| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 464, 9 July 2012
Welcome to this year's 28th issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
Many of the systems and protocols we use on a daily basis are not perfect, few things are, but we use them because they work well enough most of the time. In fact, measuring time is one such imperfect system which usually works, but every so often causes problems. In this week's edition of DistroWatch Weekly we will take a look at potential problems caused by a concept known as the "leap second". In our News section we will also cover the FSF's response to both Fedora's and Ubuntu's plans for dealing with the upcoming wave of personal computers featuring secure boot and the organization's efforts to keep devices accessible to free software users. In our feature article this week Jesse Smith takes a look at Zorin OS, a distribution aimed at people migrating from Windows to Linux, and questions whether the project offers a convenient first distro to new users. Also in this issue we examine saving documents as PDF files, share new releases made available over the past week and invite you, our readers, to share what attracted you to Linux. We wish you a pleasant week and happy reading!
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Zorin OS 6
Zorin OS is a Linux distribution based upon the Ubuntu project. The Zorin developers take Ubuntu and make adjustments to it which they feel will make the operating system more appealing to people transitioning from Windows. In fact the Zorin website says the project is "designed specifically for Windows users who want to have easy and smooth access to Linux." The distribution is offered in several flavours: Core, Lite, Educational, Business, Multimedia, Gaming and Ultimate. The first three are provided at no cost and are a full featured Ubuntu derivatives which come with most Zorin tweaks. The Ultimate, Gaming, Multimedia and Business editions can be purchased and copies are sold on physical media. I didn't find many details on what sets the paid editions apart, but apparently they come with more themes (including one which resembles OS X) and contain a package called "Zorin Background Plus". The current release of Zorin OS, version 6, is based on Ubuntu 12.04 and therefore will receive security updates for the next five years. The Core edition is provided as a 1.4GB download.
Booting from the Zorin DVD brings up a menu asking if we would like to try the distro running in a live environment or perform an installation. The "try" option loads a desktop in the classic style with a blue, streaked background. On the desktop we find icons for navigating the file system and launching the system installer. At the bottom of the screen we find the application menu, task switcher, quick-launch buttons and system tray. The task switcher bears a slight resemblance to the default Windows 7 theme. The application menu also bears a resemblance to its Microsoft counterpart.
The Zorin installer is, for all practical purposes, identical to the one shipped with Ubuntu. I've written about the Ubuntu installer many times, so I'll just say that it does the job and does it well. We can pretty much click "Next" several times, enter our desired user name and password and leave the system to copy over its files. Everything, especially partitioning, is made easy for us.
Booting into Zorin brings us to a blue graphical login screen. We have the option of logging in to our regular user account, created via the system installer, or we can login to a guest account. The guest account requires no password and gives us a sort of sandbox where we can create or destroy files and folders with the assurance the guest account will be reset to its original condition when we log out. The default Zorin theme is both bright and gentle, welcoming even. The theme is one I find pleasant and the fonts are displayed with high contrast, making it easy to read menus. No welcome screen or pop-up greets us, but after a minute the system's backup app appears on the task switcher. Clicking it will let us configure backups. I guess the developers want us to have data security on our minds right from the beginning.
Zorin OS 6 -- Starting up Chrome.
(full image size: 249kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Zorin comes with a strong collection of software. We're provided with the Chrome web browser, the LibreOffice suite, the Empathy chat client and the Thunderbird e-mail application. Our network connections are handled by Network Manager. The GNU Image Manipulation Program is installed for us, as is Shotwell for managing photos. A document viewer and disc burner are included in the default install. We also find the Cheese web cam application, the Totem video player, Rhythmbox for playing audio files and the VLC multimedia player. A virtual keyboard is provided, as is the Orca screen reader. The Wine compatibility software is in the default install, along with PlayOnLinux to help users run software from the Windows ecosystem. A few small games are installed for us, along with an archive manager, calculator and text editor. Zorin provides GNOME configuration apps and the Ubuntu Tweak configuration utility. Plus we find the GNOME user documentation is available in the application menu. Digging in further we find Ubuntu One is installed (in fact the One Single Signon app occasionally popped-up error messages at login time). Zorin OS comes loaded with multimedia codecs, Java, Flash, the GNU Compiler Collection and a utility called the Zorin Web Browser Manager. The Browser Manager's sole purpose is to install or remove four web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Midori), each with a single click. In the background we find the Linux kernel, version 3.2, running.
