI's "bin" directory.
cp ~/Foobar-1.0/Foobar ~/Foobar-PBI/bin/
When we installed the PBI Creator package it should have placed a launcher icon on the desktop. So next we'll run the PBI Creator application. The PBI Creator is a graphical wizard which will guide us through the making of a PBI file one simple step at a time. The first screen will provide us with fields for setting the package name, the version number, the project's website and author's name.
Building PC-BSD PBIs - entering basic information
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The second screen will allow us to optionally display a license agreement to the user who installs the app.
Building PC-BSD PBIs - optional license screen
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The third screen requests the name of the directory we've set up for the package. In our case it will be the Foobar-PBI directory we made a few steps back. In the middle of this screen is a set of options called Library Support. What we want to do is have the wizard figure out dependencies for us, so we'll choose the option "Auto populate library directory". At the bottom of this third screen we find three buttons for editing scripts. Clicking these buttons will create, and allow us to edit, scripts that will run before or during the package installation. For instance, the "Setup" script could copy a configuration file to /etc while the installation in is progress. Likewise, the "Remove" script might erase the configuration file from /etc during the un-install process. The "First Run" script runs before the installation begins and can be used to clean up old configuration files from a previous install, handy for upgrades. It's important to note that some simple programs won't need these scripts and they can be left out, but they're available if desired.
Building PC-BSD PBIs - location of our directory and optional scripts
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The fourth screen lets us match an executable program, Foobar in our case, to an icon and menu short-cut. Here we can edit entries to change the icon, place the program in a specific menu folder and set various other attributes the menu entry should have.
Building PC-BSD PBIs - creating an application menu entry
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The next screen allows us to associate file extensions with our package. This is handy if we're packaging a word processor or image viewer, but will not be needed in most cases. Once we pass the file association screen, the wizard takes over and turns our program into a PBI file, which will be saved in our home directory. The file will likely be called Foobar1.0-PV1.pbi, based on our example here. This file can be run to install the package on our system or transferred to another computer for installation there.
Building PC-BSD PBIs - associating file types with our application
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Though it may seem like a lot at first, the bulk of the work is in making sure the software compiles before it's packaged. Most of the steps after that are handled in a friendly fashion by the PBI Creator wizard. Personally, I found creating PBI packages much faster and more intuitive than the first times I tackled building DEB or RPM files. There's very little command-line work, only one packaging tool to install and no editing of cryptic specification files.
If you're interested in building a PBI file but are unsure what would be useful, there is a list of requested packages here. And further help, tips and support can be found on the forum. This week, with some invaluable help from PC-BSD's Kris Moore, I've created three new PBI packages and I hope others will do the same.
|Released Last Week
Slackware Linux 13.1
Patrick Volkerding has announced the release of Slackware Linux 13.1: "Yes, it's that time again! After many months of development and careful testing, we are proud to announce the release of Slackware version 13.1. Slackware 13.1 brings many updates and enhancements, among which you'll find two of the most advanced desktop environments available today: Xfce 4.6.1, a fast and lightweight but visually appealing and easy to use desktop environment, and KDE 4.4.3, a recent stable release of the new 4.4.x series of the award-winning KDE desktop environment. We continue to make use of HAL and udev, which allow the system administrator to grant use of various hardware devices according to users' group membership." See the release announcement and release notes for a detailed description of the release.
Slackware Linux 13.1 features the latest KDE desktop, version 4.4.3.
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Clonezilla Live 1.2.5-17
Steven Shiau has announced the release of Clonezilla Live 1.2.5-17, a new stable version of the specialist live CD designed for hard disk partitioning and cloning: "This release of Clonezilla live includes major enhancements, changes and bug fixes: an edition with pure amd64 (x86_64) programs was created, it can support large partition (10 TB) imaging; the Linux kernel was updated to 2.6.32; Partclone was updated to 0.2.9, it has been reported that the speed of this version is much better; Memtest86+ was updated to 4.10, syslinux was to 3.86, pbzip2 to 1.1.1; boot parameter 'nomodeset' was added with vga=normal to avoid using framebuffer mode in safe graphic mode. Bug fixes: VGA failsafe mode was not working; a harmless warning message when running GRUB 2 installation after Ubuntu 10.04 is restored was fixed; an NFS locking issue found in Clonezilla live 1.2.5-15 was fixed." The release announcement.
