| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 423, 19 September 2011
Welcome to this year's 38th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Slackware Linux is often regarded as an excellent base from which to build custom distributions for a variety of deployment scenarios. One of the more recent arrivals on the operating system scene is Salix OS, a rather interesting project that provides a number of desktop-oriented editions depending on your desktop environments and window manager preferences. Caitlyn Martin takes a long look at the project's latest release, version 13.37, and finds that Salix OS is exactly what her collection of hardware needs for happy and trouble-free computing. In the news section, openSUSE developers make a surprise announcement about the inclusion of KDE 3 in the distribution's next release, FreeBSD News collects a few recent links about keeping the popular operating system's core and packages up-to-date, Fuduntu announces a gradual break from Fedora, and DEFT Linux plans a CentOS-based server edition of its specialist distribution for forensic analysis tasks. Also in this issue, links to excellent overviews of two leading Linux distributions for a very different group of users - the user-friendly Linux Mint and the more technical Arch Linux. Finally, if your hardware comes with an Intel graphics card don't miss our Questions and Answer section which gives a few suggestions about improving the video card's performance. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Caitlyn Martin)
Taking a long look at Salix OS 13.37|
Just over a year ago I wrote the first review of Salix OS for Distrowatch. I found that the desktop-oriented Slackware-based distro met the goals of the developers: maintaining all the positive attributes of the parent distribution while offering additional tools and functionality to provide a friendlier system for users who don't want to get under the hood of their operating system. Overall I was pleased with the performance and stability of the system as well as the selection of utilities and applications offered in addition to what is found in vanilla Slackware. I also appreciated how the developers managed to keep Salix OS very close to its Slackware roots and the nearly complete compatibility with the parent distribution.
Slackware released version 13.37 back in April. In May the first version of Salix OS based on the new Slackware was released. This standard edition features an Xfce 4.6.2 desktop. It was followed by a Fluxbox 1.3.1 edition in May, a KDE 4.5.5 edition in July and an LXDE 0.5.5 edition last month. As I write this a fifth edition using the minimalist Ratpoison window manager is in release candidate stays. I didn't have a chance to try this latest addition to the menu of Salix OS builds.
Currently all five editions are available on a single CD sized ISO image with an ncurses-based installer. Salix Live, the live CD edition, is still in beta and is not included in this review. The fact that neither the Xfce nor the KDE editions use the latest and greatest versions of their respective desktop environments reflects the rather conservative approach that both Slackware and Salix OS have generally taken on what they package. Both often avoid the leading edge and certainly the bleeding edge in favor of stability.
I used the same two systems I used for my review of Salix OS 13.1.1 last year. The first is an eMachines EL-1300G small-footprint desktop sporting an AMD Athlon 2650e processor (single core, 1.6 GHz CPU with 512K L2 cache), NVIDIA GeForce 6150SE integrated graphics chipset and a 160 GB 7200rpm SATA2 hard drive. I ran the native 64-bit code of the four desktop editions I tested on this system. I also used my HP Mini 110 netbook which features a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, 2 GB RAM, an on-board Intel GMA 950 graphics chipset, and a 16 GB SSD in lieu of a hard drive. Four 32-bit editions have been installed and tested on the netbook but due to the limited storage I was unable to test them side by side as I did on the desktop. The use of identical systems should guarantee that all my comparisons to the previous release are apples to apples.
Installation and configuration
The installation methods available have expanded since Salix OS 13.1.1. Installation from CD, from within an existing Linux or Windows installation using an image on an existing partition on a hard drive, or from a USB stick continue to be supported. Support for installation across a network has been added, including installation from NFS, from a Samba share, or from an FTP or HTTP server. This should make Salix OS far more appealing for use by businesses and organizations who need to be able to rapidly deploy the OS to a number of dispersed systems.
While Salix OS does offer a very nice graphical installer it is limited to the live CD version still in development. Those who prefer to test drive from a live CD will have to wait a bit. I still prefer the ncurses-based (text) installer as it is often far more flexible and configurable and it works well on almost any hardware. I installed the Xfce versions on both machines from a CD. For the Fluxbox and KDE versions I chose to install from an old 1 GB USB stick using UNetbootin. If you are running a previous version of Salix OS you will find a UNetbootin package in the repository. The Salix OS wiki offers these instructions for how to successfully install from USB. I also used a USB stick for the LXDE edition on my desktop but did an NFS installation to the netbook. All of the installation options I tried successfully launched the installer without problems.
Salix OS 13.37 needs less than 1 GB to install a core system without X. A full installation requires anywhere from under 2.5 GB for the LXDE edition, which is the lightest of the four, to 4.0 GB for the KDE edition. When additional applications and upgrades are considered figure on anywhere from 3 to 5 GB of space to install Salix OS on a typical system. The installer and documentation remain English-only. As I mentioned in the previous review, most of the tools and applications built for Salix OS include a wide variety of translations but the installer still does not. I still find this surprising for a distribution based in Europe.
Once the installer loads it will first ask whether or not to keep the default US English key mapping or if you would like to select something different. Salix OS then offers two installation options: autoinstall, which wipes the entire hard drive and takes defaults, or a more traditional installation which will prompt the user with a variety of questions. I still don't have the ability to test autoinstall on my systems. From this point on, I will only be describing the interactive installation process.
The Salix OS installer uses cfdisk for partitioning. In addition to the internal hard drive or SSD on each system any removable media I had were also correctly detected and could be used for installation. In all cases I installed to the built-in media on my systems. After partitioning the installer prompts you to choose which partition should be used for swap space. You can optionally check for bad blocks on the swap partition. Once swap is formatted it is activated and used for the rest of the installation process if needed.
