| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 99, 9 May 2005
Welcome to this year's 19th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Robert Storey installed Gentoo Linux for the first time and he summarises his impressions in a mini-review. Despite some reports in the media, the FTP edition of SUSE LINUX 9.3 has not been released just yet, but there is much to look forward to in the next few weeks - the 3rd test of Fedora Core 4 should be out this coming Tuesday and, according to a new report, Debian Sarge is not far off either. Also in this issue - focus on Frugalware Linux as our featured distribution of the week. Happy reading!
Mini review: Gentoo Linux 2005.0
by Robert Storey
"Time is the best teacher. Unfortunately, it kills all its students."
-- Hector Berlioz
Gentoo is a type of penguin, but is also the name of a popular Linux distro. As I write this, it's No. 8 on the DistroWatch page hit ranking. Of course, that does not guarantee that it's the 8th most popular distro on the planet, but clearly there are a lot of people interested in this operating system. So finally I decided to download the CDs, install and find out what all the hullabaloo is about.
A confession - I've been aware of Gentoo Linux since even before its version 1.0 release in early 2002, yet I've never tried it until this week. Why? Because of fear. Not fear of a formidable technical challenge, but rather fear that I didn't have enough time.
And that's an important point. You see the word "time" frequently mentioned when you read reviews about Gentoo. The usual reason is because this source-based distro requires that you spend a good deal of time compiling. Yet ironically, this was not my biggest complaint about it, but more on that below.
Installation - Not for Wimps
With Gentoo, you (the user) are the installation program. The way to install is to download the Gentoo Handbook, print it out (or put it on another nearby computer), and manually go through each step one-by-one while typing commands. First partition the hard drive with fdisk. Then run the mkswap and swapon commands. Then format a partition with mkreiserfs, and mount it on /mnt/gentoo. And so on.
How long this will take varies considerably depending on your hardware, experience and endurance. It took me all day because it was my first time, but battle-hardened Gentoo veterans could probably do it in two or three hours. It must be noted that this is for a "Stage 3" (that is, binary) install. You can optionally go for a "Stage 1" install in which you compile everything from scratch - if you go this route, be prepared to spend three days. Personally, I see little reason not to do Stage 3 install, unless you enjoy spending a full weekend watching stuff like this scroll down your screen:
gcc -DHAVE_CONFIG_H -I. -I. -I.. -I.. -I../libs -I/usr/X11R6/include -DFVWM_MODULEDIR=\"/usr/local/libexec/fvwm/2.4.16\" -DFVWM_DATADIR=\"/usr/local/share/fvwm\" -DFVWM_CONFDIR=\"/usr/local/etc\" -g -O2 -c `test -f 'menus.c' || echo './'`menus.c
Of course, some people find that entertaining.
Before I leave the topic of installation, I should add that I had a few issues. First off, the user-friendly cfdisk program is available, so you needn't mess with user-hostile fdisk that the Gentoo Handbook recommends. Also, the instructions call for creating a 32MB /boot partition, but I soon discovered that I couldn't mount this partition. So I decided to do away with the /boot partition altogether and just kept everything in the / partition, which worked fine.
At the end of my installation I found that the module for my Ethernet card was not being loaded, so I had no network. I know that my card uses the via-rhine driver, and typing "modprobe via-rhine" worked, so I added "via-rhine" to file /etc/modules.autoload.d/kernel-2.6 and all was well on the next reboot.
Finally, the Gentoo Handbook makes no mention of how to set up X Window. Fortunately, I'm already familiar with the xorgcfg utility which is also included with Gentoo - this worked, except that my USB mouse wasn't detected. Having no mouse was a definite drag - the solution was to edit file /etc/X11/xorg.conf and make my mouse settings as follows:
Option "Protocol" "auto"
Option "Device" "/dev/input/mice"
Option "Buttons" "5"
Option "zaxismapping" "4 5"
A Little Learning is Dangerous
After spending a week playing with Gentoo, I now understand what is so addictive about it: the educational value. The fact that it's source-based is cute, but no big deal, at least not for me. The real benefit of Gentoo, in my opinion, is the education.
