| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 611, 25 May 2015
Welcome to this year's 21st issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
The Linux community is always producing and distributing new technology. This week we turn our eyes to shiny new desktops, elected officials and package managers. We begin with a review of Kubuntu 15.04, the first release of this official Ubuntu community distribution to feature the Plasma 5 desktop environment. Read on to find out how Kubuntu and Plasma perform. In our Tips and Tricks column this week we provide a quick overview of Ubuntu's experimental Snappy package manager. Plus we provide a quick reference guide for operating Snappy for those interested in using it. In our News section this week we discuss new packages making their way into openSUSE's rolling release distribution. We also share some thoughts from Debian's new Project Leader and we discuss a file system bug which has hit some people running ext4 on cutting-edge releases of the Linux kernel. In our Torrent Corner we share the operating systems we are seeding and then we provide a list of the distributions released last week. In addition, we introduce our first Opinion Poll and we hope you will join in the conversation and share your thoughts with us. We wish you all a wonderful week and happy reading!
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Exploring Kubuntu 15.04
Kubuntu is an official Ubuntu community project which releases new versions in step with the rest of the Ubuntu community. Kubuntu ships with KDE's Plasma desktop by default, offering users the latest technology to come out of the KDE project. Kubuntu's most recent release, version 15.04, is the first to ship with Plasma 5 and this is also the first version of the distribution to ship with systemd as the default init technology. The distribution's release announcement states, "Plasma 5, the next generation of KDE's desktop, has been rewritten to make it smoother to use while retaining the familiar setup. The second set of updates to Plasma 5 are now stable enough for everyday use and is the default in this version of Kubuntu."
The latest Kubuntu release is offered in 32-bit and 64-bit x86 builds. The distribution's live media is an ISO file 1.2GB in size. Booting from the live media brings us to a graphical screen. A window appears asking if we would like to run a live, temporary instance of the operating system or begin installing the distribution. Taking the live option loads the Plasma 5 desktop which is laid out in a fairly traditional manner. The application menu, task switcher and system tray are placed at the bottom of the screen. On the desktop we can find an icon for launching the project's system installer. The background resembles the view through a kaleidoscope. In the upper-left corner of the screen there is a small icon which opens a menu where we can adjust the Plasma desktop and work with widgets. I will discuss these features more at a later time.
Kubuntu's system installer is a graphical application that features a friendly, streamlined layout. We are first asked if we would like to install third-party software such as multimedia codecs and Flash. On this first screen we can also choose whether to download software updates from the distribution's repositories during the installation. The following screen asks whether we would like to have our hard drive automatically partitioned for us or if we would like to manually partition the disk. I took the manual option and found the partition manager was presented in a friendly manner and it was easy to navigate. Kubuntu supports setting up ext2/3/4, Btrfs, JFS and XFS partitions. I decided to use Btrfs as my primary partition during the trial. On the partitioning screen we can optionally choose where to install Kubuntu's boot loader. The next screen asks us to select our time zone from a map of the world and the following screen asks us to confirm our keyboard's layout. The final screen asks us to create a user account for ourselves and we can choose to encrypt the files in our home directory from this screen. The installer then quickly finishes copying its files and we are asked to reboot the computer.
One thing which stood out while using Kubuntu's installer was the distribution still labels buttons using text rather than icons. I really appreciate this small feature, especially when working with the partition manager. It has become popular recently for some projects to do away with text and use symbols on buttons rather than words which indicate what a button does. I much prefer Kubuntu's approach as I believe the word "Delete" more clearly conveys its meaning than a minus sign.
Kubuntu 15.04 -- The System Settings configuration panel
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The distribution boots to a graphical login screen. Kubuntu now ships with SDDM instead of KDM as the default display manager. Personally, I'm not sure I see much difference between the two, at least not from an end user's perspective. At any rate, SDDM worked for me and I was able to login to the Plasma 5 desktop. Shortly after I logged in for the first time two icons in the system tray caught my attention.