Fedora 13, a new version of one of the world's most widely-used Linux distributions for desktops and servers, has been released: "The Fedora Project, a Red Hat, Inc. sponsored and community-supported open source collaboration, today announced the availability of Fedora 13, the latest version of its free open source operating system distribution." Some of the more interesting features in this release include: "A streamlined installer; automatic print driver installation; new desktop applications and enhancements, including Shotwell photo manager, Deja-dup backup software, Pino Identi.ca/Twitter client and Simple Scan scanning utility; NetworkManager improvements; color management; enhanced iPod functionality; enhanced streaming and buffering support in Totem; 3D support for ATI cards via Radeon driver...." See the press release, release announcement and release notes for further information.
iMagic OS Sho
Jack De La Mare has announced the release of iMagic OS Sho, a commercial desktop Linux distribution based on Ubuntu: "Welcome to iMagicSho, the next in the iMagic OS line. Based on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, and running the latest KDE 4.4, iMagicSho is based on bleeding edge technology; a fully loaded, powerful computer operating system." What's new in this release? "Bright new KDE 4.4 interface built with Plasma; magicOnline with a built-in native installation system to make installations much easier; new technology that keeps your home directory safe from network computer hackers by encrypting your data; latest software, including Google Chrome, Google Earth, Skype, Songbird, Firefox 3.6, VLC media player, OpenOffice.org 3.2, Thunderbird, FileZilla, Dropbox; support for DOCX, XLSX, PPTX, and MP3 decoding, as well as Flash and Java; runs Windows programs out of the box by using WINE; superior driver support." Read the complete release announcement for additional information.
SME Server 7.5
Ian Wells has announced the release of SME Server 7.5, a CentOS-based distribution for enterprise servers: "The SME Server development team is pleased to announce the release of SME Server 7.5. This release is based on CentOS 4.8. Changes in this release: the backup service has been made more robust; the email now correctly identifies incremental and full backups; a patch was added to support multiple Samba roles; as part of a major update with translations we have added seven new languages - Thai, Polish, Romanian, Estonian, Chinese, Norwegian (Bokmal), Russian; Transport Layer Security (TLS) authentication capability has been added for incoming SMTP ehlo requests; implement correctly the subject line SPAM tagging functionality; the syntax of the smtproutes and SMTPSmartHost templates have been updated to avoid MX lookups." Read the complete the release announcement for a full list of changes.
MeeGo is an open-source Linux project which brings together Moblin, headed up by Intel, and Maemo, by Nokia, into a single open-source activity targeting netbooks and other mobile devices. The project's inaugural release, version 1.0, was announced yesterday: "Today we are announcing the project release of MeeGo 1.0. This release provides developers with a stable core foundation for application development and a rich user experience for netbooks. It includes: instant access to your synchronized calendar, tasks, appointments, recently used files and real-time social networking updates; aggregation of social networking content; Google Chrome or Google Chromium; easy-to-use applications for email, calendar and media player; highly optimized for power and performance. Software: Linux kernel 2.6.33; DeviceKit and udev for interacting with hardware devices; modern graphics stack including Kernel Mode Setting, non-root X; Btrfs as the default file system...." Read the rest of the release announcement for further information.
Endian Firewall 2.4
Endian Firewall 2.4, a specialist Linux distribution for firewalls and gateways based on CentOS, has been released: "Endian Firewall (EFW) Community version 2.4 is now available. This release introduces new features and lots of bug fixes that make EFW 2.4 a significant improvement in the development of the Endian product family." Features: "If you are using EFW 2.4 and you wish to switch to Endian UTM 2.4, you can now do so by simply pushing a button. The process is completely managed by EFW, ensuring you a safe and effective upgrade. Updating your EFW 2.3 does not require to install a new system from scratch any more. Instead, you can update single packages using our dedicated repository. With the new version of the kernel the number of supported hardware devices - most of all network interface cards - increases significantly." Here is the full release announcement.
Peppermint OS One-05222010
Kendall Weaver has announced the release of Peppermint OS One-05222010, a lightweight, Lubuntu-based desktop Linux distribution featuring the Openbox window manager and many web-based applications: "We're proud to offer the first official Peppermint OS respin, featuring a fully updated system, a few bug fixes, and a few new features. We're going to be respinning the ISO every few weeks in order to make sure that fresh downloads will reflect the improvements we're making. Note that it's easy to update your existing Peppermint OS installation, so if you have it running the way you want it, there's no reason to download a respin. What's new? Mouse and keyboard settings are persistent; improved localization support for folders; Quick Search in Synaptic now works; improved support for printing to PDF format; improved support for 3g connectivity..." Read the full release announcement for a detailed list of changes and improvements.
