| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 560, 26 May 2014
Welcome to this year's 21st issue of DistroWatch Weekly! We often think of successful open-source projects as those which are able to provide the most packages, those which have the most developers or those which support the widest range of hardware architectures. However, often times what makes an open-source project exceptional is the leadership, the director who drives focus on one area or who brings diverse people together in a common goal. This week we talk about projects and people who have made open-source operating systems more than just large collections of packages. We start with KaOS, a project which believes a narrow focus and a preference for quality over quantity are the best way to develop a desktop operating system. In the news this week we cover the resignations of Fedora Project Leader Robyn Bergeron and Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon. We also share an interview with the creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, in which Torvalds talks about the technology industry and innovation. Speaking of innovation, Fedora may soon become the first mainstream Linux distribution to ship with Wayland support, get the details below in our News section. Also this week, we talk about Linux distributions which provide commercial support and some of the things to consider when shopping for a supported distribution. As usual, we cover the releases of the past week and look ahead to exciting distribution releases to come. We wish you all a wonderful week and happy reading!
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
First impressions of KaOS 2014.04
KaOS is a Linux distribution which draws a good deal of its design from the Arch Linux project. KaOS is a rolling-release distribution and maintains a narrow focus to achieve its goals of creating "a tightly integrated rolling and transparent distribution for the modern desktop, built from scratch with a very specific focus." KaOS focuses exclusively on providing one desktop environment (KDE), for one hardware architecture (x86 64-bit) and most included applications are based on the Qt toolkit. If this list of characteristics sounds familiar it may be because the Chakra project has similar goals and blueprints and KaOS even borrows some technology from the Chakra project. There are differences, however. Where Chakra maintains a semi-rolling release platform, updating end-user software regularly while keeping the base operating system relatively static, KaOS takes a pure rolling-release approach, keeping its users on the cutting edge. The download image for KaOS is approximately 1.7 GB in size.
Booting from the KaOS disc brings us to the KDE desktop. When the desktop finishes loading a window appears. This window contains buttons which open portals to the project's documentation, user forum and package list. There are also buttons we can use to launch the system installer and discover what login credentials are used in the live environment. Dismissing this window reveals the KDE 4.13 desktop featuring a Windows 8 style theme. The icons look flat and square, the desktop has bright, soft colours.
KaOS 2014.04 - the welcome screen
(full image size: 299kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
KaOS uses the same graphical system installer featured in the Chakra distribution. The installer does a nice job of walking us through reading the project's release notes, confirming our keyboard's layout and selecting our time zone from a 3-D map of the world. We are then asked to create a user account for ourselves and, if we wish, we can create multiple accounts during the installation. The first user we create can also have administrative access. Partitioning our hard drive is handled by the KDE Partition Manager. Once we have divided up the local hard disk and closed KDE Partition Manager the installer detects our partitions and gets us to assign mount points and file systems to each partition. From there the installer copies its files to our local drive and, when it is finished, we are brought to the two final configuration screens. These final steps ask us if we would like to customize our initial ramdisk, a way of adding extra support for features at boot time. Chances are most people will be fine without adjusting the ramdisk. The other question put to us is whether we would like the installer to set up the GRUB2 boot loader for us. Once these steps are completed the system reboots and we are brought to a graphical login screen. The login page features bright colours and a floral design.
Logging into the KDE desktop we find icons on the desktop (in a folder view widget) for accessing our files. The application menu and task switcher sit at the bottom of the screen. The application menu features a classic layout with categories of software. Also in the menu are quick-launch buttons. Some of the quick-launch icons I did not recognize and this made for some interesting trial-and-error as there was no text to hint as to what each button would do. Shortly after I logged in a notification appeared in the lower-right corner of the screen letting me know software updates were available. There was no button to push to access these updates, so I turned to the application menu to find an update manager. While I did not find a dedicated software update utility, I did find a multipurpose package manager, called Octopi.
KaOS 2014.04 - the Octopi package manager
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Octopi has a fairly simple layout and is divided into three panes. One pane shows us an alphabetized list of software packages available to us. A coloured box next to each package lets us know if the item is installed, available or can be upgraded. To the right is another pane where we can filter our list of software. At the bottom of the window is a display area which shows us status reports and detailed package information. Octopi is not pretty, but it did allow me to download software updates, install new packages and remove unwanted items. The package manager worked quickly and I encountered no problems while using it. When I first installed KaOS, about two weeks after the release was announced, there were over 100 updates waiting for me, totalling about 250MB in size. These updates all downloaded and installed smoothly.
