| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 465, 16 July 2012
Welcome to this year's 29th issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
In a world that is increasingly connected many people want a desktop operating system which combines the best of both sides -- the traditional desktop and the cloud. In this week's issue Jesse Smith takes Netrunner, a Kubuntu-based distribution with its head in the clouds, and reports on the hybrid desktop. In our News section we will address a new, bold move by Mandriva, check out which distributions are supporting ARM processors and talk about an interesting new feature coming out of the PC-BSD camp. As usual we will touch on the various releases of this past week and look forward to new versions from the Frugalware, Ubuntu and ROSA projects.
In our Question & Answer section this week we talk about security and accessibility, two concerns on the minds of many. Do you use open source accessibility tools at work or at home? Tell us how you keep your computer accessible in the Comments section below. We here at DistroWatch wish you a pleasant week and happy reading!
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
First Impressions of Netrunner 4.2
The Netrunner distribution is one I've been asked to review recently. It's a project based on Kubuntu and the latest release of Netrunner, version 4.2, is based on Kubuntu 12.04, making it a long term support release. According the to the project's website, Netrunner aims to be a complete desktop OS that will feel comfortable to new users while remaining flexible. The latest release is offered in both 32-bit and 64-bit builds and the ISO download is approximately 1.6GB in size.
Booting off the live DVD brings us to a KDE desktop with large icons across the top of the screen and wallpaper featuring a desert scene. The application menu and task switcher sit at the bottom of the display. The icons on the desktop lead us to welcome documentation, the Runners-ID website and something called Web Accounts which, when launched, only reports an error saying it can't run without Akonadi. There are two other icons, one for connecting to network shares and another for launching the system installer. I used the Netrunner live DVD a few times during the week and found it usually worked well, though once the live session failed to detect my DNS service which brought web access to a screeching halt until I manually adjusted the network settings.
Netrunner 4.2 -- Welcome Notes
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The Netrunner system installer is the same as the one supplied by Kubuntu (and Ubuntu for that matter). It asks us to select our preferred language and then checks to make sure our system meets the minimum hardware requirements. Netrunner demands at least 8.6GB of free disk space, 6,2GB of which is taken over by installed software and the rest is reserved for swap and home folders. The installer then offers to download updates and multimedia add-ons such as Flash and audio codecs. We then get walked through partitioning and Netrunner makes this easy while supporting a wide range of file systems. We're then asked to confirm our time zone and our keyboard layout. The last screen of the installer asks us to create a user account and gives us the options of enabling auto-login and encrypting our home folder.
My installations completed without any problems and booting from the local hard drive brought me to a bright graphical login screen featuring a space theme. Logging in for the first time didn't bring up any sort of welcome screen or wizard so I got straight to exploring the distribution.
Looking in the Netrunner application menu we find an interesting combination of local software and web-based services. The Firefox web browser is installed for us, as are the Filezilla file transfer client, the Pidgin instant messenger and the Thunderbird e-mail client. Skype is available and the Transmission bittorrent client is there too. For handling multimedia we're given the VLC player, Tomahawk, a desktop recording app, the Amarok music player and the WinFF video converter. Netrunner also provides codecs for popular multimedia formats. The LibreOffice suite is installed for us and it is complimented by some Calligra productivity applications, including the Calligra flowchart program, Karbon for scalable graphics and Krita for image editing.
We find links in the menu to Google web services, including Google Calendar, Mail, Maps and Docs. There are also links to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and a small collection of games. To help users connect to these web services Netrunner provides Network Manager and KPPP. There are several package managers available in the distribution including Synaptic, the Muon Package Manager, the Muon Update Manager and the Muon Software Centre (more on those in a moment). Rounding out the application menu we find the KInfoCenter, the KDE Partition Manager and VirtualBox for running virtual machines. We also find the usual collection of small apps, including a text editor, a calculator and an archive manager.
Whether Flash is installed on the system will depend on our choices at install time. However, regardless of our install options, Java, Wine and the GNU Compiler Collection are available. In the background we find the Linux kernel, version 3.2, running the show.
Netrunner 4.2 -- Running various applications.