Zenwalk Linux 6.4
Jean-Philippe Guillemin has announced the release of Zenwalk Linux 6.4, a Slackware-based distribution with the Xfce desktop, custom package management, and many user-friendly features: "Zenwalk Linux 6.4 provides many enhancements at system and application levels, while confirming the maturity and feature stability of Zenwalk. The brand new 22.214.171.124 kernel is featuring the new BFS scheduler, designed for the best desktop interactivity on multi-core CPUs while taking the most of lower specification machines. You'll notice better responsiveness of graphical applications, better real-time performance of sound applications (very low latency), and efficiency of 'niced' commands (compilation tasks can really be niced in a way they don't disturb other applications). Like its predecessor, Zenwalk 6.4 features ext4 as the main file system, and latest versions of most applications and desktop environments." Read the rest of the release announcement for additional details.
Zenwalk Linux 6.4 - a new update of the popular Slackware-based distribution
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Qimo 4 Kids 2.0
Michael Hall has announced the release of Qimo 4 Kids 2.0, a Xubuntu-based distribution for very young children: "After much hard work, and some delay, we are pleased to bring you the second version of our popular Linux desktop for kids. We have introduced a new character to Qimo, her name is Illa, a cute and cuddly little polar bear. Illa is an Inuit word that means 'friend', and we know she'll find her way into the hearts of your kids. She also has her own wallpaper featuring the Arctic landscape at dusk, filled with hues of pink and purple with the aurora borealis shining in the sky. Choose from a variety of Qimo and Illa wallpapers to find the one that is just right for your child. If you are already running Ubuntu 10.04, there's no need to do a fresh install to get Qimo - now you can add the qimo-session package from the Universe repository." Read the rest of the release announcement (with screenshots) to learn more about this release.
Mark A. Shearer has announced the release of DigAnTel 3, a VoIP telephony system based on CentOS containing the open-source Asterisk PBX software and related technologies: "DigAnTel version 3 has been released. DigAnTel 3 is a digital / analog VoIP telephone system using CentOS, Asterisk 1.4.30, DAHDI 2.3.0, FreePBX 2.7.0 with VoicePulse module, Openfire, vtigerCRM with click to dial, Postfix mail server, and OpenVPN. DigAnTel is the glue to bind these technologies thus creating a unified telephony system for your home or business. The installation is completely automated and doesn't require a working knowledge of Linux or Asterisk. New features in this release include Asterisk 1.4.30 with DAHDI 2.3.0, automated Sangoma and Digium card detection, updated DigAnTel dashboard and more." Visit the project's news page to read the brief release announcement.
Thierry Nuttens has released NuTyX 2009.4, a French desktop Linux distribution created from Linux From Scratch. This is the fifth release of the 2009 series with the stable and well-tested base system, but with many updated end-user applications. The release is provided primarily for those users who wish to upgrade their system, but who don't have a fast Internet connection to do so by regular online updates. The new version comes with a number of bug fixes in the installer and the usual round of package updates, including Xfce 4.6.2, GNOME 2.30.1, KDE 4.4.3, OpenOffice.org 3.2.0, KOffice 2.1.1, Pidgin 2.7.0 and CUPS 1.4.2. The primary Linux kernel has been upgraded to version 2.6.34, but an older, long-term support kernel is also available. Overall more than 600 improvements have been committed since the release of NuTyX 2009.3. Here is the full release announcement (in French).
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Mandriva Linux 2010.1 release update
Mandriva has announced a change in the roadmap leading to the release of version 2010.1. Originally, scheduled for arrival later this week, the developers have instead scheduled a second release candidate for tomorrow (Tuesday). The final release date no longer appears on the Wiki page though. As for the reasons for the delay, we are told that it has something to do with the recent rumours about a possible sale of Mandriva: "As explained previously on this blog, Mandriva is in discussions to find new ways to improve means for our distribution, its community and its 'place' in free software ecosystem. Therefore, our planning will be modified a little. We plan to add a second RC release, available for tests on Tuesday, June 1st. The final version should be released soon after this RC2, with new clothes, but still in line with Mandriva Linux project spirit."
