| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 507, 13 May 2013
Welcome to this year's 19th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! In the Linux community there are a handful of Linux distributions which produce desktop operating systems intended for business use. These distributions include Red Hat, SUSE Linux Enterprise and Ubuntu LTS releases. The Calculate Linux distribution is another project offering solutions to professionals with their Desktop and Directory Server editions. This week Jesse Smith takes Calculate Linux for a spin and reports on how it performs. With the release of Ubuntu 13.04 behind us the developers at Canonical are looking forward to the next release and upcoming features. This past week a proposal came forward from Ubuntu developer Colin Watson for a new packaging system and we cover the highlights of his idea. We will also talk about new features coming to Linux Mint, a distribution which has become popular for its re-imagining of the Ubuntu desktop. Plus we will discuss how the Haiku project is gaining ground in the exciting world of radio! In this week's Question and Answer column we discuss what to do with spare computers and we invite you to chime in with project ideas in the comments section below. Also this week we cover recent releases, upcoming versions of distributions and link to news, reviews and podcasts from Around The Web. We wish you all a pleasant week and happy reading!
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
First impressions of Calculate Linux 13.4
Calculate Linux is a distribution based on the Gentoo Linux project. Calculate comes in a variety of flavours giving us the opportunity to choose between Desktop, Directory Server and Media Centre editions. The project's Desktop edition attempts to provide an easy to use alternative to other business desktop operating systems such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE and Microsoft Windows. Users of Calculate's Desktop edition can choose to download specific desktop spins which include GNOME, KDE and Xfce. Each of these spins is available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds. For my trial with Calculate I opted to try the 32-bit KDE spin. The downloadable ISO image for this spin is approximately 2 GB in size.
Calculate Linux 13.04 - disk partitioning with the installer
(full image size: 340kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Live environment and installation
Booting from the Calculate Linux media brings up a menu asking if we would like to launch the live environment with a full desktop environment or a text console. There is also an option to load the entire operating system into RAM prior to loading the live desktop. The KDE edition of the Calculate live desktop features an unusual desktop layout. Unlike most KDE distributions Calculate places the application menu, task switcher and system tray at the top of the display. A few icons for launching the system installer and accessing documentation are placed on the desktop. The distribution's default background is purple and features a pair of penguins on an ice flow. As it turns out, it's not just the KDE desktop which has an unusual layout, Calculate's system installer also features a unique style. When we launch the graphical installer we start out with the usual screens which ask us to confirm our preferred language and local time zone. We are then shown a screen which asks which installation image we wish to use.
The installer will try to automatically find Calculate Linux source files and offers all sorts of filters to help us select the right group of packages. In my case the installer correctly identified just the single source of packages available. Calculate's approach to partitioning is also quite unusual. There is no manual partitioning option, we can either turn our disk over to the installer for automated partitioning or we can try a guided approach. The guided option provides us with several check boxes with file system features we want, such as special mount points, separate partitions for certain parts of the operating system and whether we want to use swap space. The installer also asks us to choose between using a DOS style or a GPT style partition table. The first time I ran the installer it demanded I set aside at least 19 GB of space for Calculate, quite a bit more space than most other distributions require. The next page of the installer asks us to confirm the partition layout the installer created for us and I found I was not able to change the size of the offered partitions nor the file systems to be used. The only thing we can do is go back and run through the guided partition tool a second time if we don't like what it created for us. This was especially frustrating as the guided partitioning tool created an extra 7 GB partition for me with no file system nor mount point assigned to it.
Moving along I was asked to set a hostname for my computer and confirm the use of a NTP server to keep the system's clock in sync. After that the installer asks us to create a user account and set a password on the root account. We are asked to confirm our system's sound card has been properly detected and then we are asked to select a video driver from a list and set our screen's resolution. This last step stuck me as unnecessary as Calculate's live desktop seems to work just fine without any user input so it is curious we are asked to manually provide video driver information. Finally, we are shown a screen that lists the actions the installer will take and we're asked to confirm our settings. The first time through the installer told me there was a problem and I'd need at least 38 GB of free disk space for my root partition in order to complete an installation. This was a problem as I had only set aside 20 GB. I went back to the guided partitioning screen and whittled down my choices to the bare minimum and tried again. The second time through the installer accepted my choices. Files were copied to the local drive and the installation completed successfully.
