| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 747, 22 January 2018
Welcome to this year's 4th issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
When the Ubuntu distribution decided to stop using the GNOME 2 desktop environment in favour of Unity, it resulted in a new community edition called Ubuntu MATE. The Ubuntu MATE project uses the MATE desktop (a fork of GNOME 2) and a more traditional desktop layout to give users a familiar environment while also providing some modern conveniences. This week we begin with a review of Ubuntu MATE 17.10 and its desktop features, such as global menu bars and menu HUD. In our News section we talk about KDE developers shifting more of their focus to supporting Wayland and DragonFly BSD removing old, insecure remote utilities. We also cover VirtualBox drivers being added to the mainline Linux kernel. Plus we explore how to retrieve deleted files which may still be open and how to get started with creating a new distribution of your own. We then list the distribution releases of the past week and share the torrents we are seeding. In our Opinion Poll we ask how many of our readers are using HiDPI monitors, and, to wrap up, we are pleased to welcome the Enso OS distribution to our database. We wish you all a fantastic week and happy reading!
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (21MB) and MP3 (26MB) formats.
|Feature Story (by Joshua Allen Holm)
Ubuntu MATE 17.10
Ubuntu MATE is an Ubuntu flavor that uses the MATE desktop environment instead of the GNOME 3 desktop used by Ubuntu 17.10 or the Unity desktop used in earlier Ubuntu releases. The MATE desktop is lighter and uses the traditional GNOME 2 desktop layout, which was featured in pre-Unity releases of Ubuntu, but with more refinements and polish as the MATE developers continue to develop their fork of GNOME 2. One noticeable enhancement is the multiple panel layouts found in the MATE Tweak tool, which lets MATE function like other desktop environments, including Unity. For this review I will look at Ubuntu MATE 17.10 using its standard Traditional layout and explore a layout designed to emulate Unity, called Mutiny.
Live desktop and installation
Downloading Ubuntu MATE, creating a bootable USB flash drive, and booting that flash drive is a familiar process for anyone familiar with Ubuntu or any of its official flavors. I began by downloading the 1.7GB 64-bit image from the Ubuntu MATE website and creating a bootable flash drive. I restarted my computer and booted from the newly created drive. The Ubuntu MATE boot process was quick and I was soon presented with the live desktop with a nice welcome screen. I briefly looked through the material presented by the welcome screen, which provided a nice overview of what Ubuntu MATE has to offer. Once I was done with that, I started the installer and began installing Ubuntu MATE.
Ubuntu MATE 17.10 -- The live desktop with welcome screen
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The process of installing Ubuntu MATE is near identical to installing Ubuntu or any of the other Ubuntu community flavors. The Ubiquity installer is themed to match Ubuntu MATE and provides some Ubuntu MATE specific details while installing, but other than that it is identical to installing Ubuntu. During the installation process I entered all the information I was asked for (the usual hard drive partition, timezone, user name, etc. prompts) and rebooted my computer when the process was complete.
Ubuntu MATE with Traditional panel layout
The MATE desktop is the continuation of the classic GNOME 2 desktop, so the default MATE experience is very similar to GNOME 2. Aside from changing the names of various applications, there are no major changes, especially as configured in Ubuntu MATE. There is a panel at the top with the Applications, Places, and System menus on the left and Bluetooth, wi-fi, volume control, battery, clock and shutdown on the right. The bottom panel has an icon to show the desktop, all of the running applications, four virtual desktops, and the trash can. The desktop is lighter than some, but it still used about 435MB of RAM with no applications running other than MATE Terminal.
Like most modern, desktop-focused, Linux distributions Ubuntu MATE comes with many of the most common programs pre-installed. The default software includes Firefox and Thunderbird for web browsing and e-mail, LibreOffice for word processing and other office tasks, Rhythmbox for music, VLC for video, and a selection of MATE tools and utilities. For basic tasks, I found that I did not need to install any additional software. I could browse the web, check my e-mail, and write documents with the software I am familiar with.
The Ubuntu MATE experience using the Traditional panel layout is very polished, but there is one odd exception. For some reason, there are three entries for "Language Support" in the Control Center and System menu. One appears in the "Look and Feel" section and two are in the "Personal" section. They all launch the same program. I first noticed this when I was using the live desktop and the issue is still present after installing the distribution and all the updates currently available.
Ubuntu MATE 17.10 -- The MATE Tweak tool
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If the default settings are not to a user's liking, there are many options that can be changed using the various options in the Control Center. Some of these are the basic things like theming and window behaviors, but there is also MATE Tweak, which lets the user make more extreme changes, like completely changing the panel layout. In addition to the default GNOME 2 style, MATE Tweak has layout options that behave like Windows, macOS, Unity, and Pantheon. There is also a Netbook option and a Contemporary option, which is similar to the Traditional layout but has some of the same features as the Unity inspired Mutiny panel layout. Since Ubuntu is shifting away from Unity, I decided to try out the Mutiny panel layout to see if it came close enough to Unity to make a suitable replacement.
