| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 726, 21 August 2017
Welcome to this year's 34th issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
The Gentoo project develops a popular, source-based operating system that is well known for its flexibility. Not many projects are based directly on Gentoo these days, but one young project, Redcore Linux, is working to provide a user friendly desktop distribution based on Gentoo. Our Feature Story explores Redcore Linux and what it is like using it as a desktop system. Rolling release platforms are also the topic of our Questions and Answers column. Rolling release operating systems are a good way to keep up to date with the latest available software and we explore rolling release options for BSD users. In our News section we talk about Snap support arriving on Solus, KaOS adopting a hardened Linux kernel and mobile devices running Debian. We also report on Gentoo phasing out their security hardened kernel. In our Opinion Poll we ask how many of our readers are running a flavour of BSD. Plus we share the releases of the past week and provide a list of torrents we are seeding. We wish you all a terrific week and happy reading!
- Review: Redcore Linux 1706
- News: Solus adds Snap support, KaOS provides hardened kernel, Gentoo drops hardened kernel, running Debian on mobile devices
- Questions and answers: Rolling releases and BSD
- Released last week: Solus 3, Raspbian 2017-08-16, feren OS 2017.08
- Torrent corner: feren OS, NuTyX, Raspbian, SharkLinux, SmartOS, Solus, Voyager
- Opinion poll: Running a BSD flavour
- Reader comments
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (69MB) and MP3 (57MB) formats.
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Redcore Linux 1706
Redcore Linux is a desktop distribution based on the source-based Gentoo project. Redcore is designed to be quick and easy to install on laptop and desktop computers. The distribution ships with LXQt as the default desktop environment and there is just the one edition of Redcore we can download. Its installation media is built to run exclusively on 64-bit x86 computers.
Booting from Redcore's installation media brings us to a graphical login screen where we can sign into the live desktop environment using "redcore" as both the username and password. Later, if we need to access administrative functions we can elevate our privileges using "root" as both the username and password.
Signing into the live session brings up the LXQt 0.11.0 desktop. A panel runs across the bottom of the screen, providing us with access to the system's application menu, task switcher and system tray. On the desktop we find icons for launching the project's system installer and another for getting help. The latter icon opens a web browser and connects us to a web-based IRC chat room where we can interact with other Redcore users.
Redcore utilizes the Calamares graphical system installer to get the distribution installed to a local disk drive. Calamares begins by asking us to select our preferred language from a list. We are then quickly walked through picking our time zone, confirming our keyboard's layout and partitioning the hard disk. Calamares supports either automatically taking over a portion of the disk or letting us manually partition the drive. Manual partitioning is fairly straight forward and I found Calamares provides a fairly streamlined series of options. The partitioning screen also lets us choose where to install the distribution's boot loader. Calamares then asks us to create a username and password we can use to login later. We then wait for Calamares to copy its files to our drive and, afterwards, we can reboot the computer to try our pristine copy of Redcore Linux.
When Redcore boots, we are presented with a graphical login screen where we can sign into either the LXQt desktop or a minimal, Openbox environment. I stuck with using the LXQt environment during my trial. Next to the application menu, on the panel at the bottom of the display, there is an area where we can drag-and-drop icons. This allows us to grab icons from the application menu and pull them down to the panel, creating quick-launch buttons.
Redcore Linux 1706 -- The default LXQt theme
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The LXQt environment was responsive and rarely did I see any notifications or other distractions. Though I did find my eyes tended to be drawn toward the red border that surrounds open application windows. The borders are not only colourful, but also thin and I found it difficult to click the edges in order to resize windows while the default theme was in use.
Also on the subject of the appearance of windows, I noticed different applications featured different colour schemes. For example, the QupZilla web browser uses just about every colour of icon and decoration, LibreOffice offers a blue-on-grey theme which reminds me of Windows 95. The VLC application mixes greys and red while the file manager uses a lot of yellow and red. With the default theme the Notepadqq text editor and qBittorrent application were unable to display their drop-down menus. When the menu was clicked, an empty, black box would be displayed where the menu should be. The user can still click on menu entries, but cannot see what they are selecting as the text and background are both black. This can be fixed by switching to an alternative theme in the desktop's settings panel.
