| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 534, 18 November 2013
Welcome to this year's 46th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! The OpenBSD project is well known for its impressive security record. The open source operating system is popular on firewalls and servers where performance, stability and security are of the highest importance. Of course performance, security and stability are also great characteristics to have in a desktop operating system and, with that in mind, this week Jesse Smith tries out OpenBSD on his desktop system. Does the security-focused operating system work well as a desktop solution? Read on to find out. In our News section this week we cover Fedora's additional support for the ARM architecture and hear arguments for running Linux desktops in enterprise environments. Plus Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, talks about recent missteps by both himself and Canonical, offering up explanations and apologies. In this issue of DistroWatch Weekly we will discuss how software is named and how to find out the proper command line names of applications which are assigned alternative labels by the desktop environment. We also cover the distribution releases of the past week and look forward to exciting new developments to come. We wish you all a great week and happy reading!
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
OpenBSD 5.4: Puffy on the Desktop
The OpenBSD project is one of the more interesting, though perhaps most overlooked, members of the BSD family. The OpenBSD operating system is probably best known for its impressive security record (only two remote security holes have been found in the default configuration in over a decade), but the project offers other important features. One is that OpenBSD comes with high quality and detailed documentation. In fact, the manual pages and website documentation are perhaps some of the best available in the open source world. Another great feature is the correctness, the clean implementation of OpenBSD. The operating system avoids clutter, avoids mess, avoids bugs of all sorts. This means that the core of OpenBSD is stable, secure and it is uncomplicated. These characteristics make OpenBSD a good operating system for web servers, file servers, routers and firewalls. In the past I tended to refer to OpenBSD in the context of server or network equipment, a less-flashy yet important realm. With the arrival of OpenBSD 5.4 I would like to examine how OpenBSD holds up in the role of a desktop solution.
The latest release of OpenBSD, version 5.4, contains a few new features and many bug fixes, most of them behind the scenes items. OpenBSD now supports Beagle (as in BeagleBoard and BeagleBone) and Octeon. The operating system has also gained support for Kernel Mode Setting. There have been numerous fixes and enhancements to existing tools, especially the OpenSSH secure shell service. This release of OpenBSD comes with over 7,800 ports of third-party software, including KDE 3.5.10, GNOME 3.8, Xfce 4.10, LibreOffice 4.0, Firefox 22 and Thunderbird 17. Builds of OpenBSD are available for over 20 supported architectures and I opted to download the 32-bit x86 build. The download for this build was approximately 220 MB in size.
Booting from the installation disc brings us to a text screen where we are invited to select one of three options. We can run the OpenBSD system installer, perform an upgrade of an existing installation or drop to a limited command line environment. The system installer presents a simple text interface where we are asked questions and type our answers. This may seem intimidating at first to new users, but OpenBSD's installer kindly presents sane defaults for almost all prompts. This means a new user can nearly complete the installation process by pressing Enter at each prompt. The installer walks us through confirming our keyboard's layout, selecting a hostname for our machine and configuring any detected network cards. We are then asked to create a password for the root user's account. The next series of steps allows us to choose which services to enable by default. These services include the OpenSSH secure shell service, a network time daemon and the X graphical service.
Then we are asked if we would like to create a regular user account. Disk partitioning comes next and here we are offered three options. We can let the installer divide up the disk for us, we can work on partitions manually or we can customize a suggested partition layout. After that we are asked where the installer can find the OpenBSD package files -- options include a CD, the local hard disk or a HTTP/FTP server. We can select which packages are installed on the system (I opted to install everything) and then files are copied to our disk. The last step in the process is to tell OpenBSD which time zone we are in. After that we can reboot the computer and enter into the world of running OpenBSD.
OpenBSD 5.4 - running Firefox on the default window manager
(full image size: 166kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Since I had told the system installer I wanted to run the X graphical software, OpenBSD booted to a graphical login screen. Signing into my user account brought up a mostly empty graphical interface with a virtual terminal on the screen and a desktop switcher in the lower-right corner of the display. Clicking on any blank area of the desktop brought up an applications & settings menu. There are not many entries in this menu, just a few configuration options for the window manager, a few simple applications (such as the virtual terminal) and the option to logout. Should we explore the underlying system we can find a full set of command line utilities such as we would find on other BSD (or GNU/Linux) operating systems. The operating system comes with a small collection of command line games, the GNU Compiler Collection, a network time service and the OpenSSH secure shell. The operating system comes with detailed manual pages which cover available commands, configuration files and function calls.
