| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 524, 9 September 2013
Welcome to this year's 36th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! A lot of people and organizations appreciate the cost savings which typically come with running open source software. The flexibility and low cost of Linux distributions, open source productivity suites and development tools make free and open source projects ideal for the public sector as government and schools often work on limited budgets. The down side is that many popular open source projects do not offer official support and users are expected to visit forums or mailing lists when things go wrong. Some projects are taking steps to provide commercial support options in order to meet the demands of large organizations. This week in our news section we cover two popular open source projects which have gained paid support options. We also hear about Ubuntu's new package system which may speed application development on desktops and mobile devices running the Ubuntu operating system. This week Jesse Smith reviews a lightweight distribution called LXLE which attempts to provide all the features desktop users will want without any of the bloat. We also discuss dual-booting on computers that feature Secure Boot and why it is difficult to find a good installation guide that accommodates all scenarios. As usual, we cover the releases of the past week and look forward to exciting new developments. We wish you all a wonderful week and happy reading.
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
First impressions of LXLE 12.04.3
Lately I have been hearing a lot of good things about a distribution called LXLE. Hype of any sort, good or bad, catches my attention and I, being a curious soul, like to find out what has drawn so much interest. On the surface LXLE, which stands for Lubuntu Extra Life Extension, doesn't come across as a particularly unusual distribution. The project is based on Lubuntu 12.04 (a long-term support release). The distribution ships with the small LXDE graphical interface, which allows the distribution to run on low-resource hardware. According to the project's website, LXLE maintains up-to-date applications on top of a stable Lubuntu core. The website goes on to say LXLE comes with multimedia support out of the box, features many useful applications and should be able to function as a "drop-in" replacement for Microsoft Windows. While I found the drop-in replacement claim to be a bold one, the idea of having a conservative Lubuntu core, a lightweight desktop and modern versions of applications greatly appealed to me and so I downloaded a copy.
The LXLE distribution is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit builds. The ISO files on the project's website are approximately 1.3GB in size. Booting from this media brings up a boot menu which asks if we would like to run the distribution from the live media or launch the system installer. I opted to try the live desktop environment. The system boots surprisingly quickly and brings us to a LXDE desktop with beautiful background wallpaper. Each time the system boots we see a different high-resolution background image and they are all lovely, in my opinion. I don't think I've ever spent as much of my week looking at my desktop background.
By default the application menu, quick-launch buttons and task switcher sit at the bottom of the display. An icon for launching the system installer sits in the upper-left corner of the desktop. In the upper-right corner of the display we find a panel which displays memory and CPU statistics. I was happy to find that there is a button in the system tray for hiding this statistics panel as its steady updates may be distracting to users. Over on the left side of the screen is a hidden panel and moving the mouse pointer close to the left edge of the display reveals a collection of quick-launch buttons which will open commonly used programs, such as the Firefox web browser and the distribution's package manager.
The LXLE system installer is the same used by Lubuntu, Ubuntu and the rest of the Ubuntu family. We are walked through selecting our preferred language, confirming our keyboard's layout, partitioning the disk and creating a user account. The process is all quite friendly and smooth. I quite like the way disk partitioning is laid out and guided options are available for less experienced users. The installer went to work copying files to my local disk and, a short time later, I was asked to reboot the machine.
LXLE 12.04.3 - the default desktop layout
(full image size: 598kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
The LXLE distribution boots quickly and brings us to a graphical login screen. One interesting aspect of the operating system is it comes with several different desktop layouts which allow it to mimic, in a small way, other popular operating systems. Available layouts are called G2, XP, Unity, OSX and Netbook. For the most part these various layouts look approximately the same, with the same theme and colours. They differ in the placement of desktop controls. For instance, the XP option places the application menu at the bottom of the screen and OSX places the same menu at the top. These are fairly minor differences, but I suspect they will help to make users from a diverse range of backgrounds feel slightly more at home. The one layout which stood apart was the Netbook environment, which turned my desktop into a mobile-style interface with large icons on the desktop and filter tabs across the top of the screen.
