| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 618, 13 July 2015
Welcome to this year's 28th issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
Every so often someone comes along and declares they have found a different way of doing things. Sometimes this new idea is a new operating system or a new way to manage software packages and sometimes it's a new desktop environment. This week we explore developers taking existing concepts and creating new approaches or designs. We begin with a review of Semplice Linux and the distribution's "vera" desktop environment. In our Questions and Answers column we explore openSUSE derivatives and where to find unique spins of the openSUSE distribution. Last week we saw some interesting new developments: the openSUSE project talked more about their upcoming "Leap 42" release, the Debian project has begun working on a migration to version 5 of the GNU Compiler Collection, FreeBSD can now run Docker containers and the OpenBSD Foundation received funding from an unusual source. In our Torrent Corner we share the torrents we are seeding this week and, in our Opinion Poll, we explore people's usage of systemd. As usual, we provide a list of new versions of distributions released last week and give a nod to the new projects added to our database and waiting list. Last week we expanded our search functionality and we talk about how we have made it easier to find features you like and avoid the ones you dislike. We wish you all a fantastic week and happy reading!
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Semplice Linux 7 and the vera desktop
It has been a few years since I last reviewed Semplice Linux. The Debian-based distribution has changed in recent years and some people asked if I would revisit this project. According to the distribution's website, "Semplice is a GNU/Linux distribution based on Debian Unstable (Sid) with the goal to provide a simple, fast, lightweight and cool environment." In itself, this description is not unusual. What sets Semplice 7 apart is the project's unique desktop environment, called "vera". The vera desktop is briefly talked about in the project's release notes. The new desktop environment is based on GTK3 libraries (the same libraries which act as the foundation for the GNOME and Cinnamon desktops). The vera desktop ships with a new power manager, a screen shot utility and its own control centre panel. The release notes also mention vera ships with an interactive tutorial to help new users get acquainted with the young interface.
There is just one edition of Semplice available and we can download 32-bit and 64-bit x86 builds of the project's latest release. The ISO I downloaded was 650MB in size. Booting from the Semplice media brings up a menu asking if we would like to launch the distribution's live desktop or run an installation wizard. If we take the live mode we are then presented with a graphical window which asks us to select our preferred language from a list. We are then introduced to the vera desktop.
By default, vera is decorated with bright blue wallpaper. The task switching panel and system tray rest at the bottom of the screen. There is no visible application menu button. Shortly after the desktop appears some text pops-up and walks us through a few quick actions. We are guided to right-click on the desktop to bring up an application menu. We are then shown that typing while no window has focus will launch a search for applications that have names matching the text we type. In this way vera has, in a fashion, two application menus. One context-style menu and another that acts in a similar manner to GNOME Shell's Activities menu. The desktop, when we are not searching for applications, is uncluttered. There are no icons and notifications are quite small, taking up only a small amount of space in the lower-right corner of the monitor.
Semplice 7.0 -- Searching for applications
(full image size: 212kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
We can launch Semplice's graphical system installer from the desktop or from the live media's boot menu. The graphical installer begins by asking for our preferred language and our keyboard's layout. We are then given the option of checking for updates to the installer itself. I chose to check for new versions of the installer. A new copy was found and installed, which then caused the installer to reset and begin again from the language selection screen. We are next asked to select our region or time zone from a list and create a user account for ourselves. On the account creation page we have the option of enabling sudo and assigning sudo privileges to our newly created account. Alternatively we can disable sudo and create a password for Semplice's root account. The installer then asks if we would like to manually partition our hard drive or take a guided option. If we take the guided option the installer will seek to either take over the entire disk or replace an existing Linux installation. The installer will ask for confirmation before proceeding with either guided option. Taking the manual partitioning option brings up a nice, simple partition manager. Using the simple interface we can create new partitions, assign mount points and select file systems. I appreciate that the partition manager allows us to set a partition's size by either typing in a size manually or dragging a slider to visually indicate the desired partition size. Semplice's installer claims to support the ext2/3/4, HFS+, NTFS and Reiser file systems. We also have the option of setting up LVM volumes. The system installer next asks if we would like to install the GRUB boot loader. The following page asks which features we would like to install. The optional features include Bluetooth support, printing, productivity software, visual desktop effects, PulseAudio and third-party software such as Adobe Flash. The installer then offers to find the fastest repository mirror and then shows us a confirmation screen where we can look over our settings before the installer copies its files to our hard disk. When the installer is finished we are asked to reboot the computer. I quite like Semplice's installer. While there are a lot of screens to go through, a good balance is struck between customization and user friendliness. We could get through most screens by clicking the "Forward" button over and over, but the installer makes it possible to tweak things to our liking and I think the developers did a nice job of mixing user-friendliness with flexibility.
