| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 394, 28 February 2011
Welcome to this year's 9th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Fedora, Ubuntu and Debian take the lion's share of news talks taking place over the last few days. While the first test release of Fedora 15 gets delayed due to a show-stopper bug, its unofficial ARM processor team delivers a new Fedora beta build for testing. In the meantime, Ubuntu hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons and this time it's the project's economic need that takes over in a relationship with a free software project, the Banshee music player. Debian, on the other hand, gets a pat on the back from the Free Software Foundation over its new kernel-without-the-blobs policy, although the project still falls short of getting on the list of truly free GNU/Linux distributions. This week's feature story is a first-look review of the Ubuntu-based Wolfer Linux 2, while the Questions and Answers section presents a list of web browsers available on the UNIX platform. There is more, including a link to an article which responds to our last week's review of Debian "Squeeze". Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
A look at Wolfer Linux 2|
The Wolfer Linux distribution is developed by a small team who seem to be operating on two assumptions: one, that Ubuntu makes a good base from which to build a distro and, two, a good user interface can go a long way toward making a good product. Wolfer, version 2, is based on Ubuntu "Lucid", a long-term support release that is nearing its first birthday. The downloadable ISO image is approximately 780 MB in size and doubles as a live DVD and installation media.
The live disc boots into a text menu which lets us select whether we'd like to try Wolfer without touching the hard drive or perform an installation. Taking the default option boots us into a GNOME 2.30 desktop environment. The menu bar and task switcher sit at the bottom of the screen, an icon for browsing the file system and another for launching the installer sit on the desktop. The theme is big on grey; the wallpaper is grey, the menu bar is grey and the icons feature grey. The application menu uses a high-contrast combination of black text on a white background and it crams a lot of items into the small space.
There are the usual software categories down the middle and, moving the mouse over these categories causes specific applications to be shown on the right. This is fairly standard, though the even spacing of the application entries may take some getting used to. To the left side of the menu are three tabs to move us between the default application menu, a system/shutdown menu and recently selected items. Up at the top of the menu is a button for showing commonly used entries. The system tab not only lets us shutdown the machine or logout, but also displays resource usage information. Personally I find the menu a bit crowded. Maybe if I had a few weeks to get accustomed to the layout I would come to appreciate the layout and short-cuts, but as it is I thought the menu behaviour drifted a little too far away from the norm for my habits.
Wolfer Linux 2 - browsing the web and accessing the application menu
(full image size: 302kB, resolution 1366x768 pixels)
As I previously mentioned, Wolfer is based on Ubuntu. The installer is the same as the one featured in Ubuntu 10.04 and the installed applications are largely the same too. Rather than walk through the whole thing step-by-step, I'll instead try to focus on what differs in Wolfer compared to its parent. When I asked Hari Yulianto, the project's lead developer, what sets Wolfer apart he told me that Wolfer has "a desktop display that we designed to be more elegant and easy to use for new Linux users. Apart from the desktop, we also equip it with office software, Internet applications, multimedia players, and some tools to repair and reset the system." He added that users will want to try Wolfer because the distro is "elegant and easy to use."
Wolfer Linux 2 - the system installer and the Guake terminal
(full image size: 219kB, resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Once I finished installing Wolfer and logged in I found that I had to agree with Hari. Though the application menu took some getting used to, there are little tweaks to the interface I found appealing, things I probably wouldn't normally consider. For instance, there's a quick link to the system's control centre next to the application menu. There's also a button there to kill applications in case they hang, an issue I did not encounter while using the distribution. Upon logging in a notification appears briefly letting us know we can press F12 at any time to get the Guake virtual terminal. This is a small terminal window that appears at the top of the screen. There is also an icon in the system tray which will bring up the small terminal window. Since I'm often using and dismissing terminal windows, having the readily available shortcut was nice.
Regarding the array of default applications, most of them are the same as those available in Ubuntu, but there are a few differences. Wolfer replaces the Firefox web browser with Google's Chrome, version 7. Also in the Internet menu we find the Transmission BitTorrent client, the Gwibber social media client and Pidgin for instant messaging. OpenOffice is installed, as is the Evolution e-mail client, the VLC multimedia player and a disc burner. The GIMP image editor is included, as are a document viewer, the GNOME configuration tools and the usual small apps for editing text, adding numbers and working with file archives. For fun, a few games are included and, in their effort to make Wolfer easy to use out of the box, the developers have included a Flash plugin and codecs for playing popular media formats.
