| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 458, 28 May 2012
Welcome to this year's 22nd issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
It is an exciting time to be a Linux user, especially if you're interested in distributions which try to provide complete, novice-friendly experiences right from the beginning. This past week saw the
release of Mageia 2, the community supported fork of Mandriva. We also saw releases from the Linux Mint and ZorinOS projects and we expect to see a new version of Fedora before the end of the month. In this week's edition Jesse Smith investigates a new Debian-based distribution by the name of SolusOS and explores what this
project brings to the Linux ecosystem. We also have news about the latest Linux kernel, a rare release of a little-known desktop environment and an update on the
Google vs. Oracle Android lawsuit. Plus we will talk about protecting the files in our home folders using encryption and, as always, we will cover a full list of distributions released last week.
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
SolusOS 1 "Eveline"
I have been away for a few weeks, enjoying some quiet and relaxation. Coming back from my vacation I wanted to experiment with a distribution I hadn't used before and the developers behind SolusOS gave me just such an opportunity. The SolusOS team recently made their first stable release, version 1, available and I hoped it would present some fresh ideas.
SolusOS is based on Debian's Stable branch, though many of the distribution's end-user applications are more modern than what we would usually find in Debian Stable. What we are given is an older, stable Linux kernel (version 3.0) and a legacy version of GNOME (version 2.30), but these underlying technologies are accompanied by VLC 2, the latest Firefox and a recent release of Thunderbird and a complete collection of multimedia software. This combination of a tried and true base with cutting edge applications is an idea which appeals to me as it has worked well for other projects, such as PC-BSD and Chakra. At the time of writing SolusOS is available in a 32-bit build only, however a 64-bit edition is in the works.
The SolusOS download is available as a DVD ISO image, weighing in at a little under 1GB. Booting from the disc displays a boot menu allowing us to load a live desktop environment or jump straight into the installer. The installer features a graphical interface and it walks us step-by-step through the usual questions. We're asked to choose our preferred language from a list, asked to identify our time zone and then we are asked to select our keyboard layout from a list. After that we're asked on which disk we want to install SolusOS. The following screen displays a list of partitions on the selected disk. We can format the partitions and assign mount-points by right-clicking on listed partitions. Should we need to add, edit or remove partitions there is a button at the bottom of the screen which will launch a graphical partition manager. Most of the installer is nicely laid out and fairly straight forward, the partitioning section perhaps being the one exception. The process of launching a separate partition manager isn't so bad, but right-clicking to select formating and to assign mount points struck me as being the only unintuitive part of the process. The next screen asks us to create a new user account and then we're asked if we wish to install a boot loader and, if so, where. The installer then goes to work copying files to the local drive and, about half an hour later, we're dropped to a command line as the "live" (non-root) user. At this point I had to use the "su" command to become the root user and manually initiate a reboot of the machine, which I found to be a roundabout way of doing things compared to the rest of the install process.
SolusOS 1 -- System installer and application menu.
(full image size: 389kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Booting into our local install of SolusOS brings up a light blue graphical login screen. Logging in presents us with a GNOME 2 desktop, again with a soft blue background. There are icons on the desktop for navigating the file system. Across the bottom of the display we find the application menu, the task switcher and system tray. The first time we login a first-run wizard appears. On its initial screen the wizard provides us with links to where we can find documentation and support on the SolusOS website. Moving to the following screen we're invited to configure networking (if the defaults aren't working) and enable the firewall. For some reason when I opted to turn on the firewall and adjust its configuration I was prompted for my password three times, otherwise the process worked well. The third screen of the wizard offers to detect and enable any proprietary drivers on our system and the forth page lets us set when the operating system will check for software updates. The final screen of the wizard invites us to donate to the SolusOS project. While going through the first-run wizard I opted to follow links to the project's documentation. At this time the wiki is a little thin, understandable for a freshly launched project. No doubt the documentation will be expanded as more users join the community and ask (and answer) questions.
The application menu in SolusOS takes a similar approach to the Linux Mint menu. It's an all-in-one panel for accessing folders, launching applications and accessing settings. Personally I find the menu style a bit cluttered, but otherwise functional. The distribution comes with a strong collection of software and the menu is packed with useful applications which I'll address in a moment. First though, I want to mention the theme. Generally I don't like to pay a whole lot of attention to the colours used in a distro as they are easily changed, but I feel the default theme used by SolusOS deserves mention for two reasons. The first is the combination of blue background and dark trim is, in my view, quite pleasant. It's attractive and professional, welcoming. On the other hand the combination of grey text on a charcoal background we see in the menus -- and the dark grey text on a light grey background we see on the website -- is one I find difficult to read. I soon found myself switching to a higher contrast version of the same theme.
