| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 492, 28 January 2013
Welcome to this year's fourth issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Fedora 18, following a desperately delayed development process and arriving with a dramatically overhauled system installer, has been received with a rather critical tone by many end users and even some high-profile Linux developers. Is this version going to be just an unhappy blip on the long road to the open-source computing bliss or is the criticism exaggerated? Jesse Smith reviews the release and offers some interesting thoughts on the installer itself and the default GNOME 3 desktop. In the lengthy news section, Fedora receives further spotlight thanks to suggestions to revamp the project's development model and followed by a thorough defence of systemd by the original developer of the controversial utility. Still in the news, Ubuntu dispels rumours about its possible move to a rolling-release development model, openSUSE responds to praise and criticism of its 12.2 version, Mageia receives a compliment for its strong community governance, and BackTrack announces the launch of Kali Linux with a wealth of penetration testing and digital forensics tools. There is much more, including a review of the Ubuntu Unleashed book, a link to a dramatic confrontation between Debian's GNOME packager and the SolusOS developers, and another look at the popularity of open-source operating systems with the help of statistical tools. Happy reading!
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (26MB) and MP3 (44MB) formats
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
The fashionably late Fedora
Fedora is a Linux distribution sponsored by the open-source giant, Red Hat, Inc. In recent years the Fedora project has generally tried to maintain a steady release schedule, putting out a new version approximately once every six months. Though minor delays often creep in, the developers have generally stuck close to their schedule. Fedora 18 proved to be an exception and the ongoing delays have kept Fedora fans on the edge of their seats for about two months. Well, the wait is finally over and Fedora 18 is here!
The Fedora distribution is available in a number of editions, or spins as they are generally called. The main edition is the Desktop spin. This edition sets us up with a live DVD and it provides us with the GNOME Shell desktop. There are also various spins featuring the KDE desktop, Xfce and LXDE. Fedora provides other installation options too, including a (non-live) installation DVD, a network installation option and various other customized spins. There are quite a lot of options available to us. I opted to try the default offering, the live DVD containing the GNOME Shell environment. The ISO image for this live DVD is approximately 890 MB in size.
Prior to experimenting with the latest version of Fedora I took a look through the project's release notes, which are quite detailed. The big item in this release is the new system installer. Anaconda has been showing its age recently and the developers have given the venerable program a new approach and style. We'll cover the installer more in a moment. A new tool called FedUP has become available which will allow users of Fedora 17 to upgrade their installations to Fedora 18 without the need of a fresh install. Support for Secure Boot technology has been added to this release. I learned the /tmp directory now gets its own home in a tmpfs file system. This should speed up access to the /tmp directory and reduce wear on SSDs with the tradeoff of limiting the amount of data which can be placed in /tmp. Fedora 18 adds two new desktop environments, Cinnamon and MATE, to the official repositories and we see upgrades to both the GNOME and KDE environments. In addition to the release notes I recommend looking over the list of known bugs in Fedora 18 prior to beginning an installation. The list provided will help users avoid common problems.
Installation and first impressions
Booting from the live media brings us to a graphical login screen. There we find we can login to the one available user account without a password. Once we have logged in the GNOME Shell environment loads and a window appears asking if we would like to try running Fedora from the live media or if we would like to perform an installation. Should we decide to try the live environment first we can run the installer later via an icon in GNOME's Activity menu.
The graphical installer has received a major makeover and the prime focus has been to transition the installer from having a linear flow to a hub-like form of navigation. After we provide our preferred language we're taken to a menu where we can click on icons for various items waiting to be configured. This hub style allows us to perform most configuration steps in the order of our choosing and navigate back to double-check our settings. The screen for selecting our time zone and setting the current time hasn't changed all that much. Neither has the screen for selecting a keyboard map. Partitioning has received an overhaul. In previous versions partitions were listed along the top of the page and we could click on a partition and then click an action button to bring up another window with the partition's information.
Now partitions are displayed down the left side of the installer's window and add/delete/edit buttons are displayed at the bottom of the list. Buttons with action words have been replaced with smaller buttons with icons. Once a partition has been created we can set its type and size on a panel to the right of the window. I found by default Fedora's installer wanted to create all new partitions as LVM volumes and the secondary option suggested by the installer was Btrfs. We can also create traditional partitions if we wish. The new partitioning screen supports encryption and I was happy to find the root partition is no longer required to be formatted with the ext4 file system.
