| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 533, 11 November 2013
Welcome to this year's 45th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! In the open source community we are accustomed to seeing Linux distributions come and go. Some fork, some rise to fame and some quickly disappear. This week we learn about the Pisi distribution, a project which has had its share of ups and downs during its life and which is now nearing its 1.0 milestone. Plus, we celebrate a new release from the oldest surviving Linux distribution, Slackware! We will also hear about Point Linux, a Debian derivative that is optimized for the desktop. Is this distribution just another Debian re-spin or does Point Linux offer something special? Read Jesse Smith's review below to find out. This week we talk about desktop performance and how to improve it, using Debian as an example. Further on the topic of Debian, the venerable project is reconsidering its default desktop environment and is currently experimenting with the idea of shipping Xfce as the primary desktop in the next version of Debian Stable. Also in this issue of DistroWatch Weekly we will cover an organization which is combining Linux and recycled hardware to supply computers to those in need. As usual we cover the distribution releases of the past week and look forward to exciting new releases to come. We wish you all a wonderful week and happy reading!
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (16MB) and MP3 (29MB) formats
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
On point with Point Linux 2.2
The Point Linux distribution is a project based on Debian GNU/Linux 7 "Wheezy" which features a friendly graphical installer and the MATE desktop environment. The Point Linux website says the distribution is essentially Debian optimized for desktop usage and attempts to provide a high degree of functionality out of the box. The Point Linux distribution comes in two flavours, a Core edition which is 650 MB in size and features a bare essentials version of the MATE desktop. The second edition, Full, comes with multimedia support and more applications. I opted to download the Full version, the ISO for which is about 940 MB in size. Both the Core and Full editions are available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds.
Booting from the live DVD brings up the MATE desktop. The background resembles an evening sky and, on the desktop, we find icons for browsing the file system and launching the system installer. At the top of the screen we find the application menu and system tray. Along the bottom of the display we find MATE's task switcher. I opted to jump straight into the installation process. Point Linux comes with a graphical system installer which presents a fairly intuitive and streamlined process. We are walked through selecting our preferred language, confirming our time zone, confirming our keyboard's layout and creating a user account. We then tell the installer which hard drive we wish to use for the installation. The installer will suggest a partition layout for us and we have the option of overriding the installer's choices and manually editing the drive's partitions. Should we choose to manually partition the drive the GParted partition manager is launched and, when we are finished with GParted, we are returned to the installer where we can assign mount points. We are given the option of installing the GRUB boot loader and then a confirmation screen appears listing actions the installer will take and our current settings. We then have the chance to either go back and alter settings or proceed with the installation. I found the installer copied its files quickly, after which I was prompted to reboot the computer.
Right away I ran into a problem with Point Linux, namely the distribution would not boot on my physical hardware (dual-core 2.8 GHz CPU, 6 GB of RAM, Radeon video card, Realtek network card). I tried several different boot options, but in the end I eventually had to admit the distribution simply wasn't going to give me a login prompt. The operating system did, on the other hand, run beautifully in VirtualBox. Point Linux ran quickly in the virtual environment, it handled virtual machine window resizes gracefully and the MATE desktop was highly responsive. I found logging into MATE caused Point Linux to use approximately 160MB of RAM, a fairly small footprint for a full featured desktop distribution.
Point Linux 2.2 - downloading package updates
(full image size: 862kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
In the virtual environment Point Linux boots to a pleasant graphical login screen. Logging in brings us back to the MATE desktop and, almost immediately, a notification appeared in the upper-right corner of the screen telling me software updates were available. Clicking on this notification brought up a simple software update manager which listed new packages available in the software repositories and, with a click, I was able to download and install these waiting upgrades. Further, on the topic of package management, Point Linux comes with the Synaptic graphical software manager. Synaptic has a classic look and takes a package-focused approach to software management. It's a no-frills package manager which allows us to build batches of actions to perform on packages. The interface provides a good deal of information and Synaptic works quickly. Point Linux pulls software packages from the Debian repositories for the most part, with some packages coming from a custom Point Linux repository.
