| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 703, 13 March 2017
Welcome to this year's 11th issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
It is nice to have tools that save us time or make common tasks easier. We always like finding open source applications and distributions which make running our computers more straightforward and this week we focus on open source utilities which save time and effort. We begin with a review of SolydXK in which Ivan Sanders explores this beginner friendly, Debian-based distribution. Then, in our News section, we talk about handy new tools coming to the Solus distribution, how to send SMS text messages from the Linux desktop using KDE Connect and a new openSUSE utility that helps secure websites. Plus we talk about the CloudReady distribution, a simplified operating system for people who primarily use their computers for browsing the web. Then we provide a list of the distribution releases of the past week and share the torrents we are seeding. In our Opinion Poll we discuss running personal servers for services such as backups and e-mail and we are pleased to welcome the FreePBX distribution to our database. We wish you all a wonderful week and happy reading!
- Review: SolydXK 201701 - Satisfactory and solid
- News: Solus announces new features, KDE Connect sends SMS messages, openSUSE's YaST gets Let's Encrypt module
- Distribution review: CloudReady - focused on the web
- Released last week: siduction 17.1.0, Manjaro Linux 17.0, ROSA R8.1
- Torrent corner: Antergos, Kwort, Manjaro Linux, Maui Linux, OBRevenge, Parrot Security OS, ROSA Fresh, siduction, Tails, Voyager Live
- Opinion poll: Running a personal server
- New additions: FreePBX
- Reader comments
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (41MB) and MP3 (31MB) formats.
|Feature Story (by Ivan D. Sanders)
SolydXK 201701 - Satisfactory and solid
SolydXK is a Debian-based distro that describes itself as, "An open source operating system for small businesses, non-profit organizations and home users. SolydXK focuses on stability, security and ease of use and will help new users make the transition from Windows to Linux easier."
Also, as a disclaimer, I am an average Linux user. I have been using and reviewing Linux distros for two years, I use Linux on my home computer and at work. I am not an extremely advanced user, but I like to think I can solve most problems. Now that I've put that out there, let's get to the review.
SolydXK 201701 -- The welcome window
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The installer worked well, but I see that it doesn't match my computer's screen resolution exactly. This bothers me because I know there are always a lot of issues with various Linux distros and displays. And unfortunately this is going to be a big issue for me and SolydXK.
I had to partition the hard drive myself. The installer does not have a good partition manager and opens GParted to do the editing. This is fine for a regular Linux user, but perhaps not for a beginner. Although, if you are just replacing your operating system completely, this should not be an issue as you're just going to use the whole drive.
SolydXK 201701 -- The system installer
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After installing, and upon first boot, SolydXK used 895MB of RAM out of my 16GB, kind of a lot when compared with most other distributions.
SolydXK has apparently no touchpad support for my Asus laptop. This is an Asus (one of the most popular brands) and it is from 2016. A year later and touchpad support doesn't come with the distro? Why is that? Well after looking it up, it is a kernel issue (so not technically SolydXK's fault). The kernel SolydXK uses is Debian 3.16.39-1 (from 2016-12-30). Although this is Debian's kernel choice, I must point out that SolydXK chose to be based off of this Debian kernel. The kernel is not old, as you can see it is from the very end of 2016, but it still doesn't have support for my touchpad. This applied both in the installer and after my first boot. Of course I had a mouse laying around, but I'm still disappointed by this lack of touchpad support. Installing Debian's 4.9 kernel broke the machine (first full re-install of my trial). So I opted to use the mouse for the remainder of this review, but that is not always possible for a regular user. It is a laptop, and is to be made to be mobile, after all.
SolydXK 201701 -- Changing drivers and themes
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After installation, I did not have to run my very first boot with extra settings (such as nomodeset) on the Linux line in GRUB. That was a relief! Now I'm thinking, maybe it runs well out of the box? The NVIDIA card is well known to be an issue with some initial installations, and usually the NVIDIA proprietary drivers fix the issue. The same may be true for newer AMD graphics cards.