The distro provides two package managers, Synaptic and Add/Remove Applications (also known as gnome-app-install). Synaptic, as usual, worked smoothly and I encountered no problems. When running Add/Remove Applications I found it also worked well. It features a simplified interface, but for most people's purposes the functionality is all there. Though when I clicked on the tool's Help button it caused an error to be displayed telling me that to view the help documentation a package first had to be installed -- an unfortunate message to encounter when trying to find out how to use a package manager. Aside from the two GUI package managers, Wolfer includes an application to handle security updates. The update manager worked well, provided lots of information to the user and I had no problems there.
One thing I was disappointed by is that Wolfer appears to use the same packages (with the same versions) as its base, Ubuntu 10.04. This may seem to make sense until we look at the mountain of updates that awaits us immediately after installing the operating system. When I first booted Wolfer I discovered over 350 waiting updates. This makes for just over 300 MB worth of downloads, following a 780 MB ISO image. I think it would be preferable if these updates were applied to the image before it is made available for download, much the way Ubuntu does with its LTS point releases.
I ran Wolfer on two test machines, a generic desktop machine (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card) and found everything worked out of the box. My screen was set to a good resolution and audio worked without any configuration. On my HP laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card) I had a similar experience with everything working properly. Again my screen was set at an appropriate resolution, audio worked on the default install and my wireless connection worked without any problems. My touchpad also worked as expected. Performance on both machines was middle of the road, good without being extraordinary. When I moved Wolfer to a virtual environment, I found it functioned well with as little as 512 MB of memory.
Wolfer Linux 2 - the package manager
(full image size: 283kB, resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Whether a re-spin project has merit is a debate which often rages around projects like Wolfer. From a technical stand point Wolfer is basically Ubuntu with some multimedia codecs, some extra packages and a different theme. But the Wolfer developers aren't out to reinvent the wheel, but rather make the wheel more accessible to Linux new comers. In my mind whether the project is useful and a success hinges on whether they have indeed made a more novice-friendly desktop. I'm not in a good position to judge as I've been using Linux systems for over a decade, so I turned Wolfer over to someone who primarily uses a proprietary operating system (with the rare trip into Ubuntu-land) and asked his opinion. He told me he found the theme more pleasant than Ubuntu's and navigating the menu layout came more naturally. Additionally with all the codecs pre-installed for him, he didn't have to turn to the package manager for anything. So while Wolfer may not bring technical improvements to the table and I generally found their UI changes unappealing, my test subject did see their efforts as an improvement.
If you have already settled into the Linux scene and have gained some comfort with the operating system, Wolfer probably won't give you anything new. But if you're standing outside the Linux community and considering which distro to try, Wolfer is one option that will make the transition easier.
* * * * *
While on the subjects of the Ubuntu family of distros and new Linux users, I think it's only fair to mention the Psychocats Ubuntu website. It's an excellent resource with clear tutorials covering getting, installing, securing and customizing Ubuntu and its children distros. The site also discusses such topics as adding multimedia codecs, configuring WINE and performing backups. The tutorials are well written and often provide screenshots or examples to help novice users along. Though not as complete as the official Ubuntu documentation, the smaller size of the Psychocats website makes finding information on common tasks easier. If you, or people you know, are starting the Linux journey, I recommend Psychocats as a starting point. Thanks to Marti who wrote in to let us know about this website.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Fedora - alpha delay and ARM beta release, Ubuntu vs Banshee controversy, Debian and its relationship with FSF
The first official test release of Fedora 15, originally scheduled for arrival tomorrow (Tuesday), has been delayed by one week due to a major show-stopper bug. The H Open has summarised the decision: "The Fedora project has postponed the release of the first and only alpha version of Fedora 15, originally scheduled for 1 March, by a week. This was due, at least in part, to a bug in X server that occurred in connection with keyboard layouts for such languages as German or French and prevented users from successfully logging into GDM. Subsequent milestones in the release schedule for Fedora 15 remain unaffected at present, and the final release is still scheduled for 10 May. The fifteenth Fedora release is currently planned to be the first version that won't require a special boot parameter to be submitted to the installer in order to format a storage device with the experimental Btrfs file system." The article also quotes Red Hat's Josef Bacik who suggests that Btrfs should become the default file system in Fedora 16.
On a separate note, Paul Whalen has announced the availability of the first beta release of Fedora 13 for the ARM processor: "The Fedora 13 ARM beta release is now available for download. There are still a number of packages that haven't been built for ARM due to build failures or missing dependencies. Because we're a little behind the primary architectures we have the ability to look at later releases to see if these failures have been fixed -- thankfully a large number include support for ARM. Because of this we expect that with Fedora 14 and 15 we will be closer in line with the primary architectures. A new root file system is available for download here. The password for the root account is 'fedoraarm'. Instructions for using the root file system can be found here." For more information please see also the release notes.