The next prompt allows you to choose the root partition. If you format this partition you once again have the choice of checking for bad blocks. You can optionally define additional partitions as desired, typing in the name of each mount point you wish to use. ext4 is the default file system. Support for ext3, ext2, ReiserFS, JFS, and XFS is also available during installation. Brtfs is not supported in version 13.37. I used ext4 on both systems. If your system has any partitions with DOS/Windows file systems you will also be given the option of adding them to your /etc/fstab file at this point.
Next you choose the location of the installation media for Salix OS. This is where you can specify an NFS or Samba mount or a partition on any of the media on your system. It should be noted that the installer does not distinguish between media types and you will need to know the device assigned to the media you want to use, i.e.: /dev/sdb when I installed from a USB stick.
Salix OS still offers three types of installations: a full system, a minimal installation of the core OS, X.org and the desktop environment offered with your chosen edition but no applications, or a "core" installation which is truly minimal and doesn't include X. Salix OS does not offer the option to choose individual packages or groups of packages during the installation process. After installing the system files the installer also offers the option to create a USB boot stick and to use either a standard or frame buffer console.
LILO is still the only bootloader offered during installation. You can then choose between simple (automated) LILO configuration and expert mode. The automatic process has not been improved since Salix OS 13.1.x and still usually fails to detect other Linux distributions. The expert mode offers the option of installing LILO to the master boot record of the drive you installed to, the first sector of your root partition, or bypassing LILO installation entirely. There is no opportunity to customize the LILO configuration to the level needed to boot to other operating systems. Expect to do that manually after installation is complete.
Next the installer then asks you to configure your time zone, decide if numlock is to be enabled on boot, and decide if Asian language input should be enabled. Final installation steps are to set the root password and to setup one or more user accounts. The installer does give the option of creating and fully configuring as many user accounts as you want. The system then reboots and installation is complete.
Installation went reasonably smoothly on my netbook in every edition I tried. The Intel graphics chipset was correctly configured and the desktop was at the optimal resolution. Wired networking was correctly setup for a network with a DHCP server but the system hostname was set to darkstar. There is a GUI tool for changing the hostname and network settings can be changed using wicd. For those who prefer working on the command line the old standby, netconfig, is also available.
Wireless was not working after installation. While recent versions of the b43 kernel module do support the Broadcom BCM4312 chipset in my netbook, proprietary firmware is still required. The net result is that Salix OS does not detect that the netbook has wireless at all. The solution is to install fwcutter from the repository, then download the firmware, and use the build script found at Slackbuilds.org to create a firmware package. If you are going to depend on wireless for your connectivity and know you need a proprietary driver or firmware package you may want to download what bits and pieces you will need before installation. Once fwcutter and the firmware were installed wireless worked flawlessly on the netbook with Salix OS.
Installation on the desktop was somewhat more problematic. One of the changes in Slackware 13.37 which carries over to Salix OS is that the Open Source nouveau driver is now installed by default and used if an NVIDIA graphics chipset is detected. The NVIDIA GeForce 6150SE chip in my desktop is not supported by nouveau. Salix OS boots to the GUI by default and doesn't offer a different option during installation so at first boot instead of a login screen I had a useless mess.
The solution is pretty straightforward for someone who is comfortable on the command line. CTRL-ALT-F1 brought up a virtual terminal and I logged in as root at the command line. I then retrieved an updated package list for both the Slackware and Salix OS repositories with the command:
I then removed the nouveau driver
slapt-get --remove xf86-video-nouveau
and installed a Slackware package which blacklists nouveau and enables the old, somewhat limited, open-source nv driver:
slapt-get --install xf86-video-nouveau-blacklist
a reboot brought me to a nice, normal graphical login screen. One additional step is needed on Salix OS that is not needed on vanilla Slackware. Salix OS offers automated updates. The updater assumes that the blacklist package is an outdated version of nouveau and will cheerfully offer to replace it with the latest and greatest driver which I can't use. I had to edit my /etc/slapt-get/slapt-getrc file to add ^xf86-video-nouveau to the EXCLUDE= statement in that file.
For those who have an NVIDIA chip which isn't supported by nouveau and want full 3D accelerated functionality a trip to the NVIDIA website to download the proprietary driver is a necessity. Slackbuilds.org does offer a handy, dandy scripts to build the two needed packages but they are written for an older version of the driver. I modified them to reference the current version so I now have the proprietary NVIDIA driver managed by the Slackware apt package management system.
The good news on the desktop installation was that both wired and wireless networking were detected correctly. I simply had to go into wicd to enter the authentication information for my wireless network and I was up and running.
Finally, as in previous releases Salix OS does not provide its own custom kernel but rather uses the same one that Slackware uses. The hugesmp.s and huge.s kernels enable support for an extremely wide range of hardware by default and are quite large. To have the hardware supported in loadable kernel modules, as is done by most distributions, you need to install the Slackware generic kernel and create an initial RAM disk image (initrd file) at the command line using mkinitrd. Then you must manually edit your bootloader configuration to use one of the two generic kernels and the newly created initrd file. The default kernel will work well for most people so this step is not required.
Salix OS 13.37, Xfce 4.6.2 default desktop
(full image size: 726kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Changes since Salix OS 13.1.2
Salix OS 13.37 is based on Slackware 13.37 and all the changes announced for the latest version of Slackware also apply to Salix OS. This includes the 22.214.171.124 kernel, updated libraries and development tools as well as desktop applications. LibreOffice 3.3.2 has replaced OpenOffice.org as it has in most new distributions. The graphical and command-line Salix tools for systems administration have also been updated but this time around the changes are incremental: small improvements and minor bug fixes rather than new tools. Any bugs I noted in my review of Salix OS 13.1.x, for example the ALSA sound issue with my netbook, have been fixed in 13.37.
