| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 751, 19 February 2018
Welcome to this year's 8th issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
There are a lot of Linux distributions which will run on single board computers like the Raspberry Pi, but many of them are general purpose operating systems. Not many distributions ship with custom tools specifically made for single board computers and their environments. This week Joshua Allen Holm takes the DietPi distribution for a test drive and reports on the special utilities included in the operating system which make it ideal for low-resource environments. This week we also share a review of the Plasma Mobile interface for smart phones and tablets. Plasma Mobile is expected to be one of the user interfaces available for the Librem 5 phone scheduled to be released next year and we give a general overview of its layout and features. In our News section we talk about OpenIndiana upgrading the system's compiler and Nitrux packaging portable AppImages in the default system. Plus we talk about Solus experimenting with Wayland and plans to include an option in Ubuntu's system installer which would allow the system to collect diagnostic information. Then we share the releases of the past week and list the torrents we are seeding. In our Opinion Poll we ask how our readers install third-party applications. We wish you all a terrific week and happy reading!
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (23MB) and MP3 (33MB) formats.
|Feature Story (by Joshua Allen Holm)
DietPi is a lightweight Linux distribution that is based on Debian 9. The distribution differentiates itself from Debian by slimming things down to the bare essentials while providing tools that make it easy to install a wide variety of optimized software by just selecting a few options in a menu. Like the distribution's name suggests, it is targeted at the Raspberry Pi and other ARM-based single board computers, but there are also images for bare metal x86 PCs, VirtualBox, and VMware.
DietPi 6.1 -- Login screen
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For this review I used the Raspberry Pi image on a Raspberry Pi 3, the VirtualBox image, and the version for BIOS-based PCs, which is a shell script that is run on an already installed copy of Debian or Raspbian to convert the system into a DietPi installation. The screenshots in this review are all from a virtual machine installation of Debian converted to DietPi using the shell script, but the DietPi experience is almost the same across all the supported platforms; some individual software packages are not available as DietPi-optimized packages on some platforms, but the DietPi software itself does work the same.
The DietPi website
Learning about any distribution begins with checking the distribution's website, and the DietPi website contains a wealth of information about the distribution itself and about the various single board computers it supports. Instead of just listing the various supported platforms and providing download links, the DietPi site has mini reviews of each supported platform in the download section. By clicking through the various information about the supported platforms, it is easy to see each platform's strengths and weaknesses. If a user has a particular piece of software in mind, but has not decided on a hardware platform, the information provided can help the user pick the right hardware. Maybe they need a faster network connection or something that runs cooler? The DietPi site provides those kinds of details about the supported single board computers.
Another great feature of the DietPi website is the forums. In addition to the usual release announcements, there are well written installation instructions and a fairly active community of contributors (at least for a project of this size). I easily found instructions for almost every software package I wanted to install, and the few that I did not find were for things that were extremely straightforward (basically, select one item and you are done). Chances are if you run in to a problem with DietPi the answers will be in the forums, or failing that, on the project's GitHub page.
Having read through the information about the various supported hardware and the instructions for installing the various software packages I wanted to test out, I went to the download section and downloaded two images, the ones for Raspberry Pi and VirtualBox, and the shell script required to convert a BIOS-based PC with Debian installed into DietPi. (The shell script needs to be run from the Debian machine being converted, so at this point the download was just so I could read through the shell script).The two images were both 7z archives, which made the Raspberry Pi image a much smaller download (84.5MB compressed vs. 698.4MB extracted), but the size difference was not as extreme for the VirtualBox image (159.2MB compressed vs. 167.6MB for the extracted .ova file). The shell script for converting Debian to DietPi is only 44.6kB, and the script works for multiple platforms, but the BIOS PC platform, which is labeled as a beta, is the only option that directs users to the script as the installation method.
I started by testing out the VirtualBox image to get a feel for DietPi's features before switching to the Raspberry Pi image and BIOS PC script to dig deeper into specific projects. All three platforms were easy to set up, but the VirtualBox image needed some tweaking for networking to work correctly on my laptop. The first time I imported the VirtualBox image the bridged network interface was using a network device that did not exist on my computer, but after changing that to an interface that did exist, I had no further problems.
