| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 399, 4 April 2011
Welcome to this year's 14th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Gentoo Linux is not only the biggest and most popular source-based distribution, it is also a choice of many developers as a base from which they build custom solutions. One of them, Calculate Linux, is under spotlight in today's feature story. Does this Russian distribution deliver a more polished and friendly user experience than its famous parent? Read on to find out. In the news section, Slackware Linux edges closer to its next stable release, a Fedora ambassador looks at a current development snapshot of Fedora 15 with GNOME 3, the Debian release team starts the process of setting release goals for 'Wheezy', and Pardus Linux offers an unofficial release featuring the Xfce 4.8 desktop. Also in this issue, a link to an interview with Jeff Hoogland, the founder and developer of the Ubuntu-based Bodhi Linux, and a Tips and Tricks section featuring UNetbootin, a utility allowing an easy way to create bootable USB drives from CD and DVD ISO images. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
From Russia with source (Calculate Linux 11.3)|
Two of our esteemed readers asked if I would review Calculate Linux, a Russian distribution which targets small and medium business environments. Calculate has three desktop editions (KDE, GNOME and Xfce) along with a server edition. At the time of writing a media center edition is in development. Each of these flavours is available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds. The Calculate Linux distribution is based on Gentoo Linux, the popular source-based project.
Before I get into my experiences with Calculate I want to be frank about something: I'm biased against source-based distributions. There are three reasons for this:
Admittedly, going into this review, Calculate had an uphill battle to win my appreciation.
- For most people, running common applications on modern hardware, there isn't a significant performance gain in custom-compiled software. There are plenty of areas where compiling custom binaries is useful, even important, but the typical home or office setting isn't one of them. Even if a user knows which compile flags to set, they're still going to be putting in a lot of time and energy for relatively little pay-off.
- It takes more time to install software. On a binary distribution we can download and install new packages in seconds or, large packages, in a few minutes. On source-based distributions even a small install can take several minutes of automated configuring and compiling and large jobs can take hours.
- Source distributions feel redundant. Most binary distros, such as Debian GNU/Linux, Fedora and Slackware Linux, default to stock binaries, but provide the source code that goes into them. If we find ourselves in a situation where we need to compile software for performance, security or customization then those projects make it easy to do so. We have the choice of convenience or customization. On the other hand source-based projects rarely provide binaries, giving us the customization benefits, but none of the convenience.
The Calculate website has a clean, professional look. Categories are well organized and information is easy to find. There are links to contact information, a support forum and Gentoo's security advisories. We can also find documentation on performing common tasks. The project's DVD images can be downloaded either from mirror sites or via BitTorrent. The ISO image I downloaded was 1.6 GB in size and booting from the disc provides options to load Calculate normally, load the system into RAM or boot into text mode. Booting normally from the DVD brings us to a beautiful blue KDE 4.6 desktop. Unlike most KDE distros, Calculate places the application menu and task switcher at the top of the screen. Icons for the system installer, documentation, a partition manager and IRC client (for on-line assistance) sit on the desktop. The documentation file includes instructions for setting up partitions, minimal system requirements, default account names and how to access updates. I was pleasantly surprised to find that English translations of the help text and the project's website were quite clear. Moving the mouse down to the bottom of the screen reveals a quick-launch bar with buttons for commonly used applications.
Calculate Linux 11.3 - the installation guide
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The graphical system installer is well put together and intuitive. We start out by selecting our preferred language and choosing which hard disk to use. Partitioning should probably be done ahead of time, but if the disk hasn't been divided up already the installer provides a button to launch cfdisk. I was a little surprised the installer launches cfdisk when there is a GUI partition manager on the desktop -- perhaps this was done to maintain compatibility with the Directory Server edition. Once we get through the partitioning screen we're asked to assign mount points to each partition. We then come to a screen where we can set our hostname, pick our time zone, choose to enable desktop effects, decide whether to install GRUB and select a video driver. Our last steps are to set a root password and create a regular user account. The installer then starts copying files to the local drive, a process that took about forty-five minutes on my machines.
I tried Calculate on my laptop first and, since the machine has an Intel video card, I had told the installer to use an Intel driver. Upon loading the distribution for the first time X failed to start properly, leaving me with a blank screen. I switched over to a text console, changed X's configuration file to use the "vesa" driver and rebooted. This time I was presented with a nice graphical login screen. However, trying to login produced script errors and kicked me back to the login page. I found that switching over to a terminal, logging in and then running startx would give my user a graphical desktop. These same problems didn't show up on my desktop machine, where my install, first-boot and login went smoothly.