Probably the biggest and most interesting change is in the area of package management. Salix OS 13.37 adds Sourcery Slackbuild Manager, a graphical tool for downloading, building and installing packages from source using Slackware/Salix OS build script repositories like the one at Slackbuilds.org. Opening Sourcery reveals a long list of available software and brief descriptions. While some of the offerings are already in the Salix OS repository most are applications and libraries which have not been included to date. Clicking a check box before a package name offers two options: Install and Get Information. The Get Information choice is important because Sourcery can only support automated dependency checking and retrieval for script repositories that include that information. Slackbuilds.org does not. Using Get Information allows for finding out if additional packages must be added to satisfy dependencies. Once a package is selected for installation a green checkmark icon is added to the top of the Sourcery window. Once you are done checking off packages a click of that green icon starts the download, compilation and installation process without further user interaction.
Salix OS 13.37 - looking at Sourcery
(full image size: 115kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Much of the time installing software via Sourcery really isn't harder than it is with Gslapt or with Synaptic in Debian based installations. The net effect is to greatly increase the available software without having to go to the web to various third party sites and run scripts one by one. When the selection from Slackbuilds.org is added to the Slackware and the increasingly well-stocked Salix OS repositories the selection of applications now rivals many of the major distributions.
Of course, this isn't quite the same as simply downloading and installing binary packages. First, some compilations can take quite some time. Second, if a dependency is not met the process will fail. In addition, Sourcery isn't smart enough to continue to install any remaining packages after a compilation failure. It just stops with a failure message. On the other hand, Slackware Apt (slapt-get and Gslapt) are smart enough to prioritize package sources. If you install a package created by Sourcery and an official Salix OS package becomes available it will offer to upgrade you to the official package as part of the regular upgrade process.
Salix OS 13.37 - Sourcery during compilation
(full image size: 106kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
The only similar tool I've seen is VPackager in VectorLinux. Sourcery is less likely to fail than VPackager because it depends on scripts from external sources. In the case of Slackbuilds.org those scripts are generally well-tested and of excellent quality. VPackager, on the other hand, is somewhat more flexible in what it can install since it uses its own internal code rather than requiring a Slackbuild script. Almost anything using a standard configure, make, make install build sequence can be installed by VPackager. Of course, depending on external scripts means that Sourcery can install things that have unusual or non-standard builds so long as a script is present. Both Sourcery and VPackager are impressive tools. Most of the time Sourcery just works and makes the build process a no brainer, something which will be welcome to those with limited command line experience.
One other small but nice change in Salix OS package management is the little icon salix-notifier uses in the panel of the various desktops to alert users to available patches and package updates. In my review of Salix OS 13.1.1 I commented that the icon was "conspicuously inconspicuous" and rather easy to miss. Since then a bright red stripe has been added to the icon which makes it much harder to miss and more like the major Linux distributions.
Running Salix OS 13.37
Salix OS benefits from the Slackware philosophy of keeping dependencies and overhead to a minimum. While I didn't run any benchmark comparisons between Salix OS 13.37 and other distros, subjectively the KDE edition seemed to perform better than other KDE-based distros I've tried, with no sluggishness or slowdowns, even on my netbook. Needless to say the lighter Xfce, LXDE and Fluxbox editions all performed very well indeed.
Salix OS 13.37 - KDE 4.5.5
(full image size: 480kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
All the editions have a polished and professional look and feel. As I already mentioned, between the entire upstream Slackware repository, Salix OS exclusive packages, and Sourcery the package selection is at or near the level seen in major distributions, but still not quite what Debian or Ubuntu users are used to. When compared to other Slackware derivatives and, of course, Slackware itself, the selection is probably second to none, particularly for 64-bit systems where there are fewer Slackware-based options.
Salix OS does respect software patents and both US and EU law so multimedia support immediately after installation is quite limited. As in previous releases, a menu item called "Install Multimedia Codecs" provides a one-click method of installing patent-encumbered codecs, the matching GStreamer plugins, and other bits and pieces to allow the included multimedia applications to function fully. The installer will warn you that it is installing software that may run afoul of patents in some countries. The onus of whether or not to do this is placed on the end user.
Each of the different Salix OS editions has its own unique default package set. I found some of the choices the developers made rather surprising. For example, the KDE edition doesn't include the Konqueror web browser. It also replaces LibreOffice with KOffice 2.3.3. The Fluxbox edition was even more surprising. Unlike the LXDE edition, which provides both a lightweight desktop and matching lightweight applications, the Fluxbox desktop comes with heavyweights like LibreOffice and the Firefox web browser. The LXDE variant offers AbiWord 2.8.6, Gnumeric 1.10.12 and Midori 0.3.3 instead. Of course, all the packages from all the different editions are available in the repository so you can mix and match.
Salix OS 13.37 - Fluxbox 1.3.1
(full image size: 256kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
I'm currently using an Epson Stylus NX305 printer/scanner/copier/fax all-in-one office product as well as the trusty old HP LaserJet 1020 for printing. The Epson is fully supported out of the virtual box by Salix OS and any other Linux distribution I've tried. The HP, on the other hand, is well supported by some distros and not supported at all by others. As I described in my review of Salix OS 13.1.1, the issue is the foo2zjs driver for printers which use the Zenographics ZjStream wire protocol for their print data. This includes some models by HP, Konica and Minolta. Neither Slackware nor Salix OS include this driver and that has not changed since the previous release. Once again I had to go to the driver developer's website, download the source code, compile it, install it and download the firmware. Once I did that the printer worked perfectly and can be managed both by CUPS and the usual HP tools which are included in Salix OS. This process is automated once the printer is detected in many of the more user-friendly distributions but in Salix OS, as in Slackware, it remains a do-it-yourself task.