* * * * *
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- BackBox Linux. BackBox Linux is a new Italian distribution based on Ubuntu. The project's web site is in Italian.
- Elemental Linux Server. The Elemental Linux Server (ELS) is designed from the outset to be a minimal, no-frills server distribution. There is no GUI, everything is console-based. There is no package manager, packages are installed from .tar.gz files. There is no administration tool, all configuration is done by manually editing files in the /etc directory. ELS will easily install on the vintage 1995 Pentium computer with 32 MB of RAM and a 500 MB hard drive.
- KXStudio. KXStudio is an Ubuntu-based distribution targeting artists, producers, musicians, as well as regular users.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 7 June 2010.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
|• Issue 508 (2013-05-20): Review of Debian 7.0, interviews with Clement Lefebvre and Gaël Duval, scripting with xdotool|
|• Issue 507 (2013-05-13): Impressions of Calculate Linux, 13.4, Ubuntu's portable packages, mintDrivers|
|• Issue 506 (2013-05-06): Ubuntu and Kubuntu 13.04, Debian "Wheezy", Slackware on systemd, distros for Raspberry Pi|
|• Issue 505 (2013-04-29): First look at PCLinuxOS 2013.04, Saucy Salamander, Remastersys and System Imager, Linux containers|
|• Issue 504 (2013-04-22): Look at Bodhi 2.3.0, Ubuntu 13.04 features, building OpenBSD ports, opening large files|
|• Issue 503 (2013-04-15): CentOS versus Scientific Linux, PCLinuxOS 64, Lucas Nussbaum, ZFS/Btrfs versus ext4|
|• Issue 502 (2013-04-08): Look at Mint 201303 "Debian", Ubuntu versus openSUSE, comparing ZFS and Btrfs file systems|
|• Issue 501 (2013-04-01): KANOTIX 2013 and GhostBSD 3.0, openSUSE Rescue-CD, Haiku package management, computer forensics|
|• Issue 500 (2013-03-25): Look at openSUSE 12.3, Ubuntu release changes, Debian backports, growing divide|
|• Issue 499 (2013-03-18): MINIX 3.2.1, openSUSE 12.3 on desktop, Ubuntu GNOME and UbuntuKylin, distros for musicians, KolibriOS|
|• Issue 498 (2013-03-11): Sabayon Linux 11, Ubuntu's Mir, Linux malware|
|• Issue 497 (2013-03-04): Rebellin Linux 1.00 "Adrenaline", rolling-release Ubuntu, Arch vs spin-offs, justification and diversity|
|• Issue 496 (2013-02-25): Review of Chakra 2013.02, The Book of GIMP, Ubuntu and privacy, FreeNAS vs NAS4Free|
|• Issue 495 (2013-02-18): SparkyLinux 2.1 "Ultra", Fedora 19 schedule, Xubuntu on DVD, cloud privacy|
|• Issue 494 (2013-02-11): FreeBSD 9.1, web server stats, Anaconda, rolling-release PC-BSD, fixing broken packages in Arch|
|• Issue 493 (2013-02-04): UberStudent 2.0, OmniBoot 1.0, MariaDB, Enlightenment 0.17|
|• Issue 492 (2013-01-28): Fedora 18 review, systemd, Kali Linux, Ubuntu Unleashed|
|• Issue 491 (2013-01-21): Fuduntu 2013.1, Fedora 18 desktop choices, Consort, accessing encrypted drive|
|• Issue 490 (2013-01-14): Look at Manjaro Linux 0.8.3, openSUSE on Chromebook, Able2Extract 8.0|
|• Issue 489 (2013-01-07): PC-BSD 9.1, Arch spin-offs, rolling-releases, year-end PHR stats, removing applications|
|• Issue 488 (2012-12-24): Reviews of Unity and Puppy Linux 5.4 "Slacko", FreeBSD 10|
|• Issue 487 (2012-12-17): Cinnarch 2012.11.22, OpenMandriva, Fedora Magazine, Tumbleweed, OpenJDK vs Oracle Java|
