| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 716, 12 June 2017
Welcome to this year's 24th issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
A lot of software development time is spent polishing the edges of an idea, fixing the corner cases and squashing the last few bugs. This week we talk about a number of cases where already good open source technology is being improved. In our News section we discuss GNOME and Ubuntu working together to bring HiDPI support to the GNOME desktop environment and Ubuntu developers backporting live kernel patching to older versions of their operating system. We also touch upon openSUSE's rolling development model leading up to openSUSE 42.3 and feren OS shifting to a rolling release cycle. In our Feature Story, Joshua Allen Holm takes the Slackel distribution for a spin and reports on how it compares to its Slackware and Salix roots. Then, in our Questions and Answers section, we explore the topic of kernel blobs and why some projects remove non-free blobs from the Linux kernel. Running kernels without blobs is also the topic of our Opinion Poll and we would like to know which, if any, distributions our readers run that do not feature non-free kernel blobs. We are pleased to bring you the releases of the past week and share the torrents we are currently seeding. Plus we are happy to report we are making it easier to find distributions using a specific init implementation through our Search page. We wish you all a fantastic week and happy reading!
- Review: Slackel 7.0 "Live Openbox"
- News: Ubuntu works with GNOME on HiDPI and backports live kernel patches, openSUSE 42.3 using rolling development model, feren OS becoming a rolling release distro
- Questions and answers: Kernel blobs and getting rid of them
- Released last week: KaOS 2017.06, ROSA R9 "LXQt", MX 16.1
- Torrent corner: Bluestar, KaOS, KXStudiom MX, Robolinux, ROSA, Tanglu
- Upcoming releases: Debian 9, Black Lab Linux 9, Tails 3.0
- Opinion poll: The Linux-libre kernel
- DistroWatch.com news: Improving search for init software
- New additions: SwagArch GNU/Linux
- Reader comments
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (62MB) and MP3 (47MB) formats.
|Feature Story (by Joshua Allen Holm)
Slackel 7.0 "Live Openbox"
Based on Slackware and Salix, Slackel calls itself a "Hellenic Linux distribution." Befitting its Greek origin, the distribution comes with a number of Greek localization packages pre-installed. In addition, it provides more software pre-installed than the latest Openbox release of Salix and provides newer packages by including software from Slackware's -current development branch.
According to the Slackel website, the distribution is available in three editions (KDE, Openbox, and Fluxbox), but the images for KDE and Fluxbox are older. Only the Openbox image has a new release, so images based on the other desktops currently ship with older packages. For this review, I downloaded the 1.3 GB Slackel 7.0 64-bit Live Openbox image and gave it a test drive.
I will be completely honest, my initial attempts to get the image I downloaded copied to a flash drive were problematic. I first tried using the shell script included on the ISO, but every attempt gave me an error message about copying efi.img to the flash drive because there was not enough free space left. The partitions on the flash drive are created by the script, so it should have been able to create a partition large enough to hold all the files it needed to copy. I then booted the image in a virtual machine with a USB drive passed through and tried to create a live USB drive using the graphical installer, but I could not get the "Copy live system to USB" button to become active no matter what I tried. Clicking on the "Copy live system to USB" button caused the installer to crash. After testing the distribution out in a virtual machine to be safe, I eventually used the GNOME Disks application to copy the ISO to a flash drive, which was completed without problems.
Slackel 7.0 -- The system installer
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Once I got a usable USB flash drive created, I booted Slackel and found the experience to be pretty typical. However, I did notice a difference between booting using the legacy/BIOS boot option, which is what I was using in a virtual machine, verses booting using EFI. On the GRUB screen for BIOS boot, pressing F2 on the screen after language selection provides more details than the EFI equivalent. Normally, this would be a minor issue, but the extra information missing from the EFI boot method includes the default passwords for the root and user accounts. In order to run the installer the user has to enter the password for the user account (both the username and password are "one"), so that information needs to be as discoverable as possible. The information is included in the release announcement in the Slackel forums, but it is possible to download the disc image without ever running across that information.