The other two installation methods I used, Raspberry Pi and BIOS PC, went smoothly. However, the BIOS PC installation method was a little more labor intensive than the VirtualBox and Raspberry Pi methods. I had to install a minimum Debian install, complete with setting up the root password, reboot the machine, log in, add a few packages, use wget to download the script, then chmod +x and run the script. When the script was done I had a fully functional DietPi installation, but the script changed my root password and made a bunch of other changes. It clearly says that it will do this up front, but it still means that installing a minimal Debian still involves some wasted time. I do hope that in the future they release an ISO for BIOS-based PCs like they do for UEFI-based PCs. The UEFI image is for PCs with on-board EMMC, so I could not use it with any of my computers.
When I finally installed DietPi on my Raspberry Pi 3, the process was almost 100% automated. I copied the Raspberry Pi image to an SD card. After it was done writing, I mounted the image and modified the dietpi.txt file to set my networking options and to instruct DietPi to automatically install the software I wanted. In this case the software was Nextcloud and Gitea, but any of the DietPi software packages can be automatically installed. This makes it possible to set up anything DietPi supports without having to do much more than turn the computer on and wait. The only thing that user has to do is run the final setup for various web-based software by completing the software's installation (e.g., configuring a WordPress blog's settings).
DietPi-Software and other utilities
The DietPi utilities are what makes DietPi so easy to use. In addition to the dietpi.txt file mentioned above, DietPi has several text-based applications for configuring the system. The two main programs are DietPi-Software for installing software and DietPi-Config for configuring other parts of the system. There are also various utilities for managing external storage, cron jobs, system updates, and more. Almost all system administration tasks can be handled using these text-based applications.
DietPi 6.1 -- DietPi-Software utility
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The DietPi-Software application makes installing and configuring the system really easy. There are options for installing software that is optimized for DietPi and "additional" software. The list of optimized packages is considerable and includes most things one might want to use on a single board computer. The options range from standard server configurations to lightweight desktops and more. If you have a project in mind, there is a very good chance that there is an optimized DietPi package for it.
DietPi 6.1 -- DietPi-Config utility
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Beyond installing software, DietPi-Software provides several options for configuring the system. There are options for changing the default SSH server, file server, web server, and logging system. There is also an option to access the DietPi-Config application, which provides options for tweaking various settings related to hardware and things like system language/keyboard layout. Perhaps the most useful feature in DietPi-Config is the menu for changing what happens when the system starts up. By default, the system just loads a standard text console with login prompt, but the system can be set to log in automatically, start a graphical desktop environment (with login manager or with automatic login), or a few other options.
DietPi's DietPi-Software is robust, but not without a few minor flaws. Sometimes it did not fail as cleanly as I would like when a network issue caused a problem during the installation process. During one of my earliest efforts to install some optimized packages I selected probably 10 different items from the software list, but one of them could not be downloaded because the website it needed to download the software from was temporarily down. Instead of installing the other 9 packages, the error downloading one package stopped the successful install of all the other packages. Some of the other software was downloaded successfully, but DietPi did not appear to classify it as installed (i.e., it was not listed in the uninstall menu). One other issue I had was when I attempted to install Kodi on the VirtualBox image, which is not supported and does not appear in the software list, but can be installed by running "DietPi-Software install 31" (31 is the package number for Kodi.) The installation process worked, but the software, as expected, did not. However, the issue was that I could not uninstall Kodi because it would fail when it tried to uninstall a non-existent kodi-odroid package. I fully admit I was doing something that I did not expect to work, so DietPi is certainly not to blame, but it is possible to try to "outsmart" the system and end up with something that is broken.
DietPi 6.1 -- DietPi-Launcher utility
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If DietPi-Software and DietPi-Config do not provide enough options, DietPi-Launcher provides access to a plethora of other DietPi specific tools. In addition to software, config, and the autostart option that is also available through DietPi-Config, there are tools for managing cron jobs, system processes, mounted drives, updates, and more. These DietPi tools can all be run directly from the command line using the appropriate command (dietpi-[something]), but DietPi-Launcher make it easy to discover what options are available.