KaOS ships with a collection of desktop software which gives us a wide range of functionality, though many of the programs have been selected to fit into the KDE/Qt family rather than, I feel, to provide the best end-user experience. We are given the QupZilla web browser, the Quassel IRC client and the Calligra productivity suite. The SpiderOak on-line storage client is available. Also, KaOS provides the KPPP dial-up software and Network Manager to help us get on-line. The distribution provides us with the Calibre e-book reader, the Clementine audio player and the k3b disc burning software. SMPlayer is included for playing video files and the Kdenlive software allows us to edit videos. KaOS features multimedia codecs out of the box and supports most media formats. There is no Flash player in the default installation, but Flash is available through the project's software repositories. The distribution features some other applications, including the KGpg privacy and encryption software, text editors, the Ark archive manager and a backup utility. There are also tools for managing user accounts and the KDE System Settings panel helps us tweak the user interface in great detail. The GNU Compiler Collection is installed for us and, behind the scenes, KaOS 2014.04 ships with the 3.13 release of the Linux kernel.
KaOS 2014.04 - KDE System Settings and Calligra
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Most of the time KaOS and its default applications worked well for me, though there were a few minor glitches. For example, most times I logged into the KDE desktop I would be greeted by a message saying the KDE Daemon had crashed. Once this message was dismissed I could continue on with my work without further interruptions. On one occasion the application menu folded over on itself which caused most of the menu entries to stack on top of each other, making launching applications from the menu impossible. This problem was fixed by logging out and signing back into the desktop. The first few times I launched the SMPlayer multimedia player it asked me to confirm the version of MPlayer I was using. This isn't an error, but it did seem unusual and unnecessary since taking the default option worked.
I ran KaOS in two environments, on a desktop machine and in VirtualBox. In both environments the distribution performed well. KaOS booted quickly, ran smoothly and the desktop was always responsive. Sound and networking worked without any configuration and my screen was set to it maximum resolution. When logged into KDE I found KaOS used approximately 265MB of RAM, which puts about on par with other Linux distributions running the KDE desktop.
KaOS 2014.04 - running various desktop applications
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What puzzled me while running KaOS wasn't technical in nature, KaOS did fairly well from a technical standpoint. What I found hard to figure out was exactly what it was the project was trying to accomplish. The website talks about narrowing the distribution's focus (one desktop, one architecture, focusing on packaging only rather than developing new tools). The project states: "There is no goal to make the most possible software available, KaOS will stay limited in size of the repositories, and will work on quality instead of quantity. That goal makes it clear, a large user base is not what is intended or expected." In short, the project's website talks a lot about what the distribution is not, but rarely mentions what it is or what its goals are. The project's About page briefly mentions trying to make the best choices for the user, but the software bundled with KaOS doesn't appear to consist of the best applications available, rather applications seem to be selected based on toolkit purity.
What it comes down to is I am not sure how to evaluate KaOS as I am not entirely sure what it is the developers are attempting to do. The project appears to be focused entirely on the small niche that wants a 64-bit, rolling-release, KDE/Qt only operating system with crude & fast package management. I am guessing that is a fairly small portion of the population. That being said, KaOS does cater to this special interest group fairly well. Almost everything in the distribution functioned properly, the system installer (borrowed from Chakra) worked well, the distribution comes with a lot of useful software and the performance of the distribution was excellent. So KaOS may have a very narrow focus, ignoring much of the Linux user population, but what it does it does passably well. I suspect the distribution will appeal to fans of the Arch Linux philosophy who would like to have a way to get their desktop operating system up and running quickly.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a desktop HP Pavilon p6 Series with the following specifications:
- Processor: Dual-core 2.8 GHz AMD A4-3420 APU
- Storage: 500 GB Hitachi hard drive
- Memory: 6 GB of RAM
- Networking: Realtek RTL8111 wired network card
- Display: AMD Radeon HD 6410D video card
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar)
Fedora's Project Leader and Ubuntu's Community Manager step down, Fedora 21 with GNOME on Wayland and KDE 5, new BLAG pre-alpha, Linus Torvalds on technology trends
Robyn Bergeron, Fedora's Project Leader, has announced she will be handing off the helm of the Red Hat sponsored project to someone else. "With Fedora 20 well behind us, and Fedora.next on the road ahead, it seems like a natural time to step aside and let new leadership take the reins. Frankly, I shouldn't even say "the road ahead" since we're well-entrenched in the process of establishing the Fedora.next features and processes, and it's a rather busy time for us all in Fedora-land -- but this is precisely why making the transition into new leadership as smooth as possible for the Fedora Project community is so important. It's a good time for change, and fresh ideas and leadership will be an asset to the community as we go forward, but I also want to make sure it's not going to distract us from all the very important things we have in the works." Bergeron has stated she will remain connected to the project to assist the next Fedora Project Leader as they transition into the position.