According to the distribution's website, Point Linux is designed to be useful out of the box as a desktop system and I feel the collection of software which comes on the Full edition's DVD supports this claim. The distribution ships with the Firefox web browser along with a Flash plugin. We are provided with Network Manager to help us get on-line. We are given the Thunderbird e-mail client, the Pidgin instant messaging client and the Transmission bittorrent client. LibreOffice is provided out of the box and we are given a document viewer. I found Point Linux came with the Brasero disc burner and the VLC multimedia player. The distribution ships with an archive manager, a virtual calculator and a text editor. We are also given a collection of applications which allow the user to customize the look & feel of the MATE desktop. Digging through the available software I found a collection of administration utilities, including a service manager, a printer manager and an application for working with user accounts. All of this software worked smoothly and I encountered no problems during my time with Point Linux. Digging a little deeper we find Java is installed and Point Linux ships with the GNU Compiler Collection. In the background the distribution runs on the Linux kernel, version 3.2. The distribution also runs a network mail service in the background.
Point Linux 2.2 - running various applications on the MATE desktop
(full image size: 512kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
A few weeks ago, when someone first suggested I try Point Linux, I was a little underwhelmed at the idea. I had just finished reviewing Kwheezy, another Debian-based project which featured lots of useful software out of the box and a friendly installer. I was suspicious running Point Linux would be more of the same experience, functional yet overly familiar. As it turned out, I found Point Linux to be both a very pleasant desktop operating system and a very different experience from running Kwheezy. Kwheezy shipped with KDE, had lots of flash, flare and, frankly, far more software than I wanted packed onto its installation media. While Kwheezy was functional, I spent a lot of time trying to calm down the interface and find the software I wanted in the distribution's crowded application menu. Point Linux, by contrast, was much more subtle. Everything from the wallpaper to the icon theme to the simple notification system felt low-key and friendly. Point Linux comes with one dedicated application for each task and the applications are obviously chosen with care to be some of the best available in the open source community. The combination of a few custom packages on top of Debian's stable base made for an uncluttered, super fast desktop experience.
Point Linux 2.2 - various administration utilities
(full image size: 407kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Aside from the hardware-related issue I experienced on my physical machine, Point Linux gave me no problems. In fact, given the distribution's integration and performance in the virtual machine, I found Point Linux to be one of the more pleasant experiences I've had with a Linux distribution in recent memory. The only areas I felt could be improved were minor. For instance, Point Linux comes with the VLC multimedia player which is great for watching videos, but I would have liked to have had a dedicated music player such as Rhythmbox. I also need to acknowledge that Synaptic is a fine, capable package manager, but it isn't as user friendly as some other available software managers. It would have been nice to see these two small gaps addressed. However, at this point I'm really grasping at straws to find things to critique. Point Linux provided a top-notch experience with its performance, style, installer and application selection. I recommend giving it a try, it is (as the project's website states) Debian optimized for the desktop. The distribution is calm, fast, stable, clean and pleasantly uncomplicated.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar)
Pisi status update, Debian considers switching to Xfce, interview with Mageia's Bruno Cornec, Ubuntu on recycled computers, Linus Torvalds ponders bug-fix only kernel release
Linux distributions come and some go. A rare few are created, face closure and rise again like a phoenix from the ashes. It looks as though Pisi Linux will fall into this latter category of distributions that, despite setbacks, continue to be developed. The Open Source Frog blog has a post on Pisi Linux -- the project's beginnings, its trials and its ongoing march to a stable 1.0 release. It looks as though Pisi will provide a rolling-release distribution which is built from scratch and will focus on the KDE desktop for its default interface. Be sure to check out the project's website for more information.
* * * * *
During the development cycle leading up to Debian GNU/Linux "Wheezy" the Debian team considered the option of making Xfce the default desktop environment for the distribution. This consideration was primarily due to space limitations on the Debian installation CD. However, the developers managed to work around the space restriction and GNOME retained its place as Debian's default desktop. The question as to which desktop should be made the default in Debian's next stable release, named "Jessie", is now on the table. For the time being, Xfce has been made the default as part of an on-going evaluation. The developers want to test the state of accessibility of both GNOME and Xfce, avoid size constraints with regards to CD installation media and evaluate how many people will switch to an alternative desktop if Xfce is made the default. The switch to Xfce is not a final decision, as Joey Hess writes, "This will be re-evaluated before Jessie is frozen. The evaluation will
start around the point of DebConf (August 2014). If at that point GNOME looks like a better choice, it'll go back as the default."