Fedora 18 - the new hub-based system installer
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Once the partitioning section is finished the installer begins copying files to the hard drive. While this is happening we're shown another hub navigation screen. In this release the only screen we can navigate to from this second hub is the page to set a root password. When the installer finishes copying files we are asked to reboot the machine. I noticed that during the installation process there isn't any place where we can choose whether to install a boot loader or change the boot loader's settings. Another oddity I noticed, and I'm not sure if this is the installer's doing or the desktop environment, but found the installer's window would sometimes lose focus when switching between pages.
The first time we boot into Fedora a window appears showing us some licensing information and then we are asked to create a user account. Following that we are asked to set the system time (again) or enable clock synchronization over the network. With these steps completed we are brought to the distribution's graphical login screen. I tried running Fedora in three different environments and ended up with three experiences which were quite dissimilar. At first I tried running Fedora 18 in a VirtualBox environment and quickly found GNOME Shell wasn't usable in the virtual machine. Bringing up GNOME's Activity menu or launching programs could take from five to ten seconds and opening an application's menu took a few seconds. I tried switching to GNOME's fallback mode, which is still available in GNOME 3.6, but found the fallback desktop to be sluggish. Finally, for my experiments in the virtual machine I installed the MATE desktop environment from Fedora's repositories and experienced good performance from then on.
When running on my desktop machine (dual-core 2.8GHz CPU, 6GB of RAM, Radeon video card, Realtek network card) I again found GNOME Shell to be sluggish. The desktop environment was usable, but not as responsive as I would have liked. Eventually, after a few days, I switched to using GNOME fallback mode when running on the desktop computer. When running Fedora on my laptop (dual-core 2GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM, Intel video card, Intel wireless card) I found GNOME Shell to be responsive and I decided to stick with the Shell for the duration of my time with the distribution. With each computer (and virtual machine) I found Fedora was able to detect all of my hardware. I had no problems connecting to wireless networks, sound worked out of the box and my screens were set to their maximum resolutions. The amount of memory in use varied between the environments. For instance MATE, sitting idle at the desktop, used just 200MB of RAM, but running GNOME Shell required approximately 350MB of memory.
Software and package management
Package management with Fedora varies depending on our graphical environment. When running GNOME Shell the graphical front-end application for package management was called "Software". This application provides a very simplified approach to software management. To the left side of the window are a search box and a list of software categories. The right side of the window lists packages in the currently selected category. Next to each package's name is a little box. Putting a check in the box marks the package to be installed, removing the check causes the package to be removed. The concept is straight forward, but the package manager tended to run into problems. Sometimes opening the package manager I would find no software listed in any categories and I would have to manually refresh the package database. At one point I started to install a package and then performed a search for another package. Performing the search caused the installation in progress to be cancelled and I was unable to resume. The Software application is quite simple in its approach, but it is also slow and I eventually stopped using it.
When I installed the MATE desktop I found it pulled in the YUM Extender (YumEx) graphical package manager. This front-end is more detailed and allows the user to filter packages by their status. I found YumEx to be more reliable and it provides a good deal more progress information while it is working. The one issue I had with YumEx is that it is also slow and simply loading a list of available software in the repositories could take well over a minute. My experiences with both graphical front-ends caused me to use the YUM command line package manager for most of my software needs. YUM is a fairly quick and reliable command line utility. It has a very straight forward syntax compared to most package managers and it supports delta updates by default which greatly reduces the amount of bandwidth required when updating packages. Since during the first three days I was using Fedora over 200 updated packages were made available in the repositories the delta update feature was quite welcome.
Fedora 18 - the GNOME Shell Activity menu
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Fedora comes with a supply of useful software in the default installation. We are treated to the Firefox web browser, the Thunderbird e-mail client and the Pidgin instant messaging program. The LibeOffice suite is included in the application menu along with the Transmission BitTorrent client, the Cheese webcam tool and the Brasero disc burner. There is a document viewer, the Shotwell photo manager and the Rhythmbox audio player. Fedora doesn't come with Flash or popular multimedia codecs, nor are these included in the repositories. Such extras can be added later through third-party repositories such as RPMFusion. The distribution does include Java in the default install and Network Manager is there to help us get on-line.