Slackel 7.0 -- The Openbox environment
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Slackel's desktop and included software
The Slackel's Openbox desktop environment is a standard Linux desktop experience. The panel at the bottom of the screen has the application menu, quick launch icons, task bar, virtual desktops, and various panel applets, including a clock. Nothing extraordinary. The included software is much the same as other distributions: Firefox 45 ESR, Thunderbird 52, LibreOffice 5.2, and many of the other typical programs come installed by default. Though lightweight alternatives are also included: Midori for web-browsing, Sylpheed for e-mail, AbiWord and Gnumeric for word processing and spreadsheets. All this runs on a Linux 4.4 kernel, with Linux 4.9 already available as an update, so there should be few hardware-compatibility issues for most users.
Installing additional software
If the included software is not enough, there are plenty of ways to add additional software. In additional to the traditional Slackware command-line utilities (e.g., installpkg), Slackel provides Gslapt and Sourcery as graphic tools to find, install, and upgrade packages. Gslapt provides an APT style experience and Sourcery is a graphic interface for SlackBuild. When using Gslapt there are packages from Slackware, Salix, and Slackel repositories. The sources for the SlackBuilds are Salix repositories. I found Gslapt an excellent way to install packages and keep the system updated, but did not really use Sourcery that much. There is one major drawback to using Gslapt, not with the program itself, but the Slackel repositories are super slow. When I installed a package from a Salix repository, the download was much quicker than the Slackel repositories hosted in Greece.
Slackel 7.0 -- The Gslapt package manager
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In addition to the standard software installers, there is a specialized installer for installing patent encumbered media codecs. This application is from Salix, but it works equally well on Slackel. This installer provides a way to install all the required media packages with just a few clicks, instead of having to hunt for all of them in Gslapt. The installer even provides a helpful warning about the patent issues, so that users are notified about the issues and people in regions where that is a problem can proceed or cancel at their own peril.
Slackel 7.0 -- The media codec installer
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The Slackel community
Software is one thing, but distributions are nothing without a community to support them. In Slackel's case this is an area that could be improved. The forums have very few posts and the mailing list has even less activity. While Slackel does benefit from the Slackware and Salix communities, having a few more highly engaged Slackel users might prove beneficial. I certainly do not expect every small distribution to have communities that are as large as those of Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu, etc., but having someone to engage with beyond the developer and a small handful of posters would make for a better experience for new users. In addition, it might help the developer identify and solve some of the various annoyances I have mentioned in my review. So, if you are a Slackware enthusiast looking to donate some of your time, Slackel could benefit from having a few more people engaging with the developer and users.
Slackel 7.0 -- Running the Firefox web browser
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Slackel is a nice distribution, not perfect, but nice. It adds enough to its Slackware/Salix lineage to provide some benefits over those distributions, mostly in the form of newer software being included on the disc and more packages than Salix includes on its disc. It is especially useful for Greek speakers who want to have Greek localization packages included on a live image. However, there are issues that really need to be cleaned up. If some of the things I mentioned above get cleaned up, Slackel 7.1 could be great, but for now, Slackel 7.0 has a few headache inducing problems.
Working on this review by running Slackel for a few weeks and briefly testing out the latest releases of Salix and Slackware was an interesting and nostalgic experience. I ran Slackware on one of my main computers about a decade ago, so it was interesting to see how much Slackware has -- and has not -- changed over the years. While the Slackware family of distributions are not my mainstays anymore, I applaud anyone working on Slackware and Slackware-based distributions. Slackel and the rest of the Slackware derivatives are interesting and welcome members of the large family of Linux distributions. I just hope that others, especially those with Slackware skills and experience, feel the same way and donate their time to make Slackel's community a little more vibrant and active.
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Hardware used in this review:
My physical test equipment for this review was a Lenovo Ideapad 100-15IBD laptop with the following specifications:
- Processor: 2.2GHz Intel Core i3-5020U CPU
- Storage: Seagate 500GB 5400 RPM hard drive
- Memory: 4GB of RAM
- Networking: Realtek RTL8723BE 802.11n Wireless Network Adapter
- Display: Intel HD Graphics 5500
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Visitor supplied rating
Slackel has a visitor supplied average rating of: 9/10 from 7 review(s).