The developers of SolusOS have tried to provide a complete selection of software out of the box. We begin with the Firefox web browser, LibreOffice, the Thunderbird e-mail client, GNU Paint and the VLC multimedia player. We have a disc burner in the default install, the Cheese webcam utility, Rhythmbox for playing music, the Mintitube YouTube video player and Deja Dup for backups. The MPlayer multimedia player is included, as are the Totem media player and the OpenShot video editor. Along with all the multimedia apps we also find codecs are included for playing popular media formats. Wine is included for installing and running Windows applications. In addition we find PlayOnLinux is installed for us, which makes it easier to manage Windows software. Common apps like a text editor, archive manager and calculator are available. Java is available in the default install, as are the GNU Compiler Collection and a Flash plugin. Network Manager is included in the default install to get us connected to the Internet. The sudo utility is installed for us, allowing our main user account to perform administration tasks using our own password. SolusOS comes with the 3.0 version of the Linux kernel.
SolusOS 1 -- Installing and configuring software.
(full image size: 243kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Package management on SolusOS is handled by the Add/Remove software application (also known as the GNOME PackageKit front-end). This graphical package manager provides a simple layout, showing us a list of software categories down the left side of the window. Over on the right, individual packages in a given category are displayed in a list. Next to each package name is a checkbox, allowing us to mark the package for installation or removal. Near the top of the package manager window we find a search box, allowing us to locate software by name. The package manager draws software both from the Debian repositories and from custom SolusOS repositories. For the most part I found the package manager worked well, aside from being a bit sluggish performing searches. One feature I liked, though it didn't always work, was that after an application was installed, the system would automatically offer to launch it. Something else I ran into a few times was, when I attempted to download a package, the manager would tell me it had run into an error though the cause wasn't clear. This only happened on a few occasions and I suspect my attempts to download software may have been failing because repository information was being refreshed at the same time, locking the packaging system. Users also have the option of using the Synaptic package manager, which is available through the Control Centre, or dropping to the command line to use the APT software management utilities.
Software updates are handled by a separate graphical application, which also features a simple layout. Bringing up the update manager shows us a list of available updates. We can then check or un-check which packages we wish to download. When I first installed SolusOS there were 42 pending updates and most installed without any problems. The remaining four updates which did not install, as it turned out, were blocked from being updated due to system settings, not because of an error. SolusOS automatically checks for updates periodically and will pop-up a notification when security updates are available.
Also on the topic of package management I noticed there is a tool included in the application menu for creating service packs. This should allow us to create lists of installed packages or to create mega-packages out of updated SolusOS software. I didn't get to test this idea as I found trying to create a service pack would result in an error indicating files couldn't be found.
SolusOS 1 -- Multimedia applications.
(full image size: 186kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
One of the characteristics I enjoy most about Debian's Stable branch is how light it is on resources. SolusOS, when sitting idle at the GNOME desktop, uses around 125MB. It has a small memory footprint by modern standards. The GNOME 2 desktop is responsive and, when desktop effects are not used, the performance is quite good.
I tested SolusOS on my HP laptop (dual-core 2GHz CPU, 3GB of RAM, Intel video card) and found the distribution worked quite well. My screen was set to its maximum resolution, sound worked out of the box and my Intel wireless card automatically worked and detected local networks. One minor issue I ran into was that when running from either the live CD or a local installation, the system would improperly give me an incorrect keyboard layout the first time I logged in. This issue could be corrected through the Control Centre settings.
I also ran SolusOS in a VirtualBox virtual environment and there I ran into some problems I hadn't experienced when running on physical hardware. For instance, SolusOS requires that VirtualBox enable the PAE processor feature, though the system doesn't display a message to this effect, it simply locks up at the boot menu. (To the developers' credit, the PAE feature is clearly mentioned in the release notes.) When running the installer in a virtual machine the installer would not allow me to edit disk partitions. I found I could work around this by booting into the live environment, running the disk manager and creating the partitions I wanted. After the partitions were created the installer was able to detect the partitions, allowing me to format them and set mount points.