Fedora may be the first mainstream Linux distribution to adopt the next generation display server Wayland. The Wayland protocol and the Weston display server recently announced an update which mostly focused on bug fixes. At the moment, there are plans for the upcoming release of Fedora 21 to include GNOME sessions running on top of Wayland technology.
Still on the subject of Red Hat's community distribution, the recently released beat version of KDE 5 is now available for Fedora. Those of you who would like to test it or just to get a feel of what's coming to your Fedora KDE desktop in the near future should download the Fedora Plasma Next live DVD image built by Daniel Vrátil: "The Fedora KDE SIG brings you all the new and cool stuff from KDE Frameworks and Plasma Next worlds! First, our Copr repository with KDE Frameworks has been updated to 4.99.0 release, so go get it. All frameworks are co-installable with KDE 4, so you can develop against KF5 without needing any special setup. Also KDE Frameworks 5 were approved as feature for Fedora 21, which means that in next Fedora release, we will ship all Frameworks in the Fedora repositories! There are already some packages imported into rawhide, the rest will follow in next weeks. And now for the awesome news: we have a live ISO image with Plasma Next preview! We packaged as much as we could (but still not everything!), including Rekonq, Dolphin, System Settings, Baloo, Milou and more – all built against Qt 5 and KDE Frameworks 5."
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Fedora was not the only open-source project to lose a valuable member last week. Jono Bacon posted on his blog that he will be stepping down as Ubuntu Community Manager and taking a role with the XPRIZE Foundation. Bacon looked back on his time working with the Ubuntu community fondly, stating, "Working with the Ubuntu community has not just been a privilege, it has been a pleasure. One of the many reasons why I love what I do is that I am exposed to so many incredible people, minds, and ideas, and the Ubuntu community is a text-book definition of what makes community so powerful and such an agent for making the world a better place. I will be forever thankful for not just the opportunity to meet so many different members of the global Ubuntu family, but to also continue these many friendships into my next endeavour."
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Remember BLAG Linux And GNU? It was a single-CD Fedora-based distribution popular with advocates of software freedom as it was built on top of a libre kernel and included libre software only. It seemingly disappeared from the radar after its last stable release in May 2011, together with the project founder, Jeff Moe (also known as "jebba"). But the community around the project has resurrected the distribution and a pre-alpha release of the upcoming version 200000 (based on Fedora 20) was released over the weekend. From the announcement by Abdur-Rahman Morgan: "I'm done with the initial BLAG 200000 pre-alpha ISO images. They serve as a preview for the base applications for the next release of the MATE and GNOME desktops. What you'll find are: 32-bit and 64-bit ISO images under 700 MB (with the exception of the 64-bit GNOME ISO image); partial branding, logos and other customization are in the works; repository for BLAG setup upon install, packages will be coming soon, but there are none to install as yet."
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Linus Torvalds is the original author of the Linux kernel, an open-source project he continues to manage to this day. The famous father of the Linux kernel appeared in an interview with Bill Robinson last week in which they discussed technology trends, personality cults and leaps forward in technology. Torvalds shared a number of personal opinions on the technology industry, including innovation, saying: "I'm a big believer in pushing the envelope, and I'm not a huge believer in trying to be entirely stable and 100% "sane". A lot of real development happens in spurts, and as part of what later is called 'hype' and other unflattering things. But the thing is, trying too hard to be sane and boring and not doing stupid things is actually counter-productive. I personally think the stable development model is not one of continual incremental improvements, but a succession of overshooting and crashing."
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Linux distributions offering commercial support
Looking-for-business-alternatives asks: As I understand it, the primary benefit of Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the support that is available. If a company needs to use another distribution (for example, support for a 32-bit OS, newer than what RHEL 6 provides), what options are available? Anything like what Red Hat offers?
