| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 441, 30 January 2012
Welcome to this year's fifth issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Just a few years ago, running FreeBSD on a desktop machine was reserved strictly to the "hacker" personality type. Today, PC-BSD, with a wide selection of desktop environments and graphical configuration tools, and GhostBSD, featuring a tried-and-tested GNOME 2 desktop and a graphical installer, have filled the niche. Jesse Smith reviews the latest release of PC-BSD in today's feature article. Is it able to compete with the best the Linux world has to offer? Read on to learn more about the latest and greatest features from this well-established desktop FreeBSD project. In the news section, the Ubuntu founder has once again rocked the desktop interface scene by a radical idea that is set to replace menus with "Head-Up Display" (HUD) in Ubuntu 12.04, while Linux Mint's Clement Lefebvre is firmly moving in the opposite direction by re-introducing the standard GNOME 2 features into GNOME 3 with Cinnamon. Also in this issue, a link to an article introducing Arch Linux, a set of distribution popularity data from an online store selling media with free operating systems, and a series of questions and answers covering AppArmor documentation, home movie making, tabs in Vim, and syntax highlighting in text editors. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
PC-BSD 9.0 "Isotope"|
Quite often I hear people in the open source community comment that they like running Linux on their desktop machines and BSD on their servers. It seems a sensible approach considering the many desktop oriented Linux distributions and the BSD community's focus on providing a simple, efficient base operating system. The PC-BSD project, which is sponsored by iXsystems*, looks to buck the trend of keeping BSD in the server room. The project, led by Kris Moore, takes FreeBSD and layers on pre-configured desktop environments, friendly package management and graphical system configuration tools. When I took a look at PC-BSD 8.0 two years ago the project had some good infrastructure and ideas in place, but they needed a bit of fleshing out. This past week, with the release of PC-BSD 9.0, I decided to revisit the project and see what has happened since.
Before I get into my examination of PC-BSD 9 I would like to mention, in the interest of full disclosure, that the project's website lists me as a member of the PC-BSD team. Over the past two years I've submitted some packages and volunteered to write a few utilities for the operating system. They don't employ me, but I admit to being somewhat biased going into this review all the same; the core team behind PC-BSD is a great group of people with whom to work. (Editor's note: Also in the interest of full disclosure, iXsystems is one of the sponsors of DistroWatch.com, displaying its FreeBSD Mall and PC-BSD banners on this website.)
With that out of the way, let's talk a little about the new features offered in PC-BSD 9 compared to version 8. There are a few key items, for example version 8 came with just one desktop option, KDE. Version 9.0 features KDE, GNOME (version 2), Xfce and LXDE and provides the option of using various light window managers. Hand in hand with this move, the system configuration tools no longer rely on KDE libraries, instead using desktop agnostic ones. Furthermore, PC-BSD software packages, called PBIs, can be managed from the command line. The PBI (Push Button Installer) packages contain programs, plus all of a program's dependencies, making the package self-reliant. This also means that the PBIs can get quite large and the same library might be installed on the system several times. PC-BSD 9 addresses this potential duplication by only installing required libraries if they're not already installed on the system, which frees up disk space. There are also some low-level improvements imported from FreeBSD, such as soft file system updates and an upgraded ZFS implementation.
Installation and first impressions
Visiting the PC-BSD download page we find a long list of options. There are USB images, installation DVD images, live DVDs, installation CD images, VMware disk images and VirtualBox disk images. Each option is available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds. I decided to try the live DVD (32-bit) option which is a 2 GB download. Booting off the DVD brings up a box asking which desktop environment we'd like to use (KDE, GNOME, Xfce or LXDE). My first time through I decided to go with the small LXDE option. We're then logged in to a simple desktop with a pleasant blue background, the task switcher sits at the bottom of the screen and an icon for the installer is placed on the desktop. We're logged in as the root user, meaning we can perform administrative tasks and run the installer without entering a password.
PC-BSD 9.0 - the system installer
(full image size: 143kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
At least I thought I'd be able to run the installer. Trying to launch the system installer using its desktop icon brought up an error message reading "failed to change desktop". Checking the icon I found it pointed to the pc-sysinstaller program and launched that executable from the command line. The installer is, in my opinion, one of the nicer specimens in the open source world. It features a nice GUI, easy navigation and help pages. Most options are set to sane defaults and many users will be able to get through most screens by clicking "Next". The first page asks for our preferred language and time zone. Next we confirm our keyboard layout. We're given the choice of installing PC-BSD or just the underlying FreeBSD operating system and we can choose to install from the optical media or via the network.
