| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 559, 19 May 2014
Welcome to this year's 20th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Our computers are not just devices for work and communication, they are also great platforms for entertainment. With that in mind, this week we turn our eyes to the VortexBox distribution. VortexBox is a Fedora-based media server and the subject of our feature review this week. Also in this issue, we talk about Linux support for suspend and resume on laptops and what a person can do to work around a laptop which does not resume properly. Much of the news in the open source community last week focused on a bug discovered in the Linux kernel which could allow a local user to gain administrator privileges. In our News section this week we talk about the bug and the responses from various distributions to the issue. We also talk about Linux Mint's decision to follow Ubuntu's LTS releases and the FreeBSD developers' ambitious roadmap for their next release. Plus we sneak a peek at the latest KDE 5 beta and the improvements coming to the popular desktop environment. As usual, we cover the distribution releases of the past week and look ahead to fun new developers to come. We wish you all a terrific week and happy reading!
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Playing with VortexBox 2.3
VortexBox is a Linux distribution which acts as a media server and jukebox. It is based on Fedora (version 2.3 on Fedora 20) and the project reports that VortexBox can rip optical media, tag files and share multimedia files over Samba and NFS shares. The distribution is available in just one edition for the x86 architecture and the download image for VortexBox is approximately 38 MB in size.
Booting from the project's ISO brings up a screen that lets us launch the distribution's system installer. On the screen is a warning letting us know that installing VortexBox will wipe the hard drive of our computer. Opting to launch the system installer brings us to a text screen where we are told VortexBox is trying to download 224MB of files to use in the installation process. Once the download completes one of two things happens. I found that if the primary drive in our server is quite small then a text-based version of the Anaconda system installer is launched. This text version of the installer features a hub style form of navigation where we are prompted to type the number of a menu item we want to access.
Each component of the installer asks us a question and we type the response, which takes us back to the hub. It is a bit awkward and an unfortunate downgrade from older versions of Anaconda's text interface. Eventually I found that Anaconda wouldn't complete the installation as it felt the available hard drive was not large enough. (At this point I was working in a virtual environment with a 8GB hard disk.) I restarted the process with a larger hard drive and found this time, once the 224MB download had completed, VortexBox took over the entire hard drive and automatically installed all its files. I did not need to perform any steps at all, the installation was entirely automatic and, when the installation completed, the machine rebooted and brought me to a login prompt on a text screen.
The project's documentation provides the default login credentials and I signed in to have a look at my new Linux-based jukebox. A short time later I noticed the hard drive was experiencing a lot of activity. A quick look at running processes showed that an update was in progress. A moment after I discovered this the machine rebooted without warning, presumably to complete the update process. After VortexBox rebooted I was brought back to a text console and login prompt.
VortexBox 2.3 - checking system status
(full image size: 180kB, screen resolution 1280x997 pixels)
Most of what makes VortexBox interesting and useful is accessed via the project's web interface, but before I get to that, I'd like to explore a little of what is running under the hood. VortexBox's automated system installer sets up four partitions for us, a root partition, a boot partition, swap space and a LVM volume where our media will be stored. The media volume is mounted under the /storage directory and is accessible via Samba shares. The VortexBox operating system requires approximately 1.3GB of hard drive space, which raises the question why the distribution refuses to install on a 8GB drive. While sitting idle, VortexBox uses about 115MB of memory. The distribution ships with a few network services running, including Samba, secure shell, a web server (which provides the web-based user interface) and NFS shares. In the background, VortexBox runs on the Linux kernel, version 3.12.
Most of our interaction with VortexBox will be through the distribution's web interface. The web interface is accessible without a password and provides us with a handful of categories of functions in a menu down the left side of the screen. Over on the right side of the window we see specific options and functions in the selected category. One page of the web interface shows us current storage statistics and upper storage limits. Another page allows us to configure the computer's network interface. Another page covers extracting tracks from optical media such as audio CDs and video DVDs. Another button brings up a media player and the ability to import media into the player. Another screens let us backup our media to an external drive, connected to the computer via a USB port. One screen allows us to select our preferred language and time zone. A final screen lets us upgrade installed packages and acquire a few additional software packages such alternative media servers and bittorrent software.
VortexBox 2.3 - web-based media player
(full image size: 112kB, screen resolution 1280x997 pixels)
Going through the various options I found some features of VortexBox worked really well while others either didn't work or seemed overly complicated. Upgrading software packages and installing new software through the web interface worked well. I also found configuring my network interface worked well through the web portal. Samba shares were enabled by default and I found it was easy to upload media to the VortexBox server for later use. These features worked smoothly and I encountered no problems using them.