When Calculate Linux 13.4 was first released I was away from home and so tried running the distribution on the laptop I had with me (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 4 GB of RAM, Intel video card, Intel wireless card). Calculate and my laptop were not a good match. The distribution took over eight minutes to boot and applications took a surprisingly long time to open. At first I tried to investigate the cause and thought I had found the problem as virtuso-t was taking up nearly 100% of my CPU usage. However, once indexing had been turned off and virtuso-t was stopped I noticed MariaDB and X were combining to, again, use up all my available CPU resources. I decided to put aside Calculate until I could get home and try the distribution on another machine.
When I tried running Calculate Linux on my desktop box (dual-core 2.8 GHz CPU, 6 GB of RAM, Radeon video card, Realtek network card) I had trouble getting the distribution to boot. It wouldn't load with the default configuration, nor with kernel mode setting disabled. With a little trial and error I found I could get Calculate to boot on my desktop machine if I enabled the distribution's closed source ATI video driver. Once the operating system booted Calculate gave me a good experience on the desktop. The system performed well and the desktop was responsive. My desktop's screen was set to its maximum resolution and sound worked out of the box. I found Calculate's base system, when combined with the KDE desktop, used approximately 300MB of RAM, a little heavier than average, but not overly so. To round out my trial I ran Calculate in VirtualBox and found the distribution ran fairly well in a virtual machine. Some tasks ran a touch slow, but Calculate was certainly usable in the virtual environment.
Desktop and software applications
Calculate Linux boots to a graphical login screen. When we sign in the first time a window pops up letting us know the system is setting up our profile. After several seconds this window disappears and the KDE desktop loads. It took me a few minutes to get used to having the KDE interface appear somewhat upside down, but everything worked well. The KDE desktop is quite flexible and so we can move widgets around as we see fit. Once I was logged in I didn't see any pop-ups or notifications. The desktop is fairly empty and there aren't any widgets for detecting updated packages in the repositories nor welcome screens to distract the user.
Calculate Linux 13.04 - browsing documentation and running LibreOffice
(full image size: 206kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Calculate Linux comes with a collection of useful software. Looking through the distribution's application menu we find the Chromium and Konqueror web browsers. The KMail e-mail client is included as are the Skype Voice over IP client and the Kopete chat client. A VNC server is included and we find the Choqok micro-blogging software installed for us. The KPPP dial-up software is in the default install as is the Network Manager network configuration software. The LibreOffice productivity suite is installed for us alongside the Okular document viewer. In the Multimedia sub-menu we find the Amarok music player, the k3b disc burning software and the SMPlayer multimedia player. KsCD is available for playing audio CDs and we are presented with the Kdenlive video editor.
To accompany these multimedia applications Calculate comes with a complete collection of media codecs and Flash. Security and privacy tools such as KGpg and Kleopatra are installed for us and the Marble desktop globe is available. The GNU Image Manipulation Program is installed for us and, for less intensive image editing, we are given KolourPaint. Calculate comes with an archive manager, text editor, calculator and the GNU Compiler Collection. In the background we find the Linux kernel, version 3.8. During my trial I found most of the software included in the distribution worked well. The only exceptions being the SMPlayer and Amarok applications. The latter would often lock-up while loading and SMPlayer frequently crashed while playing videos, though it played audio files without any problems.
Package management and system configuration
Calculate Linux uses the emerge command line utility to handle software packages. The tool is flexible and allows users to work with either pre-built binary packages or we can compile software from source packages. I performed software upgrades and added new software to the system using emerge and found it worked well. I found that emerge was quite a bit slower than its APT and YUM counterparts, especially when it came to resolving dependencies. Still, emerge ran smoothly and I didn't encounter any bugs. I did run into one quirk where emerge asked me to adjust the package manager's configuration in order to install certain binary packages, such as Firefox. While it works, this makes installing some software a little more roundabout than the same process on other distributions.
One feature I was looking forward to exploring while using Calculate was the distribution's Calculate Console utility. This configuration tool is a network transparent utility which has an appearance similar to KDE's System Settings panel. The Console allows us to manipulate aspects of the local machine or, if there are other Calculate boxes on our network, we can connect to these and manage them remotely. On the surface this seems like a good idea and the Console has a friendly interface. However, I found it wasn't always clear what the configuration modules in the Calculate Console would do. Some modules simply give us the option of applying local or remote templates, but I was not entirely sure what one of these templates was. In another instance I went into the Users module and was asked which account I wanted to configure. I selected my own and hit the Next button. The Console then told me my account has been successfully configured and the module closed, though no indication was given as to what actions may have been taken. I did find documentation on the project's website regarding the Console and its templates, but I can't say I found it to be practical, at least not for a standalone desktop machine.
