| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 528, 7 October 2013
Welcome to this year's 40th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! People, both inside and outside the open source community, tend to generalize the capabilities of free and open source software. It's common to hear all open source projects being lumped together or to hear people talk about what Linux can do or how the BSDs work, as though all GNU/Linux and BSD variants were created equally. The truth is each open source operating system is not equivalent, the ecosystem is not level like the surface of a calm pond where all features are shared. Rather each distribution has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own features, bugs and design goals. This week we highlight some of these differences and look at projects adopting new technologies. In this issue of DistroWatch Weekly we will cover Haiku's final moves to adopt modern package management, the Debian project's plans to better support advanced file system technology via ZFS and we check in with Canonical's progress with Mir, the alternative display server. We will also hear from two developers of popular live distributions, Klaus Knopper of the KNOPPIX distribution and Barry Kauler, creator of Puppy Linux. In our Questions & Answers section we look at ways developers can create their own customized Linux distributions and Jesse Smith takes Semplice, a Debian-based operating system, for a test spin. Read on to learn how well Semplice's latest release works. As usual we cover releases from the past week and look ahead to exciting new developments in the open source world. We wish you all a wonderful week and happy reading!
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
First impressions of Semplice Linux 5
Semplice Linux is a distribution based on the Debian GNU/Linux project. Specifically, Semplice is built using software from Debian's Unstable branch. The Semplice developers use the software packages in the Unstable repository and combine them with a custom graphical installer. The project's website also mentions that the distribution comes with support for encrypted LVM volumes and that Semplice is focused on being fast, light on resources, "rock solid" and elegant. This is accomplished by combining the Unstable Debian base with the Openbox window manager. The distribution is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit builds and the ISO provided on the website weighs in at approximately 620 MB.
Booting from the distribution's live media brings up a graphical interface with a single window. This window contains three tabs which invite us to select our keyboard's layout, our preferred language and our time zone. Once we confirm these settings are correct the window disappears and we are shown an Openbox interface. The background is bright blue. At the bottom of the display we find a task switcher and system tray. Right-clicking on the background brings up the distribution's application menu. One of the top-level items in the menu is an entry for the distribution's system installer.
Semplice Linux 5 - visiting the project's website
(full image size: 398kB, screen resolution 1280x960 pixels)
Semplice's system installer is a graphical application. The program presents a friendly interface and walks us through the usual steps. We are asked to confirm our preferred language, our keyboard's layout and the local time zone. We are asked if we would like to check for updates to the system installer in the distribution's repositories. I did perform this check and the installer did find an updated version of itself on-line. I downloaded this update and the installer restarted itself to perform the upgrade. We are asked to create a user account for ourselves and, optionally, we can enable the root account. By default Semplice sets up the first user account with sudo administrative access and disables the root account. However, we have the option of enabling the root account and setting a password to protect it. When we get to the disk partitioning screens we have the option of a guided path where the installer will try to divide our hard disk for us. Alternatively we can manually partition the local disk.
I found manual partitioning was a little awkward, mostly due to the screen's layout. I also found that when I tried to create LVM volumes the installer wouldn't allow it. There is a dialogue which asks us to name our new volume and that screen's "OK" button was disabled, preventing me from proceeding. There are traditional file system options available too, including ext2/3/4 and ReiserFS. Once the disk has been partitioned we are asked if we would like to install the GRUB boot loader. With this done the final step we are presented with is enabling/disabling certain features and services. Semplice's installer allows us to decide at install time whether we need Bluetooth support, printing software, productivity software, visual desktop effects, web apps and proprietary packages. Once we check off which items we do (or do not) want the installer copies its files to the local disk. This only takes a few minutes and, when the process has completed, we are prompted to reboot the computer.
