| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 409, 13 June 2011
Welcome to this year's 24th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Linux Mint 11 arrived a few weeks after its parent, Ubuntu, introduced wide-ranging changes to the way it looks and functions. Maintaining a much more conservative attitude towards the desktop, this fast-rising distribution is likely to appeal to those users who don't appreciate the need to adapt to the dramatic changes introduced recently in some of the major distributions as well as desktop environments. Read our first-look review of Linux Mint 11 to see what else this beginner-friendly operating system has to offer. In the news section, Fedora switches to the Btrfs file system for its forthcoming release, Illumos attempts to unite the former OpenSolaris developer community under a more open development model, and Debian explains the recent changes in the way updates are accepted in the stable release. Also in this issue, links to interviews with lead developers of Scientific Linux and FreeNAS and a quick Questions and Answers section that deals with extending the battery life in a laptop. Finally, don't miss your chance to suggest a package to be listed and tracked on our distribution pages. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
A look at Linux Mint 11|
The Linux Mint distribution has sometimes been called "Ubuntu done right". It's a phrase that has some merit, but I don't think it's entirely fair. Of the two projects Ubuntu is the dreamer, the idealist. The Ubuntu team is constantly coming up with ideas like, "Let's make a desktop operating system that uses all libre parts!" Or, "wouldn't it be great if the desktop display was like a smart phone's?" Mint is the more pragmatic distro, which looks at these ideas and decides, "free software is great, but let's make a few exceptions so everything works at install time." And, "most of our users are using full-sized desktops with a mouse, not a tablet with a touch screen, so let's just adopt just a few things from smart phones." While Ubuntu is out there, dreaming big and swinging for the fences, Mint is taking their basic concepts and making adjustments for the home desktop crowd.
We can find a few examples of this pragmatic approach in the release notes. Mint has shied away from the Unity shell for their latest release, sticking with the GNOME 2.32 desktop. They have adopted the new, thin scrollbars, but include instructions for returning to the classic scrollbar style. Where Ubuntu tries to squeeze all their software onto one CD, Mint offers a more complete desktop experience on a DVD. However, the project does offer a CD edition without codecs for people dealing with legal or technical restrictions.
The 32-bit standard edition Mint DVD weighs in at just under 870 MB and booting from the disc brings us to a GNOME 2.32 desktop. The application menu, task switcher and system tray are positioned at the bottom of the screen. In the upper-left corner we are shown icons for navigating the file system and launching the system installer. The wallpaper shows us the Linux Mint branding on a silver background.
The Mint installer is basically the same as the one which ships with Ubuntu, the only obvious differences being cosmetic. We're asked to select our preferred language and the installer checks to make sure the computer's hardware meets the operating system's minimum requirements. We're then presented with a partitioning screen, which I found straightforward and intuitive. Mint supports the ext2/3/4 family of file systems, as well as ReiserFS, Btrfs, JFS and XFS. We tell the installer our time zone, confirm the keyboard layout and create a user account. After copying the required files over to our hard drive, the installer then tries to download language packs and any available package updates. This last step can take a while and, if you find yourself not wanting to wait, there is a "skip" button to bypass the downloads.
Booting into the freshly installed Mint brings up a graphical login screen and signing in brings up the GNOME desktop and a "welcome" dialogue box. The welcome text includes links to the distribution's manual, website, support forum and a known issues page, along with a few other links. I found the provided documentation to be well organized and easy to follow; it seems to be written with novice Linux users in mind.
One of the first things to grab my attention was the update notification applet in the system tray. I had skipped downloading updates during the install and clicking on the notification icon brought up the system's update manager. The update manager lists available software upgrades and also assigns a safety value to each update. This lets users know if an update has been tested by the Mint team and whether the developers consider the update to be safe to install. I find this useful as, by default, the update application filters out software considered to hold a higher risk and this helps users avoid updates which may break existing functionality.
The Mint menu uses a custom layout which combines the three standard GNOME menus into one. Applications, Places and System are all arranged on one large menu panel. I think the all-in-one menu is a mixed blessing as it makes finding commonly accessed items easy, but some digging can be required to find less commonly used tools. For those who don't like foraging through the application categories, the Mint menu features a search box which will find items both by name and by description.