The distribution's default install takes 5.8 GB of disk space and the application menu is packed with software. We're treated to Chromium 10, LibreOffice 3.3, KMail, the Konqueror web browser and the Kopete instant messenger. We're given access to a remote desktop tool, an e-book reader, document viewer and personal organizer. In the multimedia department we find Amarok, the K3b disc burner, a multimedia player and a video editor called Kdenlive. The application menu also hosts the GIMP, Digikam and Skype. For people on dial-up connections Calculate provides KPPP. We're also given GUI encryption and certificate applications. The distro includes the usual collection of small apps for editing text and managing archives. Additionally there's the KDE System Settings utilities to customize our environment. Behind the scenes we find the GNU Compiler Collection and, running in the background, the OS features a secure shell server. The developers have additionally thrown in multimedia codecs for handling most popular file formats and a Flash browser plugin. Digging further we find that the installation includes the 2.6.36 release of the Linux kernel.
Calculate Linux 11.3 - running applications
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Software management on Calculate is generally done using Gentoo's Portage tools, specifically emerge. Though the Calculate website does have documentation concerning adding and updating packages, I recommend reading Gentoo's Handbook before diving in as it has more examples and explanations. I'm a bit divided on my views of Gentoo's emerge command line program. During my time with Calculate I found that emerge worked well. It's stable, flexible and the syntax is easy to understand. However, I also found it to be slow, especially when performing searches and checking dependencies. Calculate has a second tool for performing package searches called eix and it makes hunting for software quite a bit faster. As I mentioned before, Calculate is a source-based distribution and so most packages (and their dependencies) need to be compiled at install time. This makes installing software a much slower process than it is on most other distros. There are a few exceptions to Calculate's source-only rule: OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Firefox and Chromium are available as pre-built binaries.
I ran Calculate on two machines, my HP laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card) and a generic desktop box (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card). Calculate properly detected and enabled all of my hardware on both machines. The only issue I ran into was with the Intel video card on my laptop when I manually chose an Intel driver over the default. Audio volume was set to a reasonable level, my screens were set to an appropriate resolution, my wireless card worked out of the box and my touchpad detected taps as clicks. On the desktop computer I left minor desktop effects, such as transparency, enabled and performance was generally good. I did find that my boot times were a bit slower on Calculate than on some of the big-name distros, but once the OS was up and running Calculate performed smoothly. I also ran the distribution in a VirtualBox virtual machine and found that the distro functioned well there too. Performance continued to be good with decreasing amounts of RAM, down to 512 MB.
Calculate Linux 11.3 - browsing the web and using LibreOffice.
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The Calculate distribution certainly made some strong impressions on me during the week I was using it, most of them good. Generally, the things that turned me off were in relation to software management. The emerge tool, while reliable, was slow to work out dependencies. The login bug I ran into on my laptop was an unpleasant surprise, as was finding that choosing Intel drivers for my Intel video card would cause X to crash. On the other hand, Calculate comes with a lot of pre-installed software without much overlap in functionality, letting me perform most tasks while avoiding extra trips to the repositories. Performance was good and this is one of the few distros to detect and use all of my hardware out of the box. Furthermore, I liked having all the multimedia codecs available on the default install.
The desktop, the application menu and the project's website are beautiful and well organized and I never had to spend any time hunting for items or moving things around to better suit my work habits. Despite some minor translation problems the documentation is clear and well presented and the system installer is easy to walk through. With its rolling release model I'm not sure Calculate is the best choice for a business environment, but I do think it's an attractive option for people who want the flexibility of a source distribution without a lot of up-front configuration. I guess the point I'm circling around like an indecisive vulture is, despite my reservations, Calculate impressed me. It's a well crafted distro and, though it's not perfect, the developers have put out a solid offering. If you don't mind waiting while your machine compiles your packages, give it a try.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
Slackware edges closer to 13.37, Fedora ambassador checks out GNOME 3, Debian ponders goals for 'Wheezy', openSUSE and Pardus offer Xfce 4.8 option, Bodhi interview
We'll start this week's issue with Slackware Linux, the world's oldest surviving Linux distribution. With version 13.37 likely to be released later this week, Joe Brockmeier has taken a look at one of the earlier development snapshots, as well as the distribution's likely user base: "Slackware users are those who want to tinker with their system and don't find it intimidating -- or are willing to face intimidation to learn more about their systems. The users range from hobbyists to one who claims to manage more than 150 Slackware servers across the state. The Slackware community may be smaller than those of major Linux distributions, but it's also largely free of politics and drama (Volkerding's health scare excepted). The distribution is driven by Volkerding, but it's not a one-man show. The changelog is full of acknowledgements from Volkerding to Robby Workman, Eric Hameleers, and many others. You could look at Slackware and say that it's out of date, a throwback to the days when Linux was the domain of the 'l33t' and little more than a hobbyist OS. Another way to look at it is that Slackware is for users who miss the simpler days of Linux and still want to tinker with their systems."