The partitioning page is next. Partitioning is a little different under BSD than Linux, as different file systems and device names are used, but the basic concept is the same and we're provided with good defaults. I also found the installer makes it easy to adjust the size of partitions and we can opt to use either the default file system, UFS, or the newer ZFS. (A word of warning here: ZFS can be a memory hog, and should probably only be used on newer machines.) The next screen gets us to set a password for the root user and create as many user accounts as we would like. The installer then copies files to the hard drive.
I ran into a few problems when running the installer. The first time through I got to the partitioning screen, told the installer it could take over the whole disk and tried to proceed to the next page. The installer popped up an error saying it couldn't mount a newly created partition, provided me with the location of its log file and shut down. I rebooted into the live DVD, opted to try the KDE desktop, went through the installation steps and made it to the end. This time I made it past the partitioning section, but when the installer had finished copying its files to my drive the screen went black and my computer locked up. Rebooting the machine showed the install had finished cleanly and I was able to boot from the local drive.
Booting from the hard drive brings up a graphical boot menu and, the first time we load the operating system, we're shown a window where we can set our preferred video driver and screen resolution. Once we have confirmed these settings are correct, we're presented with a graphical login screen. As previously mentioned, PC-BSD ships with four desktop environments. I tried each of them to make sure they worked, which they do, but mostly I found myself using LXDE. It's a nice, low-resource environment and I found it suited my needs.
The first time we login we're presented with a welcome screen which gives us a few tips on how to connect to a local network, how to install new software, how to perform backups and where to find more assistance. It's a brief guide, just touching on the basics, and I think it's a good way to introduce people to the essentials. Once the welcome screen is dismissed we find there are icons on the desktop for accessing the system's settings, launching the package manager and opening the extensive PC-BSD Handbook, which contains 247 pages of useful documentation. In the system tray we find icons for managing the Life Preserver backup application and a status icon for available package updates. Clicking on the update icon opens a small window which displays a list of available updates. We're able to select which items we want to download and the updater app keeps us posted as to the progress of the updates as they are downloaded and installed.
System configuration and hardware support
Making administrative changes to the operating system is most easily approached using the PC-BSD Control Panel. This panel, which bears a resemblance to the KDE System Settings panel, contains a number of key configuration tools. We can access the system's package manager, AppCafe, from the Control Panel. We can also bring up the task manager/monitor, open a configuration tool to handle system services and there are icons for the update manager and the user account manager. We can bring up system information, make adjustments to the keyboard and mouse, manage printers and reconfigure the display. (Though I found that running the display manager would cause the machine to reboot if I applied new settings.) There's a tool for managing our network connection, another for setting up firewall rules, a look & feel app and the Life Preserver backup tool. All of the above I found looked and behaved much the same way as their Linux counterparts on mainstream distributions.
PC-BSD 9.0 - changing system settings and managing services
(full image size: 213kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
I ran PC-BSD on two machines, my HP laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card) and a desktop box (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card). The operating system seemed well suited to the desktop box. Performance was smooth, all of my hardware was picked up and I encountered no problems. On the laptop PC-BSD also worked fairly well, but with a few bumps in the road. Sound and video worked well enough and the system was responsive, but my wireless card caused some problems. My Intel wireless card would show up properly in the network configuration tool, but wouldn't activate. It appears PC-BSD comes with the proper firmware for the wireless card, but it isn't loaded automatically. Commanding the system to load the required module allowed the card to be used. PC-BSD performed smoothly once it was up and running, but on both machines boot times were longer than on most Linux distributions.
Software and package management
The operating system comes with four different desktop environments on the DVD and there are a few window managers available so it's difficult to pin an exact number on memory usage. The amount of RAM in use tended to be highest when running KDE (approximately 210 MB) and lowest when I was using LXDE (70 MB).