I ran into a bug with the 64-bit package for DeVeDe from the repository. It produces ISO images with loud clicking noises across the entire audio track. I've tried changing the audio settings every which way imaginable but nothing fixes it. The 32-bit package has no problem and produces a clean audio track. A newer version of DeVeDe is supposed to resolve this problem and a new Salix OS package is currently being tested. It likely will be in the repository by the time you read this.
The Salix OS developers have continued to be extremely prompt in releasing security patches when needed. Salix OS leverages the upstream Slackware repositories so patches to Slackware are available almost immediately to Salix OS users, albeit with dependency checking and resolution added. In cases where Salix OS packages are different from or not included in Slackware repositories the patches have appeared equally quickly. The combination of salix-notifier and Slackware apt (slapt-get and Gslapt) makes keeping a system patched and up-to-date as simple and painless as any distro out there, including those aimed to making things easy for newcomers to Linux.
While I have yet to find a distro that is entirely free of bugs, Salix OS 13.37 is about as close as anything I've tried to date. The developers are very accessible and participate in the forum. The community in general is very friendly and helpful. While there most certainly is a do-it-yourself ethos within the community typical of Slackware users, everyone seems to be willing to help to the best of their ability. I've used Salix OS since late 2009 and have yet to see a rude or unhelpful response to a newcomer or anyone else.
Internationalization and localization
Slackware has many strengths but international language support has never been one of them. Salix OS, which is based in Europe, has a multinational and multilingual development community and user community, so it's no surprise that this is one of the areas they have continuously improved upon. The Xfce, LXDE and Fluxbox editions use GDM as the default display manager. GDM supports changing language and/or locale on a session-by-session basis. Sadly, KDM does not and the KDE edition sticks with the matching display manager for its graphical login screen. Migrating to GDM with the KDE edition is, of course, possible. All the editions include gtklocalesetup, a part of the Salix tools which makes it easy to change the default system language and locale.
Salix OS also includes all the relevant packages from the Slackware repository including international Aspell dictionaries and a reasonable set of international fonts. FriBidi is also included for supporting languages written from right to left such as Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Yiddish. The Salix OS repository also includes language packs for LibreOffice, KOffice, Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.
The ongoing Salix translation project at Transifex as well as continuing efforts to translate the web site and documentation keep improving the user experience for a variety of languages.
From the beginning the Salix OS developers made clear that they had no intention of competing with Ubuntu or Mandriva and they were not trying to create a newcomer-friendly distribution that would be easy for Windows or MacOS users. Rather, they described the target audience as "lazy Slackers." I've always understood that to mean Linux users who want the reliability, stability and performance that Slackware consistently delivers but who also want modern conveniences and features like automated dependency resolution, automated notification when patches are available and a first class set of tools to administer their systems. If those are truly the goals then Salix OS meets them admirably.
The addition of Sourcery Slackbuild Manager, a tool unique to Salix OS, dramatically increases the availability of software beyond what is already a reasonably well stocked repository by offering an automated, straightforward, no fuss way of building packages from the scripts at Slackbuilds.org. Sourcery integrates well with the existing Slackware apt package management system. It represents a major step forward for this increasingly popular distribution.
As with the previous release, Salix OS is not for everyone. If you want a distro that "just works" immediately after installation then Salix OS may not be for you. Tweaking and manual configuration may be necessary after the initial installation, particularly when proprietary drivers or firmware are needed. Slackware's move from nv to nouveau as the default driver for NVIDIA graphics chipsets has made this more of an issue for a rather significant subset of NVIDIA chips not supported by the newer driver. In that case a willingness to venture on to the command line to fix the problem is a must.
If you are willing to do a little work to get the initial setup and configuration right then Salix OS for daily use is a thoroughly modern distribution that takes no more effort to maintain and administer than any other Linux distribution. If a newcomer to Linux or a relatively inexperienced user is willing to learn and willing to ask questions in the forum then Salix OS is an excellent introduction to the Slackware way of doing things as well. Salix OS, particularly the LXDE edition, should also appeal to those looking for a lightweight Linux distro for use on older or limited specification hardware.
In general, I find Salix OS to be worth the effort. The performance, particularly on my netbook, and the ease of administration after the initial setup, make Salix OS a keeper for me.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
KDE 3 for openSUSE 12.1, keeping FreeBSD up-to-date, overviews of Linux Mint and Arch Linux, changes in Fuduntu and DEFT Linux
The openSUSE Conference, an annual gathering of openSUSE developers, was held last week in Nuremberg, Germany. As is usually the case with such events, the participants were keen to share the outcomes of their discussions with the media, providing much interesting information for all openSUSE users and fans. Andrea Müller has summarised one of the main topics of the conference - the new features of the upcoming openSUSE 12.1 release, such as switch to GNOME 3, introduction of the Btrfs file system and Systemd service manager, and the surprising addition of the deprecated, but still much-loved KDE 3 desktop: "openSUSE 12.1 will also offer a series 3 version of the GNOME desktop. The classical version 2 won't be available as an alternative, as the developers decided to focus on offering optimum GNOME 3 support rather than distributing their efforts across two versions of the desktop. ... In the desktop area, openSUSE users are in for a nostalgic treat: various enthusiasts from the developer community have joined forces to prepare KDE 3 packages for version 12.1 of the distribution. However, Jaeger said, as things currently stand the KDE 3 packages won't make it onto the installation media for reasons of space." The beta release of openSUSE 12.1 is scheduled to arrive on 22 September, while the final release is expected on 10 November 2011.