I tried running LXLE on a desktop machine (dual-core 2.8 GHz CPU, 6 GB of RAM, Radeon video card, Realtek network card) and found the distribution performed very well. The operating system was fast to boot, quick to respond to input and properly configured all my hardware. My screen was set to its maximum resolution and I was automatically connected to the local network upon signing into my account. Running LXLE in a VirtualBox virtual machine produced similar results, with the operating system running quickly and smoothly. The distribution used approximately 160MB of memory when I was signed into the LXDE desktop. This is slightly more memory than I would usually expect from a distribution running LXDE, but considering the various widgets, a background application checking for updates and the high resolution wallpaper, the extra memory seems to be put to good use.
LXLE 12.04.3 - package management and configuration tools
(full image size: 288kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
The distribution comes with two graphical package managers. The first is called Lubuntu Software Centre. This package manager shows us nice, large icons representing software categories and lets us browse for software in these categories. Clicking on an application's icon will let us bring up a screen with more details on the software or, alternatively, we can mark the package for installation with a click. The Software Centre window has three tabs, one for searching for new software, a second for browsing installed applications we may wish to remove and a third called the "apps basket". This basket shows us items marked for installation along with any required dependencies. All of the items in the basket can be installed with the click of a button. Our second graphical package manager is Synaptic, a popular software manager which focuses on individual packages. Though not as pretty as its counterpart, Synaptic works quickly and can process batches of package-related actions while showing us detailed status information. These two package managers pull software mostly from the Ubuntu repositories, but there are also items drawn from other locations, particularly third-party personal repositories (called PPAs).
LXLE comes with a good deal of software covering a wide range of functionality. Out of the box we are given the Firefox web browser and Adobe's Flash plugin, the Filezilla file transfer client, Claws Mail, the Pidgin messenger software and the Linphone software phone. The LibreOffice productivity suite is installed for us as are a document viewer and the Osmo calendar application. The simple FBReader e-book reader is available in the application menu alongside the GNU Image Manipulation Program. I found the Audacity audio editor, the Asunder CD ripper, the Brasero disc burning software and the Guayadque music player. There is a small app for watching YouTube videos called Minitube, the Totem video player and the Openshot video editor. The Rhythmbox audio player is installed for us along with the WinFF multimedia converter. Behind the scenes LXLE comes with popular multimedia codecs, giving the aforementioned media apps all the functionality they need. Several small games have been installed for us and we are provided with a full range of configuration apps for adjusting the look & feel of the LXDE interface.
There were a few surprises in the LXLE menu, including the Clam anti-virus scanner and Fast Forecast which displays weather information (defaulting to the New York area). I found a few administrative tools in the menu, including one for managing the firewall, one for working with user accounts and an application for managing third-party device drivers. Digging further I found Network Manager is available to help us get on-line, Java is included in the distribution and LXLE comes with the GNU Compiler Collection. The above software worked well for me with the only exception being an app called "Y PPA" which helps the user manage personal software repositories. I found it could list existing repositories, but also found the application would lock-up when asked to manipulate (add or remove) repositories or packages. Underneath all this software I found the Linux kernel, version 3.2, running the show.
LXLE 12.04.3 - various desktop applications
(full image size: 564kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Running the LXLE distribution this past week was, in my opinion, a breath of fresh air. The project's strengths are not in new technologies or revolutionary ideas, but rather in the way the developers present existing concepts in polished ways. The distribution takes a solid base (Lubuntu), a fast and familiar desktop environment (LXDE), all the modern conveniences and applications a user is likely to want and puts them together in a manner I found very pleasant and intuitive. The fact the distribution can present to us desktops with slightly different layouts and controls is a nice bonus, but really what LXLE excels at is being a "just works" desktop operating system. There is little glamor, but the interface looks good, there is a stable core, but the applications are fairly up to date. Multimedia, Flash, Java, developer tools, productivity and networking were all right at my fingertips from the moment the system finished installing. And the installation took less than fifteen minutes. There are two package managers, an easy point-n-click front-end and the more detail oriented Synaptic for experienced users.