Next to Linux from Scratch, Gentoo is probably the best teaching distro around. Did you ever want to compile your own kernel but were afraid to try? Well, with Gentoo "being afraid" is not an option - if you want this baby to fly, you must compile the kernel. And of course, before you can compile the kernel you first have to configure it manually with menuconfig.
But compiling a kernel is just the start. Did you know how to configure /boot/grub/grub.conf? Did you know that /usr/share/zoneinfo is a symbolic link to a file in the /usr/share/zoneinfo/ directory? These and other fascinating facts await survivors of a successful Gentoo install.
Tweak Till You Squeak
Aside from the forced education, proponents of the Gentoo WayTM also wax euphoric about the distro's tweakability. In particular, Gentoo lets you play around with "USE flags", which can affect features and performance of the operating system. If you don't know what USE flags are, you're in good company - most people happily go through life without ever twiddling their OS's USE flags, apparently with no ill effects. I won't try to explain the concept - you'll find more than you ever wanted to know about this subject in the Gentoo Handbook. Let it also be said that you really don't need to mess with USE flags - the operating system will work fine if you just accept its defaults. However, defaults are for sissies - real men customize their OS to the Nth degree.
But this raises another question - does all this twiddling in fact do any good? Opinions are divided. The Gentoo faithful claim that they can enhance performance this way, but comparing the results side-by-side with another fast distro like Slackware or Debian, I must say that it's hard to see the difference.
Then again, the ability to get under the hood and see how things work is of crucial importance to developers. Just yesterday I was reading this story about a Gentoo developer who has created a system called initng which dramatically speeds up boot time. It will be ported to other distros eventually, so it's not Gentoo-specific, but it's probably no coincidence that it was developed on Gentoo.
Conclusion - Not for Aunt Tilly
Gentoo is a time-consuming and technically challenging distro that you'd better not install on Aunt Tilly's computer (unless you don't like her). In the right hands, Gentoo can be educational and a good platform for development. In the wrong hands, it can be fritterware (because it fritters your time away). No doubt the developers could make Gentoo a lot easier to use by adding an installation program and a few clever configuration tools, but then it wouldn't be Gentoo. The question you have to ask yourself is, do you want to spend your time tweaking, or do you want something that just works?
Gentoo Linux can be educational and a good platform for development
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News: SUSE LINUX 9.3 FTP edition not released
If you have tried to download and install the FTP edition of SUSE LINUX 9.3 then you were disappointed to find out that you were wasting your time - it has not been publicly released yet. This, of course, wouldn't be news under normal circumstances, except that there have been several news reports claiming that SUSE's FTP servers and mirrors now carry a boot ISO image for FTP install. This is not the case.
The mini-installation ISO image available from SUSE's FTP server is designed for system administrators who have access to the full installation tree (perhaps on their own purchased DVD) and who need to install SUSE LINUX on a large number of computers. Using this method, they can simply copy the content of the SUSE LINUX DVD on one of the computers' hard disk, configure it as an FTP server, and use the mini-installation ISO to grab all files from this FTP server. The advantage of this approach is that the system administrators can perform the installation on several machines at once. The alternative would be to load the SUSE LINUX DVD into each computer, wait for the installation process to complete, then move to the next computer - certainly a more time-consuming process, if you have to do it on more than just a handful of computers.
SUSE normally uploads the complete installation tree of SUSE LINUX to public FTP servers about 1 - 3 months after the official release. Only then will you be able to use the mini-installation CD to perform an FTP installation of SUSE LINUX 9.3. As always, we'll let you know when that happens.
|Featured distribution of the week: Frugalware Linux
Have you had a chance to check out the new Frugalware Linux? One of the most up-to-date Linux distributions available today, Frugalware Linux 0.2 was released two weeks ago as a set of four CD images or one DVD image (a small FTP install image is also available). We spent some time to install and evaluate several less well-known Linux distributions during the past week, but in the end we decided that it was Frugalware Linux 0.2 that deserved the spotlight as the "featured distribution of the week".