SolydXK does run out of the box! It runs very well. That's because it is using my Intel card (my laptop has Intel and NVIDIA cards). I will be referring to most of everything in this review in terms of how SolydXK worked with my Intel card. SolydXK caused a nightmare when I tried to get my NVIDIA card working. I tried every work around (including everything I could find on the forums) and couldn't figure it out, so if you can, let me know. The NVIDIA issue resulted in the second, third and fourth complete re-installs of SolydXK. So, finally I decided let's just use the Intel card.
SolydXK 201701 -- Managing NVIDIA drivers
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Using the distro
Getting past the hardware issues, SolydXK comes with Debian Backports already in the APT source list. I am using the SolydK (K for KDE) version of SolydXK. It comes with KDE version 4.12.2. This is another big disappointment. I love KDE! But I do not love KDE 4. I love KDE 5, and KDE 5 was released on 15 July 2014. KDE is now shipping KDE Plasma 5.9.2. KDE 5.9 is beautiful and glamorous! But KDE 4 looks old. It has all of the modern conveniences of a full desktop environment, but it just looks like 2014. This version of SolydXK was released in January 2017, so I'm confused as to why it is using KDE 4.
Things I typically use my computer for: gaming, office suite, Internet surfing, watching shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and casting from Chrome to my TV. Firefox works great on SolydXK, but it doesn't allow you to use Netflix or Amazon Prime Video out of the box (or cast for that matter). I was able to easily install Chrome with the standard gdebi installer. A very nice and easy procedure.
SolydXK 201701 -- The KDE 4 desktop
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I game with Steam. Steam is great and installs easily with APT. But I was only able to play games with the Intel video card, so I wouldn't get very far personally. Software Manager also works great (but it doesn't have Steam), and I was able to easily install and use software from Software Manager. The System Settings application is very standard, but there are some very nice features on SolydXK. Debian Driver Manager and Debian Plymouth Manager are nice little features, as are the USB Creator and LightDM login screen manager.
SolydXK 201701 -- The software manager
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SolydXK works great for an operating system. If you need something stable and your hardware is not on the newer side, SolydXK may be for you. This Debian spin is solid, simple, and has advanced features that make it easier to use than Debian. I would use this over Debian, but there are other distros I would definitely use before SolydXK. But some people are looking for a Debian spin that works a little bit easier than Debian out of the box.
SolydXK did not work well with my hardware (touchpad and NVIDIA GPU). This was a big disappointment. The KDE version is old, and this was a disappointment too. I was hoping to see KDE Plasma 5, but I did not. I think that SolydXK is keeping KDE back for a reason, and that is to maintain some simplicity.
SolydXK 201701 -- Running the GNU Image Manipulation Program
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SolydXK bills itself as having the following characteristics: "Focuses on stability, security and ease of use and will help new users make the transition from Windows to Linux easier." I would say this is true. It is stable and secure! Debian is well known to be both secure and stable. KDE 4 is easy to use and easy to transition to. So coming from Windows would be pretty easy. There are also a lot of neat tools that users can utilize in making this solid distro work better for their machines. SolydXK is still solid, yet sadly only satisfactory.
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Hardware used for this review:
- ASUS GL551VW-DS71
- Intel Core i7-6700HQ Mobile Processor (4x 2.6GHz/6MB L3 Cache)
- 256GB SanDisk X400 SSD - Read: 540MB/s, Write: 340MB/s
- Integrated Intel HD Graphics 530
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M - 4GB
- 16GB [8GB x 2] 2133MHz DDR4 SO-DIMM Laptop Memory
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Solus announces new features, KDE Connect sends SMS messages, openSUSE's YaST gets Let's Encrypt module
Joshua Strobl has announced some interesting new features coming to the Solus distribution. One of the new features is the Linux Driver Manager which will make it easier for Solus users to select the correct driver and configuration for their hardware: "Now the work is beginning on having LDM configure X.Org, Mesa, and so-forth. Additionally, we'll be obsoleting gl-driver-switch and putting LDM into system.base, meaning LDM will be seamlessly rolled out to existing users, deprecating old scripts and paving an easier route to LDM being shipped in future snapshot ISOs." Another feature Strobl talked about was Solus's Help Center which provides documentation on common tasks Solus users may wish to perform. People who would like to share their knowledge through the Help Center can contribute through the project's GitHub page.