Have you used Slackel? You can leave your own review of the project on our ratings page.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Ubuntu works with GNOME on HiDPI and backports live kernel patches, openSUSE 42.3 using rolling development model, feren OS becoming a rolling release distro
The next version of Ubuntu is expected to ship with the GNOME Shell desktop environment. In an effort to make the GNOME desktop scale well across a wide range of devices, Canonical will be hosting a conference for developers to work on GNOME's HiDPI support. The OMG Ubuntu site shares: "Canonical is playing host to a 'fractional scaling hackfest' in its Taipei offices this week. Both GNOME developers and Ubuntu developers are in attendance. The aim: improve GNOME HiDPI support. Ubuntu's Unity desktop (I'm told, anyhow) plays fairly nice with high DPI monitors because the shell supports fractional scaling (though most apps, I believe, do not). Furthermore, users can tweak some high DPI settings to better suit their display(s). GNOME Shell also supports HiDPI monitors, but has, until now, been a little less flexible about it." Additional information on HiDPI support can be found in this blog post by Matthias Classen.
The Ubuntu developers have been working on making live kernel patching available to older versions of their operating system. Live kernel patching allows security flaws to be fixed in the Linux kernel without rebooting the operating system. This allows for systems to be left running longer while still keeping them up to date. "We are pleased to announce that we have extended our Canonical Kernel Livepatch Service to users running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS! The Canonical Kernel Livepatch Service enables runtime correction of critical security vulnerabilities in the kernel without the need to reboot. It is the best way to ensure that machines are safe at the kernel level, while guaranteeing uptime, especially for container hosts where a single machine may be running thousands of different workloads." A post on the Ubuntu Insights page explains how to enable live kernel patching.
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The upcoming release of openSUSE 42.3 Leap is expected to be launched at the end of July 2017. The openSUSE team is not releasing official alpha, beta or release candidate snapshots for 42.3 and is instead using a rolling development model. This essentially means there will be regular updates and new installation media snapshots, but no official milestones published during the 42.3 testing phase. A news post on the openSUSE website shares more information: "Some Linux users might find a rolling development process for a Linux release to be less appealing for testing, but testing is certainly necessary before the actual release of Leap 42.3 at the end of July. The next minor version of Leap 42.3 is mostly a refresh and hardware enablement release that will have more than 10,000 packages. While the development version of Leap 42.3 it is still considerably stable because it is extremely hardened and shares sources from SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE) 12, the release could still use more testing and people willing to promote openSUSE's next minor 42 series version." Development snapshots can be acquired from the openSUSE Downloads page.
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The feren OS distribution, which is based on Linux Mint, will be adopting a rolling release model in the near future. The project intends to regularly update packages on the system using personal package archives (PPAs). "Prepare for the first rolling release Linux Mint[-based] distribution, starting 2017.1, or should I say, 2017.0X (Where X is the month it's released)." The announcement can be found on the feren OS blog.
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These and other news stories can be found on our Headlines page.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Kernel blobs and getting rid of them
Exploring-the-kernel asks: What does it mean to deblob the kernel and what does that do for the user?
DistroWatch answers: One of the kernel's jobs, perhaps its most important job, is to communicate with the computer's hardware. The kernel needs to know how to talk with your keyboard, video card, network interface and so on. Most of the time, when a hardware device's specifications are known, kernel developers can write open source code to communicate with the device. However, some companies do not wish to provide specifications or open source drivers for their hardware. In these cases a company may provide a proprietary piece of code that is available in binary form only (the source code is not available). The kernel can load these binary-only modules and use them to manage the hardware.
The use of a piece of proprietary code, also known as a binary blob, is not ideal. It is very difficult to audit a binary blob to find out what it does and, if a driver proves to be unstable, kernel developers are unable to fix the blob as they do not have the code which created the blob. Philosophically, binary blobs also raise a problem. As users are unable to read or edit the code of a binary blob, the user is unable to completely control or modify a system which includes these blobs.
People who wish to run entirely pure free software operating systems, for either technical or philosophical reasons, want the kernel to only use code that can be audited and modified. To achieve this, any binary blobs must be removed from the kernel. Stripping the binary only pieces from the kernel is called deblobbing the kernel. A deblobbed kernel is one which has had the proprietary drivers and firmware removed. This means the user is running an entirely open source kernel. More information on these blob-free kernels can be found on the GNU Linux-libre website.
