| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 433, 28 November 2011
Welcome to this year's 48th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! DistroWatch's page hit ranking statistics were at the centre of controversy during the past week as a number of high-profile journalists cited this resource as a proof of Ubuntu's "rapid decline". From the other side of the coin, many Ubuntu fans reacted angrily at such "baseless accusations", slamming both the mainstream tech media and DistroWatch for distorting the reality. As always, the truth is somewhere in between - while Ubuntu likely remains the most popular desktop Linux distribution, there is little doubt that the arrival of the Unity desktop has driven certain users to Linux Mint and elsewhere. The topic of Ubuntu versus Linux Mint dominates our news section, including a reaction from Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth. Elsewhere in the publication, Jesse Smith takes a look at the recently-released openSUSE 12.1, the latest version of one of the oldest and most popular Linux distribution available on the market. Also in this issue - a link to an interview with Debian Project Leader Stefano Zacchiroli, an update on the "Secure Boot for Windows" controversy, and the usual regular columns. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Boot up, little SUSE (openSUSE 12.1)|
The openSUSE distribution is one that I feel gets overlooked too often. While the releases coming from the project are typically technologically sound they rarely attract the same attention as Fedora or Ubuntu. Personally, I think the developers' attempts to balance the distribution may be to blame for its lack of attention. Debian GNU/Linux and Red Hat have long, boring release cycles which gain attention from the tried-and-true crowd. Ubuntu and Fedora have rapid releases, appealing to the cutting edge crowd. The openSUSE distribution falls in the middle. Its centre-of-the road approach may be just the thing for someone who is looking for a distribution that keeps up with trends, yet who wishes to shy away from instability. It's a careful mixture.
Reading through the release notes for openSUSE 12.1 I got the impression this version would be more of the same: a distribution which avoids extremes. The 12.1 release comes with a variety of desktop environments, including GNOME 3 and KDE 4, LXDE, Xfce and KDE 3. This release also features the systemd init system, which replaces SysVInit. For developers, openSUSE includes the Go language (from Google) and the LLVM compiler alongside GCC. Our download options include one full-sized DVD with a large collection of software, a GNOME live CD, a KDE live CD and a network installation disc. Each option comes in 32-bit and 64-bit builds and can be accessed via direct download or through BitTorrent. We are not limited in our choices and I decided to experiment with the KDE edition.
Once we burn the KDE live CD and boot from it we are presented with a boot menu. This menu allows us to try the live desktop environment, install openSUSE or check the media for errors. Launching the installer brings up a graphical interface and we're asked to pick our preferred language and keyboard layout. We're also shown the distribution's license agreement. The following screen gets us to pick our time zone from a map of the world and gives us the option of changing the system clock. Next up is the partitioning section and a manual could be written entirely on the partitioning screens. Options vary from the very simple (taking the suggested layout), to the slightly more advanced (inputting required parameters and accepting a suggested layout) to the more advanced (manual partitioning). Less experienced users will probably be fine taking the defaults and simply clicking "Next", but more advanced users can set up Btrfs, experiment with LVM layouts, enable encryption and resize, create and move partitions. I find it interesting that one of the options we can choose is to have the installer automatically set up Btrfs partitions so we can make use of "snapshot" features.
Moving along, once the disk is divided we're asked to create a user account and set the root password. The user screen allows us to enable auto-login and we're given the option of authenticating against network resources, such as LDAP. The last screen shows us the steps the installer will perform and asks for our confirmation. It's possible to select pending actions on this screen and edit them, which is quite handy. I found that during my installations the boot loader was not set to be installed to the Master Boot Record (MBR) by default; changing this is a simple click.
Once the installer is done copying files to the drive we reboot and a first-run wizard launches. It automatically configures the system and, with no input from us, the wizard finishes its tasks, turning us over to a graphical login screen. Signing into our account we're presented with a welcome screen which gives directions on finding documentation, links to the help forums and information on using KDE. Closing the welcome screen turns us over to the KDE 4.7 desktop. The wallpaper is typical SUSE green. On the desktop we find a widget containing icons for bringing up system information, launching Firefox, opening LibreOffice, bringing up the welcome screen again and opening a browser to visit the project's website. Some minor desktop effects are enabled, but, for the most part, the interface stays out of the way and doesn't present many distractions.
openSUSE 12.1 - exploring the application menu
(full image size: 362kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
Much of my first hour with openSUSE was taken up by what I began to think of as the "download dance". One of the first things I did was open Firefox and LibreOffice. Both launched, but LibreOffice informed me it needed Java to perform properly and offered to grab the required software. I consented and went about my work while the system downloaded the recommended packages. A few minutes later I tried to open an audio file and was told I was missing the MP3 codec. The system offered to grab the codec, then detected that Java was still being downloaded and I was given the option of waiting or cancelling the Java download. I took this as mixed news because while it meant I was given the choice, it also meant the system wasn't able to queue downloads. At any rate, I waited until Java finished installing, then grabbed the MP3 codec. I restarted Amarok as suggested and found that I was able to play music.