Fedora comes with text editors, an archive manager and calculator. Perhaps the most welcome items in the application menu are Fedora's administrative utilities. These are powerful tools which assist us in setting up backups, configuring the firewall, managing printers and working with user accounts. I really appreciate these system configuration programs as they tend to find a good balance between power and user friendliness. By default Fedora runs a mail service in the background which is protected by our firewall. When I first installed Fedora 18 I found the distribution was running version 3.6 of the Linux kernel and by the end of the week the kernel package in the repositories had been upgraded to version 3.7.
Once I got settled in to the various desktop environments I found the system was fairly stable (GNOME Shell only reported one crash during the week) and the applications which came with Fedora worked as expected. I did run into a few minor issues through the week, not really problems, but annoyances. For example, the menu entry for the Users & Groups tool in the MATE System menu doesn't work as it points to the wrong executable. (The GNOME Shell environment links to the proper program.) Frequently when I would try to shutdown or restart the computer from within GNOME Shell a message would appear telling me other users were logged in and I would have to provide the system's root password to power off the computer. No other users were logged in when these password prompts appeared.
Thoughts on Anaconda desktop and GNOME desktop
I have some thoughts on Fedora, GNOME and the Anaconda installer and I feel it would be best to talk about these three areas separately. Given the many spins, the many desktop environments and the different hardware used in my test I feel it wouldn't be fair to lump all the pieces together. Let's look at Anaconda first. For the past several Fedora releases I've commented that Anaconda, while a capable installer, has had its problems. In past releases the venerable installer has been like an old tricycle -- a little rusty around the edges and one wheel wobbled, but it was pretty dependable over all, certainly easy to manage. In Fedora 18 the old tricycle has been replaced with a spoonful of jelly.
Some might argue that it's prettier and it doesn't have any rust, but it isn't stable, it isn't as straightforward to use and it makes for a slower form of transportation. Basically, the big move has been to go from a linear process to a central-hub layout. On paper this looks nice as we can pick the order of the screens we visit and it lets us go directly back and check settings on a previous page. The downside to this approach is navigating the installer takes longer because, after filling out each section, we come back to the hub before advancing to the next stage. It effectively doubles the pages we need to go through. The new style especially slows down partitioning. Instead of clicking "New" to create a partition and filling in three fields, we now create a partition, enter some information and then get to the form where we burrow through options to find what we want.
Some might call this approach cleaner from an interface perspective, but it meant I spent more time navigating the installer than filling in useful information. I will give credit where it is due, the new installer no longer demands our root partition must be ext4, a limitation that has bothered me for several releases. However, in trade, now there is no option to prevent Anaconda from installing the GRUB 2 boot loader. We're not asked about this at all, the installer simply overwrites our existing boot loader and tries to configure GRUB 2 automatically without any chance for us to override its settings. This seems a significant regression from previous releases.
Next, let's look at GNOME Shell, the default desktop environment. It has been some time since I last tried GNOME Shell, I think GNOME's version number then was 3.2. Version 3.6 brings some improvements. The desktop's look strikes me as being a little more polished and I like that I no longer have to hold down the ALT key to shut down the computer. I only experienced one crash while using GNOME Shell during my week, giving it an edge over my recent experiences with Unity and Enlightenment. There were problems though, the biggest one being performance. GNOME Shell was, for all practical purposes, far too slow to be used when running Fedora in a virtual environment and running the Shell in VirtualBox caused my host's CPU to constantly work at 100%.
My physical desktop machine with its Radeon graphics card handled GNOME Shell better. There were still moments of sluggishness, especially when bringing up the Activity menu, but GNOME Shell could be used on the desktop. I was happy to find GNOME Shell worked quite smoothly and responded quickly when running on my laptop with its Intel video card. Hardware and drivers, I found, play a big roll in whether GNOME Shell is usable. A complaint I had with GNOME Shell is that the interface requires the user to execute more steps to complete simple tasks. To find and launch a program in the "Office" category of software requires moving the mouse up to the Activity button in the upper-left corner of the display, then down to the Applications button in the lower-left, then over to the far right side to select the desired category and then back to the middle of the screen.