Redcore Linux 1706 -- Trying a lighter theme
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The LXQt desktop includes a settings panel where we can open modules for adjusting the look and feel of the desktop environment. Most of these tools deal with application themes, the wallpaper and window behaviour. There are also tools for changing our locale settings, setting up new user accounts and connecting to printers. The settings panel also includes a launcher for the Connman UI network configuration utility. These tools all worked well for me. There are relatively few tools in the settings panel, but each module contains many options, giving us a good deal of power over Redcore's desktop interface.
Redcore Linux 1706 -- Adjusting network settings with Connman
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I explored running Redcore in two test environments, a desktop computer and a VirtualBox virtual machine. Redcore ran fairly well in the VirtualBox environment. It automatically integrated with VirtualBox and I was able to use my host computer's full screen resolution. Redcore's desktop was responsive and the distribution proved to be stable.
When I tried to run Redcore on the desktop computer I ran into a number of problems. The distribution's live disc was unable to boot at all when my desktop computer was set to boot in Legacy BIOS mode. When my computer was booting in UEFI mode the distribution's live disc would lock up during the boot process. I was able to work around this by booting with the "nomodeset" kernel parameter, but this left me with a live environment that was command line only. The X graphical display software would fail to launch, cutting me off from the LXQt desktop and the Calamares system installer. This left me to play with Redcore in the VirtualBox environment only.
Redcore ships with a desktop utility for setting up printers, however the distribution does not include drivers for my HP wireless printer. This driver needs to be found and installed manually in order to get the printer to work.
Redcore Linux 1706 -- Exploring applications and alternative themes
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A fresh install of Redcore Linux, when sitting idle at the LXQt desktop, used 190MB of memory. While Redcore was light on memory, the distribution used an unusually large amount of disk space. A fresh install of Redcore took up 6.6GB of disk drive space. After I had installed software updates, this expanded further, to 11GB of disk space. This was before I had added any applications of my own. For comparison, most Debian-based distributions I use require about 11-12GB of space with multiple desktop environments, applications, libraries and development tools installed.
Redcore ships with a slightly unusual collection of default software. For instance, the distribution uses QupZilla (without Flash support) as the default web browser. Redcore ships with the WMail e-mail client for accessing GMail accounts and qBittorrent for downloading and sharing torrents. The distribution also supplies users with the QuiteRSS feed reader, the Konversation IRC client and the FileZilla file transfer program. The Connman UI application is present to help us connect to the Internet and qpdfview is available for reading PDF files. The default music player is the minimal Qmmp application and virtual machines can be managed with the AQEMU application. There is a TV viewer which offers dozens of channels we can supposedly watch for free. I tried a handful and the TV client was unable to successfully connect to any of them.
There are some more common applications in the mix too, including the LibreOffice suite, the KDE Partition Manager and the K3b disc burning software. The VLC and mpv media players are present too. Inkscape and GIMP are available to help us edit images. Redcore's default file manager is PCManFM. Steam is present to help us download and run games from Valve's store.
Digging further we find Redcore ships with two compilers, the GNU Compiler Collection (version 5.4.0) and Clang (version 4.0.1). The distribution runs on version 4.9.30 of the Linux kernel, though these versions will ease upward over time due to Redcore's rolling nature. The SysV init software is present, but service management on Redcore is handled by OpenRC.
Redcore Linux 1706 -- Running QupZilla and LibreOffice
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Software management on Redcore can be handled through a number of tools, but the project's documentation focuses on the Sisyphus package manager. Sisyphus acts as a friendly front-end for Gentoo-based technologies such as the emerge software manager. Using Sisyphus, we can issue simple command line instructions to install, find, remove and upgrade software on the operating system. Sisyphus, and the emerge back-end, function well, but they are quite a bit slower than other package managers such as Pacman and APT. It takes a few minute to even check for new software upgrades after we have already updated our repository information. Despite this speed penalty, Sisyphus completed all of its functions successfully.
