| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 444, 20 February 2012
Welcome to this year's 8th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Recent months have seen an explosion of alternative desktop user interfaces that are relentlessly promoted as the future of computing that would unite traditional desktops with modern mobile devices. Today we are presenting yet another one. Called On desktop, the project by Spain's Asturix distribution is an interesting combination of old and new, with many of the GNOME Shell and Unity concepts, but "with one foot in the traditional desktop design." In the news section, Debian publishes a formal stance on software patents and their implications on free software development, and Fedora developers engage in heavy last-minute testing before a go/no-go meeting for the upcoming alpha. The same section then links to a useful guide to using Cinnamon, Linux Mint's new desktop, and to an overview of pkgng, a brand-new advanced package management system for FreeBSD, currently in beta testing. Finally, the Questions and Answers section provides a quick look at Kubuntu's current status and possible future following Canonical's unexpected cut in funding. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
First look at Asturix 4 and On desktop|
Asturix is a distribution which hails from Spain and which is based on Ubuntu. It's an experimental distro which presents new ideas with each release. The latest version of Asturix brings us a new desktop environment called On. The On desktop looks be to following the trend laid down by GNOME Shell and Unity, but with one foot in traditional desktop design.
The Asturix distribution is available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds and the ISO images are between 600 MB and 700 MB in size, allowing us to burn these images to a CD. As Asturix uses Ubuntu for its base, booting off the CD is very similar to booting off a Ubuntu 11.10 CD, but with less purple and more green in evidence. We're brought to a graphical environment where we are asked if we'd like to perform an install or experiment with the live desktop. I decided to get straight to the install.
The first time I launched the installer the software asked if I'd like to install third-party add-ons and download available security updates. I think this is a good feature, giving us the option of being completely up to date and letting us decide just how libre we want our install to be. I opted to download and install everything at which point the installer locked up. After waiting a few minutes I rebooted, launched the installer again and un-selected the updates. This time the installer proceeded to the next screen. The next step is partitioning and I think the Asturix (Ubuntu) installer handles partitioning very well. It's quite straight forward and there's a nice graphical representation of what's going on. With that done the installer begins copying its files while we move on to the next set of options. We pick our time zone, confirm our keyboard layout and create a user account. From there it was a matter of waiting for the installer to finish its work.
Booting Asturix from the hard drive brings up a graphical login screen. Aside from our regular user account we also have the option of using a guest account. The guest account allows us to login without a password and, once the user logs out, the guest account is returned to a pristine state. It is a useful feature if you have people wanting to borrow your computer from time to time. The login screen offers us a number of environment options including On, GNOME and Openbox. The GNOME option doesn't work and the Openbox option provides a completely blank window environment which probably won't appeal to most people. We'll focus on the On desktop form here.
Logging into our account we're shown a desktop full of icons for launching applications. Over on the left side of the screen is a quick-launch bar. Along the top of the screen we see a task switcher and the system tray. Just below this topmost bar is a second bar featuring a search box and buttons for changing the focus of the desktop. By default the desktop shows us icons for launching applications, but the view can be changed to show location/folder icons or desktop settings.
Asturix 4 - desktop settings
(full image size: 483kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
A few things came to my attention right away. One of those things being the update manager, which appeared automatically, informing me that several updates were available. Attempting to apply the updates didn't work. A little investigation showed that the update manager isn't launched with (and doesn't prompt for) administration rights. The user must close this automatically appearing window and manually launch the update manager to install security updates. Something else I found odd was that right-clicking an icon on the quick-launch bar would cause the icon to disappear rather than bring up a context menu. Likewise, right-clicking on an icon on the desktop would add the icon to the quick-launch bar. Typing in the search bar would filter applications by name and keywords and seemed to work fairly well.