Since OpenBSD ships with a fairly bare bones system, users interested in running a desktop environment will need to make use of the project's packages & ports system. OpenBSD, like other BSDs, allows users to install third-party software by downloading a collection of scripts and patches from the project's servers called ports. These ports allow the system to build and install third-party software, such as desktop environments and end-user applications. While the ports collection gives administrators a great deal of flexibility, the ports collection does require third-party software to be compiled from scratch. This can be a lengthy process and most users will probably prefer to use pre-built packages as this method is a lot faster. OpenBSD ships with a number of tools for working with these software packages. Unfortunately, the package utilities do not connect to OpenBSD's servers automatically and the administrator must manually select a package mirror to use. Once a mirror has been selected the administrator can add binary packages to the system using a tool called pkg_add. We can search for available software by downloading the aforementioned ports tree and performing searches against it.
OpenBSD 5.4 - installing third-party packages
(full image size: 155kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
Using the packages available on OpenBSD's servers I installed the Xfce desktop and several applications, including Firefox and the LibreOffice productivity suite. All the items I downloaded installed quickly and ran without any problems. It did take a little configuration work to get Xfce to start-up the way I wanted, but there were no problems with the packages themselves. In very short order I had a working desktop environment with fairly modern versions of popular applications. This allowed me to surf the web, look up documentation and write articles. The graphical interface was very responsive and I encountered no stability issues.
Above, I covered how to manage third-party software, such as Firefox, on the OpenBSD operating system. The base system itself (the core of OpenBSD) handles updates differently. The OpenBSD project occasionally releases patches and these need to be compiled and applied to the operating system. This process is longer and more involved than it is on FreeBSD or most Linux distributions, but the good news is the core of OpenBSD rarely needs to be patched.
OpenBSD 5.4 - running the Xfce desktop
(full image size: 265kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
I tried running OpenBSD in a VirtualBox virtual machine and on a physical desktop computer (dual-core 2.8 GHz CPU, 6 GB of RAM, Radeon video card, Realtek network card). I found OpenBSD worked well in both environments. The operating system was fast and stable and I encountered no problems. The operating system is extremely light with regards to memory usage, requiring only 30 MB for the default window manager and a mere 70 MB to run the complete Xfce desktop.
Compared with some other BSD systems and most Linux distributions, OpenBSD is not really geared toward running a desktop operating system. The operating system is not designed to be user-friendly, it is not designed to be automated or helpful. OpenBSD is designed to be secure and correct -- correct in the sense the system does what it says it will do and does so reliably. For these reasons not many people will flock to OpenBSD in the hope of using it to run their desktop and laptop computers. That being said, it is certainly possible to run OpenBSD as a desktop platform. In less than half an hour we can install the base system, install a light desktop environment and add a few applications, assuming we have a high-speed Internet connection. OpenBSD is highly reliable, it's very light on resources and there are very few updates to apply.
Some of the end-user software in the ports collection, such as Firefox, were out of date and this, in an odd twist, makes me wonder if security may be a concern for people running OpenBSD as a desktop system. All in all, it took more effort to get OpenBSD set up as a desktop system when compared against most Linux distributions. Plus the process was cryptic and very manual in its nature. However, once the initial work was done I didn't have to think about it anymore. OpenBSD ran very quickly, there were no notifications, no pop-ups, no nagging me to install updates and no stability concerns.
I don't think people will read this review and then rush to download OpenBSD in the hopes of running it on their laptop computers. OpenBSD is an acquired taste and probably best suited for people who are comfortable diving into the internals of their operating system. That being said, for the curious of mind, OpenBSD is ideal in two ways. First, the core operating system is very clean, it's simple and it's easy to navigate. The second benefit OpenBSD brings is its documentation. The manual pages are excellent, detailed and correct. This makes the project ideal for people who like to tinker and explore. I'd also like to mention a resource outside the OpenBSD project for people interested in trying the highly secure operating system: Absolute OpenBSD. I reviewed this book earlier in the year and found it to be a great source of tips and documentation.
Most people will still see OpenBSD as an operating system for servers and firewalls, but OpenBSD can also be used in desktop environments if the user doesn't mind a little manual work. The payoff is a very light, responsive system that is unlikely to ever misbehave.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Fedora makes ARM primary architecture, Linux on enterprise desktops, Shuttleworth addresses mistakes made
The ARM architecture is becoming increasingly popular and support for the processor family is expanding. ARM processors are used in many small devices such as phones, tablets and hobbyist equipment. The Fedora distribution has had secondary support for ARM for a while now, but the architecture has not been given the priority of primary architecture status. That is about to change with the release of Fedora 20 which will see ARM become a primary architecture, developed on the same level as x86 spins of the distribution. Fedora is already used as a base for projects like the Raspberry Pi distribution Pidora and the additional support will make Fedora a better solution for ARM developers and hobbyists. Given that Fedora acts as a testing ground for technology which may end up in Red Hat's Enterprise Linux, this move also speaks well of Red Hat's future with regard to ARM-powered servers which are becoming more popular.