DistroWatch answers: One of the two main benefits Red Hat provides is technical support. Red Hat has built its business on helping enterprises implement technical solutions and keep their servers running. Red Hat also offers long-term support cycles, approximately ten years worth of security updates. This makes Red Hat Enterprise Linux very appealing in places where server downtime is expensive and businesses want to keep servers running for a long time (as opposed to upgrading every three to five years).
There are other commercially supported open-source operating systems that offer both technical support and long support cycles. The SUSE Linux Enterprise distribution also offers technical support and comes with ten years or more of security updates. Another distribution which comes to mind is Ubuntu. The Ubuntu Server distribution is free to run, comes with five years of security updates and technical support is available.
There are other solutions to be had. While the above examples are for commercial distributions which directly support their products, there are plenty of companies and consultants which can help support other open-source operating systems. The Debian project maintains a list of consultant companies world-wide who support the Debian distribution. Over in the BSD community, iXsystems offers hardware and software support for customers running FreeBSD, PC-BSD and FreeNAS. Many popular open-source projects have these unofficial support consultants who will work with you (and typically the upstream project) to support your operating system of choice.
Going with a third-party may not be as attractive an option because the third-party might not be able to get fixes pushed back into the distribution or further upstream. However, third-parties may be less expensive, especially if they charge on an as-needed basis. Whether you go with a commercial distribution or a third-party provider, make sure you examine different trouble-shooting scenarios. Will the support provider send someone to your location? What is their policy on on-going issues? Does the company support third-party software beyond the base operating system? How liable is the support company if they cannot fix your issue in a timely manner? Make sure you consider all the possibilities and make sure you know the answers to all of your questions before signing a contract.
Something which caught my attention while reading this question was the requirement for a 32-bit operating system with newer software than Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 offers. It seems unusual that someone would want new software versions, enterprise support and a 32-bit operating system. New software and legacy hardware (or new software and enterprise environments) rarely go together and it might be worth looking into whether these criteria are really necessary.
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On a personal note, a few weeks ago I was helping a friend set up a web server. The machine we were using was running Ubuntu Server 14.04 and most of the initial configuration went smoothly. During the installation process I decided to install a security tool called DenyHosts which monitors remote login attempts. When DenyHosts detects a series of failed login attempts it treats the remote machine trying to login as an attacker and blocks future login attempts from that computer for a period of time. It is one utility I have found useful for protecting servers running a secure shell service as it reduces the risk of an attacker guessing a user's password by trial and error.
I found, when I attempted to install DenyHosts, that the package was not available in the Ubuntu 14.04 software repositories, which surprised me as DenyHosts had been available in previous versions of Ubuntu. A quick check showed DenyHosts had been dropped from Ubuntu 14.04 as the package was no longer included in the Debian Unstable repository. Further reading revealed that DenyHosts had been dropped from Debian as the software was no longer maintained by its original developer. At this point a reasonable system administrator would shrug and install an alternative tool, such as fail2ban, which basically performs the same task. However, I have always considered myself a developer first and a system administrator second, plus I really liked the design of DenyHosts.
I decided to grab a copy of the latest version of DenyHosts I could find. Then I began hunting down patches which had been added by various distributions and other patches posted to bug trackers by users trying to work around existing problems. Soon I had a patched and working copy of DenyHosts and was able to install it on the new server. At this point, it seemed everything was taken care of. My friend had his web server, I had an updated version of a security tool I like; it was a win-win situation. Still, in the spirit of open-source, I wanted to make my work available to the rest of the world. With this in mind, I attempted to contact the original author of DenyHosts with the hope of sharing my updates with him. Unfortunately I did not hear back.
My next approach was to introduce a fork of the DenyHosts project. This fork is mostly made up of patches from various downstream projects such as Debian, Ubuntu and FreeBSD and contains some additional minor fixes and updated documentation. It is freely available for anyone who would like to try it out on SourceForge. I believe people who have enjoyed using DenyHosts in the past will find this fork to be a suitable drop-in upgrade. I am also in the process of trying to get DenyHosts reintroduced back into Debian and, by extension, the many distributions which use Debian as a base. Debian contributor Kyle Willmon has been very helpful in getting the process of restoring DenyHosts to the Debian software repositories started and I thank him for all his assistance.