The Semplice Linux distribution comes with a good deal of useful software. Right out of the box we are given the Chromium web browser, the Claws Mail e-mail client, the XChat IRC software and the Pidgin instant messaging software. The gFTP file transfer client is installed for us along with the uGet download manager, a document viewer and the GNU Paint drawing program. The AbiWord word processor and the Gnumeric spreadsheet applications are available in the menu too. I found MPlayer on the system as well as the xfburn disc burner and the Exaile audio player. There was a copy of Tetris in the Games sub-menu and I found a text editor, calculator, image viewer, file manager and archive manager present.
There were a handful of configuration utilities in the application menu allowing us to easily work with network settings, system services and user accounts. There were also apps for managing the appearance of the Openbox window manager. Among the applications were web app entries which opened a minimal web browser to the Twitter and Facebook websites. There is also a link to the Semplice project website. Digging deeper I found Semplice comes with a full range of multimedia codecs and Adobe's Flash plugin. With the default installation the system runs a secure shell service. I also found the GNU Compiler Collection was available. In the background the Linux kernel, version 3.10, kept things running.
Semplice Linux 5 - running various desktop applications
(full image size: 241kB, screen resolution 1280x960 pixels)
I ran into a few minor issues while I was working with Semplice. For example, when running the "top" process monitor in a virtual terminal the system statistics were missing from the top of the screen. With a little exploring I found the virtual terminal's colours were set up in a way which made the text invisible. Changing to a different colour scheme worked for a short time, but the next time I opened a terminal the colours had reverted back to their defaults. My settings were always lost when the terminal was closed. Another instance where settings were not respected showed up post-install. While I was setting up Semplice the installer asked which services I wanted to enable. These included Bluetooth, printing support, web apps and a few other items.
I told the installer to skip Bluetooth support and not to install printing software. However, once Semplice had been installed I went into the services manager application and found both Bluetooth and printing services were installed and enabled. A third curious problem came up when I tried to connect to the distribution's secure shell service. Any attempt to connect via secure shell resulted in the connection being reset and dropped. I soon found this problem came from the distribution not generating host keys for OpenSSH to use. Once these keys were manually generated I was able to make use of the secure shell server.
Software packages are handled by the Synaptic graphical package manager. Synaptic fills in as the distribution's software updating application and general purpose package manager. The venerable application may not have the eye candy offered by more modern package managers, but Synaptic is quite capable. It allows us to create batches of actions to perform and the program works quickly, offering us detailed information while it is working. The distribution pulls packages from a few different software repositories. Semplice, by default, pulls software from Debian's Unstable repositories as well as some custom Semplice repositories. When I first installed the distribution there were 137 updates waiting for me, weighing in at approximately 135MB in size. By the end of the week I had installed over 200 updates totaling around 200MB in size. Semplice, being based on Debian's Unstable branch, is effectively a rolling release distribution and will typically receive a rapid stream of cutting-edge packages.
Semplice Linux 5 - managing packages and services
(full image size: 299kB, screen resolution 1280x960 pixels)
I tried running Semplice Linux on my desktop machine (dual-core 2.8 GHz CPU, 6 GB of RAM, Radeon video card, Realtek network card) and in a virtual machine powered by VirtualBox. Despite several attempts using different kernel parameters I was unable to get Semplice to boot on my physical computer. On the other hand, Semplice ran well in the virtual environment. While running in VirtualBox I found the distribution booted quickly, was responsive and was (for the duration of my trial) stable. The distribution was fairly light on memory, using approximately 130 MB of RAM.
My time with Semplice was, in a word, okay. I realize that's not a ringing endorsement, nor is it meant to be dismissive. Semplice, overall, performed well, it comes with a lot of good software and I think its system installer is nicer than Debian's, at least for desktop systems. The administrative tools Semplice comes with are helpful and, with access to Debian's repositories, the distribution gives us a huge pool of software packages from which to draw. The project stays fairly close to the cutting edge and users will need to be mindful of that if they wish to avoid downtime following package upgrades, but at the same time it gives us a chance to experiment. On the flip side, there were a few problems I ran into. The installer didn't appear to respect my choice of system services and I wasn't able to make use of encrypted LVM volumes.