A deblobbed Linux kernel will not be able to work with as many different types of hardware. Because of this limitation most Linux distributions ship with kernel binary blobs included in the default installation. For most users it is more practical to run a kernel with binary blobs as it will support the most hardware. However, for people who wish to run a completely free software operating system, a deblobbed (or libre) kernel is preferred. For people interested in running a Linux distribution which includes only free and open source software with no proprietary blobs, we have a list of libre Linux distributions on our Search page.
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More answers can be found in our Questions and Answers archive.
|Released Last Week
KaOS 2017.06 has been released. This desktop distribution is one of the first that ship with the recently-released Plasma Desktop 5.10.0 and Qt toolkit 5.9.0: "KaOS is pleased to announce the 2017.06 release. Just days after Qt 5.9.0 and Plasma 5.10.0 were announced, you can already have both in this new release. Highlights of Plasma 5.10.0 include: Task Manager gaining options for new middle mouse clicks, such as grouping and ungrouping applications; media controls and virtual keyboard on lock screen; revamped password dialog for network authentication; performance optimizations in Pager and Task Manager; the security of the lock screen architecture was reworked and simplified; file copying notifications have a context menu on previews. Plasma developers are working on two new Music Players and both are now included in the KaOS repositories. Babe has become the default player on this release, while Elisa is available as an option. Other recent additions include git GUI applications QGit and QDirStat and a graphical application to show where your disk space has gone." Read the rest of the release announcement for further information and screenshots.
ROSA R9 "LXQt"
Vladimir Potapov has announced the release of ROSA R9 "LXQt" edition, a desktop-focused Linux distribution featuring the lightweight LXQt 0.11 desktop: "LXQt is the most lightweight and ascetic ROSA R9 edition. It is designed for machines which are not rich in resources (e.g. netbooks) and for users who like immediate reaction for any action. This ROSA will feel good even if you only have 512 MB of RAM. Specifics of LXQt in ROSA R9: all LXQt components are based on the freshest 0.11 branch with simplified ROSA theme, without compositing and desktop effects; we use NewMoon (PaleMoon) web browser - although compatible with Firefox ESR (which is used as a basis), it consumes significantly fewer resources; default installation includes some additional components for Internet users - Pidgin, qBitTorrent, Trojitá; the nomacs image viewer is installed by default, it also provides basic image manipulation facilities; Rosa Media Player and Audacious are included." See the release announcement (in Russian, includes screenshot) and release notes (in English) for more information.
MX Linux 16.1
The MX Linux team has announced the release of a new version of their Debian-based distribution. The new release, MX Linux 16.1, now supports home directory encryption, offers the Adobe Flash plug-in on the installation media and features LibreOffice 5.2.6. "So what's new in MX-16? 1. Installer improvements: The installer now supports home folder encryption. This is an experimental feature. An issue with partition boot flags that affected certain makes of PC (Dell) has been corrected. Auto-install now works for UEFI systems. 2. We now have new official Adobe Flash included on the ISO, thanks to recently received permission from Adobe. MX-Flash is not on the ISO and is now deprecated. Install/uninstall option via the regular package managers, including MX-Packageinstaller on the 'Popular Apps' tab. Note our Adobe Flash package will work with both Firefox and Chromium (includes original classic NPAPI and the PPAPI plugins ie: pepperflash). 3. Tweaks to default user interface, including a new default theme and new MX-Linux wallpapers..." Further details can be found in the project's release announcement.
MX Linux 16.1 -- Default desktop environment
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Robolinux is a Debian-based desktop Linux distribution. The project has announced the release of a new version, Robolinux 8.8.1, which is built on Debian 8 "Jessie" and features up to date versions of Firefox and Thunderbird, along with improvements to the MATE and Xfce desktop environments: "This is another major Robolinux upgrade entailing several months of hard work finding every way possible to improve the speed and functionality of our 8 Raptor versions. All Robolinux Raptor 8.8.1 versions including our recent release of MATE 3D and Xfce 3D are based on 100% rock solid current Debian 8 Stable source code running the newest Debian 3.16 Linux kernel plus over 200 important upstream security and Application updates, Firefox 53.0 and Thunderbird 45.6.0 As usual all four of the epic new 32- and 64-bit Robolinux Raptor Version 8.8.1 editions come with over 120 custom built wifi, video and printer drivers and can run Windows XP, 7 and 10 virus free inside. Every version is loaded with many popular one click installer applications such as the Tor browser, i2P, several very popular multimedia apps, Google Chrome, Google Earth, Skype and VirtualBox plus 12 incredibly powerful security and privacy apps to keep our users safe!" The release announcement has further details. Robolinux is available in four editions: Xfce, LXDE, MATE and Cinnamon.