* * * * *
Another project that finds itself in the midst of preparation for a new major release is FreeBSD. The highly popular operating system has been trying to make it easier for users to keep the core and any packages up-to-date throughout the lifetime of the product, but as with any complex source and binary setup, this can still be an arduous task. FreeBSD News has collected a few recently-posted links which give instructions on how to keep your FreeBSD system up-to-date: "Vermaden has posted two very useful step-by-step tutorials on the FreeBSD forums showing how you can keep your base system and applications up-to-date: PART I. Keeping the FreeBSD base system up-to-date and PART II. Keeping the FreeBSD packages up-to-date. As always, the FreeBSD Handbook also has an excellent chapter on this topic: Updating FreeBSD. RootBSD has posted a how-to showing how you can update FreeBSD with Webmin if you run a VPS or dedicated server: 'Since I began using FreeBSD 4.x, I quickly learned of Webmin, a web-based server administration tool, which allows administrators to manage everything from: MySQL, Apache, Sendmail, system processes, networking and much more. One of the coolest features of Webmin is its modular structure. Modules can easily be downloaded and installed to fit your specific server needs. In this quick tutorial you will learn how to install and use Webmin.'"
* * * * *
Linux Mint has been growing in stature for several years now, so it's hardly surprising to see a plethora of articles that talk about the Ubuntu-based distribution. The latest one comes courtesy of Tech Radar which introduces the inner workings of a distro that is redefining desktop standards: "Linux Mint's meteoric rise to the top of the distro charts can be attributed to its perfect mix of usability and functionality. But if you think it's just another Ubuntu-skinned distro, you're very wrong. Unlike most popular Linux distros, Mint is the brainchild of just one man - Clement Lefebvre - yet it has managed to invigorate the community. It's no surprise, then, that it looks to its legions of users for advice. Kendall Weaver, the man who maintains the LXDE edition of the distro, says Mint's success is down to Lefebvre and his interpretation of what the community wants. 'Most of the idea generation comes from Clement Lefebvre and his take on the community input. He's the project leader and the primary decision maker," he said. Lefebvre confirms that brainstorming takes place throughout the cycle and is mostly done by the community. It's no surprise, then, that it looks to its legions of users for advice."
* * * * *
Linux Mint is not the only distribution making a huge impact on the Linux scene. The popularity of Arch Linux has also seen a dramatic rise in recent years, which is even more surprising given the fact that it is designed for more advanced Linux users. But as Richard Hillesley explains, perhaps the main reason for Arch's impressive ascent is its flexibility and customisability: "The role of community distributions such as Arch Linux is to return control to the more technically inclined user as a platform for learning, educating and building into the future. According to Aaron Griffin, the 'owner' and lead developer of Arch Linux: 'Arch is not a distribution made for 'user friendliness'. It is a distribution designed to be a platform -- a 'base' for the user to do what they want. This means that we don't try to force a user's hand into our way of doing things, with our configuration tools, and our ideas. It should be about their ideas.' Perhaps because the user is able to do as they wish, Arch has been the base for many derivatives, the best known of which is probably ArchBang; this has gained a following as a minimalist distribution which uses an Arch base and the Openbox window manager. The Arch philosophy has also been ported to the Hurd in the form of ArchHurd. Other Arch derivatives that are worth trying are Chakra, which is 'Arch Linux + KDE 4 + Shaman with some artistic touches', and Parabola, which is entirely free software."
* * * * *
While Arch Linux has found a niche and settled into a routine, many newer distributions keep searching for ideas about how to attract more users. One of them is Fuduntu, a Fedora-based desktop distribution. Last week Andrew Wyatt published an intriguing blog post entitled "Important Fuduntu Linux announcement," highlighting some upcoming changes in the distribution. These include a gradual break from Fedora and a switch to a rolling-release style development model: "We have made several important decisions. The first is that Fuduntu has really been a rolling release since inception, and we believe that it is in the best interest of the team and the community to formalize and announce that Fuduntu is now a 'rolling release'. We will continue to mature the distribution, incrementally as we have historically, releasing updated distribution media quarterly. We will not follow future versions of Fedora, or rework the entire distribution based upon their release cycle. Instead we will continue to fork over time eventually cutting the cord separating the two products entirely. This means that Fuduntu users will continue to enjoy the benefits of new kernel releases which include security fixes and new hardware support, as well as new software versions without being forced into a major upgrade every few months."
* * * * *
To conclude the news section, here is another distribution whose next release will see some large-scale changes. The developers of DEFT Linux, an Ubuntu-based "Digital Evidence and Forensic Toolkit", have published a roadmap leading towards the release of version 7 in December 2011. One of the new items on the list is a "server" edition based on CentOS: "There two big news items. The first is that the project is also dedicated to incident response issues; the second is that DEFT will have two core, one dedicated to the server (based on CentOS) and one (based on Lubuntu) for personal computers, both of them live DVDs. The choice of a double kernel was determined after a thorough series of tests that led to the following conclusion: the desktop environments have different needs from enterprise environments in terms of drivers and performance. The end users decide what to run based on their needs, if you must acquire a server, run DEFT SE, but if you need to perform analysis or acquisition activities on a PC, run DEFT." DEFT Linux 7 will be based on Lubuntu 11.10, while the brand-new DEFT SE will be built from the CentOS 6.x code base.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Tweaking X.Org drivers for better Intel graphics support
Suffering-with-Intel asks: I am really getting frustrated with X.Org drivers in updating various Linux distros (mostly Ubuntu-based such as Ubuntu itself and Linux Mint) on several of my PCs (IBM Think Centre, and several Fujitsu Lifebooks) that have built-in Intel graphics in the 8xx and 9xx series. It seems the support has gotten flakier over the last several versions. Are there any "mainstream" distros that have done a more consistent job of tweaking the X.Org drivers for better Intel graphics support?