Linux Mint 11 - the Mint menu
(full image size: 451kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
So what can we find on the menu? Mint includes Firefox 4, the Pidgin instant messaging client, Thunderbird for e-mail and LibreOffice 3.3.2. The Banshee music player is available, as are MPlayer, VLC and a disc burner. We're given the GIMP, Tomboy Notes, System Monitor and the usual array of GNOME configuration tools for adjusting the look & feel of the desktop. The APTonCD program is included, which will let us make an archive of installed software -- handy if we need to perform similar installs on multiple machines. The MintBackup program is included and it provides an easy way to save our files and retrieve items from archives. A good companion to this program is Upload Manager, which gives users the ability to drag-n-drop files to remote machines. Combining the backup tool with Upload Manager allows us to create backups and save them on a remote server with just seven mouse clicks. For security we have a GUI firewall configuration tool and a simple domain blocker. There's a network settings application which includes basic diagnostic features, such as ping and port scanning. Mint includes codecs for playing most popular multimedia formats, plus Flash and Java. The GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) is also on the DVD and, in the background, the 2.6.38 release of the Linux kernel keeps things running.
Looking through the list of available applications a person might be forgiven for wondering at the package managing options. There's one menu entry called "Software Manager", another called "Package Manager" and there's a separate entry for Synaptic. This is similar to the vague "Software Update(s)" menu entries in the Fedora distribution and it's not particularly welcome here either. As it turns out Package Manager is a second link to Synaptic, the venerable GUI front-end to APT, which offers an all-in-one approach to handling software on the system. Software Manager is the name given to mintInstall, a program which takes a more friendly, simplified approach to software management.
Packages are broken into groups named in similar fashion to the categories found in the application menu and we can find items by browsing those groups or by searching for packages by name. Clicking on a program's icon will give us a detailed description of the software, along with a screenshot and any reviews written by other users. Once we have marked a package for installation or removal, the process kicks off and we can continue to browse through the available software and queue more add/remove actions. At the bottom of the screen is a button labelled "Ongoing actions" which will bring up a list of queued items and their progress so far. We can select any of these in-progress items and cancel them. Being indirectly based on Debian, Mint 11 gives us a wide selection of software to choose from, with a touch over 33,000 binary packages in the repositories.
Linux Mint 11 - backing up and transfering files
(full image size: 374kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
I tried Mint on two machines, a generic desktop machine (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card) and my HP laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card). On both machines all of my hardware was detected and configured out of the box. My screens were set to a good resolution, audio worked and volume was set at a medium level. My wireless card was picked up right away and, upon logging in for the first time, I was notified of wireless networks within range. My touchpad worked as expected and I encountered no problems. At first I was a little surprised there was no splash screen during the boot process, but it turns out that this is by design. On both machines performance was good and the desktop was responsive. In this respect Mint seems to be about on par with other GNOME 2.x distributions.
One thing I kept noticing while using Mint is that, while the project uses Ubuntu for their base, the developers seem comfortable divorcing themselves from upstream choices they don't like. For example, Ubuntu placed a lot of focus on One services in the 11.04 release. Mint doesn't install Ubuntu One and, likewise, doesn't include the One plugin store for Banshee; instead Mint uses Amazon's music store (the One packages remain available via Mint's Software Manager). Likewise, Mint has put off trying new desktop environments, like GNOME 3 and Unity, apparently waiting to make sure the technologies are mature before adopting them.
Linux Mint 11 - Banshee connecting to Amazon's music collection
(full image size: 287kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
In my opinion Mint has been consistent in putting out solid, polished releases and version 11 continues that trend. There's nothing really ground-shaking in this version and I believe that was a good way for the developers to go. There have been some minor tweaks to Software Manager, a swap out of OpenOffice.org for LibreOffice and the thin scrollbars for GNOME applications were introduced, but this is a tame release. And I think that's a good thing given the status of some of the other big-name desktop distributions right now. With Ubuntu and Fedora adopting new desktop environments, Mageia/Mandriva having forked and the openSUSE project changing hands I think Mint is gaining users for its apparent stability as a project as much as for its ease of use.
There were a few minor things I would have liked to have seen done differently in Mint 11. The blank start-up screen, while done for efficiency, might put off inexperienced users who will wonder why their screen doesn't appear to be working. Though Software Manager and Package Manager do similar things, I think these could stand to be renamed along the lines of "Software Manager (basic)" and "Software Manager (advanced)" to make the distinction more apparent. And, while I'm wishing, I'd like to see a screen added to the installer dedicated to GRUB settings, similar to the way the Fedora and Mageia installers let users configure their bootloader.