Since I just mentioned the update manager I want to jump into package management next. Asturix uses the Ubuntu Software Centre for handling packages and I find it to be very user-friendly. Items can be found by category, by name and by keywords. Clicking a package's entry brings up a detailed information screen and installing or removing software can be done with a single click. The Software Centre allows multiple actions to be queued and users are able to keep browsing software while actions take place. The only issue I encountered was that the Software Centre, like the update manager, did not prompt for the user's password to gain administration access. This means that the package manager can't perform any actions unless the user knows how to launch the application using sudo. The lack of administration rights for the Software Centre strikes me as a rather large and strange oversight.
Asturix 4 - managing software packages
(full image size: 409kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
Asturix comes with a fairly common collection of popular software, much of it GTK+-based. We're provided with the Chromium web browser, the Empathy messenger client, LibreOffice, GIMP and a document viewer. There's a collection of network trouble-shooting tools, Thunderbird for e-mail, a music player and the VLC multimedia player. There's a screen reader, the Transmission BitTorrent client and the Gwibber micro-blogger. The Shotwell photo manager is included along with a calculator, a text editor and an archive manager. There are a number of configuration tools included for changing the look & feel of the system which should be familiar to GNOME users. Assuming we opt to download extras at install time Flash is included, as are codecs for popular multimedia formats. I didn't find a compiler nor Java in the default install, but they (and over 30,000 other packages) are available in the repositories. Behind the scenes Asturix uses the 3.0 release of the Linux kernel.
I ran Asturix 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). On both machines I found that all of my hardware, including my Intel wireless card, was detected and configured properly. Performance at times felt a bit sluggish. I think, though I'm not certain, that the On desktop requires a bit more CPU power than, for example, GNOME 2 or Xfce. It seemed to use more RAM at least. While sitting idle at the desktop I found that about 200 MB of memory was being used. According to the project's website users who run Asturix in VirtualBox should enable Guest Addtions in order to enjoy full functionality from the On environment.
I feel the desktop interface deserves a few additional comments. It certainly takes design pointers from new interfaces such as Unity and GNOME Shell, but it's a separate entity and, according to one member of the Asturix team, On doesn't rely on GNOME libraries, making it an independent venture. But how does it stack up against other attempts to redefine the desktop? Tentatively I have to say it's not doing badly. In general my first impression of On has been positive and I think the reason I took to it more so than I did to the initial releases of Unity and GNOME Shell is because On doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater; it borrows a bit from various environments. For example, the topmost bar certainly resembles GNOME Shell's top bar, but the area directly under the bar, with its buttons for selecting applications, accessing places or bringing up the configuration screen, is obviously inspired by GNOME 2.
The quick-launch area bears a resemblance to both Unity and GNOME Shell, but I found On's operated smoother and I didn't run into the same display issues where icons would get muddled as I experienced with Unity. Furthermore, I like that the developers have left the window buttons alone so the familiar little minimize, maximize and close controls are present and on the familiar right-hand side. Last, but not least, I found that if I had a window open (a terminal, for example) and I clicked on the application icon for launching terminals it would cause a new terminal window to open (as it should) rather than giving focus to an existing window. Really, I just ran into three issues with On, which isn't bad for a first release.
One issue I ran into was trying to scroll through the application icons on the desktop. When using my laptop I found that using the scroll feature on my track pad would cause the system to switch workspaces rather than scroll through the pages. I later found that clicking the right-side of the screen and moving the mouse up or down would scroll through pages, though the axis is reversed. That is, moving the mouse down scrolls up and moving up scrolls down. Strange, but it's something to which I could adapt. When using my desktop system I found that using the scroll wheel would work perfectly for navigating the pages of icons and it wouldn't cause my workspaces to cycle. In short, it is possible to navigate the system's icons, but it doesn't strike me as being intuitive.