Perhaps one of the hardest things for me to do when I'm reviewing a distribution is to separate personal preference and technical merit. There is a difference between a bug and something that is set up differently than I like, even if I don't always like to admit it. SolusOS presented me with just such an internal conflict. The application menu, for example, I personally found cluttered and I disliked having the Control Centre options act differently from the rest of the menu's categories. It's something I adapted to, but I didn't find it comfortable out of the gate. The default font colours I found quite difficult to read, but those are configurable. I ran into a number of little bugs, quirks and crashes with the package manger, with the firewall, the Appearance app and the service pack creator, but these were usually one-time events and, as I used the distribution throughout the week, I rarely ran into the same problem twice.
On the positive side, I found SolusOS came with a good collection of software. In most cases there was an app for each task I might wish to perform (with the exception of video playing, in which case there were multiple programs available). The system was stable during the time I was using it and I think the combination of a base derived from Debian Squeeze with cutting edge applications on top is a good one. I suspect novice users might have a little trouble with setting up partitions at install time, but once the system is up and running it is solid, useful and configured with an apparent focus on newcomers. In short, for a first release, I think the developers have done quite well. Once a few rough edges are rounded off and a 64-bit edition becomes available SolusOS will be a welcome addition to the distro scene.
Linux 3.4 released, EDE 2.0 released, New KDE partnership
We couldn't have GNU/Linux distributions without the Linux kernel. With that in mind, it was good this past week to see the release of Linux version 3.4. The new kernel contains a number of bug fixes and feature improvements, including the ability to use 32-bit pointers in 64-bit mode and several Btrfs
enhancements. The Kernel Newbies website reports, "This release includes several Btrfs updates: support of metadata blocks bigger than 4KB, much improved metadata performance, better error handling and better recovery tools; there is also a new X32 ABI which allows to run programs in 64-bit mode with 32-bit pointers; several updates to the GPU drivers: early modesetting of Nvidia GeForce 600 'Kepler', support of AMD Radeon 7xxx and AMD Trinity APU series, and support of Intel Medfield graphics; there is also support of x86 CPU driver autoprobing, a device-mapper target that stores cryptographic hashes of blocks to check for intrusions, another target to use external read-only devices as origin source of a thin provisioned LVM volume, several perf improvements such as GTK2 report GUI and a new 'Yama' security module." As usual, users willing to compile their own kernel to get the latest features can download the source code from kernel.org.
* * * * *
There are several open source desktop environments out there from which to choose. We often hear about GNOME, KDE, Xfce & LXDE, but there are other, less talked about, options out there.
One such under-sung project is the Equinox Desktop Environment (EDE) which, after five years of work, just released version 2.0 of the light-weight environment. "EDE is small desktop environment built to be responsive, light in resource usage and to have familiar look and feel. It runs on Linux, *BSD, Solaris, Minix, Zaurus and even on XBox."
EDE attempts to be freesesktop.org compliant and is licensed under the GNU licenses GPLv2 and LGPLv2.
Speaking of desktop environments, the KDE project announced a new initiative on May 22, the Make Play Live Partner Network. According to the announcement the new partner program "is designed to build and support a collaborative business and economic network. Members work together to provide comprehensive professional service and product offerings around Plasma Active and devices such as Vivaldi. Professional support options make it easier to convince potential parties, such as users, clients, customers and partners, bringing KDE software to a larger group of users." At the time of writing nine members have joined the partnership network.
* * * * *
This week contains some good news for fans of Google's Android, the mobile operating system derived from the Linux kernel. The jury in the Oracle vs. Google trial decided that Google's Android system does not violate Oracle's patents. As
CNET reports, "In the decision at the U.S. District Court of Northern California, the jury in the trial said Google did not infringe on six claims in U.S. Patent No. RE38,104 as well as two claims in U.S. Patent No. 6,061,520. The verdict is a win for Google, and marks the end of the trial's second phase, which focused on the claims of patent infringement." The trial's first
phase focused on potential copyright infringement. Regarding the issue of copyright, the jury found in favour of Oracle under the assumption APIs can be copyrighted. Whether programming APIs can indeed be considered copyrighted material remains to be decided.