What is so impressive about Frugalware Linux? The installer, a menu-driven program similar to Slackware's own installer, is an intuitive and well-designed application with all the necessary options we have come to expect from any modern operating system installer. It also configured all our hardware without much user interaction before setting up the KDM login screen for a graphical login into KDE (version 3.4.0), Frugalware's default desktop. Apart from a standard desktop (KDE, GNOME and XFce are available), Frugalware comes with a couple of custom-built utilities - Frugalware Package Manager and Frugalware Runlevel Editor (see screenshot below).
And this is where things became interesting. As a matter of fact, Frugalware Linux is loosely modelled on Slackware Linux, the preferred distribution of the project's lead developer Miklós Vajna. But in a recent interview with a Hungarian online publication, Miklós revealed his three main grievances with Slackware: slow package manager, a comparatively complex procedure for installing security updates and for upgrading the entire distribution, and poor support for languages other than English. These deficiencies prompted Miklós to start working on his own distribution in April 2003. The first stable release (version 0.1) of Frugalware Linux came out in November 2004 and the current latest release (version 0.2) some six months later.
How did the developers address the problem with the Slackware's package manager? They did it by adopting Arch Linux's "pacman" to work with Frugalware and by creating a graphical front-end to handle all package management needs from a comfort of an intuitive GUI application. Unlike Slackware's package tools, pacman is written in C, which makes it noticeably speedier. As one would expect from a modern package manager, it is also able to resolve dependencies automatically. If a certain package is not available, users can either build it themselves or they can make a request on the Frugalware web site.
We have had good experiences with the latest Frugalware Linux release during the few hours we gave ourselves to test it. Possibly the only problem with this project is that there are now too many other excellent distribution competing for the relatively small number of users willing to try out all the different Linux "flavours". As such, only a few users might wonder that far down our page hit ranking list to consider a relatively little-known project, such as Frugalware. Which is a pity; Frugalware Linux is a solid distribution with an excellent development infrastructure and a complete range of support resources, including documentation, user forums and mailing lists. Next time you get a few spare moments, give Frugalware a partition on your hard disk - you are likely to be pleasantly surprised.
Frugalware Linux - a combination of Slackware's simplicity and Arch's package manager with a highly up-to-date package set.
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|Released Last Week
Minislack has been updated to version 1.0.1: "Minislack 1.0.1 is a maintenance release providing the following changes: a new service management tool called 'service'; a more pleasant setup color; addition of the Ruby language interpreter; cleanup in the package tree; minor bugfixes (XFce package). The ISO is already available in the download section (by the way, the torrent mirror is currently unavailable, sorry for this)." This is the full release announcement.
Kaella - Knoppix Linux Azur 2.0
A new version of Kaella Knoppix Linux Azur, which is an adaptation of the Knoppix live CD for French speakers, has been released. Some of the changes, as detailed in the README file (in French), include the following: "The default kernel is now 2.6.11; UnionFS file system, which makes it possible to write to the virtual file system while live CD is in use; native support for the ipw2200 (Centrino2) WLAN chipsets; user's home directory and configuration can now be saved on hard disk, even on a NTFS partition; KDE 3.3.2, GIMP 2.2.4, OpenOffice.org 1.1.3 and many other package updates."
Kaella 2.0 - a new version of the Knoppix-based live CD with a complete support for French
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This is a new release of MCNLive, a Linux live CD based on Mandriva Linux: "Based on Mandriva Limited Edition 2005 with kernel 2.6.11, MCNLive 'Brugge' features a complete KDE desktop (on less than 300MB) for the Internet, office, sound and video, graphics, games, educational programs and network tools. Dutch (user mcnl) and English (user root) available. Save your personal settings and your documents on a USB flash drive to create a persistent home. The 'Brugge' release comes with UnionFS, which is enabled by default, so you can install (into RAM) additional applications on the running live CD from preconfigured Mandriva FTP sources." Read the rest of the release announcement for further information.