Which brings me to the second issue: There is a shut-down button on the quick-launch bar, but no option for logging out. Nor does the user menu have a log out option, which is where GNOME keeps it. I had to search for the logout icon and run it like a program, which seemed nearly as counter-intuitive as GNOME's "hold ALT to shutdown" decision. The last issue I found was that simply having so many icons on the desktop made the interface look busy. Granted, this makes accessing icons faster than if I had to move the mouse to the corner of the screen, but it gave the desktop a cluttered, perhaps overwhelming, feeling. As with any first release, there are edges to polish, but On seems to be doing a nice job of presenting a modern style interface with enough classic controls to be familiar.
Asturix 4 - the On desktop
(full image size: 705kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
About once a year I try a new Asturix release and every time it's something very different from the previous trial. The developers appear to be casting around, experimenting with this or that, and it always makes for an interesting ride. This time around I found the distribution to be a mixed bag and not in the way I had expected. When I heard they'd put out a release based on Ubuntu with a new, custom desktop I expected a solid base with functioning applications under a buggy interface. For the most part my experience was the opposite. The On interface is pretty good, mixing the mobile-like interfaces we're seeing cropping up everywhere with enough traditional pieces to make it usable on a full-sized desktop screen. The developers surpassed my expectation there and I found only a few issues with the new interface. On the other hand I found some bugs which shouldn't have made it through QA testing. For instance, the update manager that pops up and the Software Centre don't launch with administrator's privileges and don't prompt for it. On the live CD there is a log out button in the corner of the screen where I would expect it, but the log out button doesn't appear post-install, requiring the user to hunt for the proper icon. When trying to launch the backup utility it appears the software wasn't actually installed, there's just a useless icon in its place.
What I'm hoping to see happen is that Asturix will stop jumping around with different ideas and settle on this one, perhaps releasing a 4.1 version later this year with the bugs sorted out. They've got an interesting desktop environment which I think a lot of people would find easy to use, they've got a good collection of software (both locally and through the repositories) and there's potential there if they can focus on fixing a few things.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Debian's position on software patents, Fedora 17 alpha testing, overview of Cinnamon, FreeBSD package management with pkgng
The issue of software patents keeps hanging over the heads of software developers like the sword of Damocles. Although the free software development community maintains that legalisation of software patents is highly damaging to the development of software, it hasn't prevented a number of countries from giving in to powerful commercial software enterprises and legalising them. Last week Debian GNU/Linux, the world's largest free software development organisation, published their position on software patents: "The Debian Project maintains a critical stance towards software patents: we consider software patents to be a threat to free software and an obstacle to the Debian mission of providing an entirely free operating system for everyone's use. We believe software patents provide no advantage in promoting software innovation and we encourage our upstream authors to object to software patents. At the same time, given the de facto possibility of patenting software-related ideas in several countries around the world, it is important to neither underestimate nor overestimate software patent issues. We are particularly concerned about patent FUD and we have worked to improve clarity on the subject." The full text of Debian's patent policy, version 1.0, is available here.
* * * * *
The upcoming alpha release of Fedora 17 is just around the corner -- if a green light is given in this week's go/no-go developer's meeting, that is. As always, much depends on last-minute testing of the pre-alpha CD and DVD images. Adam Williamson tells us where (not) to find them: "Some of you who are just too darn nosy for your own business may have noticed a directory called 17-Alpha.RC1 here. Now, if you're some kind of trouble-making, commie, tin foil hatted conspiracist, you might even think that this might be Fedora 17 Alpha RC1. This is both laughably naive and treasonous! Purge such thoughts from your mind immediately. Now. I'm warning you. My friends at Google will let me know if you haven't. Any images you may find if you were to take the extremely inadvisable, and indeed criminally indictable, step of entering the above directory are certainly not some kind of Alpha RC1 images which turn out to contain a serious bug that was discovered part-way through the compose process, but are otherwise mostly installable and testable. No. They're full of lead, mercury, plutonium and other highly toxic substances. Don't touch them - you'll die in agony right after we arrest you. Really. It's for your own good."