Clicking the first icon to catch my attention brought up an application window for Kubuntu's device driver manager. This program offers to collect information on our computer's hardware and, optionally, install third-party drivers which may work better with our devices than the default drivers. The device driver manager worked well for me, correctly identifying my hardware and quickly installing new drivers.
Clicking the second system tray icon to attract my attention brought up a widget letting me know package updates were available in Kubuntu's repositories. There were 50 updates listed as available (19 of them, I was told, were security updates). These updates were 42MB in size. I gave the system my permission to install the waiting updates and found all updated packages were installed without any problems.
I tried running Kubuntu in two test environments, a VirtualBox virtual machine and a desktop computer. In both environments the distribution performed well. Boot times were short, the Plasma desktop was responsive, my displays were set to their maximum resolutions and networking and sound worked as expected. Kubuntu was stable during my trail and performed tasks quickly. The distribution uses a large amount of memory compared to most other distributions I have run recently; Kubuntu required approximately 650MB of RAM to login to the Plasma desktop.
The distribution ships with a useful collection of software and appears to be sticking to the one-application-per-task philosophy. In the application menu we find the Firefox web browser (with Flash enabled), the Konversation IRC client, a remote desktop client and the KTorrent bittorrent software. We also have access to LibreOffice's productivity suite, the KMail e-mail program, the Okular document viewer and a personal organizer. Plasma ships with the System Settings panel which makes it easy to configure the look and feel of the desktop interface. We are also given the Gwenview image viewer, the K3b optical disc burning software and a hardware information browser called KInfoCentre. The distribution provides us with an archive manager, a text editor and a calculator. The Amarok music player and the Dragon Player video player are included along with codecs for playing most media files. Java is installed on the system along with the GNU Compiler Collection. Network Manager is present to help us connect to networks. In the background we find the Linux kernel, version 3.19.
Kubuntu 15.04 -- Acquiring packages with Muon Discover
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Most users will want to install additional software on their computers and Kubuntu provides the Muon Discover package manager to aid in this task. Muon Discover displays categories of software we can browse through. We can also search for packages by name or browse through a list of the most popular applications, based on what other users have installed. Selecting a package brings up a full page description of the software with a screen shot. We can install or remove a selected item with the click of a button. Muon Discover downloads and installs (or removes) packages in the background, leaving us to continue browsing for more items. I tried installing and removing a handful of programs and found Muon Discover worked quickly and smoothly. Actions currently being performed are listed at the bottom of the window and we can cancel any queued jobs in case we change our minds.
There were some aspects of Kubuntu I enjoyed a lot and others which I found annoying or distracting. As an example of a negative aspect, I could not find a way to disable audio notifications in Kubuntu 15.04. In the System Settings panel I found notification and alerts settings, all of which I disabled. In the Desktop Behaviour module I found a system bell option which I also disabled. Even with all sounds turned off, Plasma continued to beep whenever it wanted my attention. Audio alerts are something I have frequently turned off (successfully) in KDE4 and I found it frustrating I was seemingly unable to do the same in Plasma 5. Another problem I ran into was changing the desktop wallpaper. Kubuntu 15.04 ships with one wallpaper, a multicolour collection of shapes. Going into the desktop settings, we find a button that offers to download additional background images. Clicking the button to fetch new wallpapers always resulted in an unspecified network error during my trial.
On the positive side of things I found Plasma generally worked well and worked quickly. I experienced no crashes, no temporary freezing. Plasma was very quick to respond, both on physical hardware and in VirtualBox. I find Plasma to be less distracting and it has a more tidy layout when compared next to KDE4. While I generally enjoy using KDE4, I will admit it can be distracting at times and the notification system is a bit awkward. Plasma fixes these issues. Plasma 5 is less flashy, more streamlined and tucks some of its options away so they are not cluttering the interface. I would say Plasma is a strong evolutionary step forward from KDE4.