The Mutiny layout
Ubuntu MATE 17.10 -- Mutiny panel layout
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MATE's Mutiny panel layout is designed to emulate the Unity desktop, but it is not an exact re-creation. It has a panel on the left side of the screen serving as dock, the Super key opens the application menu, applications' menu bars are integrated into the top panel, and there is a HUD that opens when pressing Alt, so users can search through application menu options. It recreates the major Unity features, so it is close to Unity, but do not expect a perfect recreation. I found that the application menu, the menus integrated in the top panel, and the HUD for applications' menus worked very well. The application menu is not a full screen menu like in Unity, but it is searchable and well organized. It works well enough, just do not expect it work exactly like Unity. Overall, I thought it worked well enough, but Unity power-users might feel differently.
Ubuntu MATE 17.10 -- LibreOffice with the HUD menu
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While the Mutiny experience is certainly close to Unity, there are a few issues that do need to be fixed. The dock on the left side of the screen does not handle having too many applications open at the same time very well. When too many applications are open, the icons at the top, including the application menu icon, disappear to make space for other icons. While the Super key will still open the application menu when the icon is pushed off the screen, it is still sloppier than Unity's dock. Another problem with the Mutiny dock is how it handles virtual desktops. When I first switched to the Mutiny layout the virtual desktops were displayed as four thin strips that were side by side, so the entire virtual desktop section was about as tall as one icon, but sometimes, without any clear reason as to why, the virtual desktops are displayed stacked on top of each other. This makes it somewhat easier to use the virtual desktops, but it really takes up too much space, which exacerbates the issue with icons not appearing if there are too many items in the dock. A two-by-two virtual desktop grid would be ideal, and it is possible to manually set the virtual desktop widget to display that way, but it is not the default.
While Mutiny offers the most Unity-like experience, it is possible to get many of the Unity features using the Contemporary layout. This layout retains most of the GNOME 2 look-and-feel, but uses the same application menu as the Mutiny layout and enables the HUD and the menus in the top panel. Unity users looking for a new desktop should give both the Mutiny and Contemporary layouts a try to see if either of them meets their needs.
Installing additional software
Ubuntu MATE comes with plenty of software pre-installed, but other programs are available using the Software Boutique application. Like many other modern, graphical package managers, Software Boutique provides a selection of applications grouped by category. Each application has a brief description explaining what the application does. However, unlike GNOME Software/Ubuntu Software, which shows every graphical application with AppStream metadata, Software Boutique only provides a curated collection of applications. This means the selection of software is smaller, but the curated selections include many of the best applications available in each category. Software Boutique's selection includes both GNOME Software and Synaptic, so it is possible to install one of those applications to use instead, if the curated selection in Software Boutique is not enough. Ubuntu MATE also comes with GDebi for installing .deb packages with a graphical tool. In addition, apt, dpkg, and snap are all available from the terminal, so users can install whatever they want using command-line tools.
Ubuntu MATE 17.10 -- Software Boutique
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Ubuntu MATE 17.10 is a solid release with a few minor caveats about the Mutiny layout. The Traditional MATE layout is very nice, but Mutiny still needs some work. For users who want the classic GNOME 2 look-and-feel, Ubuntu MATE is an excellent choice. However, Unity users looking for a Unity-like experience should still give Ubuntu MATE with the Mutiny layout a try, but need to be aware that it does have some issues and it won't work exactly like Unity. The Contemporary layout is also an option for Unity users, but is even further removed from the Unity experience than Mutiny is.
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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
Ubuntu MATE has a visitor supplied average rating of: 9.3/10 from 153 review(s).
Have you used Ubuntu MATE? You can leave your own review of the project on our ratings page.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
KDE to focus on Wayland features, DragonFly BSD dropping insecure remote tools, VirtualBox support being added to Linux kernel
The developers of the KDE Plasma desktop have announced a shift in their focus to place more attention on working on features for Wayland. The shift, which will likely soon affect KDE neon and other projects featuring the Plasma desktop, will mean new features will not be created for the X11 branch of the KDE window manager (KWin). Instead, developers will focus on bringing new features to the Wayland branch of KWin while maintaining the X11 branch with bug fixes. Martin Floser explains: "Yesterday the KDE Community released the Beta for Plasma 5.12 LTS. With that release the feature freeze for 5.12 is in place and also an eternal feature freeze for KWin/X11. To quote the release announcement: '5.12 is the last release which sees feature development in KWin on X11. With 5.13 onwards only new features relevant to Wayland are going to be added.' This raised quite some questions, concerns and misunderstandings in the social networks. With this blog post I try to address those question and explain why this change in policy is done. Is KWin/X11 still maintained? Yes! We are just in the process of releasing an LTS. Of course KWin is fully maintained in the LTS life time. While in 5.8 only X11 was maintained, now we are able to offer maintenance for both X11 and Wayland. For the maintenance we do not differentiate between windowing systems." More information can be found in Floser's blog post.