All-in-all Mint 11 was a very good experience for me and I think it's one of the better desktop distributions available at the moment. There's a good selection of pre-installed software, all of my hardware was supported properly, performance was good and everything ran smoothly for me. Mint is well worth looking into whether you're a newcomer to Linux or an experienced user looking for a distro you can install quickly and use without configuring.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Fedora 16 features, Illumos - the successor to the OpenSolaris community, Debian, Scientific and FreeNAS interviews
As has been widely reported, the Fedora Engineering steering committee has approved the use of Btrfs as the default file system in the forthcoming Fedora 16 release. This is an interesting decision given the fact that it was Red Hat that popularised the ext3/4 file system to the point that most major distributions now use it as default. But things evolve fast in the Linux world and this looks like one of those major changes that will stay with us for years to come. Digitizer reports on the Fedora Btrfs switch: "According to proposals for Fedora 16, Btrfs will be the default file system used in that release. The proposal has been approved by the Fedora Engineering Steering Committee. In Fedora 16, the switch from ext4 to Btrfs will be a 'simple switch' - it means that major Btrfs features such as RAID and LVM capabilities will not be forced onto users. The switch to Btrfs might also mean the arrival of GRUB 2 in Fedora 16 as the legacy GRUB does not support Btrfs. The change will be invisible to most users, unless they want to make use of the new features that Btrfs offers. Ext4 might still be retained as the file system for those upgrading from Fedora 15."
What other surprises can we expect in the next Fedora? Phoronix provides a concise summary of other features coming up for Fedora 16: "So far the officially accepted Fedora 16 features include: finish removing HAL (the Hardware Abstraction Layer) since it's been deprecated for a while and completely replaced by UDisks, UPower, libudev, etc; integrating Cloudstack for Fedora cloud computing; using Aeolus Conductor as a web user interface for creating and managing cloud instances; integrating Blender 2.5, the latest major release of this open-source 3D creation tool; update Glasgow Haskell Compiler / Haskell Platform; integrate Sheepdog into Fedora, Sheepdog is a simple, distributed object-based storage system for KVM/QEMU (this will provide relatively simple, object-based storage, that is distributed and replicated, hopefully with a consummate increase in performance based on node count); finish porting SysVinit scripts to SystemD UInit files." The alpha build of Fedora 16 is schedule for release on 16 August.
* * * * *
Although OpenSolaris was officially discontinued shortly after Oracle's takeover of Sun Microsystems, the operating system continues to live under the Illumos umbrella. Linux Weekly News gives a rundown on the current state of affairs in the community in a well-researched article entitled "Illumos: the successor to the OpenSolaris community": "Illumos is clearly going forward, although the way it is doing this is frustrating some people. The Illumos developers have more of a cathedral-like development model, while some of the more vocal members of the Illumos community would like more of a completely open bazaar-like development model like Linux is using. The call for a fork and some criticism about the closed nature of the ZFS working group are consequences of these sentiments. However, the critics forget that the OpenSolaris development model was much more closed. Although Sun released the bulk of the Solaris system code and called OpenSolaris 'open source', there never was a real OpenSolaris community: it always depended too much on Sun and later Oracle, and Oracle's current development model for Solaris 11 is completely behind closed doors. So while Illumos is not yet the completely open Solaris code base and does not yet have the vibrant community that many OpenSolaris people have dreamed of, things are going in the right direction."
* * * * *
The next stable release of Debian GNU/Linux won't arrive before many more months, maybe even years, but it doesn't mean that the distribution's release team is fast asleep. On the contrary, the regular minor respins with security and bug-fix updates continue to arrive at regular intervals. But what exactly goes into these minor point updates? Philipp Kern explains how the process has changed recently in "People behind Debian: Philipp Kern, Stable Release Manager": "All the changes that were made to the policy were driven by the aim to keep stable usable throughout its lifetime. I have to admit that we got slightly more liberal in what we accept since I took over. The previous stable update policy included the fixes of critical bugs that break the system in interesting ways and security fixes. We also opened up the possibility of including important fixes for annoying bugs on a case-by-case basis. The whole 'don't update that much' part of the stable release management is rooted in 'let's not change the behaviour of a running system' and 'let's have as few regressions as possible'. We currently try to counter that with a review process that only allows self-contained fixes that were tested in unstable first, if applicable."