DistroWatch answers: Support for Intel cards has been getting worse for some Linux users. Back when I wrote a tutorial on compiling the Linux kernel I mentioned that video had become noticeably worse on my Intel card. Testing with the more recent 3.0 version of the kernel has shown performance on my Intel card hasn't improved. However, if I go back to an older kernel, 2.6.32 for example, video performance dramatically improves. I bring this up because I don't think it's so much a case of one distro having good support and another having bad support, running different versions of the Linux kernel on the same distro using the same hardware can make a big difference.
You might wonder why distributions would be shipping newer and slower drivers? The answer appears to be that the new releases support a wider range of hardware, so performance is taking a hit in favour of compatibility. This means the new drivers are a welcome change to people who have (previously) unsupported cards, but means others take a drop in performance.
If you find you're using one of the cards that don't work with the newer drivers, what can you do? For a long term solution, visit the Linux Graphics Drivers from Intel website and provide them with feedback. Let them know what does and doesn't work for you and give them details on your hardware. Hopefully if enough people speak up we'll see improvements. Assuming performance was good in the past and has been getting worse with newer releases I'd recommend using old, long term support releases. Projects like Scientific Linux, Ubuntu LTS, Slackware Linux and Debian GNU/Linux maintain older versions of the kernel and drivers for several years. If you need newer software you may be able to run a more modern distro, but install an older kernel from kernel.org. And, if none of the above appeal to you, I recommend joining the Intel-gfx mailing list and asking for suggestions on improving the experience.
|Released Last Week
Proxmox 1.9 "Virtual Environment"
Martin Maurer has announced the release of Proxmox 1.9 "Virtual Environment" edition, a Debian-based distribution designed for running virtual appliances and virtual machines: "We just released Proxmox VE 1.9, including a lot of fixes and updates. This release includes the long awaited new stable OpenVZ 2.6.32 and also latest KVM 0.15 with KSM support. Release notes: PVE kernel 2.6.32, updates for drivers including e1000e to 1.5.1, ARECA RAID driver, megaraid_sas, bnx2, igb to 3.1.16, ixgbe to 3.5.14-NAPI, drbd 8.3.10; vzctl (3.0.28), update to latest upstream, set default template to Debian 6.0, merge some fixes from upstream; PVE manager (1.9), fix uptime display for 2.6.32 kernel with 1000HZ, support newer vzctl versions, support 'maxfiles' backup option; PVE QEMU KVM (0.15.0), use PXE ROMs from upstream qemu-kvm; QEMU Server (1.1), small fixes for new qemu-kvm 0.15.0...." Read the release announcement and release notes for further details.
Karanbir Singh has announced the release of CentOS 5.7, a free enterprise Linux distribution built from source code for Red Hat Enterprise Linux of the same version number: "We are pleased to announce the immediate availability of CentOS 5.7 for i386 and x86_64 architectures. CentOS 5.7 is based on the upstream release EL 5.7 and includes packages from all variants including server and client. All upstream repositories have been combined into one to make it easier for end users to work with. CentOS conforms fully to the upstream vendor's redistribution policy and aims to be 100% binary compatible. CentOS 5.7 is the seventh update to the CentOS 5 distribution series, it contains a lot of bug fixes, updates and new functionality." More information is available in the release announcement as well as the CentOS-specific release notes.
Alasdair Lumsden has announced the release of OpenIndiana oi_151a, an updated version of the community fork of OpenSolaris, now with support for Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM): "OpenIndiana oi_151a was released on 14th September 2011, exactly one year after our first release, oi_147. Our latest build brings a wide variety of enhancements, including being our first build based on Illumos. Notable changes to the kernel and core userland since OpenIndiana's oi_148 release includes KVM, the open source kernel-based Virtual Machine, as a basic virtualization solution along with the QEMU package. This KVM port includes virtualization extensions for Intel VT. Using KVM, a user or system administrator can run multiple virtual machines running unmodified x86_64-based operating system images for Linux, BSD, or Windows images. Each virtual machine has private virtualized hardware." Read the release notes for further details.
José Antonio Calvo has announced the release of Zentyal 2.2, an Ubuntu-based distribution for small servers: "Your favorite development team proudly presents Zentyal 2.2. Zentyal is a Linux small business server that can act as a gateway, unified threat manager, office server, infrastructure manager, unified communications server or a combination of them. Let us summarize some of the new features of this new version. Improved performance - thanks to the configuration backend rewrite and other optimizations, the responsiveness of the interface and the speed of other processes have greatly improved. Better installation process - in addition to the general performance improvements that also affect the installation speed, the package selection interface has been simplified." Read the detailed release announcement for more information.
Zentyal 2.2 - an Ubuntu-based distribution for servers
(full image size: 77kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Scientific Linux 5.7
Connie Sieh has announced the release of Scientific Linux 5.7, a free enterprise-class distribution built from source packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.7, with extra packages suitable for use in academic environments: "Scientific Linux 5.7 has been released for i386 and x86_64 architectures." Here are some highlights from the release notes: "Alpine 2.02, a tool for reading, sending, and managing electronic messages; Aufs 20090202, a stackable unification file system; gnuplot 4.2.6; Intel wireless firmware (ucode) Intel wireless; R 2.13.1, a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics; updated kernel modules for XFS, a highly scalable, high-performance journaling file system; updated kernel modules for OpenAFS and NDISwrapper; updated Sun/Oracle Java packages to 6u26...."