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Earlier I mentioned there is an icon on the desktop which leads us to the Runners-ID website. I hadn't heard of the service before and, as it turns out, Runners-ID is a cloud storage service which offers users 1GB of free space. I suppose this is a nice option for users, though since Netrunner is based on Kubuntu users will additionally have the option of installing support for the One cloud services which features 5GB of free storage space.
I experimented with Netrunner on my laptop (dual-core 2GHz CPU, 3GB of RAM, Intel graphics, Intel wireless card). The distribution performed fairly well and all of my hardware was properly detected and utilized. Wireless networks in range were automatically picked up, audio worked out of the box and my screen was set to its maximum resolution. While running on the laptop performance of the desktop interface was a touch slow with the default settings, but once file indexing and effects were disabled the distro performed well. I also ran the distro in a VirtualBox virtual machine and found there performance was very sluggish. Disabling extra services and installing the VirtualBox guest additions helped, but performance in the virtual machine remained a touch slow. When logging into the desktop, prior to launching applications, Netrunner tended to use a little over 260MB of RAM.
When we login to Netrunner an icon will appear in the system tray letting us know when software updates are available. Clicking the icon brings up the Muon Update Manager. The Update Manager's layout is fairly simple, it shows us a list of available packages waiting to be downloaded and we can check/uncheck items. We can also refresh the list and choose to download all checked packages. During my time with the distribution I ran into repeated problems with this update application. The first issue I encountered was an error informing me not all repositories could be contacted, either because they were off-line or busy. Other times when trying to apply updates I would be presented with a warning saying not all available packages could be authenticated, apparently not all of Netrunner's repositories are signed, or if they are, the update manager isn't aware of the security keys by default. On a few occasions I would open the update manager, tell it to download all available updates and it would tell me authentication to perform administrative actions had failed, though no password prompt had been displayed. Eventually I gave up using Muon and switched to the Synaptic package manager to acquire updates.
There are quite a few updates to be had too, over 300MB worth when I first installed Netrunner. Fortunately, Synaptic, the venerable package manager, was up to the task. There are two other package managers, the Muon Software Centre and the Muon Package Manager. The latter is more or less a copy of Synaptic. There are a few minor differences, but it looks and acts in a similar fashion. The Software Centre is designed to be more like the Ubuntu Software Centre, though with fewer features. It divides software into categories, represented by icons, and users can browse through these items in a similar way to navigating a series of disk folders in a file browser. The only odd thing I found with regards to using the Software Centre was there didn't appear to be any way to install or remove command line software, such as shells, the Centre displayed graphical applications only.
Netrunner 4.2 -- Package managers
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Using Netrunner was an unusual experience for me, it is an interesting creation and I'm still trying to figure out if I like it or not. It has good qualities such as long term support, lots of software installed out of the box, multimedia support, wonderful artwork and good hardware support. On the other hand it had some things which, while I acknowledge these are subjective issues, didn't quite suit me. For example, having effects and indexing turned on by default. Software updates from the Ubuntu repositories apparently weren't applied to the new Netrunner ISO prior to release making for a flood of updates right away. Further, I can't shake the feeling that the large icons across the top of the screen combined with the array of sub-menus filled with web/cloud services make Netrunner look like a smart phone. Speaking of web services, I don't have anything against them exactly, but I also don't use them all that much and Netrunner's focus on this particular area, while probably useful to many, didn't do much to help me personally. I've never come around to the idea hunting through the application menu for things like YouTube and Facebook, I'm more likely to open a web browser to visit a site. I do want to say though I appreciated Netrunner's organization in this regard. The local applications, like LibreOffice, are clearly separated from on-line services such as Google Docs. In some other distributions which have focused on cloud apps I've found it difficult to tell a local program from a remote service just by looking at its menu entry and I think it's great the Netrunner team makes the distinction between the two.