So far, so good. But then I tried opening a video file and was once again informed I'd have to download codecs. Only this time the required codec wasn't in the default repositories, I'd have to add a new one. Now, when I opted to do this, the package manager opened and I was offered a web page where I could click-to-add the required repository. But, while I was doing this, the page hadn't been updated to support openSUSE 12.1 yet and I had to perform the addition manually. This required about eight screens of clicking - selecting repositories, confirming signing keys, confirming a license, waiting for the download, refreshing the package list, closing the package manager and going back to the media player, installing the codecs and restarting the media player. It is, in my opinion, not a smooth or intuitive process. When the documentation web page is updated this will be much easier, but the day after 12.1 was released, this was quite a long, manual process.
I think the above "dance" and the installer demonstrate either openSUSE's greatest strength or its greatest weakness, depending on one's point of view. The distribution gives the user control over virtually every decision. Or, from the other side of the coin, it bothers the user with every choice to be made. Whether it is partitioning, adding repositories, managing software or anything else, there are a lot of options and we sometimes get into nitty-gritty details. For power users this will probably be a welcome feature; however, it's also likely to scare off novice users.
Software package management
The above describes package management on-the-fly, installing items as they are required. Fortunately regular package management is a much smoother, less painful experience. The distribution comes with two software managers which can be launched from the application menu directly or through the YaST control panel. With the traditional YaST module we're presented with a very flexible interface. We can search for packages by name, category, logical RPM package groups or language. Items can be sorted by any of their fields and we can review actions before we commit to them. There are several tabs and options for managing software, but the primary controls should be familiar to users of other powerful package managers, like Synaptic. One aspect of openSUSE's software management I found odd (and a little inconvenient) is that after a set of actions is performed, the application closes. This means that one should think carefully about everything they wish to do up front.
Once the download/install/remove/update process has begun we're stuck waiting it out before we can re-launch the application and perform another task. In short, openSUSE provides a very powerful, but unusual package handler compared to other Linux distributions. The second package manager, called Apper, looks a bit more like the Mint software manager or the Muon Software Centre found in other distributions. Apper displays a fairly simple interface where we can navigate by clicking on software categories. Clicking a category icon brings up a list of software in that category, which we can install or remove an application by checking a box next to its name. Apper, while much more simple and user-friendly than the traditional YaST component, does have some drawbacks. I found navigating categories with Apper to be quite slow and some packages would be displayed multiple times, padding out the results.
openSUSE 12.1 - browsing software packages
(full image size: 177kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
Two things I found I enjoyed about package management on openSUSE were that, for one, when running from the command line, if a program wasn't found I could run a command which would locate the appropriate package for me and provide steps for installing it. Other distros, like Fedora and Ubuntu do this too, but since openSUSE only hunts down commands when we want it to, it means that making typos results in less time wasted as the system is searching through packages. Another thing I appreciated is when we install new software, whether through YaST or on the command line, a new entry for that application is created in the application menu under the category "Recently Installed", making it easy to find newly acquired software.
Perhaps the most useful aspect of openSUSE is the YaST configuration utility. For power and flexibility I don't think I've used a better administrative tool on any operating system. Virtually every aspect of the distribution can be tweaked using YaST. Everything from software packages to user accounts, to the firewall, backups, hardware and network shares -- it can all be handled form this central location. Each component of YaST features similar layouts, making for a consistent experience. It may not be as beginner-friendly as the Mandriva/Mageia control panel, but each module has plenty of options and is well laid out. At times YaST can be a bit sluggish, but the power provided seems to be more than an adequate trade. During my trial I encountered no problems with YaST and it's a tool I'd very much like to see adopted by other distributions.