* * * * *
Many open source enthusiasts are familiar with the One Laptop Per Child project, an attempt to put
inexpensive computers in the hands of children all around the world. Recently the Punjab government
in Pakistan introduced a similar initiative and plans to roll out 125,000 computers running Ubuntu
to college and university students. The Chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board was quoted
as saying, "Supporting open-source software at this scale, in a country with rampant use of proprietary and pirated software, is bold and laudable. Due to its flexibility, zero-cost and broad-based academic support, open-source software is the de facto standard for college and university students worldwide." According to the article over at The Register
Pakistan will deliver an additional 300,000 computers running the popular Linux-based OS next year.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Encrypting one's home folder
Mixing up the bits asks:
I have seen when installing certain distros the question "Encrypt your home folder?" and I haven't checked "yes" yet. 1) Does encryption slow down your machine when accessing or copying files? 2) Should I use a different method like Truecrypt after install of the OS, or some other software/method? 3) What are the advantages of encrypting and should the entire system be encrypted rather than just /home?
Let's cover the last question first, what are the advantages of encrypting and should we encrypt the entire operating system or just our home folder? Really, the only reason to encrypt data on the hard drive is to prevent someone who has gained access (especially physical access) to the computer from reading your files. A prime example is if your laptop gets stolen are there files, contacts, tax records, photos or passwords stored on your hard drive that you don't want anyone to see? Assuming there are files which you'd rather keep private then it is a good idea to encrypt your data. The down side to encryption is that if you forget your password you won't be able to access your own files, in which case you had better have a backup stored separately. As to whether it is worth it to encrypt the rest of your disk, there probably isn't any reason to encrypt your system files. You usually don't stand to lose anything if someone gets a copy of the files under the /usr directory or your configuration files in /etc. It may be worth while to encrypt your swap partition (assuming you have one), as sensitive information can be written to the swap partition and could be recovered. If you're concerned about security, encrypting swap is a good idea. There is a handy tutorial on encrypting your swap partition on the CrunchBang forum.
As to whether you should use Truecrypt or some other form of encryption, I would probably stick with what your operating system provides unless you need a feature offered by other software. Truecrypt is an excellent piece of software, but if you just want a basic layer of protection between yourself and a laptop thief the default encryption technology which comes with your distribution should be adequate.
Continuing to work backward through the questions, that brings us to whether there is a speed penalty for reading and writing data on an encrypted partition. The answer to that is yes, there is a penalty, but it's a small one. In tests I've run using the ext3 file system the penalty for both reading and writing files on an encrypted partition was about 10%. Say saving a file to, or copying a file from, a regular partition takes 10 seconds. Performing the same operation on an encrypted partition would take 11 seconds. Chances are you won't even notice the difference while performing day to day activities, I certainly have not.
When in doubt, I would recommend taking the installer's option to encrypt your home partition and I recommend making regular backups to another (unencrypted) medium in case you forget your password.
|Released Last Week
Ferdinand Thommes has announced the release of siduction 12.1, a desktop Linux distribution with a choice of KDE, LXDE and Xfce desktops, based on Debian's unstable branch: "We are pleased to present our first release of siduction in 2012. siduction 2012.1 'Desperado' is shipped with 3 desktop environments: KDE SC 4.8.3, Xfce 4.8 and LXDE, all in 32-bit and 64-bit variants. The released images are a snapshot of Debian 'Unstable' from 2012-05-21. They are enhanced with some useful packages and scripts, our own installer and a custom patched version of the Linux kernel 3.4, accompanied by X.Org Server 22.214.171.1242. We ship KDE SC in version 4.8.3." Read the full release announcement for further details.
Mageia, the second stable release of the community distribution originally forked from Mandriva Linux, has been released: "We're the Mageia community, and we are very happy to announce the release of Mageia 2! We've had a great time building our community and our new release, and we hope you enjoy using it as much as we enjoyed making it. Here are some of the nice things included in Mageia 2: KDE 4.8.2 SC, the current release of the popular KDE desktop; GNOME 3.4.1, Xfce 4.8.3; VLC 2.0.1; Flash Player plugin 11.2; Chromium Browser 18; GIMP 2.8 featuring the all new single window interface...." See the release announcement and release notes for more information.
Mageia 2 -- KDE Desktop
(full image size: 400kB, resolution: 1024x768 pixels)
Linux Mint 13
Clement Lefebvre has announced the finale release of Linux Mint 13, code name "Maya: "The team is proud to announce the release of Linux Mint 13 'Maya'. Available in two editions, Linux Mint 13 features the choice between a productive, stable and mature MATE 1.2 desktop and the brand, new modern-looking and exciting Cinnamon 1.4. These two desktops are among the best available, they're perfectly integrated within Linux Mint and represent great alternatives to GNOME 2 users. Linux Mint 13 is also an LTS (long-term support) release and it will be supported until April 2017." Read the release announcement and release notes for system requirements, known issues and upgrade instructions.