* * * * *
Scientific Linux has risen to prominence in recent months due to its ability to deliver a Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6 clone, a feat that some other popular players in this domain have yet to achieve. Last week Montana Linux interviewed Troy Dawson, one of the distribution's lead developers, asking Dawson, among other things, about his opinion on the impact of RHEL clones on Red Hat's bottom line: "I think Red Hat is better off with the clones, particularly Scientific Linux (SL). Here is my reasoning. National labs like Fermilab run Scientific Linux, or a mixture of RHEL and SL. Universities come to these National labs and in order to work with the infrastructure, they have to run RHEL or SL. The universities and their students are very low on money (as are many of the national labs) so they run SL on their machines. The students at those Universities learn Scientific Linux. They graduate. They get a job in some corporation. The corporation asks which type of Linux they should use, and those graduates say, 'I know Scientific Linux and it is a very good and free clone of RHEL. Since we want support, we should use RHEL.' In short, the free clones end up giving RHEL customers."
* * * * *
One more interview link to conclude the news section. This time it is with Josh Paetzel, the FreeNAS project manager, who describes the project and introduces some of the changes in the recently-released FreeNAS 8: "FreeNAS 8 ties an easy to use and intuitive GUI to a powerful, stable, robust operating system to make a storage appliance. The project was started a number of years ago when a BSD UNIX enthusiast was looking around for a home file server based on BSD UNIX. When he couldn't find one he created one of his own. What's new in FreeNAS 8? In some ways FreeNAS 8 is a case of taking a step backwards in order to be able to take two steps forward. The GUI is all new, making extensive use of Python, Django, and Dojo. In comparing it to the GUIs offered by other storage appliances on the market it really stands out. Whether you look at competing products, such as Openfiler, Nexenta, FreeNAS 0.7, or products in a different tier, such as a NetApp or EMC, the GUI in FreeNAS 8 really stands out. There's more there than a pretty face though, behind that GUI is the latest FreeBSD operating system, 8.2, with ZFS version 15. ZFS is a production-ready file system in FreeBSD 8.x."
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Extending battery life
Needs-more-power asks: My laptop battery doesn't last as long when it's running Linux. How can I get more life out of it?
DistroWatch answers: It may sound obvious, but the easiest way to extend your battery life is to reduce the number of features you're using. For example, if you're performing tasks that don't require an Internet connection, turn off your WiFi:
# Get a list of wi-fi device names
If you're using your laptop to watch movies during a trip, rip the DVDs to your hard drive ahead of time so the machine isn't wasting power spinning the disc. When appropriate, dim the screen a little in your system settings.
# Turn off wi-fi
iwconfig <device_name> txpower off
# Turn on wi-fi again
iwconfig <device_name> txpower on
Some more technical solutions include disabling access time stamps on files which will reduce the number of writes to the hard disk. You can do this by adding the noatime flag to your fstab entries. Assuming you're doing simple work where you don't need to use all of your CPU cores, try running the following command as root to enable scheduler power savings:
echo 1 > /sys/devices/system/cpu/sched_mc_power_savings
You might also consider using a lighter desktop environment, like LXDE, instead of GNOME or KDE. Likewise, disable any services (such as Bluetooth) you don't need at the time. Another thing to keep in mind is it seems recent versions of the Linux kernel use more power than earlier versions, so a distro running the 2.6.32 kernel might be better for your battery than a 2.6.38 kernel.
On long trips where you need to work and the battery just isn't living long enough, consider buying a back-up battery. Sure, it's not a technical solution, but it's a simple one and it doesn't hurt to have a spare.
|Released Last Week
Peppermint OS Two
Kendall Weaver has announced the release of Peppermint OS Two, a lightweight, Lubuntu-based distribution featuring the Openbox window manager: "It is our distinct honor to announce the release of the second major iteration of Peppermint OS. Peppermint Two is now available either for free download or via purchasable live CD. This edition is based upon Lubuntu 11.04 and includes a number of new features. Also this marks the first time Peppermint has been available for the 64-bit architecture. I'll take a moment to cover some of the new features present in this release: we're now using Chromium as the default web browser in our main release; the Ice SSB application has added functionality for removing SSBs as well as creating them; we've added some additional example SSBs to the default install from pixlr...." Read the remainder of the release announcement for further details.