Semplice 7.0 -- Running various desktop applications
(full image size: 165kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Semplice boots to a graphical login screen. The first time we sign into our account we are guided through the same tutorial we found on the live media. Once the tutorial has shown us the two ways we can access our applications, the vera desktop becomes quite quiet. The desktop is mostly empty with no icons, just a small panel at the bottom of the display.
I tried running Semplice in two test environments. When running on a physical desktop computer Semplice performed quite well. The system booted quickly, networking and audio worked and my screen was set to its maximum resolution. The desktop was responsive and programs were generally quick to open and perform tasks. When running in VirtualBox, Semplice gave a similarly good performance. The distribution does not ship with VirtualBox add-ons, so screen resolution was a bit limited by default, but otherwise Semplice performed well in the virtual machine. In either test environment I found Semplice used about 200MB of RAM.
Digging through Semplice's application menu we find a collection of useful software, most of which appears to be built using the GTK toolkit. We are presented with the Iceweasel web browser, uGet, the XChat IRC client and the gFTP file transfer utility. GNU Paint is available for simple image editing and the Mirage image viewer is present. We are given a document viewer along with the AbiWord and Gnumeric productivity applications. The Pragha audio player and GNOME MPlayer multimedia player are present. We are offered a calculator, text editor, archive manager and the Xfburn disc burning software. The distribution further provides configuration utilities for managing printers and changing monitor settings. Assuming we enable third-party extras during the initial installation, Semplice includes Flash support and multimedia codecs. Semplice provides Network Manager to help us get on-line. In the background the distribution runs a secure shell service. The GNU Compiler Collection is installed on the system and the Linux kernel, version 3.19, keeps things running for us.
Semplice 7.0 -- The desktop control panel
(full image size: 271kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Semplice ships with its own control panel which closely resembles the GNOME and Unity control panels. Through this control panel we can access configuration modules that will change the desktop's appearance, manage user accounts and add additional features such as Bluetooth and printing support. Sometimes I found opening a configuration module or changing a setting would take longer than expected, there was a little lag in the control panel's interface. Otherwise Semplice's new control panel and its modules worked well for me.
Semplice ships with the Synaptic package manager. Using Synaptic we can search for new software, install or remove items and perform package upgrades. Synaptic organizes available packages into simple lists and we can click a box next to the items we wish to install, remove or upgrade. Synaptic may not have the prettiest interface, but it works quickly and is quite flexible. Looking at the list of available repositories we find Semplice pulls packages from a combination of the distribution's own repositories and Debian's Unstable ("Sid") branch.
Semplice 7.0 -- The Synaptic package manager
(full image size: 252kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Since Semplice is based on Debian's Unstable repository, the distribution is a rolling release platform and we can expect a lot of software updates to be made available. The first day I was running Semplice there were 540 updated packages waiting to be installed in the project's repositories. These updates totalled 340MB in size and were dutifully installed by Synaptic. After the first wave of updates, I rebooted the computer and found my system would boot to a text console, but I could not get a graphical login screen or a desktop interface. Attempts to fix the situation lead the further problems and I soon realized it would be easier to simply re-install Semplice. After performing a fresh installation of the distribution I performed the upgrade procedure again, this time from the command line using apt-get. The apt-get utility ran into a number of errors (mostly missing package dependencies) and I was able to manage these errors and run fixes during the upgrade process to correct problems as they came up. (The apt-get install -f command was repeatedly helpful.) Once the upgrades had been completed I was able to reboot and still access the distribution's vera desktop. While I did not find any documentation which showed a preference for one upgrade method or another, I personally found upgrading packages from the command line produced better results.