The application menu of PC-BSD will look a little different depending on which desktop environment is in use. The content is the same, but the layout varies. In the menu we find the Epiphany web browser, Konqueror and the Midori web browser. If it feels like there is a browser paired with each desktop environment that feeling will continue when looking over the selection of text editors, archive mangers and file browsers, there is a fair amount of duplication in order to give "native" options to each environment. There are document and image viewers, a virtual keyboard app and the Marble virtual globe program. The multimedia section contains the Totem media player, the Dragon Player, K3b for burning discs, a CD player and the Juk media player. Most popular codecs are available and I found all my media files played with the default installation. Flash is included, though I found it didn't work with all browsers. Both GCC and the Clang compiler are installed. I did not find Java in the default install. I didn't find any office suites included either, but LibreOffice, OpenOffice.org, AbiWord and Gnumeric are available via the package manager.
PC-BSD 9.0 - applying updates and browsing the web
(full image size: 83kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Speaking of the package manager, there are a few options when it comes to handling software on PC-BSD. The main package manager, AppCafe, is a graphical application which allows us to browse through available software with a web-style interface. We're able to find software via category, by name and by using key words. Clicking on a package's icon brings up a detailed description of the software and we can click a download button to install it on our system. Once a download has been started we can continue browsing through the catalog and queue other actions. The AppCafe will also allow us to remove items from the system with a click. The PBI files AppCafe downloads are larger than the packages typically found on Linux distributions because they contain dependencies, but the flip side of that is we can send PBI files other other people, or other computers, to install and the PBIs will work without requiring any external dependencies.
Should a desired piece of software not be found in the AppCafe, it's possible to find the item in the FreeBSD Ports Collection. Items in the Ports Collection can be installed (and upgraded and removed) using the standard FreeBSD tools. At the time of writing there are approximately 23,000 ports available. It's also possible to remove pre-installed software from the system (pre-installed items do not appear in AppCafe) using the FreeBSD package management tools. I won't go into the details of working with ports as the FreeBSD Handbook has a section on managing ports from the command line. While using PC-BSD I found AppCafe and the FreeBSD command line package utilities worked without any problems.
A feature I especially like on PC-BSD is the ability to easily set up and manipulate FreeBSD jails. PC-BSD has a program called the Warden, which makes it possible to set up these contained environments with a few mouse clicks. From there it's possible to run services, test applications and experiment with commands without fear of damaging the host operating system. Jails are a concept I appreciate for their security and it was nice to have an easy front-end to this technology. All the more so when there are "inmate" packages available in the PBI repository, which make setting up AMP (Apache, MySQL and PHP) servers in a jail a point-n-click experience.
Generally I found PC-BSD 9.0 to be a strong improvement over version 8, which I tried two years ago. The project now supplies several additional graphical environments, the Control Panel is useful and well laid out. There have been a few key improvements to the PBI format, including library sharing and delta updates, which greatly reduce the size of security updates. There are quite a few more PBI packages available these days and the installer now does a nice job of supporting ZFS, which was lacking in previous releases. All in all I was happy with this release, with the software included (though I did miss having an office suite pre-installed), and I especially liked the package manager and the backup utility. My one big concern with PC-BSD is hardware support. As I mentioned last week I've tried the underlying FreeBSD operating system on a couple of machines, so far without any success. This week PC-BSD worked very well on my desktop box and didn't do too badly on the laptop, but getting my wireless card up and running was an adventure in manual reading. I'm not sure if it's directly related to my hardware, but boot times on my laptop were quite long, though performance was good once I reached the login screen. In short, I give PC-BSD good marks for being a modern, open source, user-friendly desktop OS. However, I do recommend downloading the live media so you can see how it works with your hardware before committing to an install.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Ubuntu's HUD, Linux Mint's Cinnamon, Arch Linux for hardcore users
Whenever Mark Shuttleworth makes a post on his blog it is bound to become a major story wildly publicised and discussed on the Internet. This was the case once again last week when the Ubuntu founder and benevolent dictator announced a (yet another) major overhaul of a standard desktop feature. This time it was all about the menu, or the absence of it in the next Ubuntu release: "This work grows out of observations of new and established / sophisticated users making extensive use of the broader set of capabilities in their applications. We noticed that both groups of users spent a lot of time, relatively speaking, navigating the menus of their applications, either to learn about the capabilities of the app, or to take a specific action. We were also conscious of the broader theme in Unity design of leading from user intent. And that set us on a course which lead to today's first public milestone on what we expect will be a long, fruitful and exciting journey. ... Say hello to the Head-Up Display, or HUD, which will ultimately replace menus in Unity applications."