Maximilian Gerhard has announced the release of KANOTIX 2012-05, a Debian-based desktop distribution and live DVD featuring the latest KDE desktop: "The first few days of LinuxTag 2012 in Berlin are over. It seems to become a tradition for KANOTIX to release at LinuxTag. As announced earlier in highlight report we offer an update release for KANOTIX 'Hellfire' and a preview to KANOTIX 'Dragonfire'. KANOTIX 2012-05 'Hellfire' is still based on Debian 6.0.5 'Squeeze' and contains KDE SC 4.4.5, Iceweasel 12.0, Icedove 3.1.16, Pidgin 2.10.4, Linux kernel 3.2 (Ubuntu recompiled), LibreOffice 3.5.3, WINE 1.4, GFX overlays for NVIDIA and AMD 3D graphic driver. The preview of KANOTIX 2012-05 'Dragonfire' is based on the upcoming Debian GNU/Linux 7.0 'Wheezy'." Read the rest of the release announcement for more details.
Henry Kai has announced the release of Webconverger 13.0, a specialist Debian-based distribution for Internet kiosks and other web-only deployment scenarios: "Webconverger 13 excitingly includes WebGL 3D accelerated support for NVIDIA hardware and security enhancements, as well as: search engine changed to DuckDuckGo from Google after signing a revenue share deal on sponsored links like Linux Mint; new boot API to override DNS; new API to support scheduled shutdowns; updated Firefox to 10.0.4; updated Flash to 126.96.36.199; updated dwm to 6.0. All users should upgrade to this release, especially those with NVIDIA hardware." Read the remainder of the release announcement and visit the project's redesigned website for further information and a detailed changelog.
SME Server 8.0
Ian Wells has announced the release of SME Server 8.0, a major new update of the project's specialist server distribution based on CentOS 5: "The SME Server development team is pleased to announce the release of SME Server 8.0 which is based on CentOS 5.8. Changes in this release: backups - provide support for selective restore with modern browsers, remove default index.htm from primary ibay before restore, allow backup reports to go to an alternate user instead of admin; file server - gracefully handle upgrades from SerNet Samba, changes in Samba's 'Recycle VFS exclude' syntax (for ibays); LDAP - create Samba account during event for machine, keep UID/GID for computer accounts in synch for UNIX, Samba and LDAP...." See the release announcement for a complete list of changes and new features.
Snowlinux 2 "MATE"
Lars Torben Kremer has announced the release of Snowlinux 2 "MATE" edition, an Ubuntu-based distribution featuring the GNOME 2-like MATE desktop: "The team is proud to announce the release of Snowlinux 2 'Cream'. Snowlinux 2 'Cream' is based upon Ubuntu 12.04 and is supported for 5 years until April 2017. This is one of the reasons why Plymouth was removed. Due to drastic changes with GNOME 3 and Unity, Snowlinux has a traditional desktop - MATE. New features: MATE 1.2, Linux kernel 3.2, Chromium 18, Firefox 12, Thunderbird 12.0.1; Snowlinux Metal theme and icons; open as administrator; open in terminal; delete permanently; terminal colors; Universe, Multiverse and Medibuntu repositories; better software selection; improved speed and response; new look and feel; system improvements." Here is the full release announcement.
Snowlinux 2 -- MATE desktop
(full image size: 428kB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Bridge Linux 2012.5
Dalton Miller has announced the release of Bridge Linux 2012.5, a desktop-oriented distribution based on Arch Linux: "In this version, we have something very exciting. We are the first Arch-based distro to support (U)EFI out of the box. The 64-bit live media should boot natively on (U)EFI systems. There are some special steps that are required for installation, so be sure to check the README on the desktop for instructions. The rest of the changes are as follows: fixed live GNOME screensaver lock issue; fixed gcc-libs issue; fixed 'db not found' errors when running Pacman for the first time; replaced sudoers.d with sudoers; add VirtualBox additions to all editions; replaced LightDM with LXDM in Xfce; added mobile broadband provider info; updated Xfce to 4.10." Here is the complete release announcement.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
DistroWatch database summary|
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 4 June 2012. 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.
(Tips this week: 0, value: US$0.00)