Peppermint OS Two - a lightweight distribution based on Lubuntu
(full image size: 502kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Jörn Lindau has announced the release of Toorox 06.2011 "GNOME" edition, a Gentoo-based distribution showcasing the new GNOME 3 desktop: "A new version of Toorox 'GNOME' has been finished. This one contains the GNOME desktop 3.0.2. What's new? The kernel is Linux 2.6.39-gentoo and USB 3.0 support has been built-in. The deprecated ATA tree has been removed; also HAL is not needed and has been removed. The nouveau graphics driver is now part of Toorox and this makes it possible to enable graphics acceleration for the GNOME desktop. The hardware detection was updated for all graphics chipsets. Many packages have been updated: X.Org Server 1.10.2, IceCat 4.0.1, Thunderbird 3.1.10, LibreOffice 3.4.0, Audacious 2.5.1, Wine 1.3.21, Pidgin 2.7.11, Brasero 3.0.0, Totem 3.0.1." Read the full release announcement for more information and known issues.
Johnny Lee has announced the release of Macpup 525, a Puppy-based Linux distribution with a customised Enlightenment 17 desktop: "Macpup 525 is based on Puppy Linux 5.2.5, 'Lucid Puppy', An official Woof build of Puppy Linux that is binary-compatible with Ubuntu 10.04. It contains all the applications from Lucid Puppy, with the addition of Firefox 4. Extra applications like Opera or GIMP are available for easy download from the Quickpet application on the iBar or the Puppy package manager. Macpup 525 also includes the Enlightenment E17 window manager. The EFL libraries version 1.0.999 and E17 version 59456 were compiled and installed from source. To keep your CPU cool and your fan quiet use the CPU Frequency Scaling Tool. The first time you run Macpup, the system will be running totally in RAM." Refer to the release announcement for further details.
Macpup 525 - the Enlightenment window manager running on top of Puppy Linux
(full image size: 899kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Flavio Pereira de Oliveira has announced the release of Imagineos 20110605, a Slackware-based distribution formerly known as GoblinX: "The new Imagineos release is finally available. This live CD created by using linux-live scripts with a few modifications uses KDE (4.5.5) as the desktop environment and is based on Slackware 13.37 with more applications and features. Some versions of major components of the system: Zen kernel 18.104.22.168, Squashfs 4.2, Aufs 20110502, GCC 4.5.3, Binutils 22.214.171.124.6, glibc 2.13. Changelog: system upgraded; bootsplash is again our splash manager; Plymouth removed; user created during hard disk install process is the default user; included AbiWord because it is important to have a word processor...." Here is the full release announcement.
Chakra GNU/Linux 2011.04-r1
Phil Miller has announced the release of Chakra GNU/Linux 2011.04-r1, a new respin of the Arch-based desktop distribution: "The Chakra development team is proud to announce the first respin of 'Aida'. Some weeks passed since Chakra 2011.04, we have added lots of package updates, KDE got updated to 4.6.4 with our Chakra patches added. Also we updated our hardware detection and added the latest drivers. This is the first image using chakra-live for creating the image. We will focus now on Edn our next stable release which will come out in September 2011. Simone Tobias has updated AppSet to fix the reported problems. For all our GTK+ fans we have added some more popular GTK+ applications as bundles." For further details please consult the release announcement.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
Annual package database update|
As always this time of the year we are ready to update the database of tracked packages which appears on each distribution page and which allows the readers to quickly see the list of main components of each operating system. If there is a package that you would like to see listed and tracked please let us know - either by emailing to distro at distrowatch dot com or by submitting a comment below. As of this writing, Octave and xz are the two packages that will be added to the list, while the deprecated HAL package will be removed. OpenOffice.org will make way for LibreOffice, since that's the office suite most distributions ship nowadays. For anything else, please let us know.
* * * * *
New distributions added to database
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- Elisa GNU/Linux. Elisa GNU/Linux is a new Russian Linux distribution currently in early development. The project's website is in Russian.
- jggimi. jggimi is a set of OpenBSD-based live CDs pre-configured with various desktop environments.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 20 June 2011.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Issue 635 (2015-11-09): Fedora 23, Cinnamon 2.8 released, a Fedora KDE packager quits, Red Hat signs deal with Microsoft|
|• Issue 634 (2015-11-02): Ubuntu 15.10, Chakra upgrades to Plasma 5, OpenMandriva plans new editions, MINIX plans conference|
|• Issue 633 (2015-10-26): GhostBSD 10.1, Bodhi Linux to get new settings panel, Fedora 23 delayed, creating live image of existing OS|
|• 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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