On the other hand, I did run into frustrations when trying to play media that I had uploaded to the server. Opening the provided web-based media player I noticed none of the audio files I had uploaded to the Samba share were listed. Going into the player's options I found that the player only looked for media in a directory labelled "flac" and was ignoring files in the "music" and "mp3" directories. This was easy enough to fix. I added the "music" folder to the list of directories to scan and my audio files appeared in the player. Hitting the Play button didn't produce any sound. Digging through the menu options further I found the VortexBox player would only send sound output to specified devices. The hardware address of a device must be typed in manually for VortexBox to use the device. Further down the page was a list of connected devices that might be used for sound.
I'm not sure why we need to manually type hardware addresses when the addresses are listed on the same page, this seems like a good place for a drop-down box where we can click on the device we want to use. At any rate, I added my sound card as a device and found VortexBox would play my music. Later I experimented to streaming music over the network to other computers. VortexBox provides us with a URL that can be used to connect to our streaming music. This worked, but I found the process a bit awkward as, for example, changing from one song to the next required three steps: Stopping the local audio player, changing tracks in the VortexBox web interface and then restarting the local audio player. It was easier, I found, to open a VortexBox folder using Samba and dragging-and-dropping files into my local media player as I wanted them.
Another feature I experimented with was ripping DVDs. In theory VortexBox will scan a disc, find tracks over a certain length (to avoid grabbing intro screens and advertisements) and copy those tracks into a directory on the server. I tried this with a few different video DVDs. In each case VortexBox detected the disc, properly identified the desires tracks, indicated it was working for a while and then reported the operation had failed. The most I ever got out of the ripping experience was an empty directory (named after the video) on my Samba share. Ultimately, while the disc ripping feature sounds appealing for backup purposes, it did not work for me in practice.
VortexBox 2.3 - configuring audio output
(full image size: 200kB, screen resolution 1280x997 pixels)
What my time with VortexBox generally consisted of was a series of finding features which sounded great on paper, but finding they tended not to work well in practice. This combined with a number of features which did not, to my mind at least, make sense in theory. Take, for example, VortexBox shipping as a 38MB ISO. This seems nice, but the first thing the installation media does is download 224MB of data. If a person is on a slow (or buggy) network connection or if they need to run the install multiple times, the net-install approach is highly inconvenient. It also doesn't make sense in this context, because the downloaded packages do not appear to be up to date since the first thing VortexBox did, post-installation, was download and install updated packages. It would have been much nicer to have a single, medium sized ISO to download right from the start. Another thing which bothered me was that the installer, if it doesn't have a certain amount of free space, will not only refuse to proceed, it will toss us into an awkward text-based installer. There doesn't appear to be any way to override the space limitation and tell the installer to proceed, a shame since the distribution doesn't actually use all the space it claims to require.
Couple the above setup issues with the need to manually enter hardware addresses to get sound working, the inability of the disc extractor to rip any of the DVDs I presented to it and the awkward web-based music player and I found VortexBox to be generally awkward to use. I would normally expect a project that is designed for media servers to be more user-friendly. That being said, I do think the VortexBox developers are aiming at user friendliness. The installer is automated, which is nice, and the web interface is easy to navigate. The automatically enabled network shares are a good touch. Were I reviewing VortexBox as a NAS solution rather than a media player it probably would score highly. As it was, anything media related tended to fall flat during my trial while data storage, package management and network configuration went smoothly.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar)
Mint switches to LTS mode; FreeBSD developers plan next release, KDE launches new beta, new Linux kernel vulnerability
Let's start the news section with an interesting announcement made last week by the ever popular Linux Mint distribution. A few days before the release candidate for the upcoming version 17 came a rather quiet notice about the project's new release strategy. This was buried deep in the April 2014 monthly news where project leader Clement Lefebvre announced that, starting with Mint 17, the distribution will be based on Ubuntu's LTS (long-term support) releases only: "The decision was made to stick to LTS bases. In other words, the development team will be focused on the very same package base used by Linux Mint 17 for the next 2 years. It will also be trivial to upgrade from version 17 to 17.1, then 17.2 and so on. Important applications will be backported and we expect this change to boost the pace of our development and reduce the amount of regressions in each new Linux Mint release. This makes Linux Mint 17.x very important to us, not just yet another release, but one that will receive security updates until 2019, one that will receive backports and new features until 2016 and even more importantly, the only package base besides LMDE which we'll be focused on until 2016."
* * * * *
Last week saw the arrival of the BSDCan developer summit, a place where BSD contributors come together to talk about current projects and future plans. Some of the discussions focused on what we may see in FreeBSD 11. Michael Lucas has a point form list of items discussed at the summit. Some highlights include adding support for ARM64 hardware and removing support for the Intel Itanium architecture. The FreeBSD team is also talking about supporting 64-bit Linux executables, improving suspend/resume capabilities and implementing kdbus. There are many other features planned for FreeBSD 11 and the next release of FreeBSD appears to be very ambitious.