|• Issue 486 (2012-12-10): Linux Mint 14 review, Ubuntu "spyware" controversy, Haiku overview, troubleshooting Linux servers|
|• Issue 485 (2012-12-03): Kwort Linux 3.5, Mint bug-fix update, Fedora's new Anaconda, defining a distribution|
|• Issue 484 (2012-11-26): Look at SMS 2.0.1, Fedora pre-beta report, Illumos, Secure Boot update|
|• Issue 483 (2012-11-19): DragonFly BSD 3.2.1 and Xubuntu 12.10, Gentoo and udev, switching file systems|
|• Issue 482 (2012-11-12): Review of Zenwalk 7.2, Clang in FreeBSD, Omniboot 0.5, priorities on external drives|
|• Issue 481 (2012-11-05): Look at Tails 0.13, EFF on Ubuntu and privacy, Debian installer changes, ext4 data corruption bug|
|• Issue 480 (2012-10-29): Review of Ubuntu 12.10, Wayland 1.0, FreeBSD's pkgng|
|• Issue 479 (2012-10-22): Look at Zentyal 3.0, Debian bug reporting, initiating a halt|
|• Issue 478 (2012-10-15): Slackware 14.0 review, Ubuntu donations, connecting to multiple machines behind router|
|• Issue 477 (2012-10-08): Review of ODROID-X, OpenBSD's anti-Linux song, interview with Vincent Untz, Linux as operating system|
|• Issue 476 (2012-10-01): Review of openSUSE 12.2, Slackware 14.0 features, accessing home computer with SSH|
|• Issue 475 (2012-09-24): Look at PCLinuxOS 2012.08, Ubuntu and Amazon, SolusOS and PiSi, ownCloud|
|• Issue 474 (2012-09-17): Bodhi Linux 2.0.1, OpenIndiana interview, Frugalware history, update notifications|
|• Issue 473 (2012-09-10): The Linux Command Line, Slackware documentation project, Debian's new primary arch, Goobuntu|
|• Issue 472 (2012-09-03): Kororaa Linux 17, OpenIndiana and SchilliX, Ubuntu GNOME remix, home server tip|
|• Issue 471 (2012-08-27): Linux Mint 13 "KDE", Ubuntu 12.10 features, Slax update, folder quotas|
|• Issue 470 (2012-08-20): Liberté Linux 2012.2, Arch and systemd, NetBSD's sysbuild and sysupgrade, 19 years of Debian|
|• Issue 469 (2012-08-13): Peppermint OS Three, SUSE on Secure Boot, GNOME OS, moving email to Linux|
|• Issue 468 (2012-08-06): First look at CentOS 6.3, Debian installer beta, Fedora and MATE, Libtrash|
|• Issue 467 (2012-07-30): Ubuntu Made Easy, Debian "Jessie", OpenBSD on Secure Boot, Rawhide troubles|
|• Issue 466 (2012-07-23): Fuduntu 2012.3, Linux in PC-BSD jails, secure boot on older computers|
|• Issue 465 (2012-07-16): Netrunner 4.2, Mandriva's two codebases, firewalls and window frames|
|• Issue 464 (2012-07-09): Zorin OS 6, FSF's views on secure boot, Virtual PDF Printer|
|• Issue 463 (2012-07-02): TurnKey Linux 11.3, Red Hat and Btrfs, Sabayon's MATE spin, ZFS on Linux|
|• Issue 462 (2012-06-25): Sabayon 9, "Wheezy" freeze, Zorin OS overview, Vinux interview, mounting network shares|
|• Issue 461 (2012-06-18): Linux Mint 13, openSUSE 12. delays, Debian Multimedia, Mageia 3 roadmap|
|• Issue 460 (2012-06-11): Look at Fedora 17, PC-BSD and Slackware interviews, Openfiler and FuguIta|
|• Issue 459 (2012-06-04): Impressions of Mageia 2, Fedora updates, Debian or Raspberry Pie, improving software performance|
|• Issue 458 (2012-05-28): Impressions of SolusOS 1, Linux kernel 3.4, encrypting home folder|
|• Issue 457 (2012-05-21): Linux accessibility, Fedora 17 overview, MultiSystem, launching tasks|
|• Issue 456 (2012-05-14): Look at OpenBSD 5.1, Debian Installer 7.0 alpha, UDS news round-up|
|• Issue 455 (2012-05-07): Review of Ubuntu 12.04, "Quantal Quetzal" plans, Debian infographic|
|• Full list of all issues|