* * * * *
Cinnamon, a fork of GNOME Shell developed by Linux Mint, has been given quite some attention in the Linux media recently. Perhaps it's the pleasant familiarity, so absent from today's range of dramatically redesigned desktop user interfaces, that attracts writers and testers. Still, Cinnamon is a new piece of software and, as such, it might require some learning before it can be used effectively. Christian Schmalfeld has published a handy guide to installing and using the Cinnamon desktop: This tutorial is supposed to guide the reader through the features of the Cinnamon desktop, Mint's new desktop environment to be used in Linux Mint 13. Cinnamon concentrates on holding on to classic design and functionality in times where GNOME 3 and Unity come up with different innovations to the user interface. Cinnamon was already included in the Linux Mint 12 'Lisa' Main repository. If you have not already done so, update your package list. To do so, open a terminal and enter 'sudo apt-get update', afterwards you can install Cinnamon by entering 'sudo apt-get install cinnamon'. Cinnamon is then downloaded and installed. To apply it after installation, log out of your current session and click on the cog-wheel icon on the login screen to select Cinnamon."
* * * * *
One of the important differences between FreeBSD and any of the major Linux distributions is the absence of a powerful and flexible package manager in the former. But the world is changing rapidly these days and what was unimaginable just a few months ago is fast becoming reality. Enter pkgng, FreeBSD's new package manager, currently in beta testing: "FreeBSD has been long due a better package management system, pkg_add, pkg_info, etc just doesn't cut it any more. For a long time GNU/Linux users have used this as a reason not to use FreeBSD and instead favour some GNU/Linux combination with an all-encompassing, easy-to-use package manager, such as Debian's apt-get. FreeBSD's response has always been, (not actual quote), that: 'We have the ports collection, which is cooler and more flexible than just having some easy-to-use package manager. You can always do it yourself by writing scripts around the pkg_* tools or using portmaster's --packages-only option'. While this is all true, there is still a gap for a good package manager that needs filling. So here comes pkgng (pkg: next generation), this is FreeBSD's next generation package manager and although still in beta, with a few features missing, it is very nice. Here is a quick overview of pkgng, how to use it and some of the new features that will be available."
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
End of support for Kubuntu
I-want-my-Kubuntu asks: I don't understand why Canonical would drop commercial support for Kubuntu's KDE, and no longer supports GNOME?
DistroWatch answers: There has been a lot of speculation floating around in the wake of Jonathan Riddell's announcement that Canonical will no longer be employing him to work on Kubuntu after the 12.04 release. There are a number of community projects in the Ubuntu family (Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, etc). These projects all use Canonical's infrastructure and coordinate their releases. Kubuntu has been different in that it is the only community off-shoot of Ubuntu which has a developer working on the project who is paid to do so by Canonical. The idea presumably having been that a flavour of Ubuntu featuring the KDE desktop might be appealing enough to bring in support contracts or OEM deals. Apparently Kubuntu has not drawn in much commercial interest and so Canonical has decided to no longer pay Jonathan Riddell to work on the project.
What this means is that Kubuntu is going to receive the same treatment as every other Ubuntu community project. The Kubuntu team will have to work with the same resources and infrastructure as Lubuntu, Xubuntu and Edubuntu. And it looks as though Kubuntu 12.04 LTS will be the last version to receive paid support through Canonical. This is unfortunate for the Kubuntu team, but it's hardly a death blow. There are plenty of skilled and helpful people in the Kubuntu community who are not, and never were, paid by Canonical. I have no doubt they will be able to keep things rolling. Just like the community editions of Linux Mint, Fedora and openSUSE keep going. The timing of this announcement strikes me as being a bit odd as we learned in the second half of 2011 that one of the largest desktop deployments of Linux in the world is based on the Kubuntu project. I guess Canonical is not being paid to support the installs.