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Another popular distribution approaching a stable state is Fedora whose version 15 is due for release on 24 May. Fedora ambassador Kage Senshi has written a first-look review of a recent (pre-beta) nightly build, which include his impressions of GNOME 3: "GNOME 3 introduces lots of radical changes in the user interface, some of which might take quite a while to get used to. I was a GNOME-Do user back in GNOME 2, using (left) <Super> + Space to activate GNOME-Do. GNOME 3, however, keeps the super key for itself, making all my super key-related shortcuts to be unusable. Still trying to kill the habit of punching <Super> + Space. Another thing that might take a while to get used to is window management. For years (since Windows 95) I have been using the taskbar to monitor window status and switch between them quickly. In GNOME 3 there is no such thing. Switching between windows requires an extra step of going into the Activity screen and select a window. However, I still haven't seen the equivalent of the blinking taskbar button when a window needs attention, which might make handling of tens of windows which might need attention a bit tricky. Probably Cairo-Dock or similar might help in filling this gap the taskbar left behind which I have yet to try."
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In contrast, the developers of Debian GNU/Linux are at the very beginning of their road towards the next stable release, code name "Wheezy". Neil McGovern explains the process of establishing release goals: "As a first step towards establishing release goals for 'Wheezy', we will be reviewing each of the goals which we had for 'Squeeze' to see which have been achieved and which may no longer be relevant for other reasons. In some cases in previous cycles release goals have become 'orphaned', for instance as a result of the original proponent either being unavailable to work on them or losing interest. To try and avoid such issues occurring for 'Wheezy', we are considering requesting that each goal have a nominated 'shepherd' (or shepherds) who will monitor progress towards the goal and provide regular status updates on that progress (even if it's 'same as last time'). We're also after new goals. I know that expressions of interest in multi-arch and tdebs have already been indicated, but if you have something you would want to see happen for 'Wheezy', please let us know. The release team itself will be suggesting some as part of the review above."
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With much of the current talk on many Linux forums focusing on the radical changes in the upcoming GNOME 3, many users are wondering whether they should consider an alternative desktop environment. Xfce seems like a perfect alternative - it's much lighter than GNOME, but it still maintains much of GNOME's layout and configurability. Jos Poortvliet introduces the recently released Xfce 4.8 running on top of openSUSE 11.4: "Xfce 4.8 prides itself on having a more flexible and configurable yet conservative user interface design approach. With the controversies surrounding the radical UI redesigns offered by KDE Plasma, Unity and GNOME Shell, Xfce might offer a comfortable home for those who just want their desktop icons and a panel on the bottom with easy configuration of applets. Another advantage is that Xfce 4.8 is significantly faster than either a GNOME or KDE's Plasma workspace on this laptop. Now I must admit I run quite meagre hardware -- a 1.2 GHz dual-core with a GMA 950 integrated graphics is not impressive, but 2 GB of RAM should be enough. Well, it often isn't -- mostly due to modern web browsers eating huge amounts of RAM. Xfce saves you a little bit, although it won't really save you in the face of modern, memory-hungry applications like Chromium and LibreOffice. More noticeable are start-up time and responsiveness of applications. Xfce programs start up instantaneously and feel very fast while you are using them."
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Another distribution offering an Xfce option (alongside the mainstream KDE build) is Pardus Linux. This is an unofficial testing release, as announced on the Pardus Worldforum: "The ÇoMaK team announced Pardus 2011 'Nusrat' based on the Xfce desktop system. Installation DVDs of this release are ready. With this release, the latest Xfce (4.8) is integrated into Pardus Linux. Ristrello, the image viewer, Gigolo, the remote and local file system manager, and Poster, the e-mail client are the main applications presented with this release. You can also find the Midori internet browser on the DVD. Please do not forget that this is a test release. Known issues: you will see two error messages while booting, you can ignore them for now; at the first boot following installation, after user selection, the option 'special' has been already selected at the bottom of the page. You must set this to 'Xfce session' for once." Here are the quick download links (SHA1): Pardus-2011-Comak-XFCE-i686.iso (1,093MB), Pardus-2011-Comak-XFCE-x86_64.iso (1,112MB).