New releases of the SLAX live CD are coming fast these days - this is version 5.0.5. What's new? "Fixed error message during X startup (about hostname); guest user can see mixer icon and screensize icon too; added kio_imap for KMail; LISA is started with KDE to allow LAN browsing; startx didn't start KDE after flux command, fixed; updated Fluxbox menu; created nice Fluxbox plastik theme; added fstab-create script to make sure all devices are listed in fstab; fixed uselivemod and webconfig feature." Find more details in the changelog.
Parsix GNU/Linux 0.50
Parsix GNU/Linux is an Iranian live CD based on Knoppix with support for the Persian language. Version 0.50 has been released: "Another release and a big step forward for Parsix GNU/Linux project. Parsix GNU/Linux 0.50 is built from scratch using Knoppix 3.8.1 with the latest Debian Sarge packages (May 1 2005). There are many new features and additions like UnionFS that allows full read/write on CD, users can add/remove packages while running on CD, NTFS read/write support, Kernel 2.6.11, Gnome 2.8.3, OpenOffice.org 1.1.3 preconfigured for RTL languages, GIMP 2.2.6, Firefox 1.0.3, Thunderbird 1.0.2...." Read the full release announcement and view the screenshots page for further details.
Damn Small Linux 1.1
Damn Small Linux 1.1 has been released. From the changelog: "New boot time option 'secure' will prompt for passwords for root & dsl; new boot time option 'protect' will prompt for an encryption password and then triple des encrypt the backup file; new boot time option 'host' to pass hostname; added webdata, a triple des secure backup/restore to remote FTP server; lspci now display textual description from pci database; added button to emelfm 'Add2Filetool' to easily select and add files to the filetool.lst; updated Word view, Excel view, and Powerpoint view to accept spaces in filenames...."
Pardus Live CD 1.1
Pardus is a Turkish project with the goal of creating a Gentoo-based live CD for Turkish speakers. Version 1.1 is the project's second release and the good news is that it will be included in this month's Chip magazine (Turkish edition) as a cover CD. The major differences between 1.0 and 1.1 include the following: X loads v41 module by default; all bookmarks in Firefox are now in Turkish; NTFS module parameters have been updated; Gtk-Qt engine comes with an updated default font; the Java symbolic link was fixed in all Mozilla browsers; certain symbolic links under /etc were fixed (GConf and some modem drivers). Here is the complete release announcement (in Turkish).
LliureX is a project of the Council of Culture, Education and Sport at the Municipality of Valencia, Spain. The LliureX distribution is a Knoppix-based live and installation CD with support for Valencian (a language very similar to Catalan) and Spanish. It is intended as an operating system for educational institutions in the Valencia region. LliureX uses exclusively Free Software and is distributed free of charge. The project's inaugural version was released yesterday, during the Congress of Free Software of the Community of Valencia. Find more details about Lliurex on its web site (in Valencian and Spanish) and in this discussion (in Spanish) at Barrapunto.
White Box Enterprise Linux 4
White Box is the latest project to release a Linux distribution rebuilt from source RPM packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 4: "Yes it has been delayed a few weeks longer than planned, but this baby is finally born! White Box Enterprise Linux 4 is now moving to the mirrors. The i386 ISO images are widely distributed as I type and the x86_64 and source images should appear within 24 hours. ... This release is starting out with i386 and AMD64 ports built from the exact same source package set, which is RHEL4 updated with all errata released through April 30. The kernel is an exception to the WB naming convention." Find a lot more details in the release announcement.
After a long delay, the PHLAK (Professional Hacker's Linux Assault Kit) project has released a brand new version of their live and installation CD: "Here it is - the version that everyone has been waiting for. Some of the changes are as follows: kernel version 2.6.9; wireless drivers: wlan-ng, patched Orinoco, madwifi, HostAP, Centrino, and NdisWrapper; UnionFS - allows you perform updates and changes as though the filesystem was read/write; PHLAK Control Panel - all your system related needs including a hard drive installer; PHLAK Security Panel - lock your box down quickly or start/stop services; USB pen drive support; and more. Thanks for all your support and happy Phlaking!" Here is the full release announcement.