* * * * *
Bruno Cornec, a Linux enthusiast and one of the most prominent contributors to Mageia (and previously also Mandriva Linux), has given an interview on his favourite distribution's blog. When asked about his beginnings with Linux, the well-known Mageia personality gives an overview of his involvement with the popular open-source operating system: "I started using Linux in 1993 with Slackware and kernel 0.99pl14. After some years compiling software more than using my distribution, I found the concept of packaging very useful and adopted Red Hat Linux rapidly after it appeared. But after some years dealing with dependencies manually, I finally found that Mandrake Linux was providing, with urpmi, a very nice way to solve my pain point, so again I moved an adopted it. The move to Mandriva was obvious, and the move again to Mageia was also for me obvious as it was a community-driven project which I find more valuable and nearer to what I search for in FLOSS. And as I'm doing lots of stuff, I thought that if I had a bit of time to dedicate to a distro, it should be a community one, RPM based to benefit from the background I had, (and not RPM5!) and with nice people caring for it."
* * * * *
Project: Community Computers is an organization which attempts to reduce the divide between those who can afford Internet-enabled computers and those who cannot. The project reuses and recycles computers, passing the machines on to communities where modern computers are not available or not affordable. System76, a company which specializes in shipping computers with the Ubuntu operating system pre-installed, is getting involved with Project: Community Computers. The I Love Ubuntu blog reports: "System76 is involved in reducing the gap between developed and undeveloped countries/regions/individuals (from an economic point of view) by offering computers powered by Ubuntu to in-development persons, and, therefore, increasing their ability to experience a more proper IT life and to benefit related effects (increased knowledge, Internet, communication across the world, etc)." It is good to see free and open source software being used to bring technology to those who can benefit from it most.
* * * * *
Linux distributions and the Linux kernel itself are constantly evolving. The number of companies and developers contributing to the popular open source kernel is staggering and the kernel's features are constantly being enhanced. Having this many developers on a project is a blessing, but it carries a concern as to whether all these developers can be convinced to work together to fix bugs rather than to work on interesting new features. That is a question kernel creator Linus Torvalds tackled in a recent mailing list post where he mentioned, "I've been mulling over something Dirk Hohndel said during LinuxCon EU and the kernel summit. He asked at the Q&A session whether we could do a release with just stability and bug-fixes, and I pooh-poohed it because I didn't see most of us having the attention span required for that... Maybe it would be possible, and I'm just unfairly projecting my own inner squirrel onto other kernel developers." Linus went on to suggest that an upcoming kernel release may be entirely focused on bug-fixes, encouraging developers to improve the quality of the kernel rather than work on new features.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Improving desktop performance post-upgrade
Slow-and-Wheezy asks: Could we have your opinion on 32-bit vs 64-bit versions of Debian Stable? I have a laptop with 2 GB RAM running default Wheezy/GNOME 3 on AMD64 now. It feels really heavy especially when I add some of the GNOME extensions that I used on Squeeze. So will it be beneficial (from a CPU/RAM/hard drive usage perspective) if I do a clean 32-bit installation?
DistroWatch answers: The subject of running 32-bit vs 64-bit builds of operating systems seems to be a topic which triggers strong responses in people, for one side or the other. People favouring 64-bit system correctly point out that 64-bit applications running on a 64-bit operating system will almost always perform a little better. Fans of 32-bit systems will point out that 32-bit applications usually use less memory, meaning the operating system will be less likely to require the use of (slow) swap space. Personally, from the benchmarks I have seen and from my own experiences using both 32-bit and 64-bit systems, I do not feel a strong case can be made either way. Yes, 64-bit applications tend to be slightly faster, but for typical desktop usage I doubt a person will notice the difference.