As for GNOME, when GNOME 2 was discontinued by the upstream project Canonical had a choice of moving to the unknown and untested GNOME 3 Shell or coming up with their own solution. For better or worse they decided to forge their own path. Hardly a big loss for GNOME fans as GNOME Shell (like the KDE desktop) is still available in Ubuntu's repositories. If there are enough GNOME fans out there they can always form their own Ubuntu community project and create spins using the GNOME desktop by default. One might argue that is basically what the Linux Mint team has done, create a GNOME-centric Ubuntu-based distribution.
|Released Last Week
Ryan Finnie has announced the release of Finnix 104, a small, self-contained, bootable Linux CD distribution for system administrators, based on Debian's testing branch: "Finnix 104 released. Finnix 104 is a maintenance and roll-up release, including updated upstream Debian software, Linux kernel 3.2, small functionality updates and a large number of bug fixes. Major new features: Linux 3.2, using a kernel configuration based closely on Debian's Linux 3.2 sources. Fixes and new features: Finnix 104 includes a large number of bug fixes, new packages and new minor features. Known issues: none known at this time. See the release announcement and release notes for further information, GPG signatures and link to a more detailed changelog.
IPCop 2.0.3, a new update of the small, Linux-based firewall distribution, has been released: "IPCop 2.0.3 is released. Version 2.0.3 can be installed using the installation images or as an update from version 2.0.2. You need to reboot to use the new kernel after upgrading to 2.0.3. In addition to many updates to software used in IPCop, version 2.0.3 adds TLS support for sendEmail, wget and out-of-kernel e1000e and igb network drivers. Traffic accounting with detail level High is disabled, use Low instead. Noteworthy: the GUI uses 8443 instead of 445; SSH uses 8022 instead of 222; access to IPCop and to the Internet from internal networks (aka Green, Blue, Orange) is very much different, spend some time with the various options you will find under 'Firewall Settings' and the online administration manual; several translations are complete, other languages are work in progress; backups from 1.4 series can not be used; add-ons made for the 1.4 series will not work. Here is the brief release announcement.
Scientific Linux 6.2
SPat Riehecky has announced the release of Scientific Linux 6.2, a distribution built from source packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.2 and enhanced with extra software for use in scientific and academic environments: "Scientific Linux 6.2 is now available for download. Differences from 6.1: Anaconda - added the Scientific Linux install classes, DVD installs do not ask for the network unless needed; OpenAFS updated to version 1.6.0, this packages includes a patch to disable NAT pings to avoid a race condition; livecd-tools and liveusb-creator updated from upstream to version 13.4; sl-release - removed Troy Dawson's GPG key, added CERN's GPG, added EULA; yum-autoupdate has had PRERUN and POSTRUN scripts added for more flexibility; the yum-conf-* packages now require yum-fastestmirror by popular request.... See the release announcement and release notes for more information.
Untangle Gateway 9.2
Dirk Morris has announced the release of Untangle Gateway 9.2, a Debian-based distribution designed for firewalls and gateways. What's new in this release? "New application for identifying and controlling network traffic; general performance improvements; a new 'Full Refresh' has been added to event logs to force flush events to database; an 'Export' ability has been added to allow exporting event logs to a CSV file; 'Full Refresh' now immediately dumps all events so there is no delay; remove ntpdate to prevent immediate aggressive time changes; add a 'Force Time Sync' button in UI for setting the date on the server; change installer to use the entire disk; fix Source Interface matchers in Port Forwards, Bypass Rules, and Packet Filter Rules.... Read the rest of the changelog for a full list of new features, improvements and bug fixes.
Kate Stewart has announced the release of Ubuntu and Kubuntu 10.04.4, the fourth update of the distributions' current long-term support versions, originally released in April 2010: "The Ubuntu team is proud to announce the release of Ubuntu 10.04.4 LTS, the fourth maintenance update to Ubuntu's 10.04 LTS release. This release includes updated server, desktop, alternate installation CDs and DVDs for the i386 and amd64 architectures. The Kubuntu team is proud to announce the release of Kubuntu 10.04.4. This release includes updated images for the desktop and alternate installation CDs and DVDs for the i386 and amd64 architectures. This is the last planned maintenance release for the 10.04 LTS series. Here is the full release announcement.