* * * * *
Last week we covered the initial releases of two new desktop environments, LXQt and Lumina. Not to be left out, the KDE team announced last week a beta release for the upcoming KDE 5 desktop environment. The KDE 5 beta, which the developers are quick to point out is ready for testing, but not production use, is a gentle evolution from the KDE 4 desktop. The KDE 5 beta contains relatively few changes on the surface such as a more subtle desktop menu button and the Oxygen Font. Most of the interesting changes are behind the scenes and include the Qt 5 toolkit and hardware acceleration. People hoping to test drive the new KDE beta can download packages for Fedora, Gentoo, Kubuntu and openSUSE. Alternatively, a live DVD image is also available.
Neon 5-20140513 - running the KDE 5 Beta
(full image size: 455kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
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Last week it was reported that a bug in the Linux kernel could potentially allow users on a Linux-based system to gain privileges and run malicious code. The flaw was introduced during the development of the 2.6.31 kernel and affects kernels up to version 3.14.3. Dan Rosenberg, a security researcher with Azimuth Security opined that a bug like this one, which can affect a wide range of architectures and distributions, is rare. "A bug this serious only comes out once every couple years," he said. Distributions have reacted quickly. The Ubuntu developers have released a patch, as has the Debian project. Red Hat has reported they are looking into the issue, but believe the exploit may not affect Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Troubleshooting waking-from-sleep on laptops
Having-trouble-waking asks: Are there versions of Linux that are more compatible with laptops than others? I have an older Dell Latitude e1505. I've tried a couple distros, but they seem to have a problem: when I close the lid, even if I put Linux in hibernation before closing the lid, they don't wake up. Then I have to hit the power button and it has to recheck the file system. Is this a common issue with Linux, that they do not like going to sleep?
DistroWatch answers: Different Linux distributions ship with different versions of the kernel and, therefore, have different hardware drivers. This can make different distributions more or less likely to suspend and wake properly.
You have a few options. One would be to experiment with various distributions to see if one works with your laptop better than another. In the past I've typically found distributions with newer kernels worked better at suspend/resume than distributions with older kernels.
Another way to go would be to make sure all your drivers are up to date. Not waking up from sleep is often a sign one of your drivers is not working properly. Sometimes switching between an open driver and a proprietary one or upgrading to a newer version of an existing driver can help.
A third approach would be to ask for help on your specific distribution's forum. Someone there may provide a workaround, either a kernel parameter or a driver fix. Distributions can handle the same process differently, so it is best to ask for support from people who use (and develop) your distribution of choice.
Finally, consider buying a newer laptop which is certified to work with Linux. Distributions such as Linux Mint and Ubuntu maintain lists of supported hardware on their websites and there are Linux-friendly companies like Think Penguin and System76 which cater specifically to Linux users.
|Released Last Week
Pinguy OS 14.04
Antoni Norman has announced the release of Pinguy OS 14.04, an Ubuntu-based desktop Linux distribution with a customised GNOME Shell desktop. This arrives after several "false" releases; yet the release announcement largely concentrates on further bugs and known issues: "The full final has been released. Known bugs: selecting auto login in the installer does not work - I had to disable it so the live session would auto login; Apturl is broken, this is an issue with Ubuntu; to make the distro work with GNOME 3.12 I had to add restore extensions to start-ups - this forces the extensions to start; if you use symbols in your password make sure you pick the correct keyboard; in Firefox some of the add-ons are disabled, just run add-on update to enable them."
Pinguy OS 14.04 - an Ubuntu-based distribution with a custom GNOME 3 desktop
(full image size: 893kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Univention Corporate Server 3.2-2
Univention Gmbh has announced the release of an updated build of Univention Corporate Server 3.2, a Debian-based server distribution with a web-based server management system: "We are pleased to announce the availability of UCS 3.2-2, the second point release of Univention Corporate Server (UCS). It includes all errata updates issued for UCS 3.2-0 and comprises the following highlights: domain joining of Windows clients with incorrect system times has been simplified - it is now no longer necessary to synchronise the system time in advance; Univention AD Takeover - the UCS solution for the automatic migration of an Active Directory domain to UCS - can now also be performed via a Univention Management Console module; the Univention App Center has been expanded further, for example it is now also possible to provide applications which are not available for all processor architectures...." Read the release announcement and release notes for more details.
