| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 384, 13 December 2010
Welcome to this year's 50th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Slax arrived on the distribution scene in 2003 as the first Slackware-based live CD that booted into a graphical desktop. Furthermore, it also included excellent tools for remastering a Slackware installation into a live medium. Although the once popular project has seemingly disappeared from the radar, it is far from dead. Thanks to the Slax community, a new build, featuring KDE 4 and LXDE desktops, is now available for download. Bernard Hoffmann takes it for a test drive and finds it a worthy successor of the original project. In the news section, Debian edges closer to the release of "Squeeze" with an updated installer and artwork, Fedora prepares for transition to Btrfs as the default file system, CentOS developers consider their options before the much-awaited release of version 6, and openSUSE moves ahead with the development that includes the Galbraith Latency patch in milestone 4. Also in this issue, a quick link to an interview with NetBSD developer Amitai Schlair and news about a lightweight Ubuntu-based distribution from Belgium called Madbox Linux. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Bernard Hoffmann)
Slax - still alive in the Slax Community remix|
Once upon a time Slax and KNOPPIX were the de facto Linux live CD distributions. Dating back to 2003 Slax was certainly one of the first, and its creator, widely known as Tomas M, gave the community the Linux-live scripts and pioneered modules instead of packages for an easy install of additional programs. The main edition CD image was around 200 MB and featured only the necessary base and a light KDE 3 desktop to allow customizing from there. Slax is, as the name might suggest, based off Slackware Linux, or perhaps better, a repackaging of the Slackware base and certain applications into Slax's module format LZM.
The module section hosted is vast and many are user-contributed which makes this way of operating a security concern. However, a system of approval is in place which warns you when downloading one that has not been approved and, of course, you can always make your own modules from pre-existing packages should you not trust what's available for download. For example, Firefox from the last official release is now severely outdated, but with the help of the provided utilities it is as easy as downloading the latest tar.bz2 from mozilla.org and converting it to LZM. It may even have given PC-BSD the idea for their PBIs, although these go further, including the dependencies in a static package as well.
The last official release of Slax was 6.1.2 on 2009-08-04 and it was based on Slackware 12.2 with a 188.8.131.52 kernel, but the system has not been updated since. I am not going to speculate on the reasons, but this coincided with a move to KDE 4 in Slackware which would have made Slax a lot heavier, and with plans to move to a 64-bit edition. Attempts to raise money for this through appreciative donations and the offering of server space for persistent storage and for backup in the form of the Slax drive, which had an icon on the desktop in the last updates, did not hit the magic target. Nowadays Tomas M is said to enjoy family life and previously neglected hobbies.
Enter the Slax community which is now keeping their beloved distribution alive. Slax can still be run from CD, extracted to USB drive or even installed to hard drive, although this is not supported and a once functional installer present around version 5.x was removed again. Tomas M stated in the forum that if people wanted a hard drive install they should install Slackware. This makes it pretty clear that Slax is for mobile use, but apparently there are people who still succeed using it on their desktops too.
Slax 09 Community remix - the boot screen
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Somebody known as "fanthom" on the forum set out to provide regular kernel and system updates to Slax 6.1.2 with the help of a brave few and called this the Slax Remix, of which only a few days ago v09 was released to the community servers. New releases are announced on the Slax forum. There is now even a version with 64-bit kernel available. It is important to emphasize that these releases are not official and modules for these are not supposed to be uploaded to the Slax website as they may not work with 6.1.2; instead they are distributed via a number of community sites.
There have always been contributed modules with other desktop environments like GNOME or Xfce available for Slax in the modules section, but the community remix introduced LXDE as a lightweight alternative to the latest KDE 4.5.4 which is surprisingly full and responds well. On top of this, work has gone on to integrate both and, as a result, the lightweight desktop looks particularly sharp.
Slax 09 Community remix - the LXDE desktop
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Slax remix v09 is built from Slackware "Current" userland with a 184.108.40.206 kernel with the recent patch for better scheduling and responsiveness. Also, much better support for graphics and for wireless network cards have been added when compared to the last official release; for example; the broadcom-sta driver is in the remix which, in my view, is particularly important for something designed as a mobile computing platform. For the long list of features and things changed please read the release announcement, with pointers to more modules like the Enlightenment 17 desktop in the thread as it develops. There have been plenty of changes and additions over the many remixes, particularly easier network setup with a custom tool, new module management tools and the addition of the new Squashfs4 format. For more on how to remaster or convert old 6.1.2 modules to Squashfs4 see this resource for remix v08.