PHLAK 0.3 - the much awaited release comes with a new control centre and excellent documentation
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QiLinux 1.2 has been released: "We are proud to announce the immediate availability of the new QiLinux 1.2 release. A list of the most important changes follows: 22.214.171.124 kernel; proprietary ATI and NVIDIA video drivers integrated; support for many USB ADSL modems; graphical installation tool Qist (QiLinux Installation Tool), giving a choice among a tenth of groups and thousands of packages; installations and updates management with apt and the graphical tool synaptic; remote desktop administration with FreeNX; detailed installation guide; a lot of new software packages for multimedia, graphics, office and productivity. We suggest you to carefully read the installation guide and try this new release full of new features!" See the release announcement for more information.
Mutagenix is a Slackware- and SLAX-based Linux distribution for the desktop. A new version is out: "2.6.10-1 is released. Some Mutagenix features are: starts automatically as a DHCP client; integrated firewall which auto starts on DHCP networks in stealth mode; slapt-get, with multiple rc files with different sources, is included. cpan2tgz for automatically downloading and installing Perl CPAN modules; ext2 partitioned USB keys will be mounted as your home dir (/root) so your environment can be saved; an xorg.conf on the mounted USB key will be used instead of the default supplied xorg.conf; Windows password changing utility." Find more details in the release announcement and changelog.
redWall Firewall 0.5.5
A new version of redWall Firewall is available: "Good day firewallers and spam fighters! The redWall Firewall version 0.5.5 has been released. This is a major update. A lot of bugs have been fixed and a lot of new features have been implemented: Openswan and OpenVPN have been upgraded which should fix a lot of VPN-based problems and bugs; the kernel has been upgraded to 2.4.30-ow1; the whole mail server setup and spam filtering has been reviewed and enhanced; altermime has been added in order to add email disclaimers to outgoing emails (see /etc/altermime); 'rules du jour' has been added in order to keep SpamAssassin up-to-date with new rules; tcptrack has been added in order to track what's going on on your firewall...." See the release announcement for more details.
A new version of the AUSTRUMI mini live CD has been released. What's new? "Removed stardict, added stardict-ed; removed games: marbles, xskat, xonix; added games: atomix, gsoko, icebreaker; added PHP programs - uebimiau (webmail), xpai (xmail administration); variant b: updated Opera, Skype; variant a: removed Opera and Skype, added Firefox with Flash player, Linphone and xchat; Kaspar Melkis translated netconfig and ppconfig into English; updated some programs; fixed some bugs." Read the full changelog on the distribution's home page for more information.
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Development and unannounced releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 "Sarge"
Steve Langasek has posted a message presenting a new timeline for the release of Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 "Sarge": "Sarge is now frozen! ... And if everything goes well, we'll be ready to release at the end of the month." That's a big "if" in the world of Debian developers; just remember that the first scheduled release date for Sarge was set to 1 December 2003. Nevertheless, Sarge is now in a considerably better shape that it has ever been so perhaps the release is not too far off (don't count on 30 May, though).
Mandriva Linux 2006
Mandriva's development pages have been updated to include a preliminary release schedule of Mandriva Linux 2006. The first Cooker snapshot is expected next week, the first beta next month, and the final release of the Official edition is scheduled for 15 September 2005. Some of the new features expected to be included in Mandriva Linux 2006 are listed on this page.
The OpenBSD 3.7 CD sets have reportedly started shipping: "Many, many readers have written in to tell us that the 3.7 CDs have arrived at their destinations. No drunken, dancing, movie taunting everyone has been made yet, but I have faith that someone will pick up the slack and send us a video. The FTP release will still be around May 19, but stay tuned for the actual announcement. We also have word that the new wireframe puffy shirts are sooper secksi. We here at Undeadly would like to extend our thanks to all of the OpenBSD developers for putting out such a high quality release, and wish them much beer and hacking for further way life." Read more at the OpenBSD Journal. The OpenBSD 3.7 CDs can be ordered from this page (US$45.00).