When I first started using Redcore there were 110 software updates waiting to be installed; their total size was not given. These upgrades were installed successfully. I noted that, following a kernel update, the next time I booted Redcore, the operating system paused to rebuild kernel modules. This added a few minutes to my boot time. Something else I noticed when using Sisyphus was when I was installing updates I received a steady stream of warnings concerning my locale settings. I ran into no problems as a result of these warnings, but I did decide to adjust my locale settings in the distribution's settings panel to remove the warnings.
Redcore Linux 1706 -- The Sisyphus graphical package manager
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Sisyphus has a graphical front-end. This program, sisyphus-gui, displays a list of available software along with a brief description. The Sisyphus front-end does not have many features. We can highlight a single package and click a button to install or remove the package. We can also click a button to install all available software updates. The graphical front-end appears to still be in its very early stages and does not appear to offer methods for searching for specific packages or filtering packages.
Going into this experiment with Redcore Linux, I was cautiously optimistic. It is not all that often I come across Gentoo-based desktop distributions (Calculate Linux and Sabayon being notable exceptions). I was aware Redcore was a relatively young project and I was curious to see what, if any, unique experiences the project could offer.
Redcore is definitely unusual in a few ways. Apart from being a relatively rare Gentoo-based distribution, the project ships with an unusual collection of software, much of it Qt-based. I find it interesting Redcore is working on its own graphical package manager to work with software. I also find it appealing that Redcore defaults to using binary packages, but the user could easily use Gentoo's source-based Portage system to build software from source code.
There were several minor issues I ran into throughout the week which started to add up after a while. While Redcore worked inside VirtualBox, the distribution did not play well with my desktop computer, particularly the video card. The package manager, while powerful, was slow and installing new packages and upgrades took an unusually long time.
There were a number of theme and locale issues on Redcore which caused me to switch themes, tweak the window manager and change my locale during my week with the distribution. Each of these were small issues, but ones which should be sorted out to provide a smooth desktop experience.
On the whole Redcore offered a fast, responsive environment in which to work and up to date software. The application selection is a little unusual, but I welcomed the variety as it introduced me to a few desktop applications I hadn't tried before.
Redcore might need a little time to mature before I will recommend it, there are still rough edges to polish. I like the general design, but there are some implementation issues to sort out which will hopefully be addressed as more people try Redcore and submit bug reports.
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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
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Visitor supplied rating
Redcore Linux has a visitor supplied average rating of: 6.8/10 from 46 review(s).
Have you used Redcore Linux? You can leave your own review of the project on our ratings page.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Solus adds Snap support, KaOS provides hardened kernel, Gentoo drops hardened kernel, running Debian on mobile devices
The Solus project has announced that support for installing and running Snap portable packages has been added to their distribution. Ikey Doherty posted the change, writing simply: "Include snapd in the Budgie ISO by default." Back in January the Solus project announced that the distribution would provide third-party software to its users using Flatpak portable packages. At this time, Solus is one of a growing number of Linux distributions which support both of the increasingly popular portable packaging formats.
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The KaOS project develops a rolling release distribution which focuses on providing a polished experience with the KDE Plasma desktop environment. The project's latest status update, mentions a number of changes coming to the distribution, including changes to the default look and the availability of new packages in the project's repositories. One of the big changes involves the Linux kernel: "The biggest change to announce is one that is being tested with the Linux-next kernel. This kernel has moved to the hardened patch set, which provides an improved implementation of Address Space Layout Randomization for userspace processes. Linux-hardened started after Grsecurity was no longer available as an open source option and is a supplement to upstream kernel hardening work by the Kernel Self Protection Project. See the Linux ASLR comparison for more information. Testing is going well, so expect the next stable kernel to move to hardened too. The plan is to have this happening in early September and with that, a new ISO will be released."
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While the KaOS team prepares a new hardened kernel for their distribution, the Gentoo project is planning to discontinue their hardened Linux kernel. This change is largely due to restrictions placed on the distribution of security patches from grsecurity. "As you may know the core of sys-kernel/hardened-sources has been the grsecurity patches. Recently the grsecurity developers have decided to limit access to these patches. As a result, the Gentoo Hardened team is unable to ensure a regular patching schedule and therefore the security of the users of these kernel sources. Thus, we will be masking hardened-sources on the 27th of August and will proceed to remove them from the package repository by the end of September. We recommend to use sys-kernel/gentoo-sources instead. Userspace hardening and support for SELinux will of course remain in the Gentoo package tree." More detailed information can be found in the Gentoo project's announcement.