GNOME Shell doesn't have a task switcher in the usual sense, so swapping to a different application window again sends us to the Activity button and then to the window's icon. Application windows do not have minimize/maximize buttons and I miss these when working with multiple applications. When the display has been locked to access the desktop again we have to go through a graphical lock screen to bring up the prompt for our password. Dismissing the extra lock screen requires either dragging the mouse the vertical distance of the screen or pressing the Esc key before we can enter our password. Individually these are small things, an extra key press here, a few extra mouse clicks there, but they add up. I constantly felt like I was working around the interface rather than having it work for me.
Fedora 18 - downloading package updates
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Now, default interface and installer aside, how does Fedora hold up? Well, at first I spent some time manually adding third-party repositories as Fedora doesn't include several packages people will find useful and there isn't any automated process for enabling these repositories. The package manager(s) tended to be slow and regularly locked up or had to be told to reload their package data. The distribution does offer a good selection of software out of the box and many popular applications are provided. Btrfs support appears to be firming up, though it hasn't yet reached the level of integration nor ease of use of openSUSE's Btrfs implementation. The system administration tools are as good as ever and this has always been a strong point in Fedora's favour. I do worry about the direction the firewall configuration utility is taking as it seems to be getting more complex rather than easier to use. Some people may appreciate this flexibility, but I suspect most users will find the current firewall app overkill. The one feature which really stood out in my mind with this release is the distribution's support for Secure Boot. Once the Fedora distribution has been installed on a hard drive Secure Boot can be enabled and the operating system should still boot and I suspect users focused on computer security will appreciate this feature.
During my week with Fedora there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind and it took a while to figure out what it was that bothered me about this release. What I think was troubling me is that the components of this release don't feel integrated nor coordinated. Perhaps Fedora is going through a more tumultuous stage than usual as will happen from time to time with an experimental distribution. Still, I couldn't help but notice that some applications use the GNOME Shell integrated menu and some do not; the system admin tools have distinctly different styles of interface when compared side-by-side and even parts of the installation process feel like they were designed by different people. This approach is in contrast to other mainstream distributions such as Ubuntu, openSUSE and Mageia where system components tend to hold to a central, integrated design. This feeling of disunity added to the overall impression that Fedora 18 feels very experimental and not yet finished. There were a lot of little bugs and a few big ones in this release and it led me to believe that even with the two month delay Fedora 18 was released too early.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Fedora release process and systemd myths, Ubuntu rolling-release speculations, openSUSE and Mageia overviews, Kali Linux
After the Fedora 18 development process, which turned out to be far more laborious than many expected, some of the distribution's developers are looking to revamp the release process. The latest on the subject is Máirín Duffy's blog post summarising some of the ideas that emerged at the recent FUDcon conference: "What if we changed the schedule to better handle large features that span multiple releases? Let's take Anaconda's new UI as an example feature for this proposed new model. The amount of work that Anaconda needed for the new UI really couldn't possible have landed in just six months. 'If you didn't know, and you looked from a distance at our feature page, you'd think that we were trying to land it in six months,' Spot [Tom Callaway] said. 'We need to better communicate to our community and our users what it means for these big features to land in Fedora, and how we indicate to them where they are in the cycle.' Spot then explained a little bit about Red Hat Linux's old model. When Red Hat Linux 6.0 came out, you would expect that if you installed it later on, at the 6.2 release, it would be more polished, more feature-complete, and more stable than the initial .0 release."
Fedora's decision to adopt systemd as the preferred system and service manager in Linux has not been taken well in some quarters of the development community. In fact, the coders behind Gentoo Linux have already forked udev (which is now an integral part of systemd), after accusing the upstream of removing useful features and generally being uncooperative. As a result, the controversial utility doesn't have the greatest reputation. But as systemd developer Lennart Poettering explains, much of the bad press is a result of "misconceptions and myths": "Since we first proposed systemd for inclusion in the distributions it has been frequently discussed in many forums, mailing lists and conferences. In these discussions one can often hear certain myths about systemd, that are repeated over and over again, but certainly don't gain any truth by constant repetition. Let's take the time to debunk a few of them: Myth: systemd is monolithic. If you build systemd with all configuration options enabled you will build 69 individual binaries. These binaries all serve different tasks, and are neatly separated for a number of reasons. For example, we designed systemd with security in mind, hence most daemons run at minimal privileges (using kernel capabilities, for example) and are responsible for very specific tasks only, to minimize their security surface and impact."