openSUSE 12.1 - changing system and desktop settings
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Software applications and hardware compatibility
The application menu is quite full, especially when we consider that all of the included software fits on one CD. We're given the Firefox and Konqueror web browsers. KMail is included, along with KTorrent, the Choqok micro-blogger and an IRC client. LibreOffice is available, as are a document viewer, image viewer and the GIMP. The K3b disc burner is in the menu and we also find a CD player, the Amarok music player and the Kaffeine multimedia player. Out of the box openSUSE does not include popular codecs for these players, but as I mentioned above, the project includes repositories with these extras. A small collection of games is provided and we're given remote desktop tools, a system monitor and the Smolt hardware profiler. To cover security needs, such as encryption, we have KGpg and Kleopatra. The usual collection of small tools, including file browsers, text editors, a calculator and archive manager are installed for us. The distribution comes with a good collection of accessibility tools, including a virtual keyboard, screen magnifier, automatic mouse-click tool and special character selector. On the default install we aren't given Flash or Java and I didn't find any developer tools. In the background we find version 3.1 of the Linux kernel.
I found that openSUSE would run on my laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card) without any problems. Screen resolution was set to maximum, audio volume was placed at a reasonable level and my Intel wireless card worked without any issues. My touchpad wouldn't register taps as clicks and I didn't find the system settings module to enable the feature in the default install. (Synaptiks needs to be installed to enable the touchpad options.) On my desktop machine (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card) openSUSE worked smoothly without any issues. The display and audio worked out of the box. In general performance was good, at least with KDE's indexing and desktop effects turned off. Boot times were good, perhaps a little better than I experienced in the 11.x series, but I don't have any firm numbers to back that up, just a sense that this release feels quicker.
While there is a lot to recommend openSUSE -- it has a lot of software on the CD, good documentation, beautifully powerful system administration tools, flexible installer and up to date packages -- this release didn't feel as polished as the 11.x series. Part of that is the on-the-fly package management, but I also found, on a couple of occasions, that the software updater would fail to successfully complete downloads. And I found that with desktop indexing disabled I'd get a long series of error messages appearing on the desktop. Technically this is a known KDE issue rather than a specific openSUSE bug, but I had hoped the distribution's developers would have patched it. As I mentioned before, openSUSE's tendency to give the operator every option available will probably make or break this release for potential users. People will either see it as putting them in the driver seat or as placing speed bumps in their way. Those issues aside, this is a pretty good release. The live CD provides a lot of useful software, I've found KDE 4.7 to be responsive and openSUSE's move to systemd appears to have gone smoothly. The distro isn't as beginner-friendly as Ubuntu or Mandriva, but I think it's more powerful and, by default, more flexible. There is a trade off. It's not perfect, but worth test driving for the administrator tools if nothing else.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Linux Mint versus Ubuntu in tech media, interview with DPL Stefano Zacchiroli
What do you think was the biggest Linux-related event of the month which is about to come to an end? The release of Fedora 16? That of openSUSE 12.1? Or the endless arguments about the merits of Unity and GNOME 3 on desktop computers? The answer is, of course, debatable, but perhaps the correct one is entry of Linux Mint into the big league of highly popular Linux distributions. And it wasn't just the arrival of version 12 over the weekend that caused it; it was equally the attention this once little-known project received in major IT media during the past week. If you don't believe it, just glance through some of the articles published by Golem (German), Lenta (Russian), ComputerBase (German), Pingdom, The Inquirer, Chip (German), The Register, Clubic (French), Tom's Hardware (Italian), Tweakers (Dutch), PCWorld, ZDNet.de (German), ZDNet UK, ZDNet.fr (French), PuntoInformatico (Italian), PC Impact (French), ITProPortal, Numerama (French), Mynavi (Japanese), Tech2 and many many others. Granted, most of the above articles focused on the presumed "decline of Ubuntu" rather than the rise of Linux Mint. But since all of them quoted our page hit ranking statistics in their reports, the number of people visiting the Linux Mint page soared dramatically even before the release on Saturday of the project's latest stable version. Chances are that the some of the readers of these publications have become Mint converts.