* * * * *
The Linux desktop has come a long way over the years, always growing more powerful and increasing friendly. Joseph Granneman says that Linux is now a good desktop solution, especially for enterprise deployments. "Now, with shrinking technology budgets and rising Microsoft licensing fees, it's time for IT to seriously consider desktop Linux deployment as an alternative to Windows. The timing for this couldn't be better: Windows 8.1 was just released, as was the latest version of Ubuntu, 13.10. Windows XP has just five months of support left, so companies need to make the switch to something new. Ubuntu may just have what companies need to support their desktop OS needs." Granneman goes on to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Ubuntu, looking at applications, cost, the user interface and support contracts. He concludes, "Ubuntu Linux has matured into a viable alternative to proprietary operating systems in the enterprise. The effort companies put into a Linux desktop replacement program will be worth the savings in licensing fees."
Canonical is well known in the Linux community for being experimental. Some people applaud Canonical for experimenting and trying new things with the Ubuntu distribution. Others regard Canonical's developments as breaking things which were not in need of fixing. Recently the company came under fire when Ubuntu's founder, Mark Shuttleworth, made some off the cuff comments and, shortly after, Canonical asked a blogger to make adjustments to their website to avoid using Canonical's trademarks. Shuttleworth blogged recently, addressing some of the concerns raised, saying: "Occasionally we make mistakes. When we do it's appropriate to apologize, address them, and take steps to ensure they don't happen again. Last week, someone at Canonical made a mistake in sending the wrong response to a trademark issue out of the range of responses we usually take. That has been addressed, and steps are being taken to reduce the likelihood of a future repeat." Shuttleworth goes on to talk about Canonical's trademarks and his recent comments in the face of community criticism.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Menu names versus command line names
Guessing-a-name asks: I am just curious, what do developers consider in naming their software? Why are GStreamer's plug-ins "ugly", "good" or "bad"? Second question: why do some applications have names very different from the command? I wanted to tell my Claws-mail to open PDF files with Document Viewer because that is what I was seeing in Xfce's applications menu. Claws-mail did not know what that was. Only by Googling I found that the document viewer was known as "evince", and Claws-mail understood that. Last question: how do you get the command to launch an application when the common name is different from the command?
DistroWatch answers: Sometimes it can be hard to guess what thought process went into naming a piece of software. Without inside information it often looks as though a developer simply reached into a Scrabble bag and pulled out letters at random. However, with a little research we usually find software is named using an abbreviation or short-hand of some kind. For example, if you have LibreOffice installed on your system you may be aware you can launch it with the command soffice. Why soffice instead of loffice or libreoffice? Well, LibreOffice has gone through a number of name changes in its life time and was once called Star Office. The shortened name has stuck around over the years. As for GStreamer and its various add-ons, the "good", "bad" and "ugly", these names relate to the quality of the software or the licensing connected with the codecs included in each package. For example, the GStreamer "bad" package includes plug-ins which are not of high quality (either there is a problem with the code or documentation or the software needs testing). The "ugly" plug-in package contains software which may have distribution restrictions placed on it, for example copyright or patent issues may be involved if the software is re-distributed. The "good" branch of GStreamer contains high-quality software which can be legally redistributed under the GNU Lesser General Public License.
Moving along to the case of evince being labeled "Document Viewer", that is a little more straight forward. All applications have a name that gets used on the command line. This name is typically short, contains no spaces and may be an abbreviation. While this name is easy to type it may not be easy for a human to read and understand. The name evince is easy to type, but it doesn't give an overly clear description of the application's functionality. This is why many distributions relabel the software "Document Viewer". One is a formal, proper name and the other is selected to be easily read by humans.
As to how to find out what the formal, proper name of an application is, there are a few methods to try. One is to open your desktop environment's application menu editor. Find the application you want and click on it. The menu editor should show you the program's proper name, the name which appears in the application menu and a brief description. Another, somewhat crude, method to finding the proper name is to run a system monitor, like top, and launch the application you want to learn about. As you use the application in question its entry should move to the top of the system monitor's list of running processes. The system monitor will display the program's proper name rather than the label shown in the application menu.
|Released Last Week
Scentific Linux 5.10
Pat Riehecky has announced the release of Scientific Linux 5.10, a distribution built from source packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.10 and enhanced with a variety of academic and scientific software applications: "Scientific Linux 5.10 is officially released for i686/x86_64." Users upgrading to this version should pay special attention to the MySQL package: "Scientific Linux 5.10 provides updated versions, specifically versions 5.1 and 5.5, of the MySQL packages as software collections. In order to migrate from MySQL 5.0 to 5.5, you must first update to MySQL 5.1. Note that the MySQL 5.1 packages are not supported and are provided only for the purposes of migration to MySQL 5.5. You should not use MySQL 5.1 on any of your production systems. As a result of this update, we will not issue any more security advisories for the MySQL 5.0 packages." Read the release announcement and release notes for further information.