* * * * *
The Ubuntu distribution does enjoy being in the the media spotlight, even at the risk of getting there as a result of a misunderstanding. Last week's news about the distribution's planned switch to a rolling-release development model was dispelled several days after the first rumours hit the Linux media. OMG! Ubuntu!'s Joey-Elijah Sneddon explains what happened: "Ubuntu will not be switching to a rolling-release model anytime soon, despite recent reports to the contrary. But Ubuntu's Jono Bacon has revealed that pieces are being put into place to allow such a decision to be made at a later date. A rolling-release model would see Ubuntu continually updated with new applications and features as it 'rolled' along rather than, as is the case at present, them only arriving in one go every six months. Such a change would also mean fewer releases, or so says Leann Ogasawara of the Ubuntu kernel team. In a video Q&A session earlier this week she suggested that, should Ubuntu switch to a rolling-release model in the future, 'interim releases' would be ditched. Instead, Ubuntu would 'roll' between long-term support versions, currently released once every two years."
* * * * *
As openSUSE developers continue to work on the upcoming version 12.3 (scheduled for release on 13 March) the popular project's community manager Jos Poortvliet looks back at the September release of version 12.2 and the feedback, both positive and critical, that followed: "Criticism came on the focus of openSUSE: is it a desktop or a server? The enterprise functionality on the server side is there -- in openSUSE, you can click a domain controller ready in a few clicks. But it just can't compete with CentOS which offers binary compatibility with its enterprise cousin -- you can drop-in RHEL once you've tested on CentOS. Same in Ubuntu -- support is always close to what you are running. From openSUSE to SLE is still a hurdle. The gentlemen felt that with the default KDE desktop 'the most attractive I've seen', openSUSE has by far the best enterprise-ready desktop in hands, beating the Ubuntu and Red Hat competition. It is attractive, fast, responsive and easy, maybe openSUSE should focus on their desktop more? But there were also some problems. Prime among those were issues with package management."
* * * * *
Mageia is another distribution that is actively working on its upcoming release, scheduled for arrival in early April. Last week ComputerWorld's Rohan Pearce put the project under the publication's spotlight, praising its "commitment to creating a Linux distribution with strong community governance": "'People who enjoyed doing things the Mandriva way but were taken aback by the corporate attitudes were ready for a more stable place, and they found a great home in Mageia,' says Trish Fraser, a member of Mageia's communications team. 'It's one of the most inclusive, friendly and communicating environments I've found in free software, and it's very global.' The distribution's third release, snappily dubbed Mageia 3, is due in April. Mageia 3 hit beta in December last year. In the lead-up to its release, Computerworld Australia caught up with Fraser to talk about the lessons open source projects should learn from the Mandriva experience and future directions for Mageia. As a result of the experience with Mandriva and Edge IT, Mageia has a strong focus on community governance, 'so that the stability of the distro won't be endangered by any particular corporation or group,' Fraser says."
* * * * *
Distributions with a rolling-release development model are all the rage these days. But is there a good definition of the term? Many simply accept that any system that doesn't need to be re-installed over time is a rolling-release distro. As such, even development branches of many independent Linux distributions, such as Fedora's "Rawhide" or Slackware's "Current" would easily qualify. "Sid", the Debian's unstable branch, would be another popular "rolling-release" distribution, especially since many derivative projects base their code on that particular branch. Three of them, Semplice Linux 3.0.0, aptosid 2012-01 and siduction 2012.2, are briefly examined in this blog post entitled "A quick look at 3 distros based on 'sid'": "If you have any interest in a bleeding-edge distro, but want to stick with Debian, these are your best options. For people new to Linux, Debian is one of the oldest active versions, and has a huge set of programs and applications which are stored in a central location, called a repository. This trusted server is where you normally obtain most or all of the programs you use in your day to day life. Debian has the largest repository of any distribution, containing over 30,000 programs and libraries."
* * * * *
Here is an interesting update on BackTrack, an Ubuntu-based security distribution with a collection of tools for penetration testing and digital forensics. A change is in the works and the future is called Kali Linux: "Originally, BackTrack Linux was developed for our personal use but over the past several years, it has grown in popularity far greater than we ever imagined. We still develop BackTrack for ourselves because we use it every day. However, with growth and a huge user base, we have an obligation to ourselves, our users, and the open source community to create the best distribution we possibly can. ... What has happened in the past year? We have been quietly developing the necessary infrastructure and laying the foundation for our newest penetration testing distribution as well as building over 300 Debian-compliant packages and swearing in 8 different languages. These changes brought with them an incredible amount of work, research and learning but are also leading us down the path to creating the best, and most flexible, penetration testing distribution we have ever built, dubbed 'Kali'."