Linux Mint 12 - GNOME 3 with a more traditional look and feel
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* * * * *
So what do Ubuntu developers, fans and users think about this sudden surge of a popular competitor, making waves in mainstream tech media? In "Lies, damned lies and statistics", Larry Cafiero argues that Mint's success has its merits, even though he doesn't like the methodology used in these media reports: "My sense is that the numbers for Linux Mint reflect a rising interest that is translating into new users and new community members. After all, Linux Mint has done a huge service to FOSS by developing the Mint GNOME Shell Extensions (MGSE) and MATE, and for that reason perhaps people are joining the ranks of the Minted. Couple that with the recent edict of Unity uber alles handed down by Ubuntu SABDFL Mark Shuttleworth, and you have the recipe for a rise in Linux Mint at the expense of Ubuntu." In the meantime, Randall Ross's Today's Math Lesson: Perception = Reality seems to blame Ubuntu's Contributor and LoCo-Team communities for not doing enough to counter the "perception", while asking in "We Ignore At Our Peril" whether "the meme is spreading". Finally, how does Mark Shuttleworth view Mint's replacing Ubuntu as DistroWatch's top Linux distro? Here is his answer: "Kudos to Mint for the jump in ratings, I'm glad Ubuntu has great derivatives, and I'm confident Unity will remain the #1 desktop environment for years to come."
* * * * *
Debian developer Raphaël Hertzog has been conducting some excellent interviews recently. The latest one, appearing on his personal blog last week, is with the current Debian Project Leader (DPL) Stefano Zacchiroli. In his second year as DPL what are "Stephano's biggest achievements": "Dialogue with derivatives. When I became DPL about 1.5 years ago the situation on that front was pretty dire. In the specific case of Ubuntu, by far the most successful and customized of all Debian derivatives, I remember being scared of raising the topic of collaboration with them on mailing lists. More generally, we had no specific initiatives to foster technical collaboration with and among derivatives. A huge potential of (forwarded) contributions to Debian was being wasted. Today things look much better, as I've documented in recent talks at DebConf 11 and UDS-P. The amount of forwarded patches we receive from downstream is at its maximum and many people who apply to become Debian Developers come from derivatives. Conflict situations still exist, for good reasons that we still have to either fix or figure out entirely. But I'm positive we're on the right track."
|Opinion (by Jesse Smith)
Secure boot for Linux?
Back in October we talked about the new secure boot technology coming to personal computers and what it might mean for users of open-source operating systems. Over the past month the discussion has been gaining attention, not only from Linux users, but also from users of proprietary systems. People in the free and open-source software community have been concerned about being locked out of their machines and the Free Software Foundation has been collecting signatures from people who want hardware manufactures to protect their freedoms. To date over 20,000 people have signed the FSF's statement.
Yet there are two sides to every story and for each person concerned they may be locked out of their preferred operating system there is another who wants to embrace secure boot technology. Some of these users are in the proprietary camp and would be in the best position to benefit from the proposed secure boot implementation. And there are also people in the open-source community who feel that their preference for freedom should not exclude them from making use of secure boot features. Last week the Linux Foundation released a paper (PDF) by James Bottomley and Jonathan Corbet, both members of the Linux Foundation Technical Advisory Board. Which suggests that everyone can have their cake and eat it too.
Their paper, which is thankfully brief and to the point for a technical document, puts forward suggestions on how secure boot can be implemented so it:
No doubt there are some details to work out, but their overall proposal looks reasonable and, if hardware manufactures implement their ideas, users of any operating system could benefit. I recommend both reading the paper and, if you haven't already, signing the FSF statement on secure booting. Sometimes, in the name of software freedom, it's important to stand up and be counted. I believe this is one of those times.
- Conforms to the technical specification
- Is flexible, allowing users to run their preferred operating system and boot from removable media
- Provides protection for users under the default settings
|Released Last Week
Leszek Lesner has announced the release of ZevenOS 4.0, an Ubuntu-based distribution featuring the Xfce desktop with a BeOS-like theme: "The ZevenOS team is proud to announce the release of ZevenOS 4.0. This version is based on Ubuntu 11.10 and has a bunch of new features and changes. The base system was updated to Linux kernel 3.0 which brings a bunch of new drivers as well as an improved implementation of the ext4 file system. Also the experimental Btrfs file system is now supported. Besides that ZevenOS 4.0 also has a lot of new stuff in the desktop area. The underlying Xfce desktop was updated to version 4.8 which adds network support for FTP, Samba, SSH, NFS to the Thunar file manager. Also new is a rewritten thumb-nailing system for the file manager which is faster and more efficient. Video editing has been made easier with OpenShot 1.4." See the release announcement for a complete list of new features and a video preview.