Kubuntu 15.04 -- Exploring available widgets
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One tool I particularly enjoyed using was KDE Connect. The KDE Connect module allows us to pair an Android device to our desktop computer over the network. This allows the Android device to display notifications on the Plasma desktop and the Android device can be used to remotely manage our desktop multimedia controls. Perhaps the most welcome feature KDE Connect offers is the ability to share a clipboard. Copying text in Plasma or on the Android device allows the other device to paste the same text. This makes sharing links or downloading material quite easy, even from a separate device.
Another aspect of Kubuntu 15.04 I enjoyed was the way in which Plasma handled widgets. Plasma widgets look and act in a very similar manner to KDE4 widgets, but I think the process has been streamlined a little. I used to find moving and placing widgets in KDE4 counter-intuitive and managing widgets on the panel took several steps. While using Plasma 5 I found desktop widgets were easy to place and I did not need to lock/unlock the panel in order to manipulate widgets the way I wanted. I also really like that widgets with similar functionality are, in a way, aware of each other. When I right-clicked on a widget, rather than removing it and loading a new widget with similar functionality, I could ask to see a list of alternative widgets. For instance, when I right-clicked on the clock and selected "Alternatives" I could immediately swap out a digital clock for an analog clock or a fuzzy clock. Likewise, selecting the application menu and asking for alternatives allows us to quickly switch to an application menu with a classic, tree layout.
Kubuntu 15.04 -- Plasma 5 with widgets
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I generally enjoyed my time with Kubuntu 15.04. The distribution has gone through several changes in the past six months, swapping out KDE4 for Plasma 5, exchanging Upstart for systemd and removing KDM in favour of SDDM. Despite these significant changes, Kubuntu felt as stable as ever and, I think, was more responsive. I was quite happy with the default array of applications, the friendly system installer and the style of the Plasma 5 desktop. There were a few minor problems, rough edges like the network connection issue which prevented me from downloading additional desktop wallpapers. However, Plasma more than made up for it by improving widget management and offering great performance. Big adjustments may be happening behind the scenes, but Kubuntu 15.04 feels like an evolutionary step forward rather than a revolutionary change.
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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 2.8GHz AMD A4-3420 APU
- Storage: 500GB Hitachi hard drive
- Memory: 6GB of RAM
- Networking: Realtek RTL8111 wired network card
- Display: AMD Radeon HD 6410D video card
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
openSUSE adopts Plasma 5, Neil McGovern discusses DPL tasks and recent Linux kernels hit with ext4 bug
Exciting new changes are coming to users of the openSUSE Tumbleweed distribution. The rolling release branch of openSUSE offers cutting-edge features and this past week three new items were introduced to Tumbleweed. Ruby 2.2 was made the default branch of the Ruby language available to Tumbleweed users. A more visual change was the choice to make KDE's Plasma 5 the default desktop environment for openSUSE Tumbleweed. Perhaps the most significant change though was the introduction of version 5.0 of the GNU compiler. "KDE Plasma 5 is the new default, replacing KDE 4 in Tumbleweed. We understand that this is controversial to some of the users, and others
very much welcome the change. Please ensure to constructively report
your issues to the KDE Team. The currently larger change being prepared is a switch of the compiler to GCC 5.0. There are still packages failing that are part of the core set. Once all this has been solved, I'm sure we'll also see this change happen for Tumbleweed." A major change in compiler's version number typically brings with it improved security, better performance and new bug reports. More information on openSUSE's latest developments can be found in this mailing list post.
* * * * *
Neil McGovern has been Debian Project Leader only a short time, but he has already made his rounds in the media and made a start on his work as Debian's fearless leader. McGovern has posted a list of interviews he has done (along with links), a list of tasks he is working on and this interesting miscellaneous item: "In case you were wondering about the reach of Debian amongst non-FOSS circles, I'm currently volunteering at the Cambridge CAMRA Beer festival. The theme this year is Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as it's the 42nd annual festival. After hearing about my election, the festival organizer asked if any Debian developer would like free entry,
as they rely on Debian for a lot of the festival."