NetBSD 1.6.3, 2.1 and 3.0
KernelTrap has published a mailing list post by James Chacon, presenting a timeline for the upcoming releases of NetBSD: "The next minor release is NetBSD 2.1, planned for late June of 2005. 'This will be the first minor release of the NetBSD 2 branch,' James explained, 'and will incorporate all changes from the NetBSD 2.0.1 and 2.0.2 security/critical updates as well as new feature additions/fixes.' The next major release is NetBSD 3.0, planned shortly after for late July of 2005, 'this was originally branched on March 16, 2005 and is in BETA today. It will become the next major release for NetBSD.' And the final 1.6 release, 1.6.3, is planned for August or September of 2005, 'this will be the final minor release of the NetBSD 1.6 branch and will close out any existing fixes submitted. After this has been released the 1.6 branch will be closed.'" Read more at KernelTrap.org.
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Summary of expected upcoming releases
|Web Site News
Server upgrade, statistics and upcoming features
We have a pleasure to greet you from a freshly updated DistroWatch.com server, now running on FreeBSD 5.4-RELEASE. As the FreeBSD mirrors started to get populated with the new stable version, we decided to upgrade straight away. As mentioned in earlier newsletters, we have had some issues with FreeBSD 5.3, a few problems that our web hosting provider confirmed to have affected other FreeBSD 5.3 servers they manage. We hope that FreeBSD 5.4 will be a more solid operating system and that we will keep bringing you news and features without having to spend excessive amount of time administering and troubleshooting the server.
Some of the statisticians among you might be interested in a handful of figures indicating the growing popularity of DistroWatch, which hopefully translates into a growing popularity of Linux, BSD, and open source software in general. April 2005 was our busiest month ever - excluding mirrors, we served nearly 6.9 million pages and transferred 453GB of data during the month. April 2005 also recorded the highest daily number of page views on the main page - it happened on the 8th of April (the day when KNOPPIX 3.8.1 was released and one day after the final release of Ubuntu Linux 5.04) when the main page of DistroWatch was viewed a total of 102,894 times. This was the first (and so far the only) time the number of page views exceeded 100,000 in one day. The average daily number of visitors viewing the DistroWatch main page during April 2005 was 78,730, which is also a new record.
As for the upcoming site enhancements, we are currently revising the search page and will add more search options, based on your requests. We will also include a "language support" field, but collection of this data takes longer than that of most other information about each distribution. Finally, we would like to welcome Herschel, a new PHP coder who has started working on a web-based interface for translators; once complete, the new page will allow readers to translate parts of the web site into their own language easily. Watch this space for more details.
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New distribution additions
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New on the waiting list
- Boreas GNU/Linux. Boreas GNU/Linux is a new Turkish live CD based on Knoppix.
- Lin4Astro. Lin4Astro is a simplified Linux distribution, contained on only one CD, and including all the applications needed to acquire astronomical pictures using a webcam.
- paldo GNU/Linux. paldo is a Upkg-driven GNU/Linux distribution. It is kind of a mix of a source and a binary distribution. Even though it builds packages like a source distribution, it provides binary packages as well. paldo stands for "pure adaptable Linux distribution"; it comes with very few patches against its packages. You can change every package by providing a local version of the sources and specifications you've changed and you can even configure your system automatically through local differential repositories. The whole distribution is very flexible because it is built on top of Upkg.
- VnOSS LiveCD. VnOss LiveCD is a new Vietnamese live CD project based on Gentoo Linux.
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DistroWatch database summary
- Number of Linux distributions in the database: 404
- Number of BSD distributions in the database: 11
- Number of discontinued distributions: 50
- Number of distributions on the waiting list: 114
|DistroWatch in the News
DistroWatch in PC Authority
The May issue of the Australian PC Authority magazine has published a list of Top 100 web secrets. Your favourite Linux/BSD distribution web site is a "secret" number 24: "Need a version of Linux, that fits under 40MB and is translated into Esperanto? Or how about a version that's so easy your grandmother can use it? Unfortunately, the flexibility of Linux leads to an overwhelming amount of choice, where its biggest advantage can quickly turn into its biggest disadvantage for new users. Sites like www.distrowatch.com provide a searchable, centralised database of hundreds of Linux distributions to help you find the most suitable version." You can read the rest of the article here.
That's all for today. We hope that you enjoyed this week's DistroWatch Weekly!