While trying Netrunner it crossed my mind that this distribution is, in a way, the opposite of the Peppermint project. Both projects have a focus on cloud services, but where Peppermint is small, fast and minimal, Netrunner comes fully loaded with a big desktop, lots of local software and extras. I would guess the Netrunner developers want people to be able to experience the best of both worlds, local and cloud. At any rate, Netrunner is an interesting distro, it is trying something different and, while it didn't quite fit my style, I think what they are doing they are doing well.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Mandriva's two codebases, ARM support among distributions, PC-BSD's new killer feature
Mandriva is a distribution which is almost always in a state of change. Whether the project is facing financial problems, merging with another distro, trying to raise funds or forking off new community efforts, it is never a dull ride for Mandriva users. This past week Mandriva's CEO, Jean-Manual Croset, announced the Mandriva SA organization will be trying a new experiment, namely they will be using two different codebases in their product lines. In the future Mandriva's server editions will be based on the Mageia project and Mandriva's desktop and OEM editions will be based on Mandriva's existing codebase. While this move appears to parallel Fedora's relationship to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, there is a notable difference. Fedora provides a testing ground where code can be introduced prior to being polished and copied into Red Hat's enterprise products. Mandriva's move, by contrast, will mean their two editions maintain separate, unmerging, codebases. When asked why the distribution is taking this new approach Croset replied, "Our Mandriva distribution is too innovative and too young for our server offerings. Mageia is more mature." He later added, "We are going to have two upstreams and the best of both worlds."
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Last week we covered the introduction of new 64-bit ARM architecture support to the Linux kernel. ARM processors have a reputation for low energy usage and have gained widespread use in embedded systems and hobbyist projects like the Raspberry Pi. So where can fans of ARM processors go to find distributions which support their favourite architecture? Carla Schroder has put together a list of Linux distributions with ARM ports. The Arch, Debian, Fedora and Ubuntu projects each get a nod. Users interested in Slackware are also in luck. Are you running Linux on ARM? Let us know which distribution you are using in the comments section.
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The next release of PC-BSD, version 9.1, is expected to arrive by the end of the summer. Though the FreeBSD-based project currently does not have an exact release date, the PC-BSD blog does carry word of an interesting new feature: multiple boot environments. Have you ever upgraded you system only to find out the new software packages broke something? Have you ever wanted to experiment with a piece of software, but were afraid it might cause problems with the rest of your OS? These are the problems multiple boot environments try to solve. The user takes a snapshot of the operating system in its current state, then upgrades or installs new software. If anything goes wrong the user is able to revert back to the previous snapshot. The PC-BSD wiki has more details on how multiple boot works and the simple commands required to use it.
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Webconverger is a live distribution designed for web kiosks. The Debian-based project is typically used in offices or public places where only web applications and services are required. Recently the Webconverger project announced they are developing a sub-project, called Neon, which will be dedicated to web signage (also known as digital Out-of-home
advertising. The Neon software has already been adopted by Renew for use in street-side displays in London, England. At the moment an evaluation edition of Neon is free to try for one week from the Webconverger website. The developers behind the Neon project feel Linux will offer a better, more secure, platform for content providers than the proprietary alternatives.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
On firewalls and window frames|
Do I need to run a firewall on my Linux desktop? Am I safe without one?
A firewall is typically used to prevent other people's computers from accessing network services on your own. If you're running a desktop machine with no network services running then a firewall will be of limited use to you. In fact, some Linux distributions ship with the firewall disabled and no network services running with the assumption that with no ports open there is nothing to guard. Let's say you are someone who isn't running any network services such as secure shell or Sendmail on your computer, then you are probably safe without a firewall.
That being said, I recommend looking at the situation from the other side of the question, is there any downside to running a firewall? And the answer is almost certainly no, you can enable the firewall without interfering with the normal operation of your machine. This gives you a margin of protection in the event a malicious program gets run on your machine and tries to open a network port, a back door, so others may connect. A firewall almost never gets in the way of daily activity and won't slow down your network connection making it a good thing to have in place just in case something bad happens.
Security is often a matter of layers. How many barriers are there between your system and those who would like to access it? It may be that you will never need one of the layers, but having it makes your machine a slightly less likely target. For this reason I recommend enabling the firewall and turning on access controls like SELinux or AppArmor. Chances are they will never get in your way, but they offer a bit of protection which would not otherwise be there.
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Do you know of a mainstream desktop environment and/or window manager that has noticeable borders (resizable even) that can help folks like me with fine-motor control hand issues?