But what do Ubuntu users think about HUD? ZDNet's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has collected a few opinions and concluded that most users seem willing to give Ubuntu's Head-Up Display interface the benefit of the doubt: "The Linux users I've asked, many of them via my Google+ account, tell me that they're cautiously optimistic about HUD. True, some, like Drazenko Djuricic, a Linux user since 1996, 'Hate it already.' He asks, what are 'they smoking. GNOME 3? Unity? Mac OS X-style menus on the top of the screen??? YUCK. I use Lubuntu now. It has a clean traditional desktop ... In other words: I can get work done. All this fancy stuff is all nice and OK and should have been added as optional extras (e.g. Compiz settings?). But changing the UI paradigm every now and then ... seriously when will they stop this BS already??' A programmer who goes by the name 'Mikey G' adds, 'Yeah, real original, basically a Siri for menus. Too bad you have to know what you are looking for before you search for it, unlike the traditional WIMP model where you can search through menu items to find things you didn't even know existed. GIMP comes to mind. Does not sound very useful for touch screen interfaces either, seeing how you will have to pull up an on-screen keyboard and type in save just to save.'"
* * * * *
As with Ubuntu's Unity and other unusual ideas, it is not inconceivable that, for some, HUD will become the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Those users might be interested to learn that Linux Mint 13, the Ubuntu-based distribution's next release, will come with Cinnamon - a fork of GNOME Shell made to resemble a GNOME 2 desktop. Computerworld's Joab Jackson explains in "Linux Mint 13 gets back to desktop basics": "Bucking the trend of increasingly experimental desktop interfaces, the developers behind Linux Mint are adopting a simpler desktop for the next version of the open-source Linux distribution. Linux Mint 13 will feature an entirely new user interface, called Cinnamon. Earlier this week, the Linux Mint developers released a version of the shell. 'We're hoping [Cinnamon] will seduce most Linux Mint users, whether they're coming from GNOME 2, Gnome Shell or other desktops,' said Linux Mint creator and lead developer Clement Lefebvre. In a world where the interfaces of desktop operating systems are increasingly streamlined, Cinnamon appears to be quite a conservative design, not surprising given the goals of the Linux Mint project."
* * * * *
Even though the world of operating systems seems to be moving towards easy-to-use, standard desktop interfaces, there are those who will have none of the customisations made by individual distributions and who prefer to build and configure their perfect desktop system from scratch. For such hands-on users there is always Arch Linux. Joel McLaughlin investigates this interesting distribution in an article entitled "Arch Linux: Only the Hardcore Need Apply": "Arch Linux is a bit different than most Linux distributions out there. For example, it doesn't have a default graphical interface. It boots directly into a Linux command prompt from the CD. You get into the install by typing in: /arch/setup in the command prompt. This brings you to a text-based installer that will walk you through the setup. Once you are to the point of selecting packages, you can select a graphical interface if you are using the netinstall image. The netinstall image is just a very small Linux system that is just enough to get the installer and networking running. The rest of the packages will be downloaded and installed by the installer. They also have a larger core install CD of Arch that you can download instead, but I recommend the netinstall image as it's the only install I noticed that will let you select a graphical environment at the start."
|Statistics (by Ladislav Bodnar)
OSDisc.com orders in 2010 and 2011
Measuring the popularity of Linux distribution is not an easy task. While some data, such as our Page Hit Ranking statistics, Google trends, online polls and download counts can give some indications as to what users of free operating system prefer, each of these data sets has its flaws and larger than acceptable margin of error. To add to the mix of available statistics, here is another piece of information, this time from OSDisc.com. OSDisc.com is a popular online store selling CDs, DVDs and USB storage devices with free operating systems. The site owners were kind enough to compile their sales data for the past two years and these are summarised below. The third column of each table represents the percentage of each distribution's share of the total number of sales made by OSDisc.com for the specified period.