Calculate Linux 13.04 - the Calculate Console
(full image size: 280kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
I feel as though Calculate and I got off on the wrong foot. The distribution didn't perform well on my laptop and it took some work to get Calculate to boot on my desktop. These issues, combined with the unusual installer and its strange approach to both partitioning and display configuration, gave a poor first impression. Once the distribution was up and running things mostly went smoothly. There were a few glitches with the multimedia apps, as I've mentioned above, but otherwise the distribution generally ran well. I do find it odd that a modern desktop distribution doesn't have a graphical front-end for package management. For me package handling from the command line is not a deal breaker, but asking me to make manual configuration changes in order to install binary packages, such as Firefox, is.
Basically what my time with Calculate really boiled down to is there wasn't any single large problem which kept me from enjoying the distribution, however there were several small problems or, if not problems, just oddities. Calculate doesn't appear to have any outstanding feature which would draw people to it and this, combined with the previously mentioned issues, makes me reluctant to recommend the distribution. The one area where I suspect Calculate has an edge is with fans of Gentoo who want a quick way to get up and running. Calculate lets users get started with pre-built packages and a graphical installer and then customize the underlying Gentoo operating system on an as-needed basis. So for Gentoo users Calculate smooths out the installation process, but users of other distributions aren't likely to find a reason to switch to this distribution.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Ubuntu experiments with portable packages, Linux Mint makes driver management easy, Haiku gains recognition
Over the years a number of attempts have been made in an effort to create a portable package format for third-party Linux applications. Despite strong efforts in this area none of the proposed solutions have gained wide spread use, due in part to lack of support from the major Linux distributions. It looks as though Ubuntu is about to change that. Last Wednesday Colin Watson posted to the Ubuntu Development mailing list that he has been working on a new package system for third-party developers. The new package format aims to reduce dependency problems, make sand-boxing and auditing easier and allow applications to be installed by a user without affecting the underlying operating system. Mr Watson writes: "This is not aimed at changing packages that are already part of the Ubuntu archive; for the most part our existing system works well for those, and they tend to have non-trivial dependency structures. We'll continue to use dpkg and apt for building the Ubuntu operating system, syncing with Debian, and so on. There's no point developing a packaging system for apps and making it have the full panoply of features needed for the Ubuntu archive: it'd just be second-system-effect on top of our current packaging system." This could be a useful step forward for third-party developers who wish to deploy their software to Linux users, but have not had their software accepted into existing repositories.
* * * * *
In recent years the Linux Mint project has earned a reputation for taking packages from the Ubuntu repositories and producing a distribution which is more in line with what desktop users want from their operating system. Last year Canonical decided to drop the independent application which manages proprietary hardware drivers, opting to instead merge driver management in with the Software Sources utility. In an effort to make driver management more straight forward for its users Linux Mint has introduced its own graphical application for handling third-party drivers. "Last month we talked about 'mintSources' and the fact that it was going to replace 'software-properties-gtk'. One of the features handled by 'software-properties-gtk' and which isn't handled by mintSources is the installation of proprietary drivers. In Linux Mint 15, this is handled by a tool called 'mintDrivers'. mintDrivers, the 'Driver Manager', relies on the same Ubuntu backend as 'software-properties-gtk'. The main difference is that 'Driver Manager' isn't just a tab in some other tool but its very own independent application. That makes it easier to discover for novice users and we took the opportunity to improve its user interface a little bit as well." Additional information on how mintDrivers works is available from the Linux Mint blog.
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It's always nice to see companies support open-source software. Open-source software not only puts control back in the hands of the users, it can also make good business sense. Tune Tracker Systems is a company which recognizes the value of open-source and they are bundling their radio automation software with Haiku, the open-source descendant of Be OS. Tune Tracker Systems reports they were looking for a dependable, lightweight platform which would serve up multimedia with minimal latency. The news announcement reads: "Haiku is equally solid and dependable, and runs even faster on the same hardware. Under Haiku, the TuneStacker music selector/program log generator can build an entire day's program log, randomly selecting all the music, even with aggressive proximity protection, in a few seconds. Haiku has the added benefit of being open-source and under active development by programmers around the world." Haiku has been under gradual development for several years and it is nice to see the project's efforts acknowledged.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
What to do with old computer equipment
Collecting-dust asks: I have a bunch of old computers lying around my house. Most of them from family or friends who gave me their old boxes when they upgraded. Do you have suggestions as to what I can do with them, either fun project ideas or places that take hardware donations?