There were other little problems like the virtual terminal not remembering my settings. Plus, I couldn't help shake the feeling that Semplice, with its fairly user-friendly style, might have been better off using LXDE instead of plain Openbox for the graphical interface. Not that I have anything against Openbox, but LXDE provides a nice, familiar interface for new users and would probably make more people feel at home while carrying approximately the same resource footprint. Another issue was Semplice didn't run on my physical hardware. I try not to hold this against distributions as what works for me may not work for others and, for that matter, what works for other people doesn't always run for me. Still, other Debian-derived projects, such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint Debian Edition, typically run smoothly on this hardware so I was surprised to find Semplice did not. One final issue was the way the OpenSSH service was running, but no host key was provided, causing secure shell connections to drop. It was a minor thing to create new host keys, but it would have been nice to have secure shell working right from the start.
In short, my first impression of Semplice is the distribution looks nice, makes a few improvements over plain Debian (at least for desktop/laptop users) and comes with a good selection of default software. However, it does have some rough edges. Perhaps nothing serious, nothing that would scare away an intermediate Linux user, but there were a few problems which I hope will get smoothed out in future releases.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Haiku gains package management, Ubuntu delays Mir on desktops and Debian works toward ZFS support
The Haiku project is a descendant of BeOS which attempts to create a modern, open source operating system with a focus on having a responsive user interface even under heavy system loads. In the past we talked about the introduction of a ports and package management system to Haiku. Having an official package manager should make it easier for developers to supply software to Haiku users and it will make it easier to install software on the Haiku system. Last week functional package management was introduced into the main Haiku code repository and users should soon be able to make use of the exciting new feature. In a blog post entitled "Package Management Goes Live" it was announced, "When manually moving packages into or out of one of the "packages" directories, the package daemon does now resolve the package dependencies and suggests and performs download and installation or deinstallation of additional packages as necessary. Regardless of the method of activating a package (manually or via the package manager) the daemon does now also -- as specified in the package -- extract default settings files, create Unix users and groups, and run post-installation scripts."
* * * * *
Mir is an alternative display server being developed by Canonical for the Ubuntu operating system. The new display technology was designed to replace the aging X software and run across all Ubuntu-powered devices, including desktops, laptops and mobile phones. Originally the Mir team had hoped to ship Ubuntu 13.10 with Mir enabled by default and it looks as though this goal will be pushed back to a later release. In a blog post detailing plans for Mir one developer noted, "While we are on track to successfully deliver Mir for Ubuntu on smart phones, we are unfortunately not going to be able to deliver Mir + XMir + Unity 7 as the default experience on the desktop. Mir has made tremendous progress and is currently available [in] the Ubuntu archive for use, but there are still some outstanding quality issues that we want to resolve before we feel comfortable turning it on by default. Many of these issues live in the XMir part of the stack, which provides the integration between the X server and the underlying Mir system compositor. More specifically, the multi-monitor support in XMir is working, but not to the extent we'd like to see it for all of our users." More information on Mir's development can be found on the Ubuntu wiki.
* * * * *
FS is an advanced file system which supplies many powerful features and data management tools to system administrators. The ZFS utilities have become popular in the Solaris and BSD communities, but adoption of ZFS has been slow in the Linux community due to concerns over the software's license. The Debian GNU/Linux project is working on adopting the powerful file system technology and adopting it in such a way as to avoid licensing conflicts. "The remaining question for D-I official acceptance is the way of how binary ZFS kernel modules can be handled. Upstream ZoL project said the modules can be distributed legally in binary form, but Debian's FTP Team still haven't [made] a decision." If successful, this would allow Debian administrators to automate scheduled file system snapshots, quickly recovery corrupted operating systems by way of boot environments and create massive data storage pools.