|Released Last Week
Clonezilla Live 2.2.3-10
Steven Shiau has released a new stable version of Clonezilla Live, a Debian-based live CD designed primarily for disk imaging and cloning tasks: "This release of Clonezilla live (2.2.3-10) includes major enhancements and bug fixes. Enhancements and changes: the underlying GNU/Linux operating system has been upgraded, this release is based on the Debian 'Sid' repository as of 2014-05-18; Linux kernel has been updated to 3.14.4; the drbl package has been updated to 2.8.25 and Clonezilla has been updated to 3.10.11; added diskscan; added option '-batch' for ocs-restore-mdisks and it's the same function as '-b' or '--batch'. Bug fixes: this release fixes a bug in live-boot 4.x which is not patched and which caused live-betty to not work; when in 'restoreparts' mode, the '-t' option should now be set by default...." Continue to the release announcement to read the complete changelog.
Tiny Core Linux 5.3 "piCore"
Béla Markus has announced the availability of a new version of "piCore", a specialist edition of Tiny Core Linux designed for the Raspberry Pi single-board computer: "Team Tiny Core is pleased to announce the immediate availability of piCore-5.3. Changelog: Linux kernel updated to 3.14.4; Raspberry Pi firmware updated to 2014-05-12 version; e2fsprogs updated to 1.42.10; util-linux updated to 2.24; official BusyBox patches applied; curaga's wget3 BusyBox patch applied, setting default timeout to 10s; tce-load - don't show an error when extension contains multiple modules; tce-load - use sudo when unmounting meta-extensions; patched to enable HDMI sound at 192 kbit/s rate; patched rtl8192cu driver to disable power saving; enabled CMA and FIQ-FSM by default." See the release announcement for a full changelog and update instructions.
openSUSE 13.1.1 "Edu Li-f-e MATE"
openSUSE 13.1.1 "Edu Li-f-e MATE" - the default desktop and the release notes
(full image size: 324kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
John Martinson has announced the release of Robolinux 7.5.2, the latest update of the project's Debian-based distribution featuring a pre-configured VirtualBox for running Windows as a "guest" operating system. What's new in version 7.5.2? "We added Firefox 29 to Robolinux as our users did not like Iceweasel. So now Robolinux has the newest versions of Thunderbird and Firefox. We also updated our Debian-based operating system to the most current Debian 7.5 with upstream security updates and improvements. We updated VirtualBox to the latest version 4.3.12. We updated the proprietary AMD ATI Driver to the newest version. Robolinux has added more professional technical support staff to continue providing highly responsive support for the C Drive to VM support package." Read the project's page on the SourceForge site for a brief announcement and visit Robolinux.org for more detailed information about the product.
Chakra GNU/Linux 2014.05
Neophytos Kolokotronis has announced the release of Chakra GNU/Linux 2014.05, the new stable version of the project's desktop Linux distribution featuring the KDE 4.13 desktop: "The Chakra team is proud to announce the first release of Chakra 'Descartes' series which will follow the 4.13 KDE releases. This new release includes new features and updates as follows: KDE Software Compilation - the latest stable version of the KDE series; Nepomuk search has been replaced by Baloo, we have implemented a patch that permits the user to disable Baloo; Chakra Tools are fully translated into more than 30 languages thanks to the amazing job done by our users on Transifex; artwork - new Chakra Logo and new default theme for GRUB, KDM, KSplash, Yakuake; NVIDIA 331.38 and Catalyst 13.12 drivers; Linux kernel 3.12.15, X.Org Server 1.14.5...." Here is the full release announcement with a screenshot.
Chakra GNU/Linux 2014.05 - the project's new series that feature KDE 4.13
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Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list|
- RuneAudio. RuneAudio is a free and open-source software with a specific objective: to transform an embedded platform into an Hi-Fi digital music player.
- X Distro. X Distro is a Ubuntu-based desktop Linux distribution which focuses on being attractive and easy to use.
- distro-valombre. The distro-valombre project builds a desktop distribution for French-speaking users. It is based on Linux Mint. The project's website is in French.
- Fatdog64 Linux. Fatdog64 is a 64-bit fork of the Puppy Linux distribution which features multi-user support and more default applications.
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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, 2 June 2014. To contact the authors please send email to:
- Jesse Smith (feedback, questions and suggestions: distribution reviews, questions and answers, tips and tricks)
- Ladislav Bodnar (feedback, questions, suggestions and corrections: news, donations, distribution submissions, comments)
- Bruce Patterson (feedback and suggestions: podcast edition)
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