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One of the topics up for discussion at the DebConf17 conference was Debian on mobile devices. W. Martin Borgert reports that over 50 people gathered to discuss Debian running on handheld devices. "Work on Debian for mobile devices, i.e. telephones, tablets, and handheld computers, continues. During the recent DebConf17 in Montréal, Canada, more than 50 people had a meeting to reconsider opportunities and challenges for Debian on mobile devices. A number of devices were shown at DebConf: PocketCHIP: A very small handheld computer with keyboard, Wi-Fi, USB, and Bluetooth, running Debian 8 (Jessie) or 9 (Stretch). Pyra: A modular handheld computer with a touchscreen, gaming controls, Wi-Fi, keyboard, multiple USB ports and SD card slots, and an optional modem for either Europe or the USA. It will come pre-installed with Debian. Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G: An Android smart phone featuring a physical keyboard, which can already run portions of Debian userspace on the Android kernel. Kernel upstreaming is on the way. ZeroPhone: An open-source smart phone based on Raspberry Pi Zero, with a small screen, classic telephone keypad and hardware switches for telephony, Wi-Fi, and the microphone. It is running Debian-based Raspbian OS." More information on the efforts to port Debian to mobile devices can be found in this news post.
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These and other news stories can be found on our Headlines page.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Rolling releases and BSD
Rolling-with-a-different-operating-system asks: I've been using rolling releases like Manjaro/Arch for a while now and love them. I'm thinking of trying BSD for something new and wondering if there is an equivalent BSD rolling release?
DistroWatch answers: The popular flavours of BSD (FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD) are structured a bit differently than most Linux distributions, which means rolling release Linux distributions will not offer a direct apples-to-apples comparison with the BSDs. Most Linux distributions are organized in a way that means all the various packages on the system are either fixed or rolling. If you run a fixed release Linux distribution then your kernel, desktop environment and productivity suite are usually all set at a fixed version. And, if you run a rolling release Linux distribution, then your kernel, desktop and productivity software all get regular upgrades. There are a few exceptions, but most Linux distributions are either entirely fixed or entirely rolling as all packages are upgraded (or not) under the same policy.
The BSDs separate their core systems (kernel, compiler and core command line tools) from the software which is packaged for the operating system. This means, with the default configuration, most BSDs will offer a fixed, stable operating system. However, the packages which we install on top of the BSDs typically get regular upgrades. This means the kernel, drivers and some necessary tools are stable while the desktop software and services we run on the BSDs are usually up to date in a rolling (or semi-rolling) release manner.
While the default behaviour of the BSDs is usually to provide a stable, fixed core under steadily updated applications, we can adjust the system to behave differently. Each of the major BSD projects has a development branch (also known as a "-current" branch) as well as a stable branch (sometimes called a "-release" branch). This means that if we really want to, we can set up a BSD installation so that both the core operating system and its packages are constantly updating. This is a bit more risky and probably not a benefit unless we want to try out the latest drivers or engage in development efforts, but the option is there.
The TrueOS project, which is based on FreeBSD, is unusual in that both the core system and the packages we can install on it are designed to receive regular updates. TrueOS uses FreeBSD's development branch at its core and offers either full rolling or semi-rolling package upgrades. If you really want to be on the cutting edge of BSD development then TrueOS is probably your best chance to experience a rolling release BSD flavour. TrueOS also has the benefit of featuring a graphical system installer which makes it fairly easy for newcomers to try the operating system.
Before you decide whether you want to run a completely rolling release BSD system or a fixed release with up to date packages, there is another piece of information to consider. Because the BSDs separate their core operating system from third-party software, the core system remains relatively small. It is possible (one might say expected) that BSD users running a stable branch will upgrade the core of the operating system on a semi-regular basis, perhaps once per year. This upgrade of the base system is usually quick and relatively painless when compared next to upgrading the entirety of a GNU/Linux distribution. When most Linux distributions upgrade, all the packages on the system are upgraded as a whole. With the BSDs, the separation of core system and packages means the small core can be updated quickly to the latest, stable release. This leap frogging between stable versions is less risky than running the latest development snapshots while still keeping the base system fairly to date with new features.