DistroWatch answers: What the extra computers might be used for will vary a bit depending on how well they run and just how old they are. Assuming for a moment that you've checked and they are all running (or some parts can be swapped to make most of them work) we have a lot of options open to us. Personally, I always like to have a spare box on hand in case my main machine goes off-line. Plus it is always nice to have a spare computer on which to run operating systems you might not normally trust on your main machine. My first suggestion would be to set aside one machine to use for experiments. Consider loading it up with an open-source operating system you don't normally use (OpenBSD, Haiku or MINIX) and see how the operating system runs on physical hardware. It is an educational experience and, I find, it often expands into setting up a personal web server, network storage or some other service you may find useful.
Still, you said you have a bunch of spare computers, not just one. Assuming the machines are quick enough to run something like Debian GNU/Linux and the LXDE desktop I would suggest contacting local friends or family and asking them if they would like a low-end machine for web browsing and writing e-mails. I can usually find someone willing to take older computers off my hands if I set them up with a fresh installation and put icons on the desktop which cover most basic tasks.
Assuming no one takes you up on the offer there are other options. Some non-profit organizations accept used computers, make sure they are in good working condition and then give them new homes. The Reglue project is a fine example. They take older machines, load them up with open-source software and give them away. Check for a similar organization in your area or maybe contact a local Linux user group to see if they can find homes for your hardware.
Once you've gone through all of the above possibilities and still have spare computers then I see two options left. The first is to post your equipment on a website like craigslist, eBay or Kijiji. There are always people on those sites looking for spare parts or spare computers. Perhaps someone will give you a few dollars for your leftover rigs. Lastly, if no one wants the computers you have, I suggest taking them to an electronic recycling depot. All computers reach an end of their lives sometime and it's better to have them recycled than taking up space in a landfill.
|Released Last Week
OS4 13.4 "KDE"
Roberto Dohnert has announced the release of a "KDE" edition of OS4 13.4, a desktop Linux distribution with KDE 4.10.2, based on Ubuntu's latest long-term support release (version 12.04): "Today we released the KDE release of OS4 OpenDesktop 13.4. With this we bring you the very best the K Desktop Environment offers along with the ease of use that people have come to expect with OS4 OpenDesktop. This release includes: all core updates to the OS4 OpenDesktop 13.4 release; KDE 4.10; Calligra as the default office suite, LibreOffice 4.0 is available in the repositories; Muon software center; Synaptic; GDebi KDE; Firefox 20; Thunderbird with the Lightening extension; Clementine music player; VLC. We are very happy to add the KDE desktop to our line-up of desktops that we support. If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to ask us." Here is the brief release announcement.
CrunchBang Linux 11
Philip Newborough has announced the release of CrunchBang Linux 11, a lightweight Debian-based distribution with Openbox as the default desktop user interface, suitable for both new and older computers: "CrunchBang 11 'Waldorf' released. Debian 7 'Wheezy' was released on May 4th; now that Wheezy has migrated to the stable branch of Debian, this means that Waldorf is the new stable CrunchBang release. To acknowledge this occasion, I have rebuilt the Waldorf images. The new images are available now from the download page. For anyone unaware, Waldorf has been in development for well over a year and has seen numerous development releases. This probably makes Waldorf the most thoroughly tested CrunchBang release to date and as a result, I believe it is also the best CrunchBang release, ever, truly." Visit the CrunchBang Linux forums to read the brief release announcement.
CrunchBang Linux 11 - a lightweight Debian-based distro with Openbox
(full image size: 262kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
openSUSE 12.3 "Edu Li-f-e"
Lars Vogdt has announced the release of openSUSE 12.3 "Edu Li-f-e" edition, a specialist openSUSE variant designed for deployment in educational institutions: "The openSUSE Education Team is proud to present Li-f-e (Linux for Education) 12.3-1. This first release is based on openSUSE 12.3 with all the official updates applied. Li-f-e incorporates the latest stable versions of all popular desktop environments such as KDE, GNOME and Cinnamon and it includes wide range of software catering to the needs of everyone, selection from openSUSE Education repository, multimedia from the Packman repository, development tools, KIWI-LTSP allowing normal PC or diskless thin clients to network boot from a server running Li-f-e and lot more." Here is the full release announcement with a handful of screenshots.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
|Around The Web
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New distributions added to database|
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DistroWatch database summary
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This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 20 May 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)
If you've enjoyed this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly, please consider sending us a tip.
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