The point I am coming to is I strongly doubt the "really heavy" feeling you are experiencing with Debian "Wheezy" and the GNOME desktop is a result of running a 64-bit build. Nor do I think changing to a 32-bit build would improve matters. I suspect the difference in performance you are experiencing has more to do with the GNOME desktop. If I recall correctly Debian Squeeze (the operating system which ran smoothly) shipped with GNOME 2 while Debian Wheezy shipped with GNOME 3, a very different desktop environment. Even if a person uses GNOME's Fallback mode in order to gain an experience like that offered by GNOME 2, there will still be a difference in the underlying code. There may also be an issue with non-optimal video drivers being used on the new Wheezy installation which will introduce a sluggish feel to the desktop interface.
Assuming you were satisfied with the GNOME 2 style interface, I would recommend installing the MATE desktop on Debian Wheezy and see if that makes a difference in the performance. As MATE is a continuation of the GNOME 2 code it will offer a better base from which to compare performance between the two versions of Debian. Also, check to make sure the video driver in use is the best one for your card, there may be drivers which offer better performance in Debian's repositories. There are also other, lighter desktop environments out there such as Xfce and LXDE which may offer similar features and better performance. The desktop interface being used is more likely to positively impact performance than a switch from a 64-bit to a 32-bit install.
|Released Last Week
Frugalware Linux 1.9
James Buren has announced the release of Frugalware Linux 1.9, a general-purpose distribution for intermediate and advanced Linux users: "The Frugalware developer team is pleased to announce the immediate availability of Frugalware Linux 1.9, our nineteenth stable release. No new features have been added since 1.9rc2. Here are the most important changes since 1.8 in no particular order: updated packages - Linux kernel 3.10.17, X.Org Server 1.14.2, GNOME 3.8, KDE 4.11, LibreOffice 4.1.2, Mozilla Firefox 22.0 to name a few major components; netconfig has been replaced by NetworkManager; frugalwareutils has been replaced by the new fvbeutils; vi binary symlinks are now configurable, used to be hardcoded to their packages; old display manager legacy service has been dropped for the new systemd method of individual service files; console keymaps and x11 keymaps are now managed by the systemd method." Read the rest of the release announcement for more information.
antiX 13.2, an updated version of the lightweight Debian-based distribution designed for older and low-specification computers, has been released: "The antiX team is pleased to announce the second update of antiX-13 full version for 32-bit and 64-bit systems, based on Debian 'Wheezy'. This update includes those made upstream and various bug fixes specific to antiX. We have also included some new user-requested features for you to enjoy. antiX changes: to fit on a CD, some applications had to go (of course, they can be installing using apt-get or synaptic); upgraded 3.7.10 kernel to include zRAM as requested by users; removed alsa-oss, exoodles, gigolo...; Connectshares - various improvements and fixes; fixed broken persistence with 'toram' option; corrected old antiX repository error in 32-bit full version; fixed various JWM menu bugs; links to Rox manual fixed in menus and documentation...." The release announcement can be read on the distribution's news page.
Eric Turgeon has announced the release of GhostBSD 3.5, a new version of the project's FreeBSD-based operating system offering a choice of LXDE, MATE, Openbox and Xfce desktop user interfaces: "The GhostBSD team is pleased to announce the availability of GhostBSD 3.5 'Levi'. This is the third release from the 3.x series, which improves GhsotBSD 3.1 and introduces some new features. Some of the highlights: 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; GNOME 2.32 has been replace by MATE 1.6; Xfce 4.10 is now part of desktop choice; GhostBSD BSM theme with custom Faenza icon; MATE, Xfce and LXDE contain a more uniform set of software...." Here is the full release announcement.
Slackware Linux 14.1
Patrick Volkerding has announced the release of Slackware Linux 14.1, a new version of the world's oldest surviving Linux distribution: "After over a year of development (including the beta release and several release candidates to get everything polished up) we're proud to announce the availability of the new stable release. You'll find updates throughout the system, with the latest compilers and development tools, and recent versions of applications, window managers, desktop environments, and utilities. The Linux kernel is updated to version 3.10.17 (part of the 3.10.x kernel series that will be getting long-term support from the kernel developers). The x86_64 edition of Slackware also adds support for installing and booting on systems running UEFI firmware." Read the full release announcement and check out the release notes for further information.