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The DragonFly BSD team has announced the removal of the remote commands from their operating system. These commands, while they were useful in older versions of Unix, have generally been replaced by more secure utilities such as OpenSSH. "The commands rcp(1), rlogin(1), rlogind(1), rsh(1) and rshd(1) have been removed from DragonFly. There's a net/bsdrcmds port if you still need them. Though I imagine/hope ssh is filling the void for everyone."
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People who like to test out distributions in VirtualBox or who want to run applications in an isolated virtual machine received good news this week. VirtualBox guest drivers are being added to the Linux kernel. This will allow Linux distributions to automatically integrate with VirtualBox when running as guests, without requiring the user to install or compile a separate guest modules package. The kernel commit message reads: "This commit adds a driver for the VirtualBox Guest PCI device used in VirtualBox virtual machines. Enabling this driver will add support for VirtualBox Guest integration features such as copy-and-paste, seamless mode and OpenGL pass-through. This driver also offers vboxguest IPC functionality which is needed for the vboxfs driver which offers folder sharing support....This driver is already being patched into the kernel by several distros, thus it is good to get this driver upstream soon, so that work on the driver can be easily shared."
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These and other news stories can be found on our Headlines page.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Recovering open files, starting a new Linux distro
It-is-gone-but-I-can-still-see-it asks: If I accidentally delete a file, like a movie, I have opened so the file is still in memory. Can I get it back and recover the file?
DistroWatch answers: Assuming your media player (or whichever application you are using) still has the file open, then you should be able to recover it. Parts of the file may be in memory, but what really saves us in this situation is Linux does not delete files which are currently open. Linux has removed a reference to the file, the one in your directory, but while the file is still open, the application using your file holds another reference to the same file. Linux will not remove your file until all references to it are gone. In short, while an application has a file open, Linux will politely wait until the application is finished before deleting your file.
Let's assume your movie is being played by the VLC media player. The first thing we need to do is find out the unique process number of your VLC application. We can do this by running:
This should return a single number like 21859. That is VLC's process number or PID. Every process has information about itself, and what files it has open, stored under the /proc directory. In my case, VLC is using a PID of 21859, meaning a record of all files it has open are stored under /proc/21859/fd.
To look at the files my VLC player has open I can run the command
ls -l /proc/21859/fd
I will get back a list of files which looks like this:
0 -> pipe:
The file we want is number 11, it stands out both because the location is in my home directory and because of the text "(deleted)" at the end of the name. We can next recover the file using the copy (cp) command:
1 -> /dev/null
10 -> pipe:
11 -> /home/jesse/Videos/My-Awesome-Movie.mp4 (deleted)
cp /proc/21859/fd/11 /home/jesse/Videos/recovered-file.mp4
This recovery method only works if the application keeps the deleted file open, if the file is loaded entirely into memory and closed, then we do not have a file reference anymore and may need to turn to another file recovery method.
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Making-something-new asks: Where can I go to learn how to make my own distro?
DistroWatch answers: Personally, my suggestion is to start working on an existing project to learn the ropes. One of the best ways to find out what kind of effort and skills are required to make your own distribution is to volunteer with an existing project. Become a Debian or Fedora developer and adopt an orphaned package. Browse your current distribution's issue tracker and pick an item to fix. Browse the support forum (or IRC channel) and offer help to people who are struggling. Look at your distribution's roadmap and find a feature you can help implement.
If you can tackle all of the above tasks successfully then you are well on your way to having the skills necessary to make and maintain your own distribution. Maintaining packages especially, will give you an appreciation for the amount of time involved in creating your own distribution.
Assuming those steps go well, I recommend looking into setting up your own package repository to get practice maintaining a collection of custom packages. Finally, look into building a distribution from the ground up, possibly by using Linux From Scratch as a template.
By the time you reach this point you will be able to get trouble reports from users, fix bugs, build your own software and maintain your own repository. The only skill left to master will be finding time to sleep!
Alternatively, if you want to make a spin of an existing distribution then I suggest looking at the project's documentation for creating and customizing ISO images.