On the topic of software, Zorin provides two graphical package managers, Software Centre and Synaptic. These package managers connect to the Ubuntu repositories primarily, but also connect with custom Zorin repositories and various third-party software providers. Synaptic is the more no-nonsense package manager, displaying plain lists of software and letting us create batch jobs of actions to perform on packages. The Software Centre is a bit more friendly, providing icons for software, allowing us to search through categories of software, allowing us to bring up full-page descriptions of packages and their user-provided ratings. During my time with Zorin I found both package managers worked without any problems.
When updated software is available in the repositories the update manager's icon appears on the task switcher. Clicking it brings up a list of updates waiting to be downloaded. We can check which items we wish to download and leave the update manager to download and apply the new packages to the system. The first day I was using Zorin OS there were 46 updates waiting for me, which suggests to me the Zorin team applied software updates from upstream to their ISO before it was released, a move I think Zorin users will find convenient.
Zorin OS 6 -- Managing software with Software Centre and PlayOnLinux.
(full image size: 504kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
So far, besides a few different default applications, I haven't talked much about the differences between Ubuntu and Zorin and, frankly, that's because from a technical standpoint the two distributions are very similar. The big difference is in the appearance. Where Ubuntu uses the Unity desktop by default, Zorin uses a GNOME desktop themed to look somewhat like Windows 7. Actually, I felt the Zorin desktop's default theme made GNOME look more like KDE4 than Windows, but that is where the Zorin look changer comes in. The look changer allows us to switch to various themes, named for their corresponding operating systems. I tried a couple, including the Windows 7 and XP themes. In both cases the system reported my look had been successfully changed and my application menu and task manager disappeared, not to return. Unfortunately my environment locked up shortly after the theme change, requiring a hard reboot.
Also on the topic of the user interface, Zorin comes with desktop effects enabled. The eye candy offered by desktop effects will be subjective, but personally I'm not a fan of most of it. I tried the default effects for a while, but while I grew accustomed to the wobbling windows, I never got used to the jarring effect displayed when switching window focus. It was like watching someone shuffle my applications as though they were a deck of cards. At any rate, I went into the Preferences menu and turned off desktop effects, at which point my desktop locked up again, requiring a reboot.
I ran Zorin on my HP laptop featuring a dual-core 2GHz CPU, 3GB of RAM and Intel video and wireless cards. The distribution properly detected and utilized all of my hardware. My screen was set to its maximum resolution, audio was set to a reasonable level and my wireless card automatically located nearby networks. Memory usage was a bit high compared to most modern desktops as logging in required over 250MB of memory. When running on the laptop Zorin's desktop interface was responsive and the effects rendered smoothly. I also tried Zorin in a VirtualBox virtual machine and found the distro is be very sluggish. Disabling desktop effects in the virtual environment helped, but even in fallback mode I found Zorin performed slower than I would have expected in the virtual environment.
Zorin OS 6 -- Settings and application menu.
(full image size: 415kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
As my week with Zorin progressed I became increasingly aware that I was not the target audience of the project and, as a result, I may be the wrong person to try to form opinions regarding Zorin OS. Aside from a few package differences, what separates Zorin from Ubuntu is really just its look. And its default look is one which mimics an operating system I have never used as my primary desktop OS. I guess what I'm saying is that Zorin, being targeted at Windows refuges, goes out of its way to make them feel at home and, in the process, makes me feel less at home. I suspect the layout of the desktop, the application menu and the Software Centre will appeal to newcomers to Linux and I think it's good Zorin has rolled out the welcome mat in this fashion. With the large collection of useful software I would suggest Zorin is going for the "just works" merit badge, but the crashes and poor VM performance I encountered took away from that ideal image.
I think Zorin does fit into a niche, forming a bridge between Windows and Linux and, in that respect, it's probably a better stepping stone than other novice-friendly distributions like Mint or Mageia. On the other hand, people who have already crossed that bridge, who are comfortably in the Linux camp, probably won't find anything to attract them to Zorin.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Leap seconds, secure boot and Linux in the scientific community
Every few years time keepers deal with a little talked about concept called the leap second. The leap second keeps the world's clocks in sync with Earth's rotation, but it can also cause problems for software which is not aware of the adjustment. As the clocks on servers ticked over from June to July a number of notable pieces of software encountered problems, including Java and Linux. In short order work arounds and patch ideas began to appear and hopefully these problems will be sorted out before the next leap. Last year Google published an informative blog post about dealing with extra seconds and their interesting solution to the problem.