* * * * *
The Puppy Linux project has been an ongoing labour of love for Barry Kauler for ten years now. The project has become well known as a user-friendly live CD for low-resource machines. Unfortunately it looks as though the project's days may be numbered. Kauler posted on his blog that he is considering retirement from the Puppy project: "I started the Puppy Linux project in 2003, so I have been at it for ten years. Enough, it is finally time to retire. I know that I have announced my retirement before, then not done it. However this time it is looking much more certain. I don't plan to just suddenly pull the plug, rather just put Woof (and Puppy) in "maintenance mode" for the next year (or as long as I deem necessary), while a few things get sorted out. `Maintenance mode' means that I will continue to work on Woof, but just focused on essential fixes, rather than any new features." Kauler went on to say that he is looking at other Puppy-related projects and hopes to continue to be involved in the project, even if he is no longer leading Puppy's development.
* * * * *
Another long celebrated live CD is KNOPPIX, a Debian-based distribution which acts as a Swiss Army knife for system administrators. The KNOPPIX distribution provided a friendly desktop interface on a live CD before most distributions began the practice and the project continues to be highly useful to this day. The Everyday Linux User blog has an interview with the creator of KNOPPIX, Klaus Knopper, in which the developer talks about KNOPPIX's past, the community, feedback from users and the project's future. It is an interesting talk with a developer who has been creating useful (and freely available) utilities consistently for over a decade.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Making a custom distribution
Building-something-new asks: I am interested in building my own custom distribution. What tools are available to help me do this?
DistroWatch answers: The right tool for building your own custom distribution will vary depending on your level of experience and just how unique you want your distribution to be. For instance, if you would like to base your distribution off of Ubuntu (or a derivative of Ubuntu) you can use a nice point-n-click graphical utility called Ubuntu-Builder. The Ubuntu Builder software allows you to take Ubuntu (or a distribution based on Ubuntu, such as Linux Mint) and customize the system. Ubuntu-Builder features a nice, friendly interface and allows the user to easily test and rebuild the Ubuntu ISO image. This allows for a great deal of customization on top of an existing distribution base.
Another way to go would be to use SUSE Studio. The SUSE Studio website allows users to build custom operating systems using the packages and technology which are available in openSUSE. The SUSE Studio website helps users create ISO images and virtual machine images of the customized operating system. The website is fairly straight forward to use and gives the user access is a large selection of software.
More adventurous people may want to look at Linux from Scratch. The Linux from Scratch website provides step-by-step instructions for building a Linux-based operating system from the ground up. This is a good deal more work than using a graphical point-n-click method of building a custom operating system. However, Linux from Scratch will give you a low-level, highly flexible approach to building your ideal Linux distribution. It requires a level of comfort with the command line, but following the Linux from Scratch instructions provides a very educational experience.
I suspect the important question to ask yourself now is: are you looking to make small adjustments to an existing operating system in order to make it better suit your needs, or do you wish to create something that is uniquely yours? The Linux from Scratch project will help you start with practically nothing and work up to a full operating system whereas SUSE Studio and Ubuntu-Builder are utilities best suited to customizing existing operating systems.
|Released Last Week
Manjaro Linux 0.8.7.1 "MATE", "Enlightenment"
The Manjaro development team has announced the release of two community-built editions of Manjaro Linux 0.8.7.1 - one featuring the MATE desktop and the other the Enlightenment window manager. Both editions come with Linux kernel 3.10.12, X.Org Server 1.14.2 and Firefox 23.0.1; the MATE desktop is at version 1.6.1 while Enlightenment is version 0.17.4. From the "MATE" edition release announcement: "On behalf of the Manjaro Turkey community we are happy to announce our MATE respin of Manjaro Linux 'Ascella'. With this release the Turkish community adds a nicely-styled install media, in addition to all officially released editions by Manjaro developers. This respin is based on the stable branch and it can be used on a daily basis and easily installed by graphical or text installers." The "Enlightenment" announcement contains much of the same text, but adds a warning about a known issue: "Sadly we missed to add any polkit agent to these install media."