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Additional answers can be found in our Questions and Answers archive.
|Released Last Week
Porteus Kiosk 4.6.0
Tomasz Jokiel has announced the release of Porteus Kiosk 4.6.0, a new update of the project's specialist Gentoo-based Linux distribution designed for web-only kiosks. This version is predominantly a security update: "I'm pleased to announce that Porteus Kiosk 4.6.0 is now available for download. Major software upgrades in this release include Linux kernel 4.14.13, Mozilla Firefox 52.5.3 ESR and Google Chrome 63.0.3239.132. Packages from the userland are upgraded to portage snapshot tagged on 20180114. This release fixes the Meltdown attack and partially mitigates the Spectre vulnerability through updated CPU microcode and on the application level. Firefox 52 ESR browser is less affected by Spectre while Chrome 63 needs experimental Site Isolation security feature enabled. More patches to be merged as Meltdown/Spectre bugs are still a work in progress. Please consider enabling automatic updates service for your kiosks to receive latest fixes and patches as soon as they become available." See the release announcement and changelog for further details.
SolydXK is a Debian-based, desktop distribution which offers two main flavours, with one edition featuring the KDE Plasma desktop and the other featuring the Xfce desktop. The SolydXK project has released a new snapshot which features fixes for the Meltdown CPU flaw and a number of new configuration tools. "All SolydXK ISOs are fully updated, including the latest kernel release with the Meltodown vulnarability patch. The ISOs come with a system configuration tool called SolydXK System Settings. Following is a list of features added since the 201707 releases: Device Driver Manager (DDM) has been integrated. Debian Plymouth Manager has been integrated. Add new partitions to fstab. Safely remove old kernel packages. After installation you can choose additional packages from the Welcome Screen but unfortunately, I had to remove the business application LetoDMS (document management system) as installable from the Welcome Screen. It installs just fine but I haven't been able to get it to work. I've removed the package from our own repository but if you need an Open Source DMS, I recommend to take a look at SeedDMS." Further information can be found in the project's release announcement.
SolydXK 201801 -- Running the Xfce desktop
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NuTyX is a French Linux distribution (with multi-language support) built from Linux From Scratch and Beyond Linux From Scratch, with a custom package manager called cards. The project has published a new release, NuTyX 10.0, which is available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds. There are two editions, one is a base image without a desktop and the other ships with an Xorg graphical environment. The new release also features a graphical front-end for package management called Flcards. "No need to used command line to search, install or remove packages. Flcards is able to install directly a graphical interface. You can choose between LXDE, LXQt, MATE, KDE5 and Xfce4. The Xorg ISO can be used to make an entire post-installation in graphical mode via Flcards application. Flcards uses administrator rights without password. If you're against this rule, get rid of the Flcards package and use the CLI or edit the /etc/sudoers to fit your needs. xorg-app, xorg-font, xorg-proto and xorg packages are now split. The Xorg meta package is removed. All the Xorg packages are now in separated packages. The documentation is updated." Further information can be found on the project's news page.
KaOS is an independent, rolling Linux distribution featuring a polished KDE Plasma desktop and the Pacman package manager. The KaOS project has released a new snapshot, KaOS 2018.01, which features fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre CPU bugs. "It is with great pleasure to present to you a first KaOS ISO for 2018. The policy is, once a first pacman -Syu becomes a major update, it is time for a new ISO so new users are not faced with a difficult first update. With the exceptional large amounts of updates the last six weeks most systems will see 70-80% of their install replaced by new packages so a new ISO is more than due. All currently available patches and fixes for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities in modern processors are included. The Linux 4.14.14 kernel is built with Retpoline enabled, latest AMD aand Intel ucodes are also built into this kernel. As always with this rolling distribution, you will find the very latest packages for the Plasma Desktop, this includes Frameworks 5.42.0, Plasma 5.11.5, KDE Applications 17.12.1. All built on Qt 5.10.0." Further information 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: 712
- Total data uploaded: 17.4TB
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
High resolution displays with higher pixel density are becoming increasingly common, on laptops, workstations and mobile devices. This week we would like to find out if you own a laptop or desktop computer with a HiDPI screen.
You can see the results of our previous poll on running Wayland vs Xorg in last week's edition. All previous poll results can be found in our poll archives.
|I own one or more HiDPI screens: ||476 (29%)|
| I do not own any HiDPI screens: ||1061 (64%)|
| Unsure: ||122 (7%)|
New projects added to database
Enso OS is a Linux distribution based on Xubuntu. Enso features the Xfce desktop with Gala, imported from elementary OS, as the default window manager. The distribution also features the Panther application launcher and the Plank dock.
Enso OS 0.2 -- Running the Xfce desktop with the Panther application launcher
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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, 29 January 2018. 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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