| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 734, 16 October 2017
Welcome to this year's 42nd issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
Last week our Opinion Poll explored the place of 32-bit operating systems in the open source ecosystem and whether it was worth the effort for developers to maintain 32-bit builds. This week we begin with a look at Star, a Devuan-based operating system which offers a variety of lightweight desktop environments. One of Star's editions is presented as a 32-bit build and we take the 32-bit build of Star for a test drive in our Feature Story. This week we also talk about installing a version of the Linux kernel that has the non-free components removed. In our News section we cover Ubuntu MATE experimenting with snap packages, Revenge OS seeking volunteers and the Purism organization reaching its funding goals for a privacy-oriented phone which will run GNU/Linux. We also cover the Debian project releasing new installation media. Plus we share the releases of the past week and list the torrents we are seeding. This week our Opinion Poll asks if you keep utility discs on hand to deal with operating system problems and data recovery. Finally, we are pleased to welcome the Artix Linux distribution to our database. We wish you all a wonderful week and happy reading!
- Review: Star 1.0.1 - lightweight desktops on a Devuan base
- News: Ubuntu MATE experiments with snaps, Revenge OS project seeking volunteers, Purism reaches funding goal, Debian releases fresh install media
- Tips and tricks: Running the Linux-libre kernel
- Released last week: OpenBSD 6.2, Q4OS 2.4, ExTiX 17.8
- Torrent corner: Debian, DragonFly BSD, ExTiX, GParted Live, OpenBSD, pfSense, Q4OS
- Upcoming releases: Ubuntu 17.10
- Opinion poll: Utility discs
- New additions: Artix Linux
- New distributions: Condres OS GNU/Linux, SimbiOS
- Reader comments
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
Star 1.0.1 - lightweight desktops on a Devuan base
Star is a Devuan-based distribution designed to be run with lightweight desktop environments. The latest release of Star is based on Devuan 1.0.0 "Jessie" and is available in Xfce, Fluxbox, JWM, OpenBox, i3 and network-install editions. The ISO files for these editions range in size from 234MB (for the network-install option) up to 648MB for the Xfce edition, meaning each edition is small enough to fit on a CD. Most of the available ISO files are built for 64-bit x86 computers, but one of Star's newest editions runs the JWM graphical environment on a 32-bit operating system. The 32-bit JWM edition is 526MB in size and it is the one I selected for my trial.
Booting from the Star disc brings up a boot menu offering to launch the distribution's live desktop environment, launch a text-based installer or a graphical installer. Taking the live edition quickly brings up the minimal JWM environment. The window manager presents us with a mostly empty, black interface. At the top of the screen is a panel that holds the application menu, some quick-launch buttons, the task switcher and system tray. Displayed across the bottom of the screen is a status bar which provides a rough overview of our computer's CPU, memory and network resource usage. We can right-click on empty parts of the desktop to bring up an application menu.
We can launch Star's system installer from the application menu or from the live media's boot menu. I decided to use the graphical installer, which Star inherits from Devuan and, by extension, Debian. The installer has more steps in it than most modern installers, but the information it asks us for is mostly the same. We are asked to provide our location and preferred language. The installer gets us to create a password for the administrator's account and to create a username and password for our own, separate account. The system installer then walks us through partitioning our hard drive and can support either manual or guided partitioning. I like the guided option because it will give us a good default layout and then we have the option of tweaking the suggested partitions. Star's installer supports working with ext2/3/4, JFS, XFS and Btrfs partitions and I went with the recommended ext4. We are then asked to select a nearby package mirror from a list and given the option of installing the GRUB boot loader. When the installer finishes, we are returned to the JWM interface where we can continue to explore the live environment.
Star boots to a mostly blank screen that contains a box where we can type in our account's username and password. Once our credentials have been supplied we are signed into the JWM interface. The first time we sign in, a virtual terminal window opens and runs a welcome script. This script is called star-welcome and presents us with a short list of options the script will help us automate. We can select which options we want to run from a text menu. Some of the welcome screen's options are fairly clear and provide a way for us to update our package manager's information and install security upgrades. There are some other menu items which are not immediately clear; three of the options were labeled "office-print", "media-graphics" and "other". Selecting an option brings us a screen with a brief description of the option. For example, "office-print" gives us the options of installing LibreOffice and printer support. The "media-graphics" menu optionally installs the PulseAudio sound software and the GNU Image Manipulation Program while the "other" menu option installs Java on the operating system. Each option tells us what it will do and prompts for confirmation before proceeding so it is safe to select a menu item even if its label does not clearly explain its function.