I have a few general observations from my time with Semplice. One is that the vera desktop feels mature and stable. While vera does not appear to provide the performance Xfce or LXDE do, vera offered me approximately the same performance I would expect to get from Cinnamon or GNOME Classic. It took me a while to get used to the missing application menu button. I am still getting accustomed to right-clicking on the desktop or the panel to access the application menu. Semplice's approach to launching applications does not appear to offer any significant benefit since an application menu button on the panel would not take up much space and we usually need to move the mouse down to the panel to access applications anyway. Likewise, while I appreciate what vera's developers are trying to do with the application search function that is accessed by typing, it is very rare that my desktop is not full of windows. This means when I type there is almost always a window in focus, which prevents the search function from working. Perhaps there is a short-cut key to bring up the search bar, but I have not stumbled upon it.
One further aspect of vera I did appreciate was the visual style. I like vera's large font, nice colours, the icon theme and general layout. For a new desktop environment vera looks quite nice and offers adequate performance. One of the few problems I encountered with vera was with the music controls in the application menu. There are buttons in the application menu for ordering the music player to start/stop or move to the previous/next song. None of these buttons worked when I clicked them while the music player was operating.
Most of what I experienced during my time with Semplice was positive. I certainly enjoyed Semplice's unique desktop (vera) and its control centre. The distribution worked well in both of my test environments and offers cutting edge packages. I personally am not a huge fan of toolkit purity, that is sticking with applications which use a specific toolkit (GTK in this instance). I prefer finding the best tool for a specific task, regardless of how the tool was made. This sometimes put me at odds with Semplice, which is closely aligned with GTK. However, the applications I wanted were available through the project's package manager so adjusting the distribution to my preferences required that I simply install some extra applications.
My one serious problem with Semplice was the upgrade process. Using Synaptic to upgrade the distribution effectively killed the graphical user interface. Upgrading software from the command line worked better, but I still had to wade through several layers of errors before all my software was up to date and working properly. This is what one gets from running a distribution on a base that is explicitly named Unstable.
I enjoyed Semplice's system installer. The flexibility, especially where disk partitioning and add-on packages were concerned, was very welcome. The installer did not give me any problems and I found it offered a friendly interface.
Regarding vera, I found the desktop environment worked well. I'm not sure if vera solves any problems. I missed having a button to open the application menu and the search feature really only works when the desktop is mostly empty. On the other hand, the application menu and search features work, so while these features did not improve my work flow, they did not significantly hamper my efforts either.
On the whole I liked Semplice. I might prefer the distribution be based on a more conservative foundation, but otherwise I like what the developers are doing. I especially appreciate the mini-tutorial vera offers to new users. I think Semplice is a good match for people who want to try Debian as a rolling release distribution.
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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)
Details of openSUSE 42, Debian begins migration to GCC 5, FreeBSD gains a port of Docker and the OpenBSD Foundation receives a donation from Microsoft
A few weeks ago we mentioned the openSUSE distribution will be launching a new product soon that has been given the label "42". Further details have emerged which indicate the new branch of openSUSE will be named "Leap" and will be built from SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE) sources. Richard Brown recently posted more news about openSUSE Leap, stating, "We deliberated other options such as starting at 1.x or some other arbitrary number such as 22 but we preferred 42. Additionally 42 has already gotten some notoriety and thus we might as well stick with it. In the end we all know the number is more or less arbitrary and the important point is that it increases going forward. .x is used to indicate the service pack of SLE from which the sources originate. We expect the first release to be 42.1 because we intend to have the release aligned and sharing code with SLE 12 SP1. The major version will increase alongside the major version of the shared SLE sources, therefore a SLE 13 SP2 service pack based release would be named openSUSE Leap 43.2." Additional notes on the new branch of openSUSE can be found in Brown's post.