Slackware Linux 14.1 - the default KDE desktop
(full image size: 575kB, screen resolution 1680x1050 pixels)
Alpine Linux 2.7.0
Natanael Copa has announced the release of Alpine Linux 2.7.0, an independent, security-oriented, lightweight Linux distribution designed primarily for servers: "We are pleased to announce Alpine Linux 2.7.0, the first release in 2.7 stable series. Since 2.6, apart from the various bug fixes, several packages have been upgraded: Linux kernel is based on 3.10.18, PHP 5.5.5, QEMU 1.6.1, Xen 4.3.1, PostgreSQL 9.3.1, Samba 4.1.0, NSD 4.0.0, Asterisk 11.6.0, Bluez 5.7, OpenSSH 6.4p1, Lua 5.2.2. Some of the desktop applications that got upgraded and are available for 2.7 include AbiWord 3.0.0, Firefox 25.0, Gnumeric 1.12.8, Evince 3.10 and virt-manager 0.10.0. The full lists of changes can be found in the git log and bug tracker." Here is the brief release announcement with commit statistics.
A new version of Wifislax has been released. Wifislax is Slackware-based live CD with a collection of utilities designed to perform various security and forensics tasks. Version 4.7 is built from packages released recently as part of the new Slackware Linux 14.1. It ships with Linux kernel 3.10.18 in "normal" or PAE variants and includes two desktop environments - KDE 4.10.5 and Xfce 4.11, the latter of which is a development version compiled by the distribution's maintainer. As always, a good collection of XZM modules is available to extend the functionality of the Wifislax live CD; these include image, video and audio applications, multimedia players, various FTP and P2P clients and many others. Most software packages have been upgraded to their latest versions. The release announcement is in Spanish only, but the live CD offers a choice of Spanish and English localisation for the two included desktops.
Toutou Linux 5.5
Jean-Jacques Moulinier has announced the release of Toutou Linux 5.5, a major new version of the lightweight, Puppy-based distribution designed for older computers and optimised for French-speaking users. Code-name "Wolx", Toutou Linux 5.5 uses Openbox (rather than JWM in previous releases) as the preferred window manager, with the LXPanel taskbar and several customisation options. Also new in this release is OCI, a custom-built program that automates the installation of the distribution on systems dedicated entirely to Toutou Linux. A first-boot assistant is available for configuring various aspects of the desktop, such as keypad and keyboard options, menus, passwords and optional installation of printer and scanner drivers. The Flash browser plugin is not included, but a single-click install option is also provided in the first-boot assistant. Opera 12.16 is the default browser. Read the rest of the release announcement (in French) for further details.
Toutou Linux 5.5 - a French distribution based on Puppy Linux
(full image size: 584kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Centrych OS 12.04.2
Jack Radigan has announced the release of Centrych OS 12.04.2. Centrych OS is a desktop Linux distribution based on Ubuntu's latest LTS release (version 12.04 released in April 2014), but it provides more recent versions of many applications. It uses a customised Xfce desktop. From the release announcement: "These images are geared for users who prefer the most recent versions of applications and want to receive both Ubuntu and Centrych updates as they become available. The application versions included with these discs, which are also available in the updates repository, are: LibreOffice 4.0.6 - this is the final update of the 4.0 release; GIMP 2.8.6 - this version is a backport of the release included with 'Saucy'; Clementine 1.2.0 - this is the most recent upstream release; Linux kernel 3.2.0-55 - the current Ubuntu updates version. Note: you do not have to download these discs if you have already obtained the original 12.04.1 disc."
* * * * *
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
- Plus-OS. Plus-OS is a Kubuntu-based distribution which comes with additional software in the default installation, including Steam, Chrome, WINE and other desktop applications.
- x9wm Linux. x9wm Linux is a Debian-based distribution which ships with the x9wm window manager.
- ASRI Édu. The ASRI Édu distribution is a Puppy Linux-based operating system maintained by L'association ASRI Éducation. The project's website is in French.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 18 November 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 666 (2016-06-20): Comparing more live update methods, Ubuntu's snap packages, Antergos drops 32-bit media, GeckoLinux unveils Rolling edition, learning Linux resources|
|• 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|