Star 1.0.1 -- Running the Firefox web browser
(full image size: 113kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Once I had finished browsing the welcome script, the virtual terminal closed and left me to explore the JWM interface. The default theme is dark, matching the default black background. The desktop interface is very responsive and simple with little clutter or distractions, apart from the status panel at the bottom of the display.
Star does not feature any method for letting us know when software updates are available. We can manually check for new security updates by launching the Synaptic package manager or by using the distribution's APT command line tools. I mostly used Synaptic, which takes a package-oriented approach to handling software. Synaptic also has convenient functions for installing all available software upgrades and managing (enabling and disabling) additional software repositories. When I began using Star, there were 18 new software updates available, totaling just 37MB in size. These updates were quickly and cleanly installed by Synaptic.
Star 1.0.1 -- Managing packages in Synaptic
(full image size: 119kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
While I was using Synaptic, I noticed that the distribution recognized a few third-party software repositories, such as one for the VirtualBox virtual machine software and another for the Chrome web browser. Enabling these repositories caused an error because the signing keys used to secure the repositories were not recognized. These keys need to be located and enabled separately by the administrator before the repositories can be used. This seems like a bug as the distribution should probably already recognize the keys for any repository available in its default configuration. In addition to these two repositories, Star is also compatible with Debian 8 "Jessie". This may be important for many users because Star, by default, does not provide non-free software packages and non-free items can be found in Debian's optional repositories.
I tried running Star in two test environments, on a laptop and in a VirtualBox virtual machine. I was pleased to find everything worked on the laptop. The system booted quickly, the desktop was responsive and the sound volume was set to a medium level. My laptop's screen was automatically set to its full resolution. The only quirk I ran into while using the laptop was Star disabled my wireless card by default. At first I thought the wireless card was missing a driver, but found I simply needed to toggle on wireless networking using the networking system tray applet.
When running Star inside VirtualBox the distribution performed well. The only issue I ran into in the virtual environment was Star was unable to use my computer's full screen resolution. There were no VirtualBox guest modules in the distribution's default software repositories. To get around this, I installed build tools (using Star's welcome script) and then install VirtualBox's generic guest modules. This allowed me to use my host system's full screen resolution.
Star 1.0.1 -- Adjusting desktop settings
(full image size: 126kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
In both test environments, Star was quick and light on resources. The distribution required just 70MB of RAM when logged into the JWM interface. A default installation of the distribution used about 1.3GB of disk space, relatively light compared to most distributions I have run recently.
Star is a distribution which is design to provide us with a minimal desktop environment where we can build and shape our operating system. However, there are a handful of common utilities included with the distribution. Firefox 45 ESR is featured (without Flash support). The MPV media player is installed for us along with the Xfburn disc burning software. The application menu features a short-cut for opening the ALSA audio volume controls, along with a link to the Htop process monitor and the GParted disk partition manager. The Mirage image viewer is included along with a PDF viewer, an archive manager, calculator and text editor. The system's default file manager is PCManFM.
The application menu also features a handful of entries that, when clicked, open JWM's configuration text files in an editor. This provides us with a way to manage the JWM environment and programs which run automatically when we login. Editing text files is not a user friendly approach, but I found it worked when I could find the option I wanted to change.
Digging further into Star's default software I found the project ships with SysV init and version 3.16 of the Linux kernel. The usual GNU command line utilities are included too, but beyond that we need to install the software we want to use on the system. For example, unlike most other Linux distributions, Star does not include the OpenSSH client software (ssh, sftp and scp) - these programs can be installed from Star's default repositories. In a similar manner, LibreOffice is not included in Star by default, but it is available through the package manager and through the welcome script. When I installed LibreOffice, the suite was not added to my application menu and I found I had to launch LibreOffice from the command line or from JWM's program launcher.
Star 1.0.1 -- Adjusting volume levels
(full image size: 159kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
I ran into one curious bug involving manual pages. Most Linux distributions include manual pages (often called man pages), though some omit the documentation to save space. Star includes the man command and entries for every command's manual page are included, but all of the manual pages are empty. (The files for each manual page are zero bytes in size.) This causes the man command to recognize program names we give to it, but man only ever displays a blank page.
One final problem I ran into concerned the MPV media player. When I tried to launch the player from either the application menu or command line, MPV would immediately crash. I was able to install other media players, such as Rhythmbox and VLC, to handle playing media files. In the VirtualBox environment I found VLC was unable to play video files and would crash if I tried to play a video. Audio files, however, would play successfully in VLC. This inability to play video files appears to be an issue specific to the VirtualBox environment. While desktop players consistently crashed when asked to play video files, I found I was able to play YouTube videos in the Firefox browser without any issues.