The first week of July didn't just bring bad news for Linux fans, there is some exciting good news too! ARM has introduced a new architecture called AArch64. The new architecture supports 64-bit instructions, extended addressing and a host of other interesting features for hardware enthusiasts. The best part is Linux already supports the brand new architecture. In a posting to the Linux kernel mailing list Catalin Marinas supplied a series of patches giving the Linux kernel support for the new ARM 64-bit architecture, a move which will give Linux a head start in supporting new ARM-based devices. For more details on the new ARM design be sure to check out the ARM News blog.
* * * * *
In the past we have talked about secure boot and what it may mean for Linux distributions. At the moment, both Fedora and Ubuntu have plans for implementing secure booting in a way which they hope will make their respective distributions work without requiring the user to disable the secure boot feature. Last week the Free Software Foundation published a white paper in which it covers the FSF's views on secure boot. The paper goes on to point out problems with secure boot technology and the FSF's issues with both Fedora's and Ubuntu's implementations. The Free Software Foundation goes on to urge people who have not done so to sign their petition urging hardware makers to implement secure boot "in a way that allows free software operating systems to be installed. To respect user freedom and truly protect user security."
One of the complaints the FSF raised in their paper was that Ubuntu will be migrating away from using the GRUB2 boot loader due to licensing concerns. In particular there is a worry in the Canonical camp that distributing a version of GRUB2 signed with a security key would mean users and the FSF could demand that private security key be made publicly available. As Mark Shuttleworth stated in a recent interview: "The SFLC advice to us was that the FSF could require key disclosure if some OEM screwed up. As nice as it is that someone at the FSF says they would not, we have to plan for a world where leaders change and institutional priorities change. The FSF wrote a license that would give them the rights to take specific actions, and it's hard for them to argue they never would!" In response to Canonical's move, John Sullivan of the FSF wrote "Ubuntu thinks it would then have to divulge its private key so that users could sign and install modified software on the restricted system. This fear is unfounded and based on a misunderstanding of GPLv3." However, he then goes on to say "In such situations, the computer distributor -- not Canonical or Ubuntu -- would be the one responsible for providing the information necessary for users to run modified versions of the software."
* * * * *
Many websites, both in the technology sector and in the more mainstream media, covered the apparent discovery of the Higgs boson particle, a piece of the physics puzzle which scientists have been trying to confirm for years. One of the CERN crew took time out from talking physics to acknowledge the work Linux distributions played in the discovery. "In terms of data analysis, Windows could be used in principle. We could also use some type of device that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a simple table of rules. Linux is used because it is most appropriate for the job. Linux is ubiquitous in HPC and we use a lot of computing power in LHC physics, so the arguments for the use of Linux in HPC are very similar to the arguments for the use of Linux in LHC physics analyses. Naturally, it's important to have an operating system that is free, open source and reliable..."
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Virtual PDF printer
Can I set up a virtual PDF printer in Linux?
Yes, I believe the software you're looking for is CUPS-PDF. Installing this package, which is available in many distributions' repositories, will allow applications to print to a virtual PDF printer. The resulting documents are saved, by default, in the user's home directory under the "PDF" folder. If, after installing the CUPS-PDF package, a virtual PDF printer doesn't appear on your system you should be able to add it manually by going into your distribution's printer configuration app and adding a new local printer of the type "PDF" or "Generic PDF".
In some cases you may not need to install a virtual PDF printer. Some applications come with the built-in ability to export documents to PDF format. The LibreOffice suite, for example, can natively save documents in PDF format without requiring a virtual PDF printer.
* * * * *
A few weeks ago someone posted a question in the comments section asking why people use Linux. I felt the post didn't get a lot of attention and I think we have quite a few readers who are fairly new to Linux distributions. With that in mind I would like to share how I first got involved in the Linux community and hopefully others will chime in with their own stories.
Back in the late 1990s I was taking a course on UNIX (specifically Solaris) and while I was having great fun with the operating system I found I was having trouble writing complex scripts, particularly awk scripts. At the time our class was using a Solaris box at the school, but my time there was limited and I thought it would help if I could run UNIX at home. If I could use the tools at home I figured I would be able to immerse myself in them and find uses for scripts outside of the lab exercises. I asked some of my classmates if they knew of an inexpensive version of UNIX -- a demo, a student version, something I could use on a budget. One of them suggested Linux and, after reading up on it a bit and exploring a few different distributions, I agreed it was what I wanted.