I still think that Slax has something to offer in today's landscape due to its flexibility and ease of creating modules, particularly thinking about how easy it is to replicate an install which is literally just copy over or extract and run bootinst.bat or bootinst.sh from /boot folder to make it bootable. Similarly, it is easy to create your own custom ISO image with the provided make_iso script once the desired modules have been added. The community remix has kept Slax bleeding-edge and brought many innovations and improvements to the Slax of old, wireless network driver additions particularly welcome.
Slax 09 Community remix - the KDE 4 desktop
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It has become quite a different beast in some ways, having grown for the first time to over 200 MB size and introducing KDE 4 and 64-bit to Slax among others, like its founder had envisaged for the future of the project. At the same time it has also created a small team of developers familiar enough with the system to continue if the project is abandoned, or to help Tomas M out, should he decide to return for Slax 7. On the other hand I wonder if this is not just an operating system for a small group of hardcore fans now that it has had its time and may become increasingly irrelevant, in a day and age where almost every distribution offers a convenient graphical way to copy to a USB device and back or create spins. In any case, I am glad it's still around, and will keep using it from time to time just for fun.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Debian updates installer and artwork, Fedora prepares for Btrfs transition, CentOS considers release options, openSUSE includes Galbraith Latency patch, NetBSD interview
As we get closer to the end of another year, there are further indications that the stable release of Debian GNU/Linux 6.0 "Squeeze" is a matter of days, rather than weeks. Firstly, the second beta release of Debian Installer was announced by Otavio Salvador last week: "The Debian Installer team is pleased to announce the second beta release of the installer for Debian GNU/Linux 'Squeeze'. Improvements in this release: Linux kernel updated to 2.6.32-27; partition detection improved - Windows Vista, Windows Recovery Environment and MINIX; improved OS detection in grub-installer; ZFS support; fixed hibernation with swap on LVM; fixed, on os-prober, data corruption if file system is being used by another host; fixed overwrite MBR of installation medium; improved USB CD-ROM devices scan; updated minimal memory values for lowmem installations; localization - 67 languages activated (included English), for 50 of these, translation is 100% complete." Secondly, the "artwork in Debian's testing branch has been updated for "Squeeze": "The desktop-base package just updated on my Debian 'Squeeze' desktop, and it brought with it the new wallpaper for the distribution's soon-to-be-stable release. Now it really feels like Squeeze is ... not Lenny."
Debian GNU/Linux 6.0 - does the new artwork indicate the proximity of a release?
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The next stable Fedora, version 15, won't arrive until May next year, but it's always nice to learn that the distribution's developers are hard at work getting the many new features ready for public consumption. Rahul Sundaram updates us on the status of Btrfs, a file system that is expected to become the default in Fedora at some point: "One of the important changes not listed in the feature list for Fedora 15 is Btrfs in Fedora 15. Anaconda, the Fedora installer has marked Btrfs as a supported file system in Rawhide, the Fedora development branch a while back. Btrfs integration is a long process in Fedora spanning several releases and will eventually result in Btrfs becoming the default file system in a couple of releases. In Fedora 15, you don't need to pass any option - Btrfs will be one of the options by default, but do note that live images don't support anything other than the default of ext4 still. The future plan for Btrfs in Fedora has been detailed out by Josef Basik, Red Hat Btrfs file system developer. Josef is planning on adding Btrfs support into GRUB 2 as well but Grub 0.97, the legacy version."
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In many ways, CentOS, a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, is a distribution with a rather different development process than most other free software projects. Here the most important task is to remove all trademarks and logos before compiling the source packages provided by the upstream vendor. That said, it doesn't mean that the mechanism of building CentOS is a routine task. Quite the opposite, argues Nathan Willis in "CentOS grapples with its development process": "The RHEL 6 sources were released on November 10th, more than three years after the last major revision, RHEL 5. The size of the base distribution has grown considerably, and now spans two DVD-sized ISO images. In addition, the company is now offering four versions of the release: server, workstation, high-performance computing (HPC) 'compute node', and desktop client -- up from the two (desktop and server) for RHEL 5. These changes forced the CentOS developers to re-examine their own offerings, including the possibility of separate server and workstation editions (a change for CentOS) as well as a 'light' installation ISO image that would allow administrators to set up a functional minimal server without installing the full, multi-gigabyte image."