On the whole, I like the ideas presented in Star's design. The distribution is basically Devuan and pulls packages from Devuan's software repositories, but the live media and lightweight environments are great for testing the distribution and for breathing life into older computers. While this approach of starting light and adding only what we need is a solid concept, and proved to be very forgiving on resources, there are some rough edges in the implementation. The missing manual pages, for example, and the media player issues I ran into posed problems.
A few programs I used flashed warning messages letting me know PulseAudio was not available as Star uses the ALSA sound system by default. Strictly speaking, PulseAudio is not required most of the time and, if we do run into a situation where it is needed, we can install PulseAudio easily enough by rerunning Star's welcome script.
The default JWM environment is very plain and empty, which suited me. My only complaint was the constantly updating Conky status panel at the bottom of the screen. I was able to disable Conky, but it required digging into JWM's configuration files. Which brings me to another point: many users will probably prefer to try heavier editions of Star (like Xfce) to gain access to more user friendly configuration tools. The JWM edition is intentionally bare bones and probably best suited to more experienced users.
One last observation I had while using Star is that it is based on Devuan 1.0.0, which presents us with software that is about three years old (or more) at this point. This means some packages, like LibreOffice, are notably behind upstream versions. Since Star is best suited for older computers, this may not be an issue for most users, but it is worth keeping in mind that Star's software repository is a few years old at this point.
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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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Visitor supplied rating
Star has a visitor supplied average rating of: 9.7/10 from 15 review(s).
Have you used Star? You can leave your own review of the project on our ratings page.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Ubuntu MATE experiments with snaps, Revenge OS project seeking volunteers, Purism reaches funding goal, Debian releases fresh install media
The Ubuntu MATE team is testing the concept of bundling snap packages in the default installation of the distribution. The developers have added a snap for the pulsemixer terminal-based volume control software and are asking users to test it. "The daily images of Ubuntu MATE 17.10 are now seeded with the pulsemixer snap. We encourage you to download the current daily image, install it and ensure pulsemixer works correctly. Pre-installing snaps by default in the desktop images was an outcome of the Ubuntu Rally that took place in New York a couple of weeks ago. Installing the pulsemixer snap by default in Ubuntu MATE 17.10 is being used as a pilot and what we learn will help the Ubuntu Desktop team with their efforts to ship snaps by default in Ubuntu 18.04. Adding pulsemixer to the default Ubuntu MATE 17.10 has not significantly affected the size of the ISO image. We chose pulsemixer because it is a small, useful application, that has never been available in the Debian or Ubuntu archives.
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Revenge OS (previously called OBRevenge OS) is losing one of its core developers this week. Jody James announced he will be leaving the project, with developer Josiah staying on to maintain the distribution. "Due to personal/health issues, I am no longer going to be able to actively develop and maintain Revenge OS. I apologize for any issues that this causes anyone. I have not made this decision lightly, but I feel that I have no other choice. I am simply no longer able to devote the time and effort that the project, and the end users, deserve. My understanding is that Josiah is going to continue to maintain Revenge OS; however, I'm sure that he would appreciate any help that others in the community could offer." People who would like to get involved may wish to visit the Revenge OS GitHub page.
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In August we reported on a fund raising campaign by Purism. The Purism organization was trying to raise 1.5 million dollars in order to fund a new mobile phone which would have several security and privacy features, along with the ability to run GNU/Linux distributions. The Purism campaign has completed with its funding goals surpassed. The company hopes to ship a GNU/Linux mobile device in early 2019. Both the GNOME and KDE organizations have stated they will be working with the Purism team to provide touch-friendly user interfaces for the new phones.
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About a week after the Debian project released fresh installation media containing bug fixes since the launch of Debian 9, the project has provided a new set of install media. This rapid update fixes a minor bug where packages on the Debian ISO files were sorted in the wrong order. "After the 9.2.0 release was made and published, a bug was found with the sorting of packages in the full DVD, BD and DLBD sets. Due to a glitch on release day, popularity contest data was not available and this caused packages to be sorted incorrectly. This may seem like a comparatively minor issue, but it broke an important feature for some users. After the core set of packages needed for the installer, desktops, etc. are placed onto the first disc in a given set, we normally organise packages in order of decreasing popularity such that most users will typically never need to use more than the first 2 or 3 DVDs (for example). This bug broke that feature, meaning that even quite popular packages could have ended up on DVD#14 due to random sorting." People who have already successfully installed Debian do not need to download the new 9.2.1 disc images.
