| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 419, 22 August 2011
Welcome to this year's 34th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Scientific Linux, one of the free distributions built from source code for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, has risen to prominence in recent months due to timely releases of both its complete distribution and the individual security updates. Jesse Smith takes the project's most recent version for a test ride to see if it has the potential to become a more widely-used free enterprise-class Linux platform. In the news section, Debian GNU/Linux celebrates the 18th anniversary since Ian Murdock's founding announcement, while CentOS initiates a prompter update mechanism by providing a new continuous release repository. In the same section we also link to two interviews with two very prominent Ubuntu personalities, and add a link to a fascinating blog post by a former classmate of Linus Torvalds who relives the beginnings of the Linux kernel. Also in this issue, a Questions and Answers section that briefly sums up the differences between Linux, Android and webOS. All this and more in this week's DistroWatch Weekly - happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
First look at Scientific Linux 6.1|
Scientific Linux is a distribution built from the source code of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Though often considered a clone of RHEL, Scientific Linux makes adjustments to upstream packages and the configuration which give it a personality of its own, one which comes across as more desktop-friendly. The project's name sometimes confuses people as the distribution doesn't come with a collection of scientific software. Rather the name is derived from the labs which build Scientific Linux, not, strictly speaking, its function.
For my test drive of Scientific Linux I decided to download the project's live CD. The ISO is 700MB in size and comes in 32- and 64-bit flavours. There are also live DVDs (2.2 GB) and installation DVDs of various sizes. Booting off my live CD brought up a GNOME 2.28 desktop featuring a blue background with an atom on it. The application menu is placed at the top of the screen and the task switcher is placed along the bottom. Down the left side of the display we find icons for browsing the file system, a launcher for the system installer and configuration tools for adjusting how the OS handles the monitor and keyboard.
Scientific Linux 6.1 - changing system settings
(full image size: 259kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
Straight away I launched the installer. As with the upstream distribution, Scientific's installer walks us through choosing our keyboard layout, which hard disk to use and our time zone. We set a root password and then get into partitioning the disk. The installer handles normal partitions, LVM and RAID configurations. The file systems ext2, ext3 and ext4 are supported, though the partition mounted as root (/) must be formatted as ext4 when we install from a live disc. After dividing up the disk we're given the option of installing the GRUB boot loader. With our choices made, the installer copies files over to the local drive.
Here I ran into a problem. After copying files the installer said it was performing its "post-install" tasks and stalled. After waiting half an hour, I rebooted and, from the live CD's boot menu, chose to launch the text-based installer. The steps in the text-based installer stick fairly close to the graphical installer. The partitioning section of the text installer is a bit rougher, but it gets the job done. I was a bit worried when, while copying files, the screen began to fill with seemingly random characters of various colours, however the installer did finally complete and I was prompted to reboot.
Since I performed a text-based installation, the first-boot wizard was also text-based and it walked me through a few configuration steps. We can perform these steps in the order of our choosing. There's an authentication section which defines how we login and which enables finger-print recognition by default. We're able to configure the firewall, which is turned on by default and leaves the secure shell port open. In a similar vein, we can enable/disable services, most of which are enabled by default, though secure shell is not. And we can set up our network connection. The text-based steps do not walk us through creating a regular user account.
When the first-run steps are completed we're dropped to a text login prompt. I logged in, created a new user account, changed the system's default runlevel so I'd get a graphical environment and rebooted. At this time I was brought to a graphical login screen. I thought it was good that Scientific Linux lets us login as root, but it warns us that it's not wise to run a desktop environment as the root user.
Scientific Linux 6.1 - running Firefox
(full image size: 140kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
The distribution comes with a small, yet useful, collection of software. We're given Firefox 3.6, the Pidgin instant messenger program, the Thunderbird e-mail client and XChat. We're also provided with a terminal server client and TigerVNC. There's a CD ripper in the application menu, a disc burner, an image viewer and the Cheese webcam application. Also included are GParted, the Totem media player, a text editor, calculator and archive manager. The desktop comes with all of the GNOME configuration tools for adjusting the look & feel of our graphical environment. Like its parent, Scientific Linux provides useful graphical (and text-based) programs for setting up a firewall, managing user accounts and handling system services. No office suite is available on the live CD, but OpenOffice is in the distro's repositories. Scientific comes with codecs for playing mp3 files and popular video formats. The Adobe Flash plugin is also included. In the background Scientific features the 2.6.32 release of the Linux kernel.