Linux Mint 201109 "Debian GNOME", "Debian Xfce"
Two new releases of the Debian-based editions of Linux Mint were announced earlier today. Featuring the rolling-release update mechanism with updated software pulled from Debian's "testing" repository, these releases offer the following highlights: "Available in both 32-bit and 64-bit variants as live DVDs with GNOME or Xfce; the purpose is to look identical to the main edition and to provide the same functionality while using Debian as a base; all Linux Mint 11 features; installer improvements (keyboard variants, locale, bug fixes, UUID in fstab); update packs, dedicated Update Manager and staged repositories; GTK+ 2/3 theme compatibility; updated software and packages." Read the complete release announcement if you'd like to find out more.
Johnny Lee has announced the release of Macpup 528, a minimalist desktop distribution based on Puppy Linux and the Enlightenment 17 window manager: "Macpup 528 is based on Puppy Linux 5.2.8 'Lucid Puppy', an official Woof build of Puppy Linux that is binary-compatible with Ubuntu packages. Macpup 528 contains all the applications from Lucid Puppy with the addition of Firefox 7.01 beta. Extra applications, like Opera or GIMP are available for easy download from the Quickpet application on the iBar or the Puppy package manager. Macpup 528 also includes the Enlightenment 17 window manager, the EFL libraries version 1.0.999 and E17 version 62861 were compiled and installed from source. Macpup is a full-featured system right out of the box with applications for office, graphics, multimedia, Internet and much more." Here is the full release announcement with additional information and credits.
Macpup 528 - a Puppy-based distribution with Enlightenment 17
(full image size: 1,280kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Klaus Knopper has announced the release of KNOPPIX 6.7.1, an updated version of the popular Debian-based live CD and DVD featuring the LXDE desktop. Despite the minor version bump, this release contains a rather large number of updates: "Version 6.7.1 has been updated from Debian 'Squeeze' with the usual picks from Debian 'testing' and 'unstable'; it uses Linux kernel 3.0.4 and X.Org Server 1.11; experimental free nouveau graphics modules supporting NVIDIA cards; OpenOffice.org replaced with LibreOffice 3.4.3; Chromium 13.0.782.220 and Firefox 6.0.2 web browsers; optional 64-bit kernel via 'knoppix64' boot option, supporting systems with more than 4 GB of RAM and chroot to 64-bit installations for system rescue tasks; new boot option for mounting the KNOPPIX compressed file system from a stored ISO file; boot option 'grub' for starting a bootloader shell in system rescue tasks...." See the KNOPPIX 6.7.1 release page for further details.
Chris Buechler has announced the release of pfSense 2.0, a major new update of the specialist FreeBSD-based operating system designed for firewalls and gateways: "I am proud to announce the release of version 2.0. This brings the past three years of new feature additions, with significant enhancements to almost every portion of the system." Features and changes: "Based on FreeBSD 8.1-RELEASE; i386 and amd64 variants for all install types (full install, NanoBSD, embedded, etc.); USB memory stick installer images available; GRE and GIF tunnels; 3G support; multi-Link PPP (MLPPP) for bonding PPP connections; LAGG interfaces; IP Alias type Virtual IPs; IP Alias VIPs can be stacked on CARP VIPs to go beyond the 255 VHID limit in deployments that need very large numbers of CARP VIPs; QinQ VLANs; bridging enhancements - can now control all options of if_bridge, and assign bridge interfaces...." Read the release announcement and visit the features and changes page for more detailed information and upgrade instructions.
Trisquel GNU/Linux 5.0
Rubén Rodríguez has announced the release of Trisquel GNU/Linux 5.0, an Ubuntu-based distribution carefully stripped of all non-free components in order to comply with Free Software Foundation's four software freedoms: "In what we can now call it a tradition, we celebrate the Software Freedom Day by publishing our latest release: Trisquel GNU/Linux 5.0 STS, code name 'Dagda'. Today we publish both the standard GNOME-based and the lightweight LXDE-based 'Mini' editions. Current Trisquel 4.5 users can upgrade using the update-manager application, without the need for re-installation. Advanced installations -- server, RAID/LVM, encrypted, etc -- can be done using the 'netinstall' images. The standard edition includes, among many others, the following packages: Linux-libre kernel 2.6.38, GNOME 2.6.32, LibreOffice 3.3.3, Abrowser (our unbranded Mozilla-based web browser) 6.0.2." Here is the full release announcement with several screenshots.
Trisquel GNU/Linux 5.0 - a free GNU/Linux distribution approved by the Free Software Foundation
(full image size: 939kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Qomo Linux 3.0
Qomo Linux, previously known as Everest Linux, is a community distribution maintained by the Linux-Ren community in China with support from Red Flag and other companies. Qomo Linux 3.0 was released partially in celebration of the Free Software Day of 2011. It is based on the latest stable version of the Linux kernel patched by the community with abundant hardware support. Systemd preempts upstart to speed up the booting process, and certain package descriptions have been translated into Chinese for better localization. LibreOffice is now the productivity suite, but is only available from the online software repository simply for reducing the footprint of the ISO image. Check the brief announcement (in Chinese) with a few screenshots.