Before selecting a flavour of BSD to try, I recommend reading the documentation on upgrading each project to get a better feel for how each operating system is maintained. Here is some relevant documentation for each project: OpenBSD flavours and upgrading OpenBSD; upgrading FreeBSD; upgrading NetBSD; and updating TrueOS.
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More answers can be found in our Questions and Answers archive.
|Released Last Week
Solus is an independently developed desktop Linux distribution. While the distribution is available in three editions (Budgie, GNOME and MATE), the project is perhaps best known for its work showcasing the Budgie desktop environment on a rolling release platform. The project's latest release, Solus 3, features Firefox 55, LibreOffice 5.4, and a cutting edge version of the Linux kernel: "This new major version of Solus is now based on the latest stable branch of the Linux kernel, 4.12.7. This switch enables various hardware improvements for the latest AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA hardware. Users of the existing Linux-LTS kernel will continue to receive updates indefinitely, with the next major update to this branch scheduled to land in or around September. Furthermore, we've enabled AppArmor LSM by default to provide functionality for snapd confining, as well as the introduction of a fully functioning Linux Security Module within our kernel builds." Additional information can be found in the project's release announcement.
Solus 3 -- The Budgie desktop
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Raspbian is a special build of the Debian operating system for Raspberry Pi computers. The Raspbian project has released a new version of their operating system which is now based on Debian 9 "Stretch". "It's now just under two years since we released the Jessie version of Raspbian. Those of you who know that Debian run their releases on a two-year cycle will therefore have been wondering when we might be releasing the next version, codenamed Stretch. Well, wonder no longer - Raspbian Stretch is available for download today! Debian releases are named after characters from Disney Pixar's Toy Story trilogy. In case, like me, you were wondering: Stretch is a purple octopus from Toy Story 3. Hi, Stretch! The differences between Jessie and Stretch are mostly under-the-hood optimisations, and you really shouldn't notice any differences in day-to-day use of the desktop and applications. (If you're really interested, the technical details are in the Debian release notes." A list of important changes and screen shots can be found in the Raspbian release announcement. The distribution is available in full and Lite editions.
feren OS 2017.08
The feren OS distribution is a desktop operating system based on Linux Mint that ships with the Cinnamon desktop environment. The project has announced that it is moving forward as a rolling release distribution, based off Linux Mint 18.2. The new snapshot features a number of other improvements, including making optional components available through the Welcome screen. "After a long time, lot of blood, sweat and tears put into it, and lots of password entering, feren OS is a rolling-release operating system built on the foundations of Linux Mint, designed to be stable. This Snapshot is based on Linux Mint 18.2, and is a defining point for feren OS as a distribution. Changes in this release: Linux Mint base upgraded to 18.2; some applications were removed and are now available for installation from the Welcome screen, Recommended Applications; alternative theme utility Themes is now download-only; feren Welcome has received a huge upgrade, now resizable, movable, themeable; the USB boot issue has now been fixed...." Further information, along with instructions for dealing with incompatible video drivers can be found in the project's release announcement.
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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. To share your own open source torrents of Linux and BSD projects, please visit our Upload Torrents page.
Torrent Corner statistics:
- Total torrents seeded: 535
- Total data uploaded: 15.1TB
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
Running a BSD flavour
The various BSD projects tend not to get as much attention as their Linux cousins, but flavours of BSD run a significant number of the world's servers, NAS devices, firewalls and workstations. This week we would like to find out how many of our readers are running a flavour of BSD. Please let us know which BSD operating system you run, if any, in the comments.
You can see the results of our previous poll on playing games on Linux in last week's edition. All previous poll results can be found in our poll archives.
Running a BSD flavour
|I do run a flavour of BSD: ||378 (20%)|
| I run multiple flavours of BSD: ||118 (6%)|
| I do not run any of the BSDs: ||1366 (73%)|
DistroWatch database summary
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This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 28 August 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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