There is a lot of functionality to be had with a comparatively small memory/CPU footprint and, to top it all off, the desktop looks nice, really nice. I only ran into two minor bugs, the weather app which kept insisting on showing me meteorological data from New York and the PPA repository app didn't work as I had hoped. Neither of these posed a serious issue and my work flow wasn't disrupted at all. It's not often I have a week which goes this smoothly, where just about everything works and my experience is so problem-free. The LXLE operating system is fast and I can just do stuff without distractions or irritations with virtual no setup time. I'm quite happy with what LXLE is offering and I think the project is well worth a look.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Ubuntu introduces new package format, LibreOffice and Kubuntu gain commercial support
Jono Bacon, the Ubuntu Community Manager at Canonical, has been busy letting people know about upcoming features soon to arrive in the popular Linux distribution. One of the more interesting features coming to Ubuntu is click packages, software packages which can be quickly and easily created by developers and uploaded to an on-line repository. Traditionally, Linux distributions have not made a distinction between the base operating system and applications. Click packages allow for a separation between the operating system and end-user applications, opening the door to some key benefits. Some of the benefits of click packages are a more secure package format, fewer dependencies and better sand-boxing for an overall more secure experience. Bacon writes: "Our goal is to have this full system in place for mobile in 13.10, and for desktop in 14.10. This will all make getting apps into Ubuntu quicker, easier, and more rewarding than ever before."
One of the features Ubuntu has been working on for the past several months is Mir, an alternative display server Canonical hopes to run on all Ubuntu-powered devices, from desktop computers to mobile phones. One of the many challenges facing Mir is the availability of video drivers and the Mir team received some bad news on that front this week. Intel has stated that, at this time, they do not plan to support XMir patches in their driver code. A recent patch to the Intel driver comes with the comment: "We do not condone or support Canonical in the course of action they have chosen, and will not carry XMir patches upstream." Intel video cards may still work with XMir, though it will mean Intel driver support will have to be maintained by Canonical as their patches will not be applied upstream.
* * * * *
In an interesting move the SUSE team and Collabora Productivity have partnered together to supply commercial LibreOffice support. Previously, SUSE has offered professional LibreOffice support for their customers, but going forward the SUSE team wants to focus on their core product, the SUSE operating system. Nils Brauckmann, President and General Manager of SUSE, wrote in a post, "In transitioning LibreOffice support to Collabora, SUSE is ensuring continuity of excellent support for its customers and providing for ongoing investment from Collabora into LibreOffice. This transition will allow SUSE to focus on our core Linux and cloud infrastructure businesses, while helping LibreOffice continue its trajectory of growth and usefulness." In addition to offering commercial support for LibreOffice across multiple platforms, Collabora will be joining the The Document Foundation's advisory board. Existing SUSE customers who have purchased LibreOffice support will be able to continue receiving support from SUSE until the end of their current contract.
* * * * *
Another open source project gaining commercial support is the Kubuntu distribution. The project, which marries Ubuntu with the KDE desktop, is a free community project. Users of Kubuntu will still be able to download the distribution free of charge and will have the option of purchasing support from Emerge Open. Johnathan Riddell, Kubuntu's lead developer, comments, "Emerge Open is good at putting together business opportunities with businesses. In our case we have a popular distro lacking professional support and Emerge Open are able to put us together with this office in England to provide the missing link." Support will be offered to all users, from individuals at home through to large enterprise deployments. Since Emerge Open is a not-for-profit organization any profit made by selling support for Kubuntu will be contributed back to the Kubuntu project.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
A tale of two operating systems
Needing-two-operating-systems asks: I recently had to purchase a new laptop and it came pre-loaded with Windows 8, UEFI, and Secure Boot enabled. I've spent about a week attempting to safely dual-boot Windows 8 with different distributions that claim to be Secure Boot compliant, such as Ubuntu 12.04.2, openSUSE 12.3, and Sabayon. My main hang-up has been that, even though I'd much rather have Linux on my laptop using all of the resources at its disposal as an installed operating system, there isn't currently a definitive guide out there for dual-booting a pre-installed Windows 8 computer with these Secure Boot Linux systems, and of course most distributors neglect to send back-up media with new computers nowadays (Windows 8 takes up 16 GB just to back up in most cases!). So I guess my question is, why? Windows 8 has been out for almost a year now, there are a handful of Linux systems using a variety of ways of dealing with Secure Boot, signed Microsoft keys and shim in particular, so why isn't there a really good guide, or guideline, out there for dual-booting? It's really aggravating to be tied down to a buggy, bloated system like this, and I'd like my freedom of choice back.