KXStudio is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution with a KDE 4 desktop and a large collection of applications and plugins designed for professional audio production. An updated build, version 14.04.5, was released yesterday: "It's time for another KXStudio release. KXStudio 14.04.5 is here. Lots have changed in the applications and plugins for Linux audio (even in KXStudio itself), so it was about time to see those ISO images updated. Behind the scenes, from what the user can see, it might appear as nothing has truly changed. After all, this is an updated image still based on Ubuntu 14.04, like those from 2 years ago. But we had a really big amount of releases for our beloved software, enough to deserve this small ISO update. There is no list of changes this time, sorry. The main thing worth mentioning is that base system is exactly the same, with only applications and plugins updated. You know the saying - if it ain't broken, don't fix it. Before you ask... no, there won't be a 16.04-based ISO release." Here is the full release announcement as published on the project's News page.
Matthias Klumpp has announced the release of Tanglu 4.0 which carries the code name "Dasyatis". The Debian-based distribution was in development for longer than expected which Klumpp addresses in the release announcement: "Tanglu 4 comes - due to being frozen for far too long - without the latest and greatest packages, but still with some notable changes. The KDE Plasma version is at 5.8, while the GNOME desktop is available in version 3.20 with some pieces from GNOME 3.22. The KDE Plasma design was updated with some suggestions from KDE designers at Akademy last year. Tanglu is a fully usrmerged system by default now, with no option to switch back to split-/usr or opt-in option (like in previous releases). Additionally, we support installing on UEFI systems without legacy mode now, which was a much requested feature and took quite a while to make it work reliably with the Calamares installer. We do not, however, support secure boot on EFI systems yet." Tanglu 4.0 is available in three editions: Core, KDE and GNOME.
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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. We also maintain a Torrents RSS feed for people who wish to have open source torrents delivered to them. Thanks to Linux Tracker we are able to share the following torrent statistics.
Torrent Corner statistics:
- Total torrents seeded: 439
- Total data uploaded: 66.4TB
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
The Linux-libre kernel
In this week's Questions and Answers column we discussed what kernel binary blobs are and mentioned some projects remove them. Some distributions take a philosophical stance against non-free kernel blobs while others see these blobs as a potential security risk.
We would like to find out how many of our readers are running a kernel with the binary blobs removed. If you are running a Linux distribution with a Linux-libre kernel, please let us know which one it is in the comments section.
You can see the results of our previous poll on using the Devuan GNU+Linux distribution in last week's edition. All previous poll results can be found in our poll archives.
The Linux-libre kernel
|I run an OS with binary kernel blobs: ||1004 (69%)|
| I run an OS without binary kernel blobs: ||150 (10%)|
| Unsure: ||296 (20%)|
Improving search for init software
This past week we rolled out a new search filter on our Search page. The new filter, named Init Software makes it easier to find distributions which ship with a specific init implementation. Though still being worked on, the new init software filter should make it easier to find distributions using a specific init implementation.
In recent months we have been receiving more requests to provide a way to locate distributions which do not feature the systemd init software. While we had a method for this in place, the old search method could become confused when a distribution had systemd in its repositories, but not installed by default. The new search filter focuses on which init software is used by default, ignoring other options in a distribution's repositories. This should make searches for non-systemd distributions more accurate.
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New projects added to database
SwagArch is a GNU/Linux desktop distribution based on Arch Linux. The SwagArch distribution features a live DVD that runs the Xfce desktop and uses the Calamares graphical system installer. SwagArch offers popular FOSS applications pre-installed, including Firefox and the VLC multimedia player.
SwagArch GNU/Linux 2017.06 -- Running the Xfce desktop
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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, 19 June 2017. Past articles and reviews can be found through our Article Search page. To contact the authors please send e-mail to:
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