* * * * *
While Canonical is no stranger to making controversial decisions which are then relayed in popular Linux news media, often it's the journalists who keep digging up "dramatic" stories related to the most popular desktop Linux distribution. Last week it was Ubuntu's relationship with GNOME and the Banshee media player that hit the headlines. Slashdot has a nice summary of events: "Canonical has reacted to backlash over its insane deal with Banshee by establishing a marginally better new deal. Banshee is a media/music player for Linux (and Windows and Mac OS X) that supports music purchases via Amazon MP3. It will ship with Ubuntu 11.04. Amazon pays 10% to its affiliates -- websites and software that send it business. Banshee had been donating its Amazon affiliate proceeds to GNOME. But Amazon's MP3 store competes with Canonical's MP3 store, Ubuntu One. So Canonical thought that it should help itself to 75% of the affiliate money from Banshee/Amazon sales and leave 25% for GNOME. The Banshee group said no thanks, we'll disable Amazon for Ubuntu users. Canonical is refusing to let Banshee disable Amazon. It has instead said it will contribute some money from Ubuntu One to GNOME but it still intends on keeping the lion's share for itself." Network World also covers the story.
* * * * *
The relationship between Debian GNU/Linux and Free Software Foundation (FSF) has been stormy at times, with the result that FSF does not include Debian in its list of recommended free distributions. Nevertheless, with the recent release of "Squeeze", whose default kernel comes without any proprietary components, the world's largest Linux operating system project has come a step closer to the FSF ideals. Debian's Stefano Zacchiroli explains the situation: "Historically, the relationships among Debian and the FSF have gone through mixed fortune (and that's quite an euphemism). On the one hand, Debian is committed to 100% Free Software, is an open project explicitly inspired by 'the spirit of GNU', has been sponsored by FSF in its infancy, and properly calls itself 'GNU/Linux' (or even "GNU/kFreeBSD"). On the other hand, Debian is the project who considers the GNU FDL license to be only conditionally free and which is not considered to be an entirely free system according to FSF. As a long time member of the Debian Project, as well as an FSF(E) fellow, I've always felt a bit sad about this state of affairs. Not because the two projects should have aligned goals; they clearly focus on different aspects of the quest for a free (software) world. Not even because they should agree on how to build a free distribution: history has shown that FSF technical positions do not always get along with Debian's more 'pragmatic' style, as embodied by point 5 of the Social Contract."
Our last week's review of Debian GNU/Linux 6.0 has generated a heated debate not only on this website, but on many other Linux discussion boards all over the Internet. Naturally, as long as there are such important things as free computer operating systems available for anybody to try out, there will be conflicting opinions. Our review met with many rebuttals and here is one of them: "Yes, the installer isn't flashy. How can it be, and support as many different hardware platforms as Debian does? Keep in mind that the install scripts are fundamentally the same for every hardware platform, from serial console SPARC to IBM 360 and everything in between. Mr. Smith missed just how much work had to go into translating that install into a 'graphical' mode to make some people happy, when anyone who looks at the 'graphical' and text installers side by side will notice that they do exactly the same job in exactly the same way. This is important so as not to have to maintain 12 (or whatever it is this release) different installers. I'm quite pleased that Mr. Smith took the time to give Debian 6.0 a real workout before writing his review. And I even understand his reservations about 'by being so general, so universal, I felt 'Squeeze' didn't excel at anything.' Maybe, 'Squeeze' excels at being general and universal?"
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Web browsers for Linux
Browsing-for-browsers asks: The other week's comments on chroot-ing Firefox got me to thinking -- is there a "safe" browser on Linux? Firefox has become very popular, and a target of blackhats... And since there is nothing "safe" in this dangerous world I'll rephrase my question: What full-featured FOSS browsers are available for Linux besides Firefox and Konqueror?
DistroWatch answers: You're right, there's no completely secure and full-featured web browser, but there are some good open-source web browsers out there. Aside from the ones you mentioned, Firefox and Konqueror, you might also try Chromium. Most of the big-name distros (including Fedora, Debian (and its family) and openSUSE) make it fairly easy to get Chromium. Another good option is Epiphany, a web browser designed for the GNOME desktop. The Epiphany website contains a helpful page with installation instructions for various distributions. Though not open source, the Opera web browser runs on Linux and FreeBSD.