GParted Live 0.16.2-11
Curtis Gedak has announced the availability of an updated release of GParted Live, version 0.16.2-11, a Debian-based specialist live CD with utilities for disk management and data rescue tasks: "The GParted team is proud to announce the availability of a new stable release of GParted Live. This release includes a number of improvements over the previous stable release including: fix freeze/lock problem at boot menu experienced by some computers; fix wrong name for Czech locale; updated Linux kernel to 3.11.7; updated bootloader isolinux and syslinux to 6.02 with patches for local boot; built with live-build 3; based on the Debian 'Sid' repository as of 2013-11-13." Here is the brief release announcement.
Kai Hendry has announced the release of Webconverger 22.0, the latest stable version of the project's Debian-based distribution for Internet kiosks: "Webconverger 22 release. For those wise people who are using the automatically upgrading install version, you should have received all the benefits below. So this new release will help keep bandwidth low for new install users, since they don't need to download upgrades up to this release from the previous 21.0 release. And as for the non-upgrading static live users, please upgrade to keep users abreast with the latest web technologies and security updates. What's new: grabdrag API for better touch screen support; Emoji fonts; Firefox 25 and Flash security updates. Please download the latest release and we would love to hear from you!" Here is the brief release announcement.
Ryan Finnie has announced the release of Finnix 109, a small Debian-based live Linux distribution designed for system administrators: "Finnix 109 released. Finnix 109 includes a number of new features and bug fixes. Linux kernel 3.10 is included, USB 3.0 boot support has been fixed, PowerPC G5 automatic fan and thermal control has been implemented, and 'nomodeset' is now passed by default, increasing boot compatibility on many Radeon graphics cards. Minimal build support has been added to Project NEALE Project NEALE, the system to build Finnix releases, has been extended with a new 'minimal' mode. This mode builds an ISO image with just enough software to start up and shut down, and excludes the hundreds of sysadmin utilities found on a normal Finnix ISO. Developers may use this as a base for their own software and utilities, rather than using the full Finnix releases." See the release announcement and release notes for more details.
Euan Thoms has announced the release of Kwheezy 1.4 incorporating another round of minor update in the Debian-based distribution that features the KDE desktop: "Version 1.4 is now available from the download page. This release is mostly a bunch a minor fixes and improvements to the out-the-box experience. Changes in version 1.4: fix for entering accents in LibreOffice (disable iBus by default); Firefox and Thunderbird 24 ESR are now default; cdrtools (original and best) replaces wodim and genisoimage as default burning and ISO image tools; Kopete and Linphone replace Jitsi as default XMPP chat and video calling; Kwheezy Autostart Chooser has additional choices, including iBus; Make KGet and Kopete 'always visible' in system tray by default; allow kwheezy-livecd package to be uninstalled without removing Kwheezy icon; disable transitions (effects) in KScreenSaver's slideshow, making it usable." Here is the brief release announcement with upgrade notes.
Alex Filgueira has announced the release of Antergos 2013.11.17, an Arch-based distribution featuring the latest GNOME 3 desktop: "The Antergos development team is pleased to announce the latest release of our live installation image, Antergos 2013.11.17. This image includes our latest improvements in Cnchi, our graphical installer with great new features. New options to expand the user configuration when installing the system and more stability and fixed bugs in Cnchi are the main characteristics of this new release. GNOME 3.10 is now available to be tested in our live ISO. As an extra, we are working to have some of the new GTK+ 3.10 goodies. Thanks to lots.0.logs we have new header style and some aesthetic changes in our 'language' screen." See the complete release announcement for more information and plenty of screenshots.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list|
- KaOS. KaOS is a rolling-release distribution built from scratch and focused on providing one desktop environment (KDE) on one architecture (64-bit x86).
- HandyLinux. HandyLinux is a Debian-based distribution which ships with the Xfce desktop.
- Angel Linux. Angel Linux is a Puppy-based lightweight desktop oriented Linux distribution.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 25 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.
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|• Issue 676 (2016-08-29): Korora 24, Fedora 25 to use Wayland by default, Linux turns 25, PC-BSD becomes TrueOS, finding software licensing information|
|• Issue 675 (2016-08-22): Gentoo LiveDVD "Choice Edition", moreutils, Ubuntu improves terminal convergence, MATE packaged for Openindiana, FreeBSD improves video support|
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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|
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|• Issue 644 (2016-01-18): Kwort 4.3, Sabayon tests ARM images, Slackware adopts PulseAudio, running Linux without GNU software|
|• Full list of all issues|
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