NetBSD 6.1.2, 6.0.3
Jeff Rizzo has announced the availability of NetBSD 6.1.2 and 6.0.3, two new updates to the NetBSD 6.1 and 6.0 release branches: "The NetBSD project is pleased to announce NetBSD 6.1.2, the second security and bug-fix update of the NetBSD 6.1 release branch, and NetBSD 6.0.3, the third security and bug-fix update of the NetBSD 6.0 release branch. They represent a selected subset of fixes deemed important for security or stability reasons and if you are running a prior release of NetBSD 6.x, you are recommended to update." Some of the changes in the 6.1.2 release include: "virtio(4) - fixed a panic during shutdown on KVM; uhci(4) - fixed USB device enumeration in some cases, fixed some ops on big-endian machines...." See the brief release announcement and read the more detailed release notes for further information.
Paweł Pijanowski has announced the release of Sparky Linux 3.1, a set of lightweight Debian-based distributions coming in "LXDE", "Ultra" (with Openbox and JWM) and "CLI" flavours: "SparkyLinux 3.1 'Annagerman' LXDE, Ultra and CLI are out. New ISO images of SparkyLinux 3.1 providing a few changes and system improvements, such as: Linux kernel 3.10.11; all packages have been updated from Debian's 'testing' repositories as of 2013-09-27; added a TeamViewer client for remotely controlling other machines; added Sparky APTus - a small, simple and lightweight front-end for apt-get for upgrading and cleaning up the system, installing and removing packages; added Minitube - a lightweight video player for YouTube videos; added Gnote - a lightweight notes taking utility; added Osmo - a lightweight personal organizer; added Radio Tray - a very small application for listening to Internet radio...." Here is the brief release announcement.
FreeBSD 9.2, the latest update in the stable 9 branch, has been released: "The FreeBSD Release Engineering team is pleased to announce the availability of FreeBSD 9.2-RELEASE. This is the second release from the stable/9 branch, which improves on the stability of FreeBSD 9.1 and introduces some new features. Some of the highlights: The ZFS file system now supports TRIM when used on solid state drives; the virtio(4) drivers have been added to the GENERIC kernel configuration for amd64 and i386 architectures; the ZFS file system now supports lz4 compression; OpenSSL has been updated to version 0.9.8y; DTrace hooks have been enabled by default in the GENERIC kernel; DTrace has been updated to version 1.9.0; Sendmail has been updated to version 8.14.7; OpenSSH has been updated to version 6.2p2; import unmapped I/O support from head/." Here is the brief release announcement and release notes for more information.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.10
Red Hat has announced the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5.10, the latest update of the distribution's legacy 5.x branch: "Red Hat, Inc, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, announced today the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.10, the latest minor release of the mature Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 platform. With an emphasis on providing greater stability for critical applications, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.10 offers enhanced features for reliability and security, including an updated version of OpenSCAP - the open source Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) configuration scanner, which meets the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) SCAP 1.2 standard. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.10 reiterates Red Hat's commitment to a 10-year life cycle for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5." Read the press release and the detailed release notes for more details.
Michael Letschin has announced the release of NexentaStor 3.1.5, a new version of the project's specialist distribution optimised for virtualisation and network-attached storage - based on the Illumos kernel and ZFS file system: "Nexenta is pleased to announce the availability of our latest software release, NexentaStor 3.1.5. This new software release is available now for download from Nexenta Community. This new release is available to both our Enterprise edition users as well as our NexentaStor Community. In addition to general maintenance fixes, NexentaStor 3.1.5 includes key enhancements in the following areas: AutoSync performance and reliability enhancements; NDMP updates. As previously communicated to the community, the licensed capacity for NexentaStor 3.1.5 remains 18 TB usable. NexentaStor 4.0 Community edition continues to move forward, and we will provide updates on the progress of that release later this quarter." Read the release announcement and consult the release notes (PDF format) for further information.