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People who use Android-powered smart phones will be happy to know the KDE Connect software, which allows Linux systems to share information and controls with Android devices, now makes it possible to send SMS messages from your Linux desktop through your Android device. This article explores how reading and sending SMS messages on Linux works through KDE Connect and how to enable the service on your desktop and phone. "Indicator KDE Connect, a convenient panel applet that allows you to interact with Android-based phones on Ubuntu, has been updated and received experimental support for sending SMS-messages. Yes, you can now send messages through your phone directly from the desktop without the need to touch the phone. KDE Connect (the 'engine' that works as a bridge between the phone and computer) had a functional response to SMS-messages in its 1.0 release in the last year, but this is the first time the indicator-kdeconnect (shell that allows you to use KDE Connect with Unity and other desktop environments) opened its functionality to users." The article uses Ubuntu as an example, but KDE Connect can run on any modern Linux distribution or desktop environment.
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The task of setting up secure websites just got easier for people running the openSUSE distribution. The openSUSE distribution features a powerful control centre, called YaST, which makes many administrative tasks a straightforward, point-n-click experience. One of the newest YaST modules, yast2-acme, allows the administrator to quickly and easily install Let's Encrypt security certificates for websites. Information on the new YaST module, how Let's Encrypt works and the work which went into the new tool can be found in this blog post. Information on the yast2-acme package itself can be found on the openSUSE's website.
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These and other news stories can be found on our Headlines page.
|Distribution Review (by Jesse Smith)
CloudReady - focused on the web
At the end of January the CloudReady distribution was added to the DistroWatch database. CloudReady is a product of Neverware and is based on Google's Chromium OS. CloudReady is an open source, Linux based operating system which is almost exclusively dedicated to running the Chromium web browser. The distribution is designed with the idea almost all tasks will be performed through the web browser. This configuration makes CloudReady particularly useful in situations where the user environment should be simple and most resources are accessed remotely. I wanted to try CloudReady to see how well the distribution performed its tasks and how its resource usage compared to more general purpose operating systems.
There are two editions of CloudReady. One is a free version which can be run at home and the second is intended to be used by businesses or school and includes commercial support. Both editions are available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds for the x86 architecture. I downloaded the 64-bit build of the free edition. The download presented me with a .zip file, approximately 650MB in size. This archive can be unpacked, providing us with a 5,428MB (5.3GB) image file which can be transferred to a USB thumb drive.
CloudReady 54.1.25 -- The application menu
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CloudReady supports booting from either UEFI mode or legacy BIOS mode on my laptop. Booting from the thumb drive soon brought up a graphical environment where I was given the opportunity to connect to local networks, including wireless networks. We are then given the choice of logging into a Google account or running CloudReady as a guest user. From there we are logged into a minimal desktop environment. At the bottom of the screen we find an application menu, two quick-launch buttons, a task switcher and system tray. The system tray displays the time, networking status and available battery charge. Opening the application menu brings up a window where we can launch either the Chromium web browser or open a file manager window. Clicking on the system tray brings up a menu of available actions, including changing some of our settings and installing the distribution to the hard drive.
The distribution can be run from a USB thumb drive with our changes and settings saved on the thumb drive for future use. We also have the option of installing CloudReady on the local hard drive. The distribution's website includes detailed instructions with screen shots that cover how to access and run the system installer. There are really just three steps to the installer. The first screen of the graphical installer asks us to make a backup of any data on our computer, we can then select either stand alone or dual-booting options for CloudReady. The third screen gets us to confirm we are sure we want to proceed, wiping our hard drive and installing CloudReady. It is a pleasantly simple experience.
CloudReady 54.1.25 -- Adjusting settings through the browser
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CloudReady explores the idea that almost everything we do with the computer will be done through the web browser. Apart from a simple file manager for finding, copying and deleting files, just about everything we do with the distribution will take place inside the Chromium browser. Even the settings for printing are handled by the browser's configuration screen. I tried to enable my network printer while using CloudReady and my printer was not detected by the distribution.