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These and other news stories can be found on our Headlines page.
|Tips and Tricks (by Jesse Smith)
Running the Linux-libre kernel
Recently we posted a review of Parabola GNU/Linux-libre, a free software distribution which runs on the Linux-libre kernel. For those readers unfamiliar with what Linux-libre is and how it relates to the Linux kernel, the Free Software Foundation's website describes Linux-libre as follows:
Linux-libre is a free/libre version of the kernel Linux suitable for use with the GNU Operating System.
The Linux-libre kernel can be downloaded in various formats from the project's website. I want to quickly go over some of the options for installing the libre kernel. One way we can go is to download the Linux-libre source code and compile it from scratch. This should work on every GNU/Linux distribution that features a compiler and build tools, but it will be a lengthy process and may involve tweaking the kernel's configuration.
It removes non-free components from Linux, that are disguised as source code or distributed in separate files. It also disables run-time requests for non-free components, shipped separately or as part of Linux, and documentation pointing to them.
The GNU Linux-libre project takes a minimal-changes approach to cleaning up Linux, making no effort to substitute components that need to be removed with functionally equivalent free/libre ones.
Most people will probably be more comfortable using pre-built binary packages. The Linux-libre project offers pre-built kernels for distributions which use Deb and RPM package formats. I had a copy of the Fedora distribution (version 26) installed while I was writing this and decided to follow Linux-libre's instructions for installing their kernel on an RPM-based system.
Even when taking the easy route by installing a kernel that has been pre-built for us, there are still several steps and I will walk through them bit-by-bit.
The first step is to set up the Linux-libre repository. On Fedora we can do this by downloading the new software repository's signing key and then enabling the repository. Working from the command line, enabling the repository looks like this:
sudo rpm --import http://linux-libre.fsfla.org/pub/linux-libre/SIGNING-KEY.linux-libre
The next step is optional. We can try to install a package called freed-ora-freedom which will conflict with known non-free components on the operating system. This will let us know if our Fedora system has any non-free packages installed and, if so, what their names are. Any non-free components will show up as conflicts to the freed-ora-freedom package.
sudo rpm -i http://linux-libre.fsfla.org/pub/linux-libre/freed-ora/freed-ora-release.noarch.rpm
sudo dnf install freed-ora-freedom
In my case, my relatively new copy of Fedora had 23 non-free firmware packages installed, which I removed.
sudo dnf --allowerasing install freed-ora-freedom
Next, we can install the Linux-libre kernel and its modules.
sudo dnf install kernel-libre perf-libre
Once the new, libre kernel has been installed, I recommend rebooting and confirming we can boot into the new kernel. I found when I rebooted, the new, libre kernel had been made my default boot option. Once we know it works, we can remove the old, non-free kernel using the following command. This command is potentially dangerous as it removes the old kernel and therefore, if something goes wrong with the libre kernel, the system will not boot anymore. It might be best to skip this step.
sudo dnf remove kernel-core\* kernel-modules\*
At this point you are running a libre kernel and the non-free packages have been removed from the system.
I tested the above commands on Fedora 26 and they worked for me. These are a little different than the instructions on the Linux-libre website, for two reasons. First, I think the website tries to be more generic, geared toward working across multiple RPM-based distributions. Second, the instructions on the website are a bit older and use Fedora's legacy yum package manager instead of the more modern dnf. However, the results should be the same, using either this guide or the Linux-libre instructions.
I noticed almost no difference between using one kernel and the other. The only significant change was the removal of firmware needed for Intel wireless cards, which would have been a problem on my laptop, but not on the desktop machine I was using.
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More tips can be found in our Tips and Tricks archive.
|Released Last Week
OpenBSD is a lightweight operating system designed with code correctness and security in mind. The project has released OpenBSD 6.2 which features many new drivers, particularly for the ARM architecture, and network packet handling performance improvements. Some key features have been added to the system installer too, including checking for security updates on the system's first boot: "Installer improvements: The installer now uses the Allotment Routing Table (ART). A unique kernel is now created by the installer to boot from after install/upgrade. On release installs of architectures supported by syspatch, "syspatch -c" is now added to rc.firsttime. Backwards compatibility code to support the 'rtsol' keyword in hostname.if(5) has been removed. The install.site and upgrade.site scripts are now executed at the end of the install/upgrade process. More detailed information is shown to identify disks. The IPv6 default router selection has been fixed. On the amd64 platform, AES-NI is used if present." Further information on OpenBSD 6.2 can be found in the project's release notes.