* * * * *
Last week we reported about the initiative of the SolusOS distribution to fork GNOME 3's Fallback mode into a new desktop environment called Consort. As the news spread around the Linux media, it didn't take long before a Debian developer took a closer look at this effort. And Josselin Mouette, one of Debian's GNOME packagers, didn't like what he saw: "Even if the fork gains momentum (which remains speculative), the amount of effort to rename packages makes you think twice before such a switch. I decided to go talk about it with them on IRC nevertheless. Mind you, they work on a GNOME fork and a Debian derivative, but deliberately use their own IRC server (you'll soon understand why). Just in case you would want to cooperate with SolusOS, you'd have to use their infrastructure. It is a euphemism to say that the conversation didn't go well. This could have ended there, but thankfully for your already widening eyes, Ikey (the charming person I had the opportunity to discuss with) made the log public, in an attempt at public shaming that would soon gather his followers, chanting out loud how the revolutionary SolusOS would quickly replace every other Linux distribution."
* * * * *
Finally, a yet another statistical look at the popularity and usage of free operating system, a notoriously impossible metric to measure. Derek Jones has been busy compiling some interesting data from various sources, including this site's Page Hit Ranking statistics, and the result is an interesting blog post entitled "Popularity of open-source operating systems over time": "How representative are the DistroWatch and Spinellis data? The data is as representative of the general OS population as the visitors recorded in the respective server logs are representative of OS usage. The plot below shows the percentage of visitors to DistroWatch that use Ubuntu, SUSE Linux, Red Hat. Why does Red Hat, a very large company in the open-source world, have such a low percentage compared to Ubuntu? I imagine because Red Hat customers get their updates from Red Hat and don't see a need to visit sites such as DistroWatch; a similar argument can be applied to SUSE Linux. Perhaps the DistroWatch data underestimates those distributions that have well-known websites and users who have no interest in other distributions. I have not done much analysis of the Spinellis data."
|Book Reviews (by Jesse Smith)
Ubuntu Unleashed by Matthew Helmke
Most of the tech books that land on my bookshelf fall into one of two categories. Some of them are beginner texts, taking people from a point of zero assumed knowledge and slowly building up to a point where the reader will hopefully be comfortable with the basics. The other style of book I often see is the expert reference manual. This second category of book is generally terse, almost point form in its nature, and there is an assumption we already know the material, we just need a refresher. One of my favourite technical books in college was a thick UNIX system administration book which started the reader at square one and dragged them through every aspect of using and maintaining a UNIX system.
Hand holding was at a minimum, the reader began a novice and walked away an expert (or gave up). That book, though very informative at the time, was prohibitively expensive and is now twenty-five years out of date. Luckily I have found a modern tome to take its place. The book to which I am referring is called Ubuntu Unleashed, though we shouldn't let the title fool us. While the book uses Ubuntu as an example platform and the tutorials included were tested on Ubuntu, the vast majority of the text is applicable to most Linux distributions. In fact, much of the information contained within Ubuntu Unleashed is applicable to any Unix-like operating system.
What is included within the covers of Ubuntu Unleashed? It might be a fairer question to ask what isn't included in its pages! As with many introductory books we start out with a talk about different flavours of Linux and what Ubuntu is. There is then an entire chapter on preparing to install the operating system and how to get through installing Ubuntu (and related) distributions step by step. In fact, the first 120 pages or so are essentially an introduction to Linux. We cover exploring the desktop (Unity and alternative desktops such as KDE are covered), the book talks about popular end-user tasks such as listening to music, playing videos, browsing the web and using productivity software. One step at a time we get introduced to the Linux way of doing things from the user's perspective.
In these first several chapters Ubuntu Unleashed isn't all that different in content and tone from other Linux books aimed at beginners. Where it gets interesting is in the book's third part where we are introduced to system administration. At first we cover common tasks such as package management, an introduction to the command line and basic networking. Then we get into more complicated command line usage, script writing and securing the operating system. By the end of the system administration section we are managing Linux kernel modules, compiling the kernel and patching the kernel. We're not in the warm embrace of the desktop GUI anymore, we are getting down into the (virtual) nuts and bolts of the whole software stack.