Gabriele Martina has announced the release of SalentOS 14.04, a brand-new version of the project's Ubuntu-based desktop distribution featuring a highly configurable Openbox window manager: "With great pleasure I announce the release of SalentOS 14:04. After months of work, here's the new operating system, available in four editions: SalentOS 32-bit 'Full' and 'Light', SalentOS 64-bit 'Full' and 'Light'. The 'Full' edition is complete with all the software available so it can be used right away to surf the web, enjoy multimedia content and work. The live image weighs around 850 MB, it is installable and can be burned to DVD, or used to create a bootable USB device. The 'Light' edition is designed to use alternative software and programs according to the tastes and preferences of each user. It contains the base system and has only a web browser and text editor installed." Here is the brief release announcement (scroll down the page for the English version) with a screenshot.
SalentOS 14.04 - an Ubuntu-based distribution with Openbox
(full image size: 2,049kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
* * * * *
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
- NethServer. NethServer is an operating system for Linux enthusiasts, designed for small offices and medium enterprises. Based on CentOS, it includes a powerful web interface that simplifies common administration tasks and many pre-configured modules that are installable with a single click.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 26 May 2014. 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 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|
|• Issue 692 (2016-12-19): Bodhi Linux 4.0.0, Cappsule containers, Calculate's new Utilities package, Solus and Ubuntu MATE build new application menu|
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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|
|• Issue 688 (2016-11-21): Endless OS 3.0.5, KDE neon fixes security hole, FreeBSD's Quarterly Status Report, Rolling release trial #2 concludes|
|• Issue 687 (2016-11-14): NAS4Free 10.3.0.3, Fedora gains MP3 playback, budgie-remix becomes Ubuntu Budgie, Ubuntu flavours compared, Rolling release trial #2|
|• Issue 686 (2016-11-07): FreeBSD 11.0, rolling release trial #2, Debian announces supported architectures, Simplicity switching to antiX base, farewell to Mythbuntu|
|• Issue 685 (2016-10-31): elementary OS 0.4, SUSE gains ARM support, Mint improves language support, Dirty COW explained, Rolling release trial #2|
|• Issue 684 (2016-10-24): Ubuntu 16.10, Linux popularity in different markets, Fedora runs on Raspberry Pi, Ubuntu features live kernel patching|
|• 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|
|• Issue 680 (2016-09-26): Uruk GNU/Linux 1.0, blocking applications at the firewall, Lenovo controversy, Ubuntu running on the Nextcloud Box|
|• 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 677 (2016-09-05): Peppermint OS 7, Manjaro updates leadership, TrueOS becomes rolling release, organizing files, creating torrents|
|• 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|
|• 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.|
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|• Issue 669 (2016-07-11): Linux Mint 18, proving a system is secure, LibreSSL in FreeBSD, Ubuntu plans phasing out 32-bit, pfSense status report|
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|• 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|
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|• Issue 661 (2016-05-16): FreeBSD 10.3, OpenMandriva adopts Clang, Debian adds ZFS packages, PCLinuxOS drops 32-bit and comparing CentOS with RHEL|
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|• Issue 659 (2016-05-02): Ubuntu 16.04, compiling custom kernels, Cinnamon 3.0, Sabayon launches ARM build, Devuan ships Beta release|
|• Issue 658 (2016-04-25): Kali Linux 2016.1, elementary OS 0.3.2, Debian elects Project Leader, Fedora 24 feature preview, Nard reaches 1.0|
|• Issue 657 (2016-04-18): Redox, Linux Mint improves update manager, planned Fedora 24 features, Ubuntu 16.04 getting Snappy packages|
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|• Issue 653 (2016-03-21): Antergos 2016.02.21, Debian prepares for election, a Unix-like OS written in Rust, watching Netflix on FreeBSD|
|• Issue 652 (2016-03-14): ReactOS 0.4.0, Debian swaps Iceweasel for Firefox, Fedora moving forward with Wayland, Verifying ISO files|
|• Issue 651 (2016-03-07): Korora 23, Linux Mint improves security, Ubuntu MATE on Raspberry Pi 3 computers, trying different file systems|
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|• Issue 649 (2016-02-22): Zorin OS 11, openSUSE launches new editions, Linux Mint website compromised, sandboxing applications using Firejail|
|• Issue 648 (2016-02-15): XStream Desktop 153, Raspbian unveils OpenGL feature, free hardware, Ikey Doherty talks desktop design|
|• Issue 647 (2016-02-08): Tails 2.0, KDE project launches Neon, Manjaro unveils ARM support, FreeBSD's quarterly report|
|• Issue 646 (2016-02-01): deepin 15, Mint plans X-Apps, FreeBSD to support boot environments, logging into the desktop as root|
|• Issue 645 (2016-01-25): Linux Mint 17.3 "Xfce", Chromixium changes its name, Ubuntu tablets coming soon, Linux vs BSD comparision|
|• 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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