On the positive side, having an operating system that basically just launches the web browser and stays out of the way is a clean experience. The operating system is fast and responsive, and certainly uncluttered. There are few parts and, aside from the browser itself and a few plugins, virtually no packages to manage or upgrade. Technically, we can drop to a text console using the CTRL+ALT+F2 short-cut and sign into a default user account (user: chronos, password: chrome). CloudReady provides us with a fairly minimal command line experience, the basic GNU utilities are present, but there are few tools beyond the basics and no manual pages. But while there is a GNU/Linux environment under the hood, CloudReady is designed to run everything through the web browser.
Early on, I had wondered if I would be able to install additional software to compliment the web browser and file manager. I looked through the settings panel and the application menu, but did not find any way to install new applications. We could add new extensions to Chromium, but that appears to be the extent to which we can customize the operating system. CloudReady does have its roots in Gentoo and it might be possible to install software from Gentoo's portage system, but I decided not to explore that option as it seems clear the system is not set up with this sort of usage in mind.
CloudReady 54.1.25 -- The file manager
(full image size: 65kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
One of my few disappointments with CloudReady was the distribution was unable to play videos in Netflix. I could sign into my Netflix account and I had the Widevine plugin installed, but I could not get videos to play as they do in Chrome. (According to the project's documentation, support for streaming video from services like Amazon and Netflix will be available in CloudReady version 54.2 and later, I was running version 54.1.25) Everything else on the web, including Flash and HTML5 media, worked as expected.
CloudReady is slightly lighter on resources than most mainstream Linux distributions. When signed into my account without any web pages open, the distribution used about 400MB of RAM. The distribution is lighter on disk than usual too, requiring about 1.7GB of space.
For people who are looking for a distribution which basically just runs a web browser and does not complicate things with other applications, the requirement of user accounts or package management, then CloudReady certainly is worth looking at. I can see the appeal of setting up this distribution for light classroom use, or a library or maybe even for a family member who only uses their computer for browsing the web.
People who are more interested in a general purpose operating system or who like to manipulate their files locally rather than with on-line applications, will probably not find much value in CloudReady. This distribution acts more like a web browsing appliance (and a pretty good one, in my opinion) than a multi-function operating system.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the following
- Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
- Display: Intel integrated video
- Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
- Memory: 6GB of RAM
- Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast
- Wireless network device: Realtek RTL8188EE Wireless network card
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We have more answered questions in our Questions and Answers archive.
|Released Last Week
Ferdinand Thommes has announced the release of siduction 17.1.0. As the name implies, siduction is based on Debian's unstable branch (also called "Sid") and it comes in various desktop flavours which include Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE Plasma, LXDE, LXQt, MATE and Xfce. From the release notes: "Today we are proud to release siduction 2017.1.0 with the KDE, LXQt, GNOME, Cinnamon, MATE, XFCE, LXDE, X.Org and noX flavours. The fact that Debian is in deep freeze for Debian 9 'Stretch' allows us to release the whole stack. The released images are a snapshot of Debian unstable, that also goes by the name of Sid, from 2017-05-03. They are enhanced with some useful packages and scripts, a brand new installer and a custom-patched version of the linux kernel 4.10, accompanied by X.Org Server 1.19.2 and systemd 232." release notes for more details.
Manjaro Linux 17.0
Philip Müller has announced the release of Manjaro Linux 17.0, the latest stable version of the Arch-inspired desktop distribution with a choice of KDE and Xfce desktops (as well as several "community" flavours). This release updates the KDE Plasma desktop to version 5.9.3: "Our KDE edition continues to deliver this powerful, mature and feature-rich desktop environment with a unique look-and-feel, and with the perks of Manjaro's latest tools. We now ship Plasma 5.9 desktop in combination with the latest KDE Applications 16.12. It was a huge step to get it all playing together smoothly and to give the user experience the same feeling as our KDE 4 editions of the past. The Manjaro Settings Manager (MSM) now provides an easy-to-use graphical interface for installing and removing the many series of kernels we offer. Manjaro's selection of readily available kernels remains the most extensive of all Linux distribution we know of." Here is the release announcement for the KDE edition and there is a separate one for Manjaro's Xfce variant.