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The openSUSE project has seen several changes of hands in recent years - from an independent Linux distribution to a Novell project and now part of Attachmate Corporation. As a result, it's only natural that many users wonder how all these transformations affect the development of the distribution. But as Susan Linton attests in "Has the Novell Deal Hampered openSUSE?", the development process for the upcoming release of version 11.4 continues at high speed: "The crowning jewel of the all the recent news was the release of the latest 11.4 developmental milestone. This release includes the much touted Galbraith Latency patch that is believed to increase desktop performance. They are also including the latest desktop environments: KDE 4.6 beta 1 and GNOME 2.32.2. GNOME 3.0 won't be released in time for 11.4. OpenOffice.org has been removed in favor of LibreOffice. Midori Web browser, Rosegarden music composer/editor, and Gnash Flash viewer have been added. Final release is planned for March 2011. So, add all this up and you'll see that openSUSE isn't going away - far from it. The Novell deal hasn't hampered their fun. They are moving forward full steam ahead."
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Finally, a quick link to an interesting interview with NetBSD's Amitai Schlair, a member of a committee that oversees the development of pkgsrc and the maintainer of the official NetBSD Wiki: "Originally, the official Wiki wasn't intended to replace the unofficial one. People who wanted to contribute to a NetBSD Wiki had been doing just fine without us. That's no longer the case. We want these people to be able to keep contributing to NetBSD as they have, so we're adapting our Wiki plans to make room for everyone. This entails some careful rethinking -- every other official project resource is, by design, writeable only by developers -- followed by a fresh batch of integration work. We'd hoped to have time to prepare for a smooth transition from wiki.netbsd.se; alas, it's not in the cards. Instead, we're working as quickly as we can to make it possible for everyone to participate in the official NetBSD Wiki. A smooth transition would also, at minimum, involve moving worthwhile content to the new Wiki and providing HTTP redirects at the old URLs for a while. Of course, these require a modicum of assistance from the administrators of wiki.netbsd.se. For users' sake, I hope assistance will be forthcoming."
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
One of our readers asked about programs which display memory usage, what to use and what the different types of memory (shared, virtual, swapped, cached) mean. Furthermore, what fields are important to look at when comparing different systems?
First let's talk about programs to use when monitoring memory usage. When in doubt, I generally fall back to basics and use "top". It runs everywhere and shows you most of the information you should need, both in regards to memory usage and CPU usage. If you're just concerned with how much memory is being used by the system and uninterested in CPU usage then "free" is also a good command to run as it'll show you usage information for shared memory, cache and swap. When looking at GUI applications, I like KDE's System Monitor. The default layout looks a lot like top's, but it's easy to configure System Monitor with different views and with different filters. My favourite feature of System Monitor is its method of displaying CPU, memory and network usage in a graph so you can quickly tell if your resource usage is spiking or holding steady. For non-KDE people, there is a GNOME application, which also carries the name System Monitor, and it shows the same information in approximately the same manner.
Of course having access to all of this information isn't very useful without knowing what the data means, so let's begin with shared memory. As the name implies, shared memory is a section of your computer's memory which is can be accessed (or shared) by multiple processes. Sometimes programs will use a common pool of memory as a fast way to communicate or work on a common task. Shared memory can also refer to items in memory that are common across multiple processes. Let's say, as an example, that you have a text editor open. That text editor requires certain libraries be loaded into the system's memory. When you then open another program which also makes use of the same library there really isn't any reason to have two copies of the same library in memory. In those cases the operating system can keep just one copy in memory and let both programs access it. In short, when you see shared memory it means multiple processes are making use of the same section of memory.
Virtual memory is, in itself, a big topic and it can get a bit confusing. In the context of what you see when using the top command, the amount of virtual memory a process is using really means the total amount of memory that task is consuming. It includes the size of the program's executable, libraries being used and any data that task is storing in memory.
Swapped memory is, perhaps, a bit easier to understand. Modern operating systems often need access to more memory than they physically have. When Linux runs out of physical RAM it needs to store data somewhere else. That somewhere else is typically a swap partition. This is basically a closet in which data can be temporarily placed until it is needed. Swap space is useful because it means we can effectively use 2 GB of memory, even if the computer in front of us only has 1 GB of RAM. That extra GB is stored on the hard drive as swapped memory. The down side to using swap space is that accessing the hard drive is slower than accessing RAM and so making heavy use of swap space can make the computer less responsive...