The forth section of the book deals with setting up services on our Linux machine. Do you want to turn your Linux machine into a web server or maybe set up databases? Perhaps you are interested in getting the most out of Samba or using thin clients? Perhaps you work in an office and think you could benefit from having a LDAP server? Ubuntu Unleashed covers installing and configuring all of these services. It also talks about working with various virtualization technologies such as VirtualBox and KVM. Then we get into Ubuntu's cloud technology and how we can create and maintain private cloud infrastructure.
The fifth and final section of the book covers programming languages. We are given quick introductions to Perl, Python and PHP. The developer and build tools for working with C/C++ projects are talked about, but the C language itself is outside the realm of the text. We are shown how to create simple build scripts though. We're also given tips on how to get involved with open source software projects and some advice on source repository tools is provided. The development section wraps up by discussing developing software for Android devices and how to set up a virtual Android device on our computer so we may test our Android apps.
In short, it doesn't matter if we are brand new to Linux and just want to figure out how to navigate the graphical interface or if we are a system administrator interested in setting up servers or even a software developer, Ubuntu Unleashed has us covered. Just about anything we might want to do with the operating system is discussed at one point or another in this book. Now, despite the fact the book starts us off at square #1, I don't want to give the impression Ubuntu Unleashed is targeting beginners. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say the book makes the assumption we do not wish to stay beginners. Ubuntu Unleashed has a teaching style equivalent to pushing us into the deep end of the pool to see if we can swim. It expects we are here to learn by doing.
The book tends to lay out the essentials on how to perform a task and, at the end of every chapter, URLs are provided for knowledge resources in case we wish to read further. Ubuntu Unleashed will help us get an Apache server up and running and it will teach us how to use the Python interpreter, but if we want to really get the most out of these technologies further exploration will be required outside of the book. Ubuntu Unleashed lays down a foundation of information on a vast range of subjects and gives clear instructions, then, at the end of each section, it points us toward further resources and moves on to laying down a new foundation of knowledge. In this manner Ubuntu Unleashed doesn't specialize in any one subject, but it does give us a very strong base from which to work. Both its explanations and instructions are clearly laid out and the writing style, I found, is easy to follow. Despite the direct, no nonsense approach we are given many graphical screen shots and, for the command line sections, we are shown copies of terminal input and output.
The Ubuntu Unleashed text isn't for experts, it is for people who wish to advance their knowledge and experience to become experts. There are a lot of tips and suggestions littered throughout the text to help us get started on our Linux journey and I feel the advice provided by the book's authors is sound. I really appreciate the organization of the book. After the first few chapters, which walk us through installing the operating system and performing some common tasks, the rest of the book can be read in just about any order. Once we have a taste of the command line and editing configuration files we can jump to any other point in the book (system administration, programming or virtualization) and just read the parts which interest us. I think this is great as it gives us a tree of information with many branches rather than a straight run from the beginning to the end. If you are new to Linux and wish to learn more, or if you have some experience and wish to get the most out of your operating system then I recommend getting a copy of Ubuntu Unleashed. It is one of the most complete guides to using and working with Linux I have had the opportunity to read.
- Title: Ubuntu Unleashed 2013 Edition
- Author: Matthew Helmke (with Andrew Hudson and Paul Hudson)
- Published by Pearson Education, Inc © 2013
- Pages: 888
- ISBN-10: 0-672-33624-3
- ISBN-13: 978-0672-33624-9
- Available from: InformIT and Amazon.com
|Released Last Week
Snowlinux 4 "Xfce", "E17"
Lars Torben Kremer has announced the availability of two new editions of the Debian-based Snowlinux 4: "The team is proud to announce the release of Snowlinux 4 Xfce and E17. Snowlinux 4 Xfce is based upon Debian GNU/Linux 7.0 'Wheezy' and uses Linux kernel 3.5. Snowlinux 4 Xfce and E17 are available in two ISO images. The Xfce edition contains Xfce 4.10 and the E17 edition contains Enlightenment 0.17. While the Xfce edition fits on a CD, the E17 edition doesn't. Both use Firefox, Thunderbird, AbiWord, Shotwell and Pidgin by default. New features: LightDM; Snowlinux LightDM greeter; Snowlinux Plymouth theme; improved Snowlinux Metal theme and icons; SnowMount; Firefox 17; Thunderbird 17; Snowlinux HD backgrounds; updated software; improved speed and response; system improvements." Read the rest of the release announcement for more information and screenshots.