DistroWatch answers: Two things come to mind. The first is that, once Secure Boot is disabled (and you will have to disable Secure boot on most computers to install a second operating system, even if the second operating system supports Secure Boot), setting up a dual-boot system with Windows 8 and a Linux distro will be just the same as setting up a dual-boot system with Windows XP or Windows 7. From the point of view of the Linux distribution it won't matter what the "other" operating system is. You can use any guide which lays out the steps for dual-booting Linux with Windows.
The second issue is every OEM may have a slightly different implementation of UEFI and Secure Boot. Each OEM will have different steps to access the boot settings, different menus to traverse and different ways of disabling Secure Boot so the secondary operating system can be installed. (Some may not even require Secure Boot to be disabled to install a second operating system, but I know some do.)
Really, the reason there isn't one grand guide to rule all Windows 8 & Linux installations is that each OEM has different steps and requirements, which makes a complete guide virtually impossible to write and test. My own computer, which came with Secure Boot enabled, didn't have any documentation, no hints and no way of finding out what to do short of either experimenting or calling the OEM for support. To make matters worse, every computer my clients have brought to me has used different steps to access Secure Boot.
You said you wanted your freedom of choice back. Ideally, the way to do that is to purchase a computer without Secure Boot, but it is a little late for that. Another way would be to return your computer and get one that respects your freedom. A third way would be to simply disable Secure Boot (contact your OEM if it's not clear how to disable Secure Boot) and follow any guide you like to install Linux alongside Windows. You might try this one for dual-booting with Ubuntu.
|Released Last Week
Semplice Linux 5
Eugenio Paolantonio has announced the release of Semplice Linux 5, a new version of the project's lightweight and simple GNU/Linux distribution based on Debian's "unstable" branch: "It's our pleasure to announce the immediate release of the fifth stable release of Semplice Linux. Changes? Are there any changes or you just kept drinking? We haven't just spent nights drinking; we changed a lot of things and fixed many nasty bugs. For example, we added UEFI, LVM and encrypted LVM support in our even more awesome installer. So even if the NSA goes to your home, they can't retrieve your important personal data. And you can get easily to your favourite web applications via our new WebKit-based web application viewer, oneslip. By default we include links to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a beautiful Tetris game. Also, you can now further customize the features of your Semplice box. Other changes are listed in the changelog." Here is the brief release announcement, with further information available in the more detailed release notes for more details.
Semplice Linux 5 - a lightweight distribution based on Debian's unstable branch
(full image size: 493kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Linux From Scratch 7.4
Bruce Dubbs has announced a new stable release of Linux From Scratch (LFS), version 7.4. The Linux From Scratch project publishes a book of step-by-step instructions on how to build a base Linux system from scratch - from an existing Linux system or a live CD. The publication serves primarily as an educational exercise for those who would like to learn about Linux internals in a hands-on, practical manner. From the brief announcement on the project's news page: "The Linux From Scratch community announces the release of Linux From Scratch stable version 7.4. It is a major release with toolchain updates to Binutils 2.23.2, glibc 2.18 and GCC 4.8.1. In total, 32 packages (of 62) were updated from LFS 7.3 and changes to boot scripts and text have been made throughout the book." Other changes include updates to Linux kernel 3.10.10, Perl 5.18.1, systemd 206 and Vim 7.4. See the changelog for a full list of changes, fixes and package updates.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list|
- nOS. nOS is designed with easy usability, simplicity and speed in mind. The project is based around KDE and Ubuntu.
- arkOS. arkOS is a server operating system designed for the Raspberry Pi mini computer.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 16 September 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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|• Issue 689 (2016-11-28): openSUSE 42.2, Fedora's upgrade path, plans for Korora 25, transitioning from PC-BSD to TrueOS, Webconverger's reproducible builds|
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|• Issue 683 (2016-10-17): Refracta 8.0, making packages for distributions, Alpine switches to LibreSSL, 386BSD website publishes classic code|
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|• Issue 681 (2016-10-03): OpenBSD 6.0, DragonFly BSD to support LibreSSL in ports, systemd denial of service bug, upgraded Mintbox Mini|
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|• Issue 679 (2016-09-19): OpenMandriva 3.0, 32-bit vs 64-bit performance, openSUSE updates, KaOS unveils first run wizard|
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|• Issue 648 (2016-02-15): XStream Desktop 153, Raspbian unveils OpenGL feature, free hardware, Ikey Doherty talks desktop design|
|• Full list of all issues|
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