ZevenOS 4.0 - a new version of the Ubuntu-based distribution with a BeOS-like Xfce theme
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Parted Magic 2011_11_24
Patrick Verner has released a new stable build of Parted Magic, version 2011_11_24: "Parted Magic 2011_11_24. There are some major changes that might cause some issues with the multi-boot CD crowd. For a long time the pmagic-.sqfs and Initramfs would not be found on completely supported computers. Reason 1 - this was caused by Windows based zip programs failing to convert the file names properly. Reason 2 - I wasn't using the mkisofs -J option when making the official ISO images. Reason 3 - Somebody would remaster the ISO image and not use the mkisofs -l option. Major bug - there was a dummy file mistakenly left in /usr/local/bin that caused the secure erase command to fail, it has been removed. Updated programs - lilosetup 0.2.9.1, TestDisk 6.13, Linux kernel 3.1.2." Visit the project's home page to read the full release announcement.
Matt Housh has announced the release of CRUX 2.7.1, an updated version of the project's lightweight and fast distribution designed for more advanced Linux users: "The CRUX team has released an interim release, version 2.7.1. 'Interim' means that this release is meant to facilitate upgrades or new installs by saving time that would be taken up by updating quite a few out-of-date packages. This also means that current users of CRUX 2.7 with updated packages do not need to upgrade or reinstall. Release notes: CRUX 2.7.1 includes glibc 2.12.2, GCC 4.5.3 and binutils 2.20.1; Linux kernel 18.104.22.168; packages - CRUX 2.7.1 includes the usual bunch of ports updates, but without any incompatible changes." Read the release announcement and release notes for additional details.
Linux Mint 12
The much-awaited Linux Mint 12, code name "Lisa", has been released: "The team is proud to announce the release of Linux Mint 12 'Lisa'. Linux Mint 12 comes with a brand new desktop, built with GNOME 3 and MGSE (Mint GNOME Shell Extensions), a desktop layer on top of GNOME 3 that makes it possible for you to use GNOME 3 in a traditional way. You can disable all components within MGSE to get a pure GNOME 3 experience, or you can enable all of them to get a GNOME 3 desktop that is similar to what you've been using before. Of course you can also pick and only enable the components you like to design your own desktop. The main features in MGSE are: the bottom panel, the application menu, the window list, a task-centric desktop (i.e. you switch between windows, not applications), visible system tray icons. MGSE also includes additional extensions such as a media player indicator, and multiple enhancements to GNOME 3." Read the release announcement and visit the what's new page for further information.
CrunchBang Linux 10 R20111125
Philip Newborough has announced the release of an updated build of CrunchBang Linux 10, code name "Statler", a lightweight Debian-based distribution featuring the Openbox window manager: "New Statler images have been made available. These new images contain some significant changes since the last release. The main thing to have been removed/retired is the Xfce edition. I love Xfce and I thought about this long and hard, but I really want to concentrate on making CrunchBang give the best possible out-of-the-box Openbox experience possible. Besides, there are plenty of brilliant Xfce-based distributions available, and if you know what you are doing, installing Xfce under Debian is really not too difficult. GDM is the other big loser, being replaced by SLiM. Plymouth, the graphical boot loader, has also gone from the default install." See the release announcement and release notes for more information.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- OccupyOS. OccupyOS is a specialised Linux distribution designed to provide a secure environment activists can use to edit and publish documents, browse the web (manage website, Twitter or Facebook pages), and securely communicate both on the ground and with the outside world. It was designed with security and usability in mind. Based on Gentoo Linux.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 5 December 2011.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Issue 642 (2016-01-04): paldo GNU/Linux, vetting distro repositories, Fedora plans to adopt GCC 6, Ian Murdock passes|
|• Issue 641 (2015-12-21): Arch Linux, Qubes OS to ship on Librem laptops, ALT offers start kit images, the spread of systemd and launchd|
|• Issue 640 (2015-12-14): Chakra GNU/Linux 2015.11, removing meta-data from files, Ubuntu to remove on-line dash searches|
|• Issue 639 (2015-12-07): OpenBSD 5.8, openSUSE gathers Summer of Code proposals, running WINE on a live disc, Enlightenment adds Wayland support|
|• Issue 638 (2015-11-30): Qubes OS 3.0, KaOS with Plasma, NetBSD 7.0, Fedora seeks Wayland testers, scheduling tasks|
|• Issue 637 (2015-11-23): NixOS 15.09, Antergos introduces ZFS support, MINIX shares new features, copying an OS to a new computer|
|• Full list of all issues|