... Which brings us to cached memory. Since it slows us down when we access the computer's hard drive, it is handy to keep as much data as possible in RAM. Cache refers to data in memory which is not currently being actively used, but is instead being held for quick access. You can see cache at work if you open a large program, like OpenOffice, and make note of how long it takes to load. Then close OpenOffice and immediately open it again. The second time OpenOffice loads it should come up faster because the OS left the program in our cache. Some distributions (such as SliTaz) make use of cache by loading the entire OS into memory at boot time, making loading applications almost instant.
When comparing different systems, I generally look at the amount of memory the system uses, minus cache. Since cache isn't being actively used, it's not really impacting what we can load into memory later. An easy way to get this information is to run "free" and look at the second line. The number under the "used" column of the second line will show you how much RAM is being used (in kilobytes), ignoring cache.
|Released Last Week
Thierry Nuttens has announced the release of an updated version of NuTyX, a French desktop distribution built from Linux From Scratch and using a custom package management tool borrowed from CRUX. Changes since Attapu: the live media allows hard disk installation via a graphical installer; KDE has been upgraded to version 4.5.4; it is now possible to generate a live CD/DVD image from an installed system; a "MINI" edition has been re-introduced, it allows installation of extra applications via Internet; during installation seven kernel options are available, covering a greater number of hardware combinations; the maintenance interface has been revised and simplified, now using the JWM window manager by default; an available swap partition is now automatically detected and configured.... Please visit the project's home page (in French) to read the full release announcement.
ZevenOS 1.9.1 "Neptune"
Leszek Lesner has released an updated version of ZevenOS 1.9 "Neptune" edition, a Linux distribution based on Debian's testing branch: "We are proud to announce the release of ZevenOS Neptune 1.9.1. This is the first minor release to ZevenOS Neptune 1.9 which brings an updated Linux kernel (220.127.116.11) and an upgraded KDE SC (4.5) as well as VLC 1.1.5. The base Debian system was updated with security and bug fixes as well as our own applications such as ZevenOS hardware manager and Neptune installer. We are also proud to see that our effort in creating a good remastering tool, remaster-kit, has resulted in the first unofficial ZevenOS Neptune 1.9.1 release based on the GNOME desktop. Features: the newest, full-featured KDE SC 4.5 desktop with lots of animations and useful applications; the newest Chromium web browser including the newest Adobe Flash and full HTML 5 support." Here is the full release announcement.
Unity Linux 2010.2
Matthew Dawkins has announced the release of Unity Linux 2010.2, a minimalist operating system designed to serve as a base for building custom distributions: "The developers at the Unity Linux project are proud to announce a brand new snapshot of the 2010 release. The 2010.2 release provides many updates to core packages, much more stability, and refinements to the core tools of the project, like mklivecd and unity-installer. Since our 2010.1 release the changes include: updated toolchain, OpenSSL, X.Org, Python, Mono, Smart, Drak tools, Linux kernel 18.104.22.168; addition of more than 2,000 packages; Xfce 4.6.2, KDE 4.5.1, GNOME 2.32.0, Openbox 22.214.171.124, E17 0.16.999.52995 and EFL beta libraries, as well as several proprietary video drivers for NVIDIA and ATI." Read the full release announcement for further details.
Salix OS 13.1.2 "Fluxbox"
George Vlahavas has announced that a newly-built "Fluxbox" edition of the Slackware-based Salix OS 13.1.2, is released: "After a lengthy development period, the Salix team is proud to announce the first official release of Salix 'Fluxbox' edition. Salix Fluxbox 13.1.2 is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures and features the minimal Fluxbox window manager, customized with the Salix look and feel. The 'Fluxbox' edition provides the cleanest work environment compared to any other previous Salix editions and has been designed so that it stays out of the way, while providing a fast, versatile and powerful environment. The installation images allow the installation to be performed in three different modes - core, basic and full." Read the rest of the release announcement for additional information.
Jolicloud 1.1, an Ubuntu-based distribution for netbooks with a custom user interface and extensive integration with online services and social networks, has been released: "With what we are releasing today, Jolicloud will bring all its users one step ahead of what Google, Apple and Microsoft are announcing. When everybody talks about HTML 5 as the future, we deliver it today, now and for everyone. We also hope that you will enjoy the brand new HTML 5 desktop that anyone on Chrome can use online at my.jolicloud.com. We have listened to your feedback and added some of the most requested features: Dashboard customization with beautiful background images; simplified access to the computer settings; ability to add any local application to your dashboard from a Jolicloud device; faster sign up and login using Facebook Connect; improved user interface design." Full details can be found in the release announcement.