Q4OS is a lightweight Linux distribution based on Debian and featuring the Trinity desktop environment. The distribution has released a new stable branch, Q4OS 2.4, based on Debian 9 Stretch. The release announcement states: "We are proud to announce the immediate availability of the brand new stable Q4OS 2.4 version codenamed 'Scorpion'. This is a long-term support LTS release, to be supported for at least five years with security patches and software updates. Q4OS Scorpion is based on Debian Stretch 9.2 and Trinity 14.0.5 desktop environment and it is available for 64-bit and 32-bit/i686 PAE computers, as well as i386 systems without PAE extension. We are working hard to release Q4OS Scorpion editions for 64-bit and 32-bit ARM architectures as soon as possible. Q4OS offers its own exclusive utilities and features, especially the 'Desktop profiler' for profiling your computer into different professional working tools, 'Setup utility' for the smooth installation of third-party applications, a 'Welcome Screen' with several integrated short-cuts to make system configuration easier for novice users, KDE5, Xfce, LXDE, Cinnamon and LXQt alternative environments installation option and many more." Q4OS is available in Live and Install editions.
ExTiX is an Ubuntu-basd distribution featuring up to date software and a modern, custom kernel. The project's latest release, ExTiX 17.8, features the LXQt desktop environment. "ExTiX 17.8 LXQt DVD 64-bit is based on Debian 9 Stretch and Ubuntu 17.10 Artful Aardvark, to be released 171019. The original system includes the desktop environment GNOME. After removing GNOME I have installed LXQt 0.11.1. LXQt is the Qt port and the upcoming version of LXDE, the Lightweight Desktop Environment. It is the product of the merge between the LXDE-Qt and the Razor-qt projects: A lightweight, modular, blazing-fast and user-friendly desktop environment. The system language is English. Used kernel: my special kernel 4.13.0-15-exton corresponding kernel.org's stable kernel 4.13.4." Information on the tools which ship in ExTiX 17.8 and some of this version's key featres can be found in the project's release announcement.
ExTiX 17.8 -- Running the LXQt desktop
(full image size: 1.3MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
pfSense is a free, open source customized distribution of FreeBSD specifically tailored for use as a firewall and router that is entirely managed via web interface. Jim Pingle has announced the release of pfSense 2.4.0 which uses FreeBSD 11.1 as the base operating system and supports running on ZFS. "We are excited to announce the release of pfSense software version 2.4, now available for new installations and upgrades! pfSense software version 2.4.0 was a herculean effort! It is the culmination of 18 months of hard work by Netgate and community contributors, with over 290 items resolved. According to git, 671 files were changed with a total 1,651,680 lines added, and 185,727 lines deleted. Most of those added lines are from translated strings for multiple language support!" The 32-bit build of pfSense is no longer available in the 2.4 series. The release announcement offers further information.
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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: 602
- Total data uploaded: 16.1TB
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
Many Linux distributions are designed to be used to perform a specific task such as data recovery, cloning disks or testing network connections. These distributions are not intended for day-to-day use, but rather to perform a system administrative function and then get put back on the shelf.
This week we would like to find out how many of our readers keep copies of utility discs for distributions like Clonezilla Live, Parted Magic and GParted. Do you have a utility disc or USB drive on your shelf, waiting to recover your data? Let us know which tools you have copies of in the comments.
You can see the results of our previous poll on maintaining 32-bit distributions in last week's edition. All previous poll results can be found in our poll archives.
|I have a utility disc/USB: ||581 (30%)|
| I have multiple utility discs/USBs: ||957 (50%)|
| I do not have any utility discs/USBs: ||367 (19%)|
New projects added to database
Artix Linux is a fork (or continuation as an autonomous project) of the Arch-OpenRC and Manjaro-OpenRC projects. Artix Linux offers a lightweight, rolling-release operating system featuring the OpenRC init software. Three editions of Artix are available, a minimal Base system, an edition featuring the i3 window manager and an edition which runs the LXQt desktop.
Artix Linux 2017.08.08 -- Running the LXQt desktop
(full image size: 1.1MB, resolution: resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
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Distributions added to waiting list
- Condres OS GNU/Linux. Condres OS is a Linux-based operating system which features a stripped down GNOME desktop environment and the ICE site specific web browser.
- SimbiOS. SimbiOS is a Debian-based Linux distribution featuring the GNOME 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, 23 October 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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