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Finally, a link to an interview with Jeff Hoogland, the developer of the Ubuntu-based Bodhi Linux: "Bodhi was created with two things in mind, the first of these is the Enlightenment desktop. There are very few distributions that use E as their default desktop and three of the most popular (Elive, OpenGEU, and MoonOS) are either dated or using a different desktop now. I like the Enlightenment desktop and I wanted everyone to be able to easily enjoy a current version of it without having to go through the headache of building it from source. I wanted to create something that would show off Enlightenment's power and flexibility to new users. The second reason for creating Bodhi was to place an emphasis on user choice. We pride ourselves on being 'minimalistic.' You will find us as sort of a middle ground between distributions like Arch/Gentoo and Fedora/Ubuntu. By this, I mean we neither give you just a tty to start from, nor do we install piles of (often) needless applications by default for the user."
|Tips and Tricks (by Jesse Smith)
Creating bootable USB drives with UNetbootin
One of our readers pointed out that some small computers built with mobility in mind don't have CD/DVD drives. For that matter, optical drives can fail. When we run into situations where we can't use a CD as a live disc or to perform an install, it's handy to have a USB stick with our preferred Linux distro on it. With that in mind, this week I'd like to talk about UNetbootin.
UNetbootin is a utility which makes it easy to install Linux distributions onto a USB stick. Launching the program brings up a GUI which asks us which distribution (and which version of the distro) we'd like to copy to our USB device. We select our preferred distro from a drop-down list. We then tell UNetbootin to which drive it should copy the distribution. In my case UNetbootin properly detected the USB drive I had plugged in, so there was no need for me to do anything further, aside from hit the OK button.
The application downloads the chosen distribution's ISO image, extracts the files it needs and copies them (along with a boot loader) onto the USB device. When it's finished all we have to do is reboot the computer and select the USB drive as our boot device. From there it's just like running Linux from a live CD. The whole process all very straight forward for the end-user -- three mouse clicks and some time spent waiting for the ISO to download is the extent of our effort.
Using UNetbootin to fetch SliTaz GNU/Linux
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Aside from ease of use, UNetbootin has some good points in its favour. The program is cross-platform, allowing Linux users to grab copies of their favourite distros, but it also grants Windows users a way to get their hands on another operating system without requiring a disc burner. In cases where we don't have a USB stick or if the machine we're working on won't boot from a USB device, UNetbootin has us covered there too. The GUI includes an option to install the chosen distribution's files to our hard drive instead of a USB device. This doesn't actually install the distribution in the normal sense, but modifies our main operating system's boot menu to allow us to boot into our new distro just as if we were booting from a live CD. A final aspect of UNetbootin I appreciate is that whether it copies a new distro to our hard drive or to a USB stick, it doesn't destroy data files already in place. Generally when we think of installing an operating system onto a device we think of over-writing existing data, but files installed by UNetbootin co-existed nicely with our data.
The only problem I ran into when trying UNetbootin is that if we ask it to download a distribution that's no longer available or if, for some reason, we can't access the remote ISO image file, UNetbootin will still claim it has successfully downloaded, extracted and installed the distro. The application is a bit of an optimist that way and it can lead to confusion if we aren't watching it carefully. Other than that quirk I found UNetbootin worked smoothly and I recommend keeping a copy on hand, either for emergencies or as a way of testing new software. Packages of UNetbootin are available for Debian GNU/Linux (and its large family), Fedora, Arch Linux, Gentoo Linux and openSUSE.
|Released Last Week
Zenwalk Linux 7.0 "Openbox"
Markus Muttilainen has announced the release of Zenwalk Linux 7.0 "Openbox" edition, a Slackware-based distribution featuring the lightweight Openbox window manager: "Zenwalk Openbox 7.0 is ready. I am happy to bring you the Openbox spin of Zenwalk Linux. This release focuses on being more beginner-friendly by providing an integrated and easy-to-use Openbox desktop. You will get the latest stable software and new artwork. Some of the packages included are Linux kernel 18.104.22.168, glibc 2.13, Mozilla Firefox 4.0, Mozilla Thunderbird 3.1.9, Gnumeric 1.10.12 and AbiWord 2.8.6. Tweak it till you geek it. Have fun!" Read the brief release announcement and check out the detailed changelog if you wish to find out more about the release.