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People who run rolling release distributions, such as Arch Linux, gain the benefit of always having the latest versions of software. They also receive a stream of new features to enjoy. On the other hand, people running rolling release distributions are often the first to encounter software bugs. For instance, a data corruption bug in the ext4 file system appears to be affecting recent releases of the Linux kernel and a number of Arch users have reported being hit by the bug. Fortunately, a fix has already been made available and distributions are working on fixing the issue. Ted Ts'o, a kernel developer who does a great deal of the work on Linux file systems, commented on the situation, saying: "These sorts of subtle data corruptors tend to be highly timing
dependent, and very hard to find. Sometimes these bugs can hang around
for years before they are found and fixed. The flip side is that
fortunately, they tend to strike very rarely. It's also why I'm very
grateful for developers like Jan and Lukas." Ts'o went into more detail on the bug and how it may be triggered. The information he provided can be found in this mailing list post.
|Tips and Tricks (by Jesse Smith)
Ubuntu's Snappy package manager
Canonical, the organization which supports Ubuntu, has been developing a new method for working with software packages. The new technology, which has appeared in some experimental editions of Ubuntu, is called Snappy. Snappy packages are supposed to have a number of advantages over software packages common to most other Linux distributions. Five characteristics of Snappy packages in particular stand out.
I had been reading a lot about Snappy being used on mobile devices and Snappy packages being developed for embedded devices and the much-hyped Internet of Things. I have also heard rumours Ubuntu's desktop edition may move to using Snappy packages by default in the near future, depreciating APT and .deb packages. However, it was not until recently that I found time to experiment with Snappy and see how the new package manager compared against other Linux package managers. The Ubuntu website has a tutorial for setting up a virtual machine running a minimal edition of Ubuntu and the Snappy package manager. I followed the instructions provided and soon had a virtual machine running with a bare bones, text console interface. I was able to sign into the minimal operating system and begin experimenting.
- The OS and application files are kept completely separate, as a set of distinct read-only images.
- Transactional, image-based delta updates for the system and applications that can always be rolled back.
- Files are read-only, which means they cannot be tampered with and can be updated perfectly and predictably every time.
- Delta management keeps the size of downloads to the bare minimum.
- Signatures and fingerprints ensure you're running exactly what was published by the developer.
One of the first things I noticed upon logging into my virtual instance of Ubuntu was that there is a welcome message letting us know .deb packages were not being used on the system, instead we should use Snappy. Despite the message, I did find the low-level dpkg package manager was installed and I could bring up a list of about three hundred .deb packages which apparently made up the base system. However, trying to run apt-get to install or remove packages caused a message to be displayed letting me know I should be using Snappy rather than apt-get. I suspect running the two package managers together on the same system is not recommended.
While Snappy can perform several actions, I want to focus on seven core commands the Snappy package manager recognizes. The first is snappy info. Running snappy info display some basic information about our operating system and what it is running. The summary is very short, but it can give us an idea of what kind of hardware we are running on and the applications installed. We can extend the command a little and run snappy info <package> in order to get a very brief summary of information concerning a specific package.
The second command I experimented with was snappy list. Running this command will show us a list of packages currently installed on the system. Modifying the command to snappy list -v will display all the installed packages along with their version numbers. Since we can have multiple versions of each package installed, the active version of a package is marked with an *. This means if we have, for example, two copies of a web server on our system, we can identify which version is actually running. We can further extend the list command a little to find out which Snappy packages can be upgraded. Running snappy list -uv shows our installed packages with an * next to items that can be upgraded from Snappy's software repository.
Speaking of updates, the snappy update command will update all packages installed on the operating system. So far as I can tell, all packages are always upgraded to their latest version. I was unable to find a way to simply upgrade one specific package in my test environment. However, I was able to upgrade all packages and then rollback unwanted upgrades, which brings me to the next command.