Qomo Linux 3.0 - a Chinese community distribution sponsored by Red Flag Linux
(full image size: 1,282kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
IPFire 2.9 Core 52
Michael Tremer has announced the release of a new update of IPFire 2.9, a specialist Linux distribution for firewalls, focusing on easy setup, good handling and high level of security: "This is the 52nd update for the second series of the IPFire firewall distribution. Core Update 52 is addressing several security issues in the web proxy service and the Apache web server. It additionally introduces Russian language support and adds some minor features. It is recommended to install this update as soon as possible and please take notice that both services are restarted when updating. List of changes: Squid 3.1.15 (security fixes), Apache 2.2.20 (security fixes); Ethtool 3.0; web proxy - fix LDAP UTF-8 authentication; add Namecheap as a dynamic DNS provider." Here is the brief release announcement.
Benjamin Zores has announced the release of GeeXboX 2.0, a major new version of the media centre purposed Linux distribution for embedded devices and desktop computers: "After countless years of development, the 2.0 release of GeeXboX (code name 'Love It or Shove It') has landed. This new GeeXboX 2.0 is radically different from the 1.x series and, sorry to disappoint some of you, will not provide the same level of services. We are now doing much more things than we used to do with 1.x, but unfortunately a few things have to be left behind. But the GeeXboX philosophy remains the same and we still aim at targeting the most PCs and devices as possible, in as lightweight as possible a way. GeeXboX now also support many embedded devices running ARM SoCs and many more will be added in the months to come. These devices just make the perfect fanless, energy-efficient HTPC and GeeXboX just makes the perfect media center distribution for those." See the complete release announcement for a full list of features.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- CloudLinux OS. CloudLinux OS is a commercial, server-oriented Linux distribution based on CentOS.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 26 September 2011.
Caitlyn Martin, Ladislav Bodnar and Jesse Smith
|• Issue 537 (2013-12-09): OpenMandriva 2013.0, Gentoo developer interview, project Neon, Linux Mint and security|
|• Issue 536 (2013-12-02): Impressions of openSUSE 13.1, Ubuntu Touch, FreeBSD 10 delay, troubleshooting OS lock-ups|
|• Issue 535 (2013-11-25): GhostBSD 3.5, Debian and MATE, Ubuntu 14.04 features, security updates|
|• Issue 534 (2013-11-18): Review of OpenBSD 5.4, Fedora on ARM, menu names vs command-line names|
|• Issue 533 (2013-11-11): Point Linux 2.2, Pisi update, Debian and Xfce, Bruno Cornec interview|
|• Issue 532 (2013-11-04): Ubuntu and Kubuntu 13.10, Debian's init, FreeBSD's PKG-NG, Linux on ARM|
|• Issue 531 (2013-10-28): PC-BSD 9.2, openSUSE testing, nftables, upgrade pros and cons|
|• Issue 530 (2013-10-21): Kwheezy 1.2, DPL interview, Zenwalk's future, keeping up with vulnerabilities|
|• Issue 529 (2013-10-14): Ubuntu's Mir, dmesg and photorec tips, Tiny Tiny RSS|
|• Issue 528 (2013-10-07): Semplice 5, Haiku package management, Klaus Knopper interview, making custom distro|
|• Issue 527 (2013-09-30): Tiny Core Linux 5.0, SteamOS, moving operating system to new computer|
|• Issue 526 (2013-09-23): Look at ArchBang 2013.09.01, BSD Now, kernel stats, command-line tips|
|• Issue 525 (2013-09-16): The Official Ubuntu Server Book, FreeBSD 10 and OpenBSD 5.4, Skype alternatives|
|• Issue 524 (2013-09-09): Look at LXLE 12.04.3, Ubuntu's new package format, Secure Boot and dual-booting|
|• Issue 523 (2013-09-02): OpenIndiana 151a8, openSUSE "Evergreen", GNOME and DuckDuckGo, running apps from RAM|
|• Issue 522 (2013-08-26): Look at gNewSense 3.0, Ubuntu Edge fundraising failure, exploring GPL|
|• Issue 521 (2013-08-19): Review of Korora 19, Fedora considers return to "Core", Haiku package management|
|• Issue 520 (2013-08-12): Salix OS 14.0.1 "KDE", Xubuntu experiments with XMir, managing passwords with KeePass|
|• Issue 519 (2013-08-05): Review of Porteus 2.0, Kubuntu lays out plans for Wayland adoption, adjusting system swappiness|
|• Issue 518 (2013-07-29): MidnightBSD 0.4, Razor-qt, Ubuntu Edge, mounting infected drives|
|• Issue 517 (2013-07-22): Zorin OS 7 "Lite", Slackware turns 20, UbuntuForums compromise, Raspbian as home server, Tor|
|• Issue 516 (2013-07-15): Review of Fedora 19 "KDE", Shuttleworth on Mir, Seth Vidal, Kingsoft Office for Linux|
|• Issue 515 (2013-07-08): Whonix 0.5.6 and Deepin 12.12, MintBox, processor capabilities, distros for Raspberry Pi|
|• Issue 514 (2013-07-01): Peppermint Four, Mir, Mandriva forks, ThinkPenguin on libre hardware|
|• Issue 513 (2013-06-24): Look at ROSA, PC-BSD updates, Xen4CentOS6, Slacko vs Precise, Mageia interview, shells|
|• Issue 512 (2013-06-17): Trisquel 6.0, RHEL 7 with GNOME Classic, from Linux to FreeBSD, first look at Wayland|
|• Issue 511 (2013-06-10): Mint 15 impressions, GNOME Classic, Ubuntu Community portal, Absolute OpenBSD|
|• Issue 510 (2013-06-03): Impressions of aptosid 2013-01, Wayland comes to Raspberry Pi, maintaining DNS settings|
|• Issue 509 (2013-05-27): Mageia 3, Debian GNU/Hurd, RebeccaBlackOS with Wayland, ports|
|• 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|
|• Full list of all issues|