As we can see, Ubuntu remains the most wanted distribution among the OSDisc.com customers, even though its share has dropped slightly. Other distribution on the downhill slope include KNOPPIX, openSUSE and Mandriva Linux, while noticeable increases in market share were recorded by Fedora, Debian GNU/Linux and CentOS. Utility live CDs, such as Parted Magic or SystemRescueCd remain highly popular items in the store's shopping carts. Arch Linux, Lubuntu and Scientific Linux all made their first appearances in the top 25 list at the expense of Damn Small Linux, Sabayon Linux and OpenSolaris.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
AppArmor, home movies, tabs in Vim, syntax highlighting
There are a number of questions which have floated into my inbox recently and which I have been meaning to address. I would like to present a group of them now.
A-night-without-armor asks: I have recently made the switch from CentOS to Ubuntu. It seems Ubuntu doesn't support SELinux and instead uses AppArmor. Where can someone new to AppArmor find documentation on how to use it?
DistroWatch answers: Since you're moving to Ubuntu, a good place to start would probably be the Ubuntu community documentation. I also like the documentation provided by openSUSE.
* * * * *
Home-movie-maker asks: What's a good program for making video DVDs of home movies?
DistroWatch answers: The easiest way to get your video files onto a video DVD is probably via DeVeDe. It makes creating video DVDs with menus easy, requiring just a few mouse clicks. If you have pictures, like vacation slides, you want to string together in video format, then I recommend trying Imagination.
* * * * *
Where-are-the-tabs asks: I like using the vi editor, but I miss having tabs. Is there a way to simulate tabs in vi?
DistroWatch answers: Assuming you're using VI Improved (Vim), which is what running vi on most Linux distributions will launch, you are in luck. When you are using the vim editor, you can run :tabnew filename.txt where filename.txt is the name of the text file you want to open. You can also use :tabnew without a file name if you wish to start work on a new document. At the top of the page you will see a list of tabs and you can cycle through them using :tabn and :tabp to move to the next or previous tab respectively. When you're finished with a tab and wish to close the file, run :tabclose.
* * * * *
Highlight-my-text asks: I'm new to programming on Linux. Is there a text editor that will highlight syntax like my IDE on Windows?
DistroWatch answers: Many of the commonly used Linux text editors support syntax highlighting. The KWrite editor does, as does gEdit, both of which I enjoy using. The Kate editor supports highlighting as does Vim. More full-featured code editors such as Geany, Qt Creator and Eclipse support highlighting too.
|Released Last Week
John Combs has announced the release of GhostBSD 2.5, a FreeBSD-based desktop operating system and live media with a choice of GNOME or LXDE desktops: "After months of work, the official final release of GhostBSD 2.5 is finally here! Many bugs have been fixed and many parts of the system updated, tweaked and fine-tuned. We now have two main branches of the system - one is based on GNOME desktop, the other on LXDE. Both fit perfectly on their respective media and are available in amd64 and i386 editions which can be downloaded in the form of CD/DVD or USB images. Enjoy and be sure to stop by on our forums or IRC channel to tell us what you think. We are currently on the point of setting goals for 3.0 release, so all feedback is encouraged and greatly appreciated. We hope you will have fun using GhostBSD 2.5!" Here is the brief release announcement.
GhostBSD 2.5 - a FreeBSD flavour on a live DVD featuring GNOME 2 and graphical system installer
(full image size: 503kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- Bridge Linux. Bridge Linux is an Arch Linux derivative that includes a GUI desktop (Xfce) and a few standard applications.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 6 February 2012.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Issue 698 (2017-02-06): Solus 2017.01.01, comparing containers with portable applicatins, Tails dropping 32-bit support, Debian Stretch enters freeze|
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|• Issue 695 (2017-01-16): Zorin OS 12, Peppermint team fixes installer bug, Debian refreshes Jessie media, Ubuntu improves low graphics mode, Exciting things coming in 2017|
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|• Issue 693 (2017-01-02): Comparing small distros, fig language, video driver comparsion, Debian+PIXEL, Wayland on FreeBSD|
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|• Issue 664 (2016-06-06): Sabayon 16.05, Debian updates install media, the cost of free software, Qubes explains secure build process|
|• Issue 663 (2016-05-30): Comparing live update methods, Ubuntu MATE's progress, distros debate systemd change, DistroWatch turns 15|
|• Issue 662 (2016-05-23): Clonezilla Live, new Fedora community repository, DragonFlyBSD runs Wayland, a live edition of Slackware and kernel components|
|• Full list of all issues|