Scientific Linux 6.2 "Live"
Urs Beyerle has announced that, following the recent release of Scientific Linux 6.2, live images with the distribution are now also available: "Scientific Linux 6.2 live CD, live mini CD and live DVD are officially released. They are available for 32-bit and 64-bit architectures and come with following desktop or window managers: live mini CD - IceWM, live CD - GNOME, live DVD - GNOME, KDE, IceWM. Changes since 6.1 Live: software based on Scientific Linux 6.2; kmod-ndiswrapper removed; system-config-printer added; gDisk added; Flash plugin installer by default. Software: Linux kernel 2.6.32, X.Org Server 1.7.7, IceWM 1.2.37, GNOME 2.28, Firefox 3.6.26, Thunderbird 3.1.18, OpenOffice.org 3.2.1, KDE 4.3.4. Read the complete release announcement for additional details.
Tiny Core Linux 4.3
Robert Shingledecker has announced the release of Tiny Core Linux 4.3, a small, but extensible Linux distribution for the desktop: "Team Tiny Core is proud to announce the release of Tiny Core Linux 4.3. The major theme for Core 4.3 is self-contained mountable and unmountable application extensions. Change log: new scm-load for scm new extension type supports icon removals and menu updates for all supported window managers; new scm an 'ab' like command line tool to maintain scms, browser repository, list local, install, uninstall, add to boot, and remove from boot; new scmbrowser an FLTK GUI to manage your scm extensions; new scm-fetch.sh and scm-search new internally used support programs for scms; updated tce-setup to load/mount scm via scmboot.lst; updated Busybox with latest password patch.... The release announcement.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
- Artica. Artica is an open-source Linux distribution project providing several CD images designed to simplify the management of messaging, proxy, VPN, file and web servers.
- Descent|OS. Descent|OS is an Ubuntu-based desktop distribution featuring an optimised and modernised GNOME 2 desktop environment.
- livarp. livarp is a Debian-based desktop Linux distribution and live CD providing a number of lesser-known window managers, such as dwm, Echinus WM, evilwm, WMFS, pekwm, WindowMaker and Compiz stand-alone.
- NouvaLinux. NouvaLinux is a live CD, with a Partclone front-end, that produces Clonezilla-compatible images for system backup and restore.
- UniDockyNapse. UniDockyNapse is an Ubuntu-based desktop Linux distribution featuring the Unity desktop interface with Docky (a GNOME Do front-end) and Synapse (a semantic application launcher).
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 27 February 2012.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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|• Issue 650 (2016-02-29): Haiku in 2016, running Android apps on GNU/Linux, 30 years of MINIX, Fedora plans Atomic Workstation|
|• Issue 649 (2016-02-22): Zorin OS 11, openSUSE launches new editions, Linux Mint website compromised, sandboxing applications using Firejail|
|• Issue 648 (2016-02-15): XStream Desktop 153, Raspbian unveils OpenGL feature, free hardware, Ikey Doherty talks desktop design|
|• Issue 647 (2016-02-08): Tails 2.0, KDE project launches Neon, Manjaro unveils ARM support, FreeBSD's quarterly report|
|• Issue 646 (2016-02-01): deepin 15, Mint plans X-Apps, FreeBSD to support boot environments, logging into the desktop as root|
|• Issue 645 (2016-01-25): Linux Mint 17.3 "Xfce", Chromixium changes its name, Ubuntu tablets coming soon, Linux vs BSD comparision|
|• Issue 644 (2016-01-18): Kwort 4.3, Sabayon tests ARM images, Slackware adopts PulseAudio, running Linux without GNU software|
|• Issue 643 (2016-01-11): Solus 1.0, Mint provide upgrade path to 17.3, Fedora developers work on stability, running the LXQt desktop|
|• 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|
|• Full list of all issues|