For the past year or so I've felt there is a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation between the command-line package manager and the graphical package interface on Red Hat, Fedora and derivative distributions. The YUM command line interface is great. It's quick, it's intuitive and it provides a good deal of information on what it's doing. No complaints there. The GUI interface is a slow-moving monster. The graphical package manager refused to work at all until I'd run YUM from the command line first and, even then, it was so slow to start-up and process requests that I soon gave up on it and returned to using YUM full-time. The GUI layout is fine, we see software categories down the left side of the window and individual packages on the right. Adding or removing software is as straight forward as marking a box next to the corresponding software. So the look of the graphical package manger is okay, but be prepared to wait for long periods of time when you're using it.
Scientific Linux 6.1 - managing software packages
(full image size: 189kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
While adding and removing software is handled by one GUI, updates are handled by a separate program. This second graphical application worked well for me. It shows a list of available updates, allows us to select and un-select which items will be updated and keeps us in the loop while it is downloading and installing the new software. Though, with Scientific Linux, we may not need to use the update app at all. The distribution comes with a plugin which checks for updates daily and will automatically install them. Server administrators may find this a bold policy to take, but I think it is well suited to desktop use, leaving people to just use the OS rather than maintain it.
Scientific Linux handled the hardware of both my test machines perfectly. Everything worked as expected on the desktop box and, on the laptop, my sometimes tricky Intel wireless card was detected and configured without any help from me. My laptop's touchpad didn't translate taps as clicks by default, but there's an app in the Preferences menu to adjust the touchpad. Booting into the distribution was a bit on the slow side, however, once up and running, the classic GNOME desktop was very responsive and the system always felt light and quick.
My test drive of Scientific Linux got off to a rough start with the installer locking up on my first go and filling the screen with gibberish during the text install. But, once it was up and running, it did a really good job of filling the roll of a desktop operating system. Performance was great, the menus are a bit sparse, but well organized and there's lots more software in the repositories (and available on the DVD edition). The graphical package manager needs some work, but YUM on its own is solid and the automated updates are convenient.
The big thing that sells me on Scientific Linux (and other Red Hat Enterprise Linux clones) is the collection of administration tools. Both the text and GUI programs for managing system services, user accounts and the firewall are top notch. And Scientific Linux will be supported for several years (probably another five or six), making this a good distribution for home users who just want to install the operating system and forget about it. Despite a few problems early on, I came to enjoy Scientific Linux with its clean desktop and snappy performance. It's a good desktop distro for people who want to avoid the cutting edge and rapid upgrade cycles.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Debian celebrates 18th birthday, CentOS provides continuous release repository, interviews with Mark Shuttleworth and Kate Stewart, Linux memoirs
Last week the Debian project, the world's largest Linux distribution in terms of number of developers and software available, celebrated its 18th birthday: "The Debian project is pleased to mark the 18th anniversary of Ian Murdoch's founding announcement. Quoting from the official project history: 'The Debian project was officially founded by Ian Murdock on August 16th, 1993. At that time, the whole concept of a distribution of Linux was new. Ian intended Debian to be a distribution which would be made openly, in the spirit of Linux and GNU.' A lot has happened to the project and its community in the past eighteen years. There have been eleven releases - most recently Debian 6.0 'Squeeze' in February 2011 - and a huge amount of free software packaged. The current 'unstable' branch consists of more than 35,000 binary packages for the amd64 architecture alone - over 44 GB of free software! Throughout this history Debian has maintained its goals of technical excellence, accountability, and above all freedom. Of course that wouldn't be possible without the strong community which has developed around Debian. Besides more than 1,000 Debian developers and maintainers from all over the globe, there are in excess of 11,000 registered accounts for the Alioth collaboration platform."
* * * * *
In the recent past, the CentOS project, the most popular among the free clones of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, faced much criticism for not providing timely security updates for its released distribution versions, most notably the 5.x series. Luckily, the developers have now addressed the bad press by providing a new, continuous release repository. This contains upstream security updates designated for version 5.7, but which will work on CentOS' most recent release, version 5.6. Karanbir Singh explains: "The CentOS 5.6 Continuous Release (CR) repository is now available on mirror.centos.org. This repository contains RPMs to be included in the next CentOS-5.x release. Because these include security and bug-fix updates, we strongly recommend everyone using CentOS 5 to install and update their system using this repository. Installing the CR repository needs a manual step. You must download the correct centos-release-cr RPM package and install it on your machine, this would setup the CentOS-CR.repo file in /etc/yum.repos.d/." The announcement also expresses hope that CentOS 5.7 will be "ready in the next 7 to 10 days."