It could be that other desktop environments or window managers will do this for you, but the only one I know of for sure that will give you larger window borders is KDE. The KDE4 desktop will allow you to set window borders to be the size you want, ranging from virtually non-existent up to around an inch thick. To change the thickness of your window border go into the KDE System Settings panel and click the icon labeled Workspace Appearance. Make sure the Window Decorations category is selected. Then click the Configure Decoration button at the bottom of the window. You should see a drop-down field labeled Border Size. Select your preferred window border width and click OK, then click Apply.
KDE 4 -- Changing the width of window borders.
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I've played around with this feature a little and found different themes have different limits on window borders. For example, I've found the Oxygen theme will allow me to remove borders entirely, but the Plastik theme will only go down to "Tiny". Likewise, the Tabstrip theme won't let me adjust the border size at all. So play around with a few different themes if the one you are using won't support borders as thick as you would like.
|Released Last Week
Karanbir Singh has announced the release of CentOS 6.3, the latest version of the enterprise-class Linux distribution derived from the source code of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.3: "The CentOS team is pleased to announce the immediate availability of CentOS-6.3 for i386 and x86_64 Architectures. CentOS-6.3 is based on the upstream release EL 6.3 and includes packages from all variants. All upstream repositories have been combined into one, to make it easier for end users to work with. There are some important changes to this release compared with the previous versions of CentOS and we highly recommend reading this announcement along with the Release Notes. There is also a minimal install CD that will get you a very small base install that you can add to." Read the release announcement and release notes for further information.
Roberto Dohnert has announced the release of OS4 12.5, a custom Linux distribution previously known as PC/OS that is based upon Ubuntu and is built for fun, compatibility, security, and mobility: "OS4 12.5 has been designed from the ground up to satisfy the needs of casual PC users all the way to the professional user. It is available in 32 and 64 bit releases. Built for the professional: With OS4 you have a quality multi processing core in your system, and with support for 3D graphics and audio, everyone from the digital animator, video editor, musician all the way to the researchers studying DNA sequencing to working in clusters, OS4 will fit your needs. With a fine set of standard applications, to the extensibility of installing thousands of more applications, OS4 was built for you." Read the rest of the release announcement for further information.
Ryan Finnie today announced the availability of Finnix 105, a live CD distribution for system administrators based on Debian's testing branch: "I am pleased to announce the release of Finnix 105, a major architectural update to the Finnix series. Finnix 105 brings major organizational changes to the build and boot systems, along with the usual assortment of software updates. Finnix 105 is the first Finnix release to be produced under Project NEALE (Normalized Extraction and Assembly of LiveCD Environments), a new set of procedures to build Finnix CDs from a minimal base Debian bootstrap. This allows for a consistent build process each time, and between architectures. It also allows for more future options, such as a native userland AMD64 release." See the release announcement and release notes for full information.
Parted Magic 2012_07_13
Parted Magic 2012_07_13, a live CD with utilities for disk management and data rescue, has been released: "Major GParted bugfix and feature release! From the GParted site: "This release of GParted adds the ability to show if partition size differs from file system size. This new feature enables you to identify unallocated space within a partition and can suggest how you can put this space to good use. Also included are bug fixes and language translation updates. Key changes include: Show difference if partition size differs from file system size. Avoid end partition overlap when resizing extended partition.' There are also some other notable changes. Parted Magic now uses the Tango Icon Theme. It creates a very uniform look and feel. Btrfs-progs has been updated to the latest git version so it's possible to create smaller file systems. Udev has been updated to version 182." See the project's news page for the announcement.
VectorLinux 7.0 64bit
For around a decade only the i386/i486 edition of VectorLinux has been available, which is a Slackware-based distribution optimised for business and office use. Today Robert Lange announced the first 64-bit edition of VectorLinux 7.0 Standard under the name "VLocity": "The main desktop is based on Xfce-4.8 with a custom theme and artwork unique to us. All the VectorLinux trademarks are included: DVD playback, audio and video codecs, multimedia and Java plugins are installed and working out of the box. The best of the open source world is included: GIMP, Inkscape for graphics; Firefox, Opera, for Internet Browsing; pidgin and xchat for instant messaging; Brasero for CD burning; MPlayer, Exaile for playing most available media formats. The office applications are Gnumeric, Abiword and Epdfviewer. Wireless networking has been extended with updated drivers and firmware, wicd has been employed to manage wireless and non-wireless networking. UFW is included for firewall protection and there is added support for several webcam makes and models." Check the forum for the announcement and feedback.