Clonezilla Live 1.2.8-23
Steven Shiau has announced the release of Clonezilla Live 1.2.8-23, a new stable version of the specialist live CD designed for disk cloning: "Stable Clonezilla Live 1.2.8-23 has been released. This release includes major enhancements, changes and bug fixes: the underlying GNU/Linux operating system was upgraded to Debian 'Sid' (as of 2011-03-28); Linux kernel was updated to 2.6.38; Partclone was updated to 0.2.22; Live-boot was updated to 2.0.15; language files were updated; new packages were added - disktype, ufsutils; Memtest86+ was updated to 4.20; a mechanism was added to check if the saved image is restorable; a better mechanism was added to deal with multiple slices of a BSD system; 'noatime' and 'nodiratime' options are now used when mounting file system in prep-ocsroot...." Continue reading the release announcement for a full changelog.
openSUSE 11.4 "Edu Li-f-e"
Jigish Gohil has announced the release of openSUSE 11.4 "Edu Li-f-e", a specialist edition of openSUSE designed for schools: "The openSUSE Education team is proud to present openSUSE-Edu Li-f-e (Linux for Education) based on openSUSE 11.4. This release includes the latest carefully selected software for students, educators, as well as parents. The software selection encompasses everything required to make a productive computing experience for either home or educational use without having to install anything additional. Right out of the box, educators and parents will be pleased to see over 150 applications to fit their student's needs. A wide range including mental exercise tools like Brain Workshop and GBrainy, science applications like Chemtool, mathematical programs like Euler, artistic development software like TuxPaint and GIMP...." Read the full release announcement which includes screenshots.
Parsix GNU/Linux 3.6r2
Alan Baghumian has announced the release of the second respin of Parsix GNU/Linux 3.6, a Debian-based desktop distribution and live DVD: "After revamping our website it is the right time to release the last maintenance update of 3.6 series. This release merges all the published security and technical fixes on the software repositories into a set of updated ISO images. As always, we support both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. Also Chromium browser version 10 is available to be downloaded via software repositories. To keep you updated about our next version (3.7 'Raul'), we are working to generate the first set of testing ISO images and they will be available soon." Read the brief release announcement and the more detailed release notes for further information.
Puppy Linux 5.2.5
Larry Short has announced the release of Puppy Linux 5.2.5: "Lucid Puppy is our official flagship Puppy Linux release. Version 5.2 was released on January 6th and since then the team has been feverishly developing the next version -- and it has now arrived! Lucid Puppy 5.2.5 is the most leading-edge Lucid ever. It has Bash 4.1.0, Syslinux 4.03, and e2fsprogs 1.41.14, the latest from Ubuntu 'Natty'. It now has JWM 500, up from 493. Gnumeric 1.10.13 is a necessity because a forum member had posted a bug to Gnumeric that is corrected in 1.0.13. Lucid 5.2.5 uses the Woof of February 28 replacing the Woof of November 28 for three months of progress in Woof development. All of the favorite Puppy programs are there in their latest versions." For more details please consult the release announcement and the release notes.
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Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
- SimplyMEPIS 11.0-rc1, the release announcement
- SliTaz GNU/Linux Cooking 20110329, the release announcement
- Toorox 03.2011, the release announcement
- Kororaa Linux 14-beta5, the release announcement
- Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, Ubuntu Studio and Mythbuntu 11.04-beta1, the release announcement
- FreeNAS 8.0-rc4, the release announcement
- RIPLinuX 11.8
- Linux Deepin 10.12.1 2.9-core48
- IPFire 2.9-core48
- Canaima GNU/Linux 3.0-vc4
- VectorLinux 7.0-beta2.1
- Momonga Linux 7 (LiveCD)
- Baltix GNU/Linux 10.04.2-rc3
- Alpine Linux 2.1.6
- Agilia Linux 8.0-beta3
- ALT Linux 6.0.0-beta
- BlankOn 7.0-alpha3
- Pinguy OS 11.04-alpha1
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
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New distributions added to waiting list
- Tucunaré. Tucunaré is a Debian-based Brazilian distribution featuring a pre-installed LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) software.
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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, 11 April 2011.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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