Point Linux 2.2
Peter Ryzhenkov has announced the release of Point Linux 2.2, a desktop Linux distribution based on Debian's "stable" branch and featuring the MATE desktop environment. This is a minor update to Point Linux 13.04.1 released in June. From the release notes: "This minor release brings some notable changes and prepares Point Linux for the next big release. Point Linux version numbering policy has been changed. The 13.04.X release is renumbered to 2.X. Changes in distribution: Firefox 24.0, Thunderbird 24.0, and LibreOffice 4.1; KVM/QEMU SPICE support; fast user switch enabled; up-to-date Debian packages. Changes in Point Linux installer: Vietnamese locale support; Windows 8.1 detection; NetworkManager connections (e.g. WiFi) established in the live CD/USB session transferred into newly installed system; screensaver lock enabled by default if system was installed without auto-login turned on."
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list|
- Zandu OS. Zandu OS is a general purpose desktop and server operating system.
- OSDDlinux. This open source operating system is designed to allow students, academicians and researchers to contribute toward drug discovery/designing.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 14 October 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.
(Tips this week: 0, value: US$0.00)
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|• Issue 710 (2017-05-01): TrueOS 2017-02-22, Debian ported to RISC-V, Halium to unify mobile GNU/Linux, Anbox runs Android apps on GNU/Linux, using ZFS on the root file system|
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|• Issue 708 (2017-04-17): Maui Linux 17.03, Snaps run on Fedora, Void adopts Flatpak, running Android apps on GNU/Linux, Debian elects Project Leader|
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|• Issue 703 (2017-03-13): SolydXK 201701, CloudReady, Solus announces new features, KDE Connect sends text messages from desktop, openSUSE's YaST module for Let's Encrypt|
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|• Issue 698 (2017-02-06): Solus 2017.01.01, comparing containers with portable applicatins, Tails dropping 32-bit support, Debian Stretch enters freeze|
|• Issue 697 (2017-01-30): Subgraph OS 2016.12.30, running Ubuntu on an Android phone, Arch Linux phasing out 32-bit support, Linux Mint testing updated LMDE media|
|• Issue 696 (2017-01-23): GoboLinux 016, remotely running desktop applications, Solus adopting Flatpak, KDE neon using Calamares, TrueOS tests OpenRC|
|• Issue 695 (2017-01-16): Zorin OS 12, Peppermint team fixes installer bug, Debian refreshes Jessie media, Ubuntu improves low graphics mode, Exciting things coming in 2017|
|• Issue 694 (2017-01-09): MX Linux 16, Fedora considers systemd security features, DragonFly BSD to support massive swap space, Ubuntu Touch roadmap, Puppy's newsletter, sudo's password prompt|
|• Issue 693 (2017-01-02): Comparing small distros, fig language, video driver comparsion, Debian+PIXEL, Wayland on FreeBSD|
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|• Issue 672 (2016-08-01): Ubuntu Phone 15.04, Solus embraces rolling release model, interview with Jane Silber, FreeBSD Quarterly Report|
|• Issue 671 (2016-07-25): Slackware 14.2, Point Linux 3.2, OpenBSD disables usermount, KaOS releases significant changes, Fedora 22 reaches end of life.|
|• Issue 670 (2016-07-18): Linux Lite 3.0, Bodhi team plans 4.0.0, pfSense changes licensing, running software across distributions, Linux Mint upgrade path|
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|• Issue 665 (2016-06-13): BunsenLabs Linux Hydrogen, Fedora 24 delayed, NetBSD grows in size, Clonezilla questions|
|• Issue 664 (2016-06-06): Sabayon 16.05, Debian updates install media, the cost of free software, Qubes explains secure build process|
|• Issue 663 (2016-05-30): Comparing live update methods, Ubuntu MATE's progress, distros debate systemd change, DistroWatch turns 15|
|• Issue 662 (2016-05-23): Clonezilla Live, new Fedora community repository, DragonFlyBSD runs Wayland, a live edition of Slackware and kernel components|
|• Full list of all issues|