GParted LiveCD 0.13.0-0
Steven Shiau has released a new version of GParted Live, a live CD based on the Debian unstable release with graphical tools for disk management and data recovery. From the changelog and the release announcement: "The underlying GNU/Linux operating system is based on the Debian sid repository (as of 2012/Jul/14). The most significant enhancement is with GParted 0.13.0, which now shows when there is a difference between the file system size and the partition size. Thanks to work by Mike Fleetwood this resolves bug #499202 that has been open since 2007. With this new feature, users can learn if there is unallocated space within a partition that can then be put to good use. Another important application change is a fix for bug #678831 which resolves a problem with overlapping partitions when resizing an extended partition. Also new in this release: adds web browser icon to desktop; adds menu button keyboard shortcut to bring up Fluxbox root menu (bug #578842); useful when using GParted Live without a mouse; updates Linux kernel to 3.2.21-3."
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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, 23 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)
|• Issue 554 (2014-04-14): Review of FreeNAS, OpenSSL bug, Fedora.next, Robolinux Stealth VM, measuring memory|
|• Issue 553 (2014-04-07): Puppy 5.7 "Slacko", end of Ubuntu One, file encryption with GPG|
|• Issue 552 (2014-03-31): Tanglu 1.0, Ubuntu GNOME LTS, SliTaz for ARM|
|• Issue 551 (2014-03-24): Linux Mint "Debian" 201403, call for end to proprietary firmware, LVM|
|• Issue 550 (2014-03-17): Review of NixOS 13.10, Lubuntu seeking feedback, Android-x86 4.4-rc1 impressions|
|• Issue 549 (2014-03-10): ClearOS 6.5 and UCS 3.2, Gentoo interview, Ubuntu app contest, Into the Core|
|• Issue 548 (2014-03-03): Review of Mageia 4, FreeBSD console driver, filtering web content, Pitivi fundraiser|
|• Issue 547 (2014-02-24): Chakra 2014.02, Ubuntu privacy, preventing unwanted remote logins|
|• Issue 546 (2014-02-17): Review of PC-BSD 10.0, Red Flag closure, Ubuntu and systemd, SlackE18, Fedora book review|
|• Issue 545 (2014-02-10): Impressions of FreeBSD 10.0, Debian votes systemd, Ubuntu file manager, server security|
|• Issue 544 (2014-02-03): Netrunner 13.12, openSUSE future, Ubuntu Touch in emulator, running commands in multiple places|
|• Issue 543 (2014-01-27): Review of Korora 20, FreeBSD 10.0, DNF, ZFS rescue CD, Bridge Linux interview|
|• Issue 542 (2014-01-20): QupZilla, Ubuntu with MATE, Arch on Raspberry Pi, best applications|
|• Issue 541 (2014-01-13): openSUSE 13.1 and Zentyal 3.3, CentOS joins Red Hat, Bodhi on Chromebooks|
|• Issue 540 (2014-01-06): SMS 2.0.6 and SME Server 8.0, Hawaii desktop, PHR statistics 2013, more on multi-part archives|
|• Issue 539 (2013-12-23): Centrych 12.04.3, Fedora 20 and its spins, dividing archives across multiple discs|
|• Issue 538 (2013-12-16): Mint 16 review, RHEL and CentOS 7 plans, SteamOS, Windows XP replacement suggestions|
|• Issue 537 (2013-12-09): OpenMandriva 2013.0, Gentoo developer interview, project Neon, Linux Mint and security|
|• Issue 536 (2013-12-02): Impressions of openSUSE 13.1, Ubuntu Touch, FreeBSD 10 delay, troubleshooting OS lock-ups|