Manjaro Linux 17.0 -- Running the Plasma desktop
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Vladimir Potapov has announced the release of an updated build of the ROSA distribution, version R8.1. This is a bug-fix update for the KDE edition only, while the remaining flavours (GNOME, MATE and Plasma) are staying at version R8 (at least for now): "We are happy to present the correcting release of ROSA Fresh R8 platform by launching updated ROSA Fresh R8.1. This ROSA Fresh R8.1 release is primarily made for users who need stable LTS platform on modern hardware. This release contains all patches and software updates for Intel Skylake chipset and similar modern chipsets, also kernel 4.9.x is available right out of the box. ROSA Fresh R8.1 includes a lot of bug fixes, primarily for fixing network issues and some installation problems. Most important features and bug fixes: several fixes for installation and booting problems in live mode on some systems; Linux kernel 4.9.x LTS; Mesa 13.0.2 with support for OpenGL 4.5 to run modern games with free drivers...." Read the rest of the release announcement for further information.
The Amnesic Incognito Live System (Tails) is a Debian-based distribution which is designed for anonymous web browsing and communication over the Internet. The Tails project has announced the availability of Tails 2.11. The new version features a number of bug fixes, including a fix for local root privilege escalation and the Tor Browser has been updated to version 6.5.1. The project has also reported the alternative anonymizing network utility I2P will be dropped in future versions of the distribution: "We are very sad to announce that Tails 2.11 will be the last version to include I2P, an alternative anonymizing network. Maintaining software like I2P well-integrated in Tails takes time and effort and our team is too busy with other priorities. Unfortunately, we failed to find a developer outside of our team to maintain I2P in Tails. As a consequence, the last version of I2P being shipped in Tails is 0.9.25, which is nearly one year old now at this moment. But we will be happy to reintroduce I2P if we find a volunteer to take care of maintaining it in Tails." Further information on Tails 2.11 can be found in the project's release announcement.
Parrot Security OS 3.5
Lorenzo Faletra has announced the release of Parrot Security OS 3.5, the latest update of the Debian-based distribution providing an array of specialist tools for penetration testing and computer forensics: "I am proud to announce the official release of the new Parrot 3.5 ISO files. This update took a lot of time (2 months) as we have not only updated and tested many packages from Debian, but we also tried to play with some new features and dropped some old and obsolete ones. This new release will no longer include all those old packages that did not meet the Debian standards, and of course we also removed the old and discontinued GtkDialog, that forced us to remove some other softwares built on top of it. On a brighter note, native VirtualBox and VMware guest support is now included by default. The Linux kernel was updated to the latest 4.9.13 release and we are waiting for Debian to finish the 'debianization' of Linux kernel 4.10 to start working on our patches for it." Continue to the release announcement for further details.
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Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
The table below provides a list of torrents DistroWatch is currently seeding. If you do not 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 in our Torrent Archive. Thanks to Linux Tracker we are able to share the following torrent statistics.
Torrent Corner statistics:
- Total torrents seeded: 330
- Total data uploaded: 58.7TB
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
Running a personal server
Running your own server can have all sorts of benefits. An always-on server can be used to share files, run a website or handle personal e-mail. Servers can host backed up files or provide us with a place to test new ideas.
This week we would like to find out how many of our readers run a server, either in the home or remotely as a VPS or in a data centre. If you run a server, please leave us a comment to let us know which operating system is installed on your server.
You can see the results of our previous poll on our new drop-down navigation menu here. All previous poll results can be found in our poll archives.
Running a personal server
|I run a physical server in my home: ||738 (38%)|
| I run a physical server remotely: ||61 (3%)|
| I run a VPS or cloud server: ||154 (8%)|
| I do not run a personal server: ||983 (51%)|
New projects added to database
FreePBX is a web-based open source GUI (graphical user interface) that controls and manages Asterisk (PBX), an open source communication server. FreePBX is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). FreePBX can be installed manually or as part of the pre-configured FreePBX distro that includes the system OS, Asterisk, FreePBX GUI and assorted dependencies. FreePBX is based on the CentOS distribution while maintaining its own software repositories. The distribution is free to download and install, support is offered through a paid subscription.
FreePBX 10.13.66 -- The system overview
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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 March 2017. Past articles and reviews can be found through our Article Search page. To contact the authors please send e-mail to:
- Jesse Smith (feedback, questions and suggestions: distribution reviews/submissions, questions and answers, tips and tricks)
- Ladislav Bodnar (feedback, questions, donations, comments)
- Bruce Patterson (podcast)
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