Jolicloud 1.1 - an Ubuntu-based distribution for netbooks with heavy integration of online social networks
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Ultimate Edition 2.8 "Lite"
Glenn Cady has announced the release of Ultimate 2.8 "Lite", an Ubuntu-based distribution featuring the LXDE desktop and designed for deployment on low-resource computers: "As promised, have the latest and the last release in the 2.8 series of Ultimate Edition. Ultimate Edition 2.8 'Lite' is dedicated to those with low system resources; it is also lightning-fast on machines that have the resources. There are no bells and whistles here, no office suite, no Compiz - just the pure essentials. It was built off Lubuntu 10.10, updated and upgraded, which is based on the LXDE desktop environment. Many applications were ripped from the operating system before I even started to build. This is the first time a light edition has been released from us; not that it has not been asked for by many for some time. Ultimate Edition 2.8 'Lite' will fit on a CD." Here is the complete release announcement.
Ultimate Edition 2.8 "Lite" - a Lubuntu-based distribution with LXDE
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Tony Sales has announced the release of Vinux 3.1, an Ubuntu-based distribution designed for blind and visually impaired computer users: "I am pleased to announce that Vinux 3.1 is now ready for download. It is currently available as a CD or DVD in both 32-bit and 64-bit editions (USB and Virtual Machine editions will follow shortly). It has been a long time coming, but hopefully it will be worth the wait. On top of all the usual Vinux goodies, new features include a Quick Start Guide for beginners (Ctrl+Alt+Q), Autokey-GTK which can insert text automatically as you type based on pre-defined abbreviation, the Parcellite Clipboard Manager which allows to paste text from the clipboard history, X-Tile which allows to tile windows automatically, Gnome Media Player as an accessible front-end to VLC...." Here is the complete release announcement.
Vinux 3.1 - an Ubuntu-based distribution for visually impaired
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Ricardo López has announced the release of Asturix 3, an easy-to-use, Ubuntu-based distribution featuring the KDE desktop and integration of popular social networks: "Asturix 3 is officially available. This version has meant months of hard work for all volunteer Asturix development team and we are sure that it will be a turning point in the short history of the project. Some of its features: elegant and professional interface, combined with an amazing design; total integration of social and micro-blogging networks, such as Twitter, Facebook or Identi.ca; Asturix Bridge lets you to add, remove and execute web applications as native applications; face login - write your password to login is a thing of the past; libre and free music thanks to Jamendo, and it is legal!" See the release announcement and this brief feature list for more information.
Asturix 3 - a Kubuntu-based distribution with added features
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Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
- CrunchBang Linux 10-r20101205, the release announcement
- VectorLinux 7.0-alpha4, the release announcement
- Zorin OS 4-rc, the release announcement
- Chakra GNU/Linux 0.3-rc1, the release announcement
- Linux Deepin 10.12-rc, the release announcement (in Chinese)
- Scientific Linux 6-alpha2, the release announcement
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.9-beta, the release announcement
- FreeBSD 8.2-BETA1 and 7.4-BETA1, the release announcement
- Frugalware Linux 1.4-pre2, the release announcement
- PC-BSD 9.0-snapshot, 8.2-snapshot
- SimplyMEPIS 11.0-alpha4
- ALT Linux 6.0-beta
- Openwall GNU/Linux Current-20101209
- Tiny Core Linux 3.4-rc2
- GParted Live 0.7.0-11
- Clonezilla Live 1.2.6-52
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
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New distributions added to waiting list
- Groovy Arcade Linux. Groovy Arcade Linux is a Gentoo-based live CD/USB medium with a bleeding-edge Linux DRM with Kernel Mode Switching. It also includes patches to allow 15 KHz operation for Arcade monitors and NTSC/PAL TV output, and it uses the X.Org packages built from the latest git sources. It uses WahCade as a front-end, and includes the LXDE desktop and the FVWM window manager, as well as the newest Chromium web browser.
- Swift Linux. Swift Linux an antiX-based distribution providing a combination of lightweight operation, a superior repository, and user-friendliness. A separate edition, called Forensic Swift Linux, includes extra tools for forensic, rescue, and recovery tasks.
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DistroWatch database summary
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This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 20 December 2010.
Bernard Hoffmann, Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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