|• Issue 535 (2013-11-25): GhostBSD 3.5, Debian and MATE, Ubuntu 14.04 features, security updates|
|• Issue 534 (2013-11-18): Review of OpenBSD 5.4, Fedora on ARM, menu names vs command-line names|
|• Issue 533 (2013-11-11): Point Linux 2.2, Pisi update, Debian and Xfce, Bruno Cornec interview|
|• Issue 532 (2013-11-04): Ubuntu and Kubuntu 13.10, Debian's init, FreeBSD's PKG-NG, Linux on ARM|
|• Issue 531 (2013-10-28): PC-BSD 9.2, openSUSE testing, nftables, upgrade pros and cons|
|• Issue 530 (2013-10-21): Kwheezy 1.2, DPL interview, Zenwalk's future, keeping up with vulnerabilities|
|• Issue 529 (2013-10-14): Ubuntu's Mir, dmesg and photorec tips, Tiny Tiny RSS|
|• Issue 528 (2013-10-07): Semplice 5, Haiku package management, Klaus Knopper interview, making custom distro|
|• Issue 527 (2013-09-30): Tiny Core Linux 5.0, SteamOS, moving operating system to new computer|
|• Issue 526 (2013-09-23): Look at ArchBang 2013.09.01, BSD Now, kernel stats, command-line tips|
|• Issue 525 (2013-09-16): The Official Ubuntu Server Book, FreeBSD 10 and OpenBSD 5.4, Skype alternatives|
|• Issue 524 (2013-09-09): Look at LXLE 12.04.3, Ubuntu's new package format, Secure Boot and dual-booting|
|• Issue 523 (2013-09-02): OpenIndiana 151a8, openSUSE "Evergreen", GNOME and DuckDuckGo, running apps from RAM|
|• Issue 522 (2013-08-26): Look at gNewSense 3.0, Ubuntu Edge fundraising failure, exploring GPL|
|• Issue 521 (2013-08-19): Review of Korora 19, Fedora considers return to "Core", Haiku package management|
|• Issue 520 (2013-08-12): Salix OS 14.0.1 "KDE", Xubuntu experiments with XMir, managing passwords with KeePass|
|• Issue 519 (2013-08-05): Review of Porteus 2.0, Kubuntu lays out plans for Wayland adoption, adjusting system swappiness|
|• Issue 518 (2013-07-29): MidnightBSD 0.4, Razor-qt, Ubuntu Edge, mounting infected drives|
|• Issue 517 (2013-07-22): Zorin OS 7 "Lite", Slackware turns 20, UbuntuForums compromise, Raspbian as home server, Tor|
|• Issue 516 (2013-07-15): Review of Fedora 19 "KDE", Shuttleworth on Mir, Seth Vidal, Kingsoft Office for Linux|
|• Issue 515 (2013-07-08): Whonix 0.5.6 and Deepin 12.12, MintBox, processor capabilities, distros for Raspberry Pi|
|• Issue 514 (2013-07-01): Peppermint Four, Mir, Mandriva forks, ThinkPenguin on libre hardware|
|• Issue 513 (2013-06-24): Look at ROSA, PC-BSD updates, Xen4CentOS6, Slacko vs Precise, Mageia interview, shells|
|• Issue 512 (2013-06-17): Trisquel 6.0, RHEL 7 with GNOME Classic, from Linux to FreeBSD, first look at Wayland|
|• Issue 511 (2013-06-10): Mint 15 impressions, GNOME Classic, Ubuntu Community portal, Absolute OpenBSD|
|• Issue 510 (2013-06-03): Impressions of aptosid 2013-01, Wayland comes to Raspberry Pi, maintaining DNS settings|
|• Issue 509 (2013-05-27): Mageia 3, Debian GNU/Hurd, RebeccaBlackOS with Wayland, ports|
|• Issue 508 (2013-05-20): Review of Debian 7.0, interviews with Clement Lefebvre and Gaël Duval, scripting with xdotool|
|• Issue 507 (2013-05-13): Impressions of Calculate Linux, 13.4, Ubuntu's portable packages, mintDrivers|
|• Issue 506 (2013-05-06): Ubuntu and Kubuntu 13.04, Debian "Wheezy", Slackware on systemd, distros for Raspberry Pi|
|• Full list of all issues|