In using Linux at home not only did I gain experience I could use for my classes, but I also found I could do things on Linux that I either couldn't do or couldn't do easily on proprietary systems.
Having a central package manager and software repositories, for example, made software management much easier. Likewise, having almost all available drivers built into the kernel rather than scattered around the Internet is something I've grown to appreciate. I like that Linux distributions provide excellent developer tools, multimedia codecs and office software and these tools are often pre-installed at no cost. I like being able to modify files without getting "access denied" errors when someone or something has the file open. I like the variety provided by so many distributions, especially where rescue CDs are concerned. And I appreciate the open source nature of Linux so that, if I feel inclined, I can try to fix problems rather than waiting for someone else to do it for me.
As a result of all this I found myself booting into Linux more and Windows less as the months went by. Eventually I realized I was booting into Linux exclusively. Occasionally I test drive other operating systems or, more often, I get asked to fix them. At the moment I would say Linux is the best tool available for the things I do and how I like to do them.
|Released Last Week
Andrew Wyatt has announced the release of Fuduntu 2012.3, a new quarterly update of the project's rolling-release distribution originally forked from Fedora: "I would like to announce the immediate availability of Fuduntu 2012.3, our third quarterly release for 2012. Like all previous Fuduntu releases, this release follows our tradition of making small incremental distribution improvements that don’t sacrifice the stability of our Linux distribution. Existing Fuduntu users have already rolled up to 2012.3, as all of the updates available are released to our stable repository. This cycle focused on many improvements under the hood, including core platform updates like GCC 4.6.3 and Anaconda 16. In addition, Fuduntu now ships GRUB 2 as our default bootloader." Read the detailed release announcement for package updates and driver support notes.
Fuduntu 2012.3 -- Default desktop
(full image size: 261kB, resolution: 1024x768 pixels)
The DoudouLinux development team has announced the availability of an updated stable release of DoudouLinux, a Debian-based distribution designed for children: "'Gondwana', the stable version of DoudouLinux, has been updated to version 1.2. The changes are the following: official support for Finnish, Galician, and Norwegian (Nynorsk) which increases the number of official languages to 28; the size of the application launcher icons in the advanced activities is now computed based on screen resolution; internal disk partitions of the computer are now mounted read-only at boot; translations and PDF documentation have been updated. This will be the last update to 'Gondwana'. The next stable release will be based on its successor." See the release announcement for more information.
Chakra GNU/Linux 2012.07
Anke Boersma has announced the release of Chakra GNU/Linux 2012.07, the final update of the project's "Archimedes" series of distribution releases featuring the KDE 4.8 desktop: "The Chakra development team is proud to announce the final 'Archimedes' release, this codename has followed the KDE SC 4.8 series. With this release a big move to /usr/lib has occurred to prepare Chakra for a complete move to systemd, Linux kernel is updated to version 3.4.3, udev to 182, new initscripts used, kmod is at 8, mkinitcpio at 0.8.8, to name a few of the newer base packages included. These base updates made the third 'Archimedes' release no longer usable for simple updates, thus a new ISO image was needed to avoid a situation where new users are confronted with a need to force an update right away." Read the rest of the release announcement for more details.
Jay Flood has announced the release of Porteus 1.2, a Slackware-based minimalist live CD set with a choice of KDE 3 (Trinity), KDE 4, Xfce and LXDE desktops: "The Porteus community is proud to announce the release of Porteus version 1.2. Major changes from Porteus 1.1 include: Linux kernel bumped to version 3.4.4; KDE upgraded to 4.8.4; Trinity upgraded to 184.108.40.206 (R14); LXDE upgraded to the latest stable components; Xfce (4.10) editions have been added for both architectures as standalone ISO images; Firefox upgraded to version 13.0.1; replaced wicd with NetworkManager; new and improved applications to handle system configuration; optimized boot time - with current implementation of rc scripts Porteus is one of the fastest booting live linux distros out there...." Read the rest of the release announcement which includes links to full changelogs.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
DistroWatch database summary|
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 16 July 2012. To contact the authors please send email to:
- Jesse Smith (feedback, questions and suggestions: distribution reviews, questions and answers, tips and tricks)
- Ladislav Bodnar (feedback, questions, suggestions and corrections: news, donations, distribution submissions, comments)
- Bruce Patterson (feedback and suggestions: podcast edition)
If you've enjoyed this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly, please consider sending us a tip.
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