When we have upgraded a package and found we preferred the older copy of the software we can rollback to a previous version. This is done using the snappy rollback <package> command. Without any further arguments, Snappy will rollback the given package to its previous version. However, we can also specify which version of the package we want to be using. We can do this by running snappy rollback <package> <version>. Perhaps counter-intuitively, it is possible to use the rollback command to upgrade to a newer version of an installed package. This means the rollback command can activate any version of a Snappy package, whether it is older or newer than the currently active version.
Snappy allows us to search through its repository of software using the search command. Running just snappy search will display all packages currently present in the remote repository. We can hunt for specific types of software by running snappy search <pattern> which will return packages with names similar to the provided pattern.
The two final, and perhaps most important, commands are snappy install <package> and snappy remove <package>. These two commands install software from Snappy's repository and remove all versions of an installed package, respectively. So far as I can tell, there is no way to remove one version only of a Snappy package. I suspect this is because Snappy installs a base package and then applies delta updates to the package rather than maintaining multiple whole versions of an application.
I made a few observations while experimenting with Snappy. One is that Snappy appears to work fairly quickly. Transactions are not instant, but they do happen rapidly. The packages I downloaded and installed from the software repository appeared to be about an equivalent size to .deb packages. I did not find Snappy packages to be unusually large.
At the moment there appear to be very few Snappy packages available to try. I found a simple terminal echo program, a web server, some hardware specific packages for various embedded devices, but little else. It may be I was using a testing repository just for people who want to experiment, but at time of writing the range of functionality we can get from Ubuntu's Snappy repository is limited. With regard to the packages in the demo repository, there is not much information to be had about them. The descriptions provided by Snappy for each package are quite short and do not tell us much about what each package does.
When we install new Snappy applications they are stored in the /apps directory. If we wish to, we can explore the /apps directory and browse or run applications stored in this corner of the file system. It appears as though each program gets its own sub-directory, isolating it from other programs and other versions of itself. Most Linux package managers will complain if the user modifies or removes files directly. I experimented to see what would happen if I deleted the directories containing Snappy applications. I found Snappy correctly identified when a piece of software had been manually removed and Snappy considers the package deleted. Snappy does not seem to care how the package was removed, merely that it is no longer present.
At this point I feel it is safe to say Snappy is in its early stages. While the package manager works, it feels limited in some ways. We can install packages, remove them and hunt for new software, but I feel some functionality is missing. Specifically, I wanted more documentation and to be able update just one package while leaving other items at their original versions. Hopefully this feature (or documentation on how to perform the task) will appear later. Locking packages at a specific version would also be a nice feature to have. I was happy to note Snappy does not appear to have any bugs. While Snappy may still need to grow, everything it does do appears to be done correctly and I encountered no problems.
Finally, I like how easy it is to rollback (or roll ahead) packages. Switching between active versions of packages happens quickly and smoothly. I think this will be a very welcome feature on servers and desktops as well as embedded devices.
For people interested in experimenting with Snappy, we have added the Snappy package manager to our quick reference guide to package managers.
Bittorrent is a great way to transfer large files, particularly open source operating system images, from one place to another. Most bittorrent clients recover from dropped connections automatically, check the integrity of files and can re-download corrupted bits of data without starting a download over from scratch. These characteristics make bittorrent well suited for distributing open source operating systems, particularly to regions where Internet connections are slow or unstable.
Many Linux and BSD projects offer bittorrent as a download option, partly for the reasons listed above and partly because bittorrent's peer-to-peer nature takes some of the strain off the project's servers. However, some projects do not offer bittorrent as a download option. There can be several reasons for excluding bittorrent as an option. Some projects do not have enough time or volunteers, some may be restricted by their web host provider's terms of service. Whatever the reason, the lack of a bittorrent option puts more strain on a distribution's bandwidth and may prevent some people from downloading their preferred open source operating system.