* * * * *
Interviews are a great way to find out about the personalities involved in building Linux distributions. Today we have links to two interesting conversations with well-known Ubuntu dignitaries. The first one is from Manila Standard, a Philippines daily newspaper, which recently talked to Mark Shuttleworth: "Right now, our focus is on polishing the desktop experience. We think that for all the excitement around tablets, most people will continue to use keyboards for real, productive work. We need a keyboard-based experience that really rocks. People who go rushing into the tablet business are going to lose money. There are few experiences out there that can compete with the iPad." The second interview is with Kate Stewart, the Ubuntu release manager: "My biggest personal challenge over the last year has been learning about the interactions in the user space applications and the different flavors’ user interfaces. It’s very challenging to figure out what the implications of a specific change are after we freeze, and to decide if it makes the product overall better or not."
* * * * *
Finally, a link to an article that isn't strictly distro-related, but it's a fascinating piece that demands a mention here. Written by Lars Wirzenius, a former university classmate of Linus Torvalds, the story revisits the fascinating days of the beginnings of the Linux kernel twenty years ago. From "Linux at 20, some personal memories": "Christmas 1990 came and went, and on January 5, Linus bought a new computer. He'd been using a Sinclair QL at home, but wanted a PC with an Intel 386 CPU. He took his student loan and bought one. He intended to learn about multitasking by learning how the 386 did it. Unfortunately, he also got a copy of Prince of Persia (I think it was), a computer game. Months later, when he finally got bored of the game, he started actually learning 386 programming. One day, when I was visiting him, he showed me a tiny program he'd gotten to work, which had threads. It was an amazing thing, even if it didn't look like much: one thread wrote As on the screen, and the other wrote Bs, and you could see threads switching when the As stopped and the Bs started, and a bit later back to As. The amazing bit was, of course, that Linus had written the whole thing himself."
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Linux versus Android and webOS
Mobile-and-on-the-move asks: Besides the kernel, what about Android and HP's webOS is Linux-like? Can I link them to Debian or Fedora repositories and have a desktop in my pocket?
DistroWatch answers: In short, not much and no, respectively. When most of us think of Linux as an operating system we get images in our minds of GNU/Linux distributions. We think of Linux as the whole package with a desktop environment, package manager, applications, etc. However, the Linux kernel is used in a lot of environments which don't resemble personal computers. Routers and TiVos come to mind as common examples of devices running Linux which do not resemble GNU/Linux distributions.
Android devices use a fork of the Linux kernel. Android's kernel is similar to the Linux kernel we use on our desktops, but it is not quite the same. Furthermore, the libraries and programs built on top of the Linux-ish kernel aren't the same as what you'd find in the Fedora or Debian Linux distributions. The result is software packaged for your desktop distribution can't simply be copied over to your phone and run. Even recompiling your favourite desktop applications isn't likely to work because the two environments, once you get beyond the kernel, are too different.
With webOS you may have an easier time getting GNU/Linux software to run. Though I haven't tried it myself there are tutorials floating around out there on how to run Debian packages on your webOS device and access the command line. It won't be as straightforward as simply pointing your phone to the Debian repositories, but you may be able to get some of your favourite apps installed on your webOS device.
|Released Last Week
Linux Mint 11 "LXDE"
Clement Lefebvre has announced the release of the "LXDE" edition of Linux Mint 11: "The team is proud to announce the release of Linux Mint 11 LXDE. Linux Mint 11 LXDE comes with updated software and brings refinements and new features to make your desktop even more comfortable to use. The Software Manager - many improvements were made to its graphical interface, and the Software Manager now looks much more polished. Application screens were visually improved, not only in the way they look but also in their layout and the information they show. For instance, the Software Manager now runs a simulation prior to showing you the application, so when you look at it, it can tell you precisely which packages would be added or removed to your system, how much data would be downloaded and how much space would be taken on the hard drive." See the release announcement and visit the what's new page to learn more.