BackBox Linux 3.01
Raffaele Forte has announced the release of BackBox Linux 3.01, an updated version of the project's Ubuntu-based distribution and live DVD with a collection of penetration testing, incident response, computer forensics and intelligence gathering tools: "The BackBox team is pleased to announce an updated release of BackBox Linux, version 3.01. This release includes features such as Linux kernel 3.2 and Xfce 4.8. The ISO images (for 32-bit and 64-bit architectures) can be downloaded from the download page. What's new? System improvements; upstream components; bug corrections; performance boost; improved auditing menu; improved Wi-Fi drivers (compat-wireless Aircrack patched); new and updated hacking tools (e.g. backfuzz, Beef, Bluediving, cvechecker, HTExploit, Metasploit, set, sqlmap, WebSploit, Weevely, WPScan, zaproxy, etc.)" Read the full release announcement for system requirements.
Clemens Toennies has released an updated build of Netrunner, a Kubuntu-based distribution with KDE 4.9.4: "Netrunner 'Dryland' 12.12.1 has been released. KDE updated to 4.9.4 from Kubuntu backports; Firefox updated to 18; VLC updated to 2.0.5; Tomahawk new version 0.6; WINE updated to 1.5.22; Samba Mounter updated to 0.3.1; Webaccounts updated 0.3; Veromixer installed; Runners-ID upgraded from 1 to 5 GB free cloud space; many more fixed issues and improvements. The version is based on Kubuntu 12.10 and has the following features: GNU/Linux OS kernel 3.5; Firefox 18 with KDE integration; Thunderbird 17.0.1; LibreOffice 3.6.2; Skype 4.1; GIMP 2.8; Krita, Gwenview, Kdenlive, Telepathy Messenger, Samba Mounter (easy NAS setup), Webaccounts (social accounts integration), Runners-ID (free and libre cloud storage and music streaming), Muon Discover, VirtualBox." Here is the brief release announcement.
Brian Manderville has announced the release of Descent|OS, a desktop Linux distribution combining the Ubuntu base system with the latest version of the MATE desktop environment: "I am pleased to announce that the 'Legacy' branch of Descent|OS has been updated to version 3.0.2. Since the main focus of the Ubuntu-based edition is stability, the main upgrades were big fixes. I have fixed the driver install issue, and also fixed the audio applet issue. Here is a list of the full changelog: PulseAudio is officially default, Mate-media-pulse is much more well-implemented than its GStreamer sibling, so I have implemented it to maintain consistency and make it easier for people to change their audio settings; MATE is updated to 1.4, this is actually a huge milestone, because MATE 1.4 is a stable, well-implemented version, and works better with everything in Descent|OS; Lubuntu Software Center is included...." Here is the brief release announcement.
François Dupoux has released an updated build of SystemRescueCd, version 3.3.0. SystemRescueCd is a Gentoo-based live CD with an extensive collection of data rescue and disk management utilities. The project's changelog reports the following new features and improvements: "Standard kernels are the long-term supported Linux 3.4.27 (rescuecd and rescue64); alternative kernels updated to latest stable 3.7.4 (altker32 and altker64); fixed 'waiting for uevents to be processed' by upgrading udev to 197-r4; updated XFS file system utilities: - xfsprogs 3.1.10 and xfsdump 3.1.2; updated dar 2.4.9 (Disk Archive 2.4.9); added grsync 1.1.1 (a GTK+ frontend to rsync); added fuse-exfat 1.0.0 (exFAT file system FUSE module); fixed Network-Manager applet in the graphical environment; re-based genkernel on latest upstream version; updated NTFS-3G to 2013.1.13."
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database|
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- OWASP Mantra-OS. OWASP Mantra-OS is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution built for penetration testing and secure computing.
- Pardus Anka. Pardus Anka seems to be the much-awaited community fork of Pardus Linux. The project is currently working on version 2013 with the upcoming KDE 4.10 as the default desktop.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 4 February 2013. 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 555 (2014-04-21): Robolinux 7.4.2, Ubuntu release day stats, Debian security, Porteus update|
|• 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|
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