With this in mind, DistroWatch plans to give back to the open source community by hosting and seeding bittorrent files for distributions that do not offer a bittorrent option themselves. For now, we are hosting a small number of distribution torrents, listed below. The list of torrents offered will be updated each week and we invite readers to e-mail us with suggestions as to which distributions we should be hosting. When you message us, please place the word "Torrent" in the subject line, make sure to include a link to the ISO file you want us to seed and please make sure the project you are recommending does not already host its own torrents. We want to primarily help distributions and users who do not already have a torrent option. To help us maintain and grow this free service, please consider making a donation.
The table below provides a list of torrents we currently host. If you do not currently have a bittorrent client capable of handling the linked files, we suggest installing either the Transmission or KTorrent bittorrent clients.
Archives of our previously seeded torrents may be found here. All torrents we make available here are also listed on the very useful Linux Tracker website. Thanks to Linux Tracker we are able to share the following torrent statistics.
Torrent Corner statistics:
- Total torrents seeded: 62
- Total downloads completed: 34,930
- Total data uploaded: 6.9TB
|Released Last Week
Ken Moore has announced the release of PC-BSD 10.1.2. The PC-BSD project offers users a desktop-oriented operating system based on FreeBSD. The project also provides a server edition, called TrueOS. The latest release of PC-BSD allows users to maintain their home directories on an encrypted external drive and offers encrypted guest accounts. This release also includes Tor mode, an option that forces all network traffic through the Tor network. "The PC-BSD team is pleased to announce the availability of the next PC-BSD / TrueOS quarterly release, 10.1.2. PC-BSD 10.1.2 notable changes: New PersonaCrypt utility allows moving all of users $HOME directory to an encrypted USB Drive. This drive can be connected at login, and used across different systems. Stealth Mode - allows login to a blank $HOME directory, which is encrypted with a one-time GELI key. This $HOME directory is then discarded at logout, or rendered unreadable after a reboot. Tor mode - Switch firewall to running transparent proxy, blocking all traffic except what is routed through Tor. Migrated to IPFW firewall for enabling VIMAGE in 10.2. Added sound configuration via the first boot utility." Further details and instructions for upgrading from previous releases can be found in the project's release announcement.
The development team behind the Debian-based Q4OS distribution have announced the availability of Q4OS 1.2.2. This new release presents a minor update to the Q4OS 1.2 series and introduces a new graphical package manager, called Software Centre. "We introduce the new 'Software Centre' in this version, now it makes management of free applications much easier. We plan an important option for the Software Centre, which would allow direct purchasing of non-free applications and installing them in Q4OS seamlessly. The other notable change coming with the new Q4OS release is completion of several Welcome Screen translations, thanks to excellent work of external translators from different countries. A few internal improvements and bug fixes has been closed as usual." This release of Q4OS is available in 32-bit and 64-bit x86 builds. Further details on the release are available in the project's brief release announcement.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
What is your preferred desktop environment?
Welcome to our first weekly opinion poll. In an effort to get to know our readers better and in the hope of having an open discussion on what matters to people, we are going to conduct a series of opinion polls. We hope you will join in and let us know your thoughts. This week we would like to hear from you: What is your preferred desktop environment? Do you prefer lots of configuration options, eye candy, simplicity? Do you like to have lots of features or would you rather have speed and a small memory footprint? Does it matter to you if your desktop is built using GTK or Qt libraries? If your favourite graphical interface is not listed in the poll, please let us know which desktop or window manager you are using in the comments section below.
|Cinnamon: ||857 (15%)|
| Enlightenment: ||72 (1%)|
| GNOME Shell: ||540 (10%)|
| KDE: ||1220 (22%)|
| LXDE: ||344 (6%)|
| MATE: ||762 (13%)|
| Unity: ||269 (5%)|
| Xfce: ||1243 (22%)|
| Other: ||340 (6%)|
Distributions added to waiting list
- K-Mint Ultimate. K-Mint Ultimate is based on Linux Mint's KDE Edition and features updated packages.
- Universal OS Speed Edition. Universal OS Speed Edition is presently based of EBOS Speed Edition and attempts to fix bugs and reduce resource requirements.
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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, 1 June 2015. 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)
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