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The Debian project is currently working toward making version 5 of the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) the default compiler for Debian's Unstable branch. Matthias Klose writes, "It's time to prepare for GCC 5 as the default compiler in Unstable. Compared to earlier version bumps, the switch to GCC 5 is a bit more complicated because libstdc++6 sees a few ABI incompatibilities, partially depending on the C++ standard version used for the builds. For some C++11 language requirements, changes on some core C++ classes are needed, resulting in an ABI change." What this means is some software packages will not build with GCC 5 or may introduce incompatibilities between packages built with earlier versions of the GNU compiler. Details on the efforts to integrate GCC 5 into Debian's build process can be found in Debian's wiki. At this time, Klose does not think GCC 5 will become the default compiler for "Stretch", Debian's next stable release.
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The Docker software has become a very popular way to manage, manipulate and share service and application containers on Linux. As the Docker website states, "Docker containers wrap up a piece of software in a complete file system that contains everything it needs to run: code, runtime, system tools, system libraries -- anything you can install on a server. This guarantees that it will always run the same, regardless of the environment it is running in." This makes it very easy for developers and administrators to share and deploy software, knowing it will run the same way in each instance without needing any further dependencies or additional configuration. Until recently, Docker was a Linux-only technology, but Docker has been ported to the FreeBSD operating system. Not all of Docker's features work yet on FreeBSD, but most of them are in place and an up to date status report is maintained on GitHub.
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Some open source software becomes so popular as to be used almost universally. One such widely used suite of software is OpenSSH, a collection of utilities for enabling secure communication and secure file transfers between computers. OpenSSH is not only used by its parent operating system, OpenBSD, but is also used by the various BSD flavours and virtually every Linux distribution and OS X. Microsoft has recently said they will adopt OpenSSH for use in their products and have, in a surprising move, become the OpenBSD Foundation's first Gold sponsor.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Seeking openSUSE derivatives
Seeking-the-green-lizard asks: A lot of distributions are based on Debian, Ubuntu and Fedora... but practically none are based on openSUSE, is there a technical reason?
DistroWatch answers: I do not think there is a compelling technical reason to not base a new distribution on openSUSE. At least there isn't any I am aware of. I suspect we see a lot of publicly advertised distributions based on Debian and Ubuntu because of the cultures which surround those projects. The Debian community is quite large and there seems to be a sense that Debian's infrastructure is like a big sandbox in which developers can play. The Debian project is very open and has a massive amount of packages available in a variety of architectures and with varying levels of stability. This makes Debian an ideal base for other community projects. Ubuntu has a similar amount of software and has a huge user base which makes it a natural laboratory in which people, especially Linux newcomers, can experiment.
Fedora and openSUSE are slightly less oriented toward novice Linux users than Ubuntu is which reduces the population of excited newcomers in their communities. Plus both Fedora and openSUSE, I feel, have an air about them which suggests they are as much playgrounds for their corporate sponsors as they are for community members. Whether that feeling is justified or not is certainly open for debate, but many see Debian as a sort of open and egalitarian community while some see openSUSE and Fedora as being lead by business interests. I think that may affect the way potential distribution developers approach each project.
In short, I think the number of publicly advertised derivative distributions has a lot less to do with technical features and more to do with the perceptions people have of the parent distributions. I also think that, while we may not see many openSUSE derivatives (or spins, in Fedora's case) publicly advertised, there are a lot of projects out there based on openSUSE. I recommend visiting SUSE Studio, a website that facilitates the creation of openSUSE spins and derivatives. There are literally thousands of projects listed in SUSE Studio's Gallery. These projects may not have their own websites and may not get a lot of public attention, but they exist and show there is a large community of developers tweaking openSUSE to fit their needs.
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 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. 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: 84
- Total downloads completed: 45,018
- Total data uploaded: 8.5TB
|Released Last Week
Point Linux 3.0
Peter Ryzhenkov has announced the release of Point Linux 3.0, a Debian-based distribution for the desktop with a choice of MATE and Xfce desktop environments. GNOME 3, used during the development and beta testing period, has been dropped and replaced with Xfce. From the release notes: "The Point Linux team proudly announces the availability of Point Linux 3.0. This release replaces the GNOME 3 flavour with XFce. Both flavours got the new Point Linux Update Notifier that will keep your system up-to-date. Point Linux Xfce also comes with the Compton window compositor installed by default, bringing some eye candy to your Xfce desktop. The full editions include the latest Firefox and Thunderbird releases. Changes: Point Linux Update Notifier; Xfce flavour replaces GNOME 3 Classic flavour; Xfce flavour comes with Compton installed by default; Firefox 39.0 and Thunderbird 38.0.1; multiple Point Linux infrastructural changes; up-to-date Debian packages."