BlankOn Linux 7.0
BlankOn Linux 7.0 has been released. BlankOn is an Ubuntu-based Indonesian desktop distribution with support for most Indonesian languages, the two official languages of Timor-Leste (Portuguese and Tetun), as well as English and simplified Chinese. It also includes six non-Latin writing systems (Bugis, Batak Toba, Bali, Sunda, Rejang and Jawa), a StarDict dictionary for Bahasa Indonesia, and the latest Chromium web browser. Most audio codecs are playable with the help of the Exaile music player, while digital photos can be organised in the popular Shotwell program. On the hardware side, the distribution includes plug-and-play support for many popular USB modems used by Internet Service Providers throughout the archipelago. Major components: Linux kernel 3.0.1, GNOME 2.32, Chromium 15.0, LibreOffice. Read the full release announcement (in Indonesian) for more information and screenshots.
BlankOn Linux 7.0 - an Ubuntu-based distribution for Indonesia and Timor-Leste
(full image size: 723kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Mario Colque has announced the release of Tuquito 5, an Argentinian distribution based on the latest stable Ubuntu. This is a CD edition that includes the most commonly used applications, the LibreOffice office suite, an audio player, and printer drivers. Missing from the CD (but installable with just one click) are audio and video codecs, the GIMP, VLC and many other software applications. It is also possible to upgrade to the "DVD" edition - there is a menu item for this under the Administration submenu. Major components: Linux kernel 2.6.38, GNOME 2.32.1, X.Org 7.6, Nautilus 2.32.2 Elementary. Other new features and programs include the Déjà Dup backup utility, F-Spot and gThumb (replacing Shotwell), significant performance improvements in Tuquito Control Center and Program Manager, new start-up theme. Read the full release announcement (in Spanish) for further details and some screenshots.
Tuquito 5 - an Ubuntu-based distribution for Argentina
(full image size: 750kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Salix OS 13.37 "LXDE"
George Vlahavas has announced the release of Salix OS 13.37 "LXDE" edition, a Slackware-based desktop distribution featuring the lightweight LXDE desktop environment: "Salix LXDE 13.37 has been officially released. This release is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. For everyone that has used our previous LXDE releases there are no surprises here. The application selection has stayed the same for the most part, with all applications being upgraded to newer versions. Important changes in this release are the inclusion of Sourcery, our new graphical tool for managing and installing packages from SlackBuilds, which has been developed from scratch for Salix and also the replacement of SCIM with IBus as the default input platform for Chinese, Japanese, etc." Here is the full release announcement.
Puppy Linux 5.2.8
Larry Short has announced the release of Puppy Linux 5.2.8, a small and fast desktop distribution built from scratch and compatible with Ubuntu binary packages: "Lucid Puppy is our edition of Puppy Linux that is built from Ubuntu binary packages, hence has compatibility with, and access to, the vast Ubuntu package repositories. Lucid Puppy 5.2.8 is the fastest and friendliest Lucid yet. It is the fastest because it is the first Lucid to use the C and FFmpeg libraries optimized for i686 computers rather than the older i386 computers. Lucid 5.2.8 has also received a thorough going-over under the hood. There is new and updated firmware and drivers for many devices and the hardware detection and configuration routines have been extensively tested and enhanced." Check out the release announcement for further details.
IPFire 2.9 Core 51
Arne Fitzenreiter has announced the release of IPFire 2.9 Core 51, an updated build of the project's specialist distribution for firewalls: "Core 51 is addressing several security issues in the Linux kernel as well as stability fixes, performance optimization and driver updates. It is recommended to install this update as soon as possible and please take notice that a reboot is required to complete the installation. The update includes the latest Linux long-term kernel of the 2.6.32 series (220.127.116.11) and includes a lot of security fixes and driver improvements. A couple of years ago, there have been problems with some TCP/IP options so these options were disabled to cause less trouble. As technology has developed, these options have now been re-enabled which improves the network throughput a lot." Read the rest of the release announcement for more details and a list of updated device drivers.
Arch Linux 2011.08.19
Dieter Plaetinck has announced the release of Arch Linux 2011.08.19, the first new release of the Arch Linux installation media in 15 months: "Time for a much needed update to the Arch installation media, as the last release (2010.05) is not only quite outdated, but now yields broken installations if you do a netinstall. What has changed in this period of more than a year? Experimental support for Btrfs and NILFS2; support syslinux bootloader; changes to configuration formats to support new rc.conf and Linux 3.0; make selecting source more flexible; show package descriptions when installing packages; snapshot of current core, including Linux kernel 3.0.3, pacman 3.5.4, glibc 2.14, mkinitcpio 0.7.2, initscripts 2011.07.3 and netcfg 2.6.7...." Read the rest of the release announcement for further details.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- Pear OS. Pear OS is an Ubuntu-based French distribution. The project's website is in French.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 29 August 2011.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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