Assuming your primary concern is security, you could consider running your web browser in a virtual machine. I find VirtualBox to be easy to set up. Browsing in a virtual environment can be inconvenient as it cuts you off from directly uploading your files, but for day-to-day browsing it provides an extra layer of protection. When you're on the road, browsing from a live disc, such as the one provided by KNOPPIX, will help you avoid malware, such as key loggers.
Do you have a topic or question you'd like to see covered in DistroWatch Weekly? Send in your submissions to email@example.com.
|Released Last Week
Jolicloud 1.1.1, an Ubuntu-based distribution for netbooks with heavy integration of social networks, has been released. This minor update brings support for older NVIDIA graphics cards and other legacy hardware. From the release announcement: "We've received hundreds of stories from people around the world who are dusting off old computers from their garages, turning them into cool Jolicloud computers, and using them as Internet browsing machines, family Skype boxes or donating them to schools. That's why we're dedicated to making Jolicloud OS compatible with all types of legacy hardware. Today, we released a new Jolicloud OS 1.1.1, an update which solves installation issues on legacy computers using older NVIDIA graphics cards. This means that if you have an old computer lying around it is even more likely now that Jolicloud OS will run on it flawlessly. If you own an old Dell computer and had issues to install the 1.1, the new release should fix this."
Linux Mint 10 "KDE"
Clement Lefebvre has announced the release of Linux Mint 10 "KDE" edition: "The team is proud to announce the release of Linux Mint 10 KDE." The release includes the new KDE 4.6 desktop as well as various improvements in Mint's software, update and upload managers: "This edition comes with the latest and recently released KDE 4.6. The Software Manager gives you a nicer browsing experience, with a better categorization of software and the use of application icons. If you're not interested in receiving updates for a particular package, simply right click on it and tell the Update Manager to ignore updates for this package. The package will then be added to your 'ignore' list and you won't receive any updates for it in the future." Read the release announcement for an overview of the main features and see the what's new page for a detailed list of improvements (with screenshots).
Linux Mint 10 "KDE" - a KDE 4.6 desktop with a minty flavour
(full image size: 798kB, resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Kris Moore has announced the release of PC-BSD 8.2, a desktop BSD system based on FreeBSD: "The PC-BSD team is pleased to announce the availability of PC-BSD 8.2 (Hubble edition), running FreeBSD 8.2-RELEASE, and KDE 4.5.5. Version 8.2 contains a number of enhancements and improvements, some of the notable changes are: added ability to select file-system type and encryption during auto-partitioning; able to toggle between MBR/GPT partitioning; various bug fixes to the wireless network managers; updated the display wizard with many new supported resolutions; added 'extractonly' option to pc-sysinstall for installing to a pre-mounted disk; fixed some disk install errors from loading incorrect geom_ modules...." See the release announcement, release notes and changelog for more details.
FreeBSD 8.2, 7.4
Ken Smith has announced the release of FreeBSD 8.2: "The FreeBSD release engineering team is pleased to announce the availability of FreeBSD 8.2-RELEASE. This is the third release from the 8-STABLE branch which improves on the functionality of FreeBSD 8.1 and introduces some new features. Some of the highlights: Xen HVM support in FreeBSD/amd64 and Xen PV support in FreeBSD/i386 improved; ZFS on-disk format updated to version 15; aesni driver for Intel AESNI crypto instruction set; BIND and OpenSSL updates; GNOME updated to 2.32.1; KDE updated to 4.5.5; many miscellaneous improvements and bug fixes." Read the release announcement and release notes for further information; there is also an errata page with a late-breaking news about an OpenSSL issue.
Jörn Lindau has announced the release of Toorox 02.2011, a Gentoo-based live DVD featuring the KDE (version 4.6.0) desktop: "After the release of the 'GNOME' edition on the 8th of February it's time for the new 'KDE' edition too. And here it is: Toorox 02.2011 'KDE'. It contains of course all the improvements of the 'GNOME' edition (the '200-lines' kernel speed patch, GRUB 2, installer extensions). Nearly all packages were updated. The Linux kernel is the same as in the last 'GNOME' release (a patched 2.6.37-gentoo). Toorox 02.2011 contains KDE 4.6.0 as desktop environment. The X.Org Server was updated to version 1.9.4. The office suite is now the latest LibreOffice 3.3.1. The new images are stored in the download section; they're available as 32-bit and 64-bit systems." Here is the release announcement.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- Singularity Linux. Singularity Linux is a distribution based on the Fluxbox edition of Linux Mint, using both the Fluxbox window manager and the GNOME desktop environment.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 7 March 2011.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Full list of all issues|