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Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
The dust has settled on the debate over which distributions will adopt systemd and which will stick with alternatives. Now that the distribution developers have made their decisions on whether to include systemd, we would like to know what the adoption rate for systemd is among our readers. Are you using systemd? Are you happy with the init software you are currently running? Let us know your thoughts on the issue on the comments section.
You can see the results of last week's poll on FOSS usage here.
|I use systemd and like it: ||787 (30%)|
| I use systemd and dislike it: ||318 (12%)|
| I am not using systemd and plan to use it: ||111 (4%)|
| I am not using systemd and plan to avoid it: ||1170 (44%)|
| Other: ||260 (10%)|
Finding and avoiding distributions with specific packages
In recent months we have received questions asking how to find distributions which include a particular package or distributions which exclude a particular package. For instance, some people would like to locate distributions which support running on computers with Secure Boot enabled while others might wish to avoid distributions that feature systemd. DistroWatch has always tried to make it easy to find distributions which do include specific packages, but we have generally not made it easy to find distributions which exclude specific features. That is changing.
Last week we introduced a change to our Search page which makes searching for distributions with (or without) a specific package easier. At the top of the Search page there is a section called Package searches. There are three controls in this part of the search page. The first field, called Package, allows us to select which software package we are interested in. The second field allows us to search for a specific version of a package. The third field determines whether we want to find distributions which do include the package or if we want to see a list of distributions which do not include the specified package.
As an example, let us assume I want to find all distributions which do include the Secure Boot shim package. I would select shim from the Package drop-down box. Then I would try to find all versions by entering 0. in the Version box. This means I am interested in any version of the package beginning with "0.", such as "0.8" or "0.9". I then make sure the final field is set to In any releases and click the Submit button. I will get back four distributions which include the shim package.
We can narrow down the search to only include distributions which feature a specific software package in their most recent release. For instance, if we want to know which distributions include the experimental Wayland display server software in their most recent release, we can do the following: Select Wayland from the Package drop-down box and enter 1. for the version. Then select In latest release for the third field and click Submit. This will return the 36 distributions which included version 1.x of the Wayland display server software in their latest release.
What if I want to find distributions which did not ship with the systemd init software in their most recent release? For that I would select systemd from the Package drop-down box. I would skip the Version box, since I want to ignore all versions of the package. In the third field I would select Not in latest release and click the Submit button. This will return the 281 projects (some of them active, others inactive) which do not include systemd in their most recent release.
We hope you find the new search features and the above examples useful. Let us know if you have any feedback on this new feature in the comments section.
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Distributions added to the database
Chapeau is a high-performance, cutting-edge operating system built from the GNU/Linux distribution Fedora Workstation with the GNOME desktop environment. In comparison to Fedora, Chapeau adopts a more relaxed approach to software licences and is intended to be just as useful for advanced users as it is easy for those new to using a Linux system. There is built-in access to third-party software and sources repositories not included in Fedora such as RPMFusion, DropBox, Steam, Adobe Flash & Oracle VirtualBox. Chapeau also includes pre-installed core packages to make the installation of new kernel modules pain-free, built-in remote and virtual system management tools, a selection of maintenance tools that come in especially handy when running Chapeau’s live image on a DVD or USB drive to analyse & fix broken systems.
Chapeau 22 -- Running the GNOME desktop
(full image size: 556kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
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Distributions added to waiting list
- Boreas GNU/Linux. Boreas GNU/Linux is a Turkish, Debian-based distribution for electrical engineers.
- RaspEX. RaspEX is a Linux ARM system for Raspberry Pi 2 computers. It is based on Debian Jessie (Debian 8), Ubuntu Vivid Vervet (Ubuntu 15.04) and Linaro. RaspEX ships with the Wicd network connection manager and Adobe Flash.
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DistroWatch database summary
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This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 20 July 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)