DietPi 6.1 -- The LXDE desktop
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Everything on DietPi can be done from the command line, but LXDE, MATE, Xfce, and GNUStep are available as desktop options. The desktops do not come with much software, but they are there. I installed LXDE, MATE, and Xfce to try them out, but I found little reason to use them. All I ended up doing was opening a terminal and using that to configure everything. The desktops were not bad, just unnecessary for my purposes.
I spent several weeks working with DietPi and its various tools, but I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what the distribution is capable of doing. I started up dozens of virtual image and several bare metal installations of DietPi during my testing and each ended up serving a completely different purpose and ran vastly different software. The DietPi tools made it possibly to do that quickly and easily. Yes, I could have set up all of the projects I created using Debian or Raspbian, but the DietPi tools saved me time.
DietPi makes it extremely easy to turn a single board computer into many different things. Installing and configuring Nextcloud, Kodi, etc., only require a few very basic steps. Every software package I tried installed with few issues, and worked great once installed. DietPi does almost all the hard work for the user, which makes it a great option for running on any single board computer or as a virtual machine. If you are looking for a lightweight and easy-to-use operating system for your single board computer, you cannot go wrong with DietPi.
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Hardware used in this review
My test equipment for this review was a Raspberry Pi 3 and a VirtualBox virtual machine with 1 GB of RAM running on 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
DietPi has a visitor supplied average rating of: 8.2/10 from 13 review(s).
Have you used DietPi? You can leave your own review of the project on our ratings page.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Nitrux packages AppImage, OpenIndiana upgrades compiler, Canonical explores collecting hardware data, Solus experiments with Wayland
Nitrux is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution which is focusing on supplying packages in portable, universal application formats such as AppImage. The Nitrux developers posted on Twitter that they have selected the first AppImage application to be included in the distribution by default: "We present you the first AppImage that will be included by default in Nitrux!. This is a milestone towards our goal of providing a Linux distribution that uses truly portable apps." The tweet links to the NX Software Centre on GitHub which can now be downloaded as a source archive or as an AppImage.
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The OpenIndiana project, an open source, community-run continuation of the OpenSolaris operating system, is upgrading its compiler which brings with it some important changes. OpenIndiana previously used the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) version 4.9 and the upgrade moves to GCC 6.4. This leap in compiler versions results in the rebuilding of OpenIndiana's packages to take advantage of the improvements offered by the new compiler. There are also a few issues which have been raised: "illumos-gate: As GCC 6 runtime libraries reside in /usr/gcc/6/lib and /usr/gcc/6/lib/$(MACH64), the runpath is embedded in many libraries. If the variable NIGHTLY_OPTIONS contains the flag '-r', the check_rtime stage will fail. Until a fix is agreed upon with illumos-gate developers, the '-r' flag should be removed from NIGHTLY_OPTIONS. tmux: The latest build cannot handle 'CTRL^C' properly, probably because it links to /usr/lib/values-xpg6.o, and libraries suddenly become XPG6-aware. repository size: Due to the compiler migration, oi-userland was completely rebuilt, so that the main repository has grown significantly in size. We are likely going to clean it up from old packages this week." Further details can be found in the project's news post.
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Canonical is exploring the idea of adding an option to the Ubuntu system installer which would allow the operating system to collect hardware information and send it over a secure connection to Canonical's developers. Will Cooke explains: "We would like to add a checkbox to the installer, exact wording TBD, but along the lines of 'Send diagnostics information to help improve Ubuntu'.
This would be checked by default. The result of having that box checked would be: Information from the installation would be sent over HTTPS to a service run by Canonical's IS team. This would be saved to disk and sent on first boot once there is a network connection. The file containing this data would be available for the user to inspect." A list of information which would be collected if users enable the service and how it would be handled is available in Cooke's mailing list post.
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The Solus project has announced some of the developers' plans for the upcoming release of Solus 4. One of the planned features is the inclusion of a Wayland GNOME session: "Enabling an experimental Wayland session for GNOME. Wayland will not be the default for Solus Budgie or Solus GNOME, however GNOME users will be able to install a separate session package if they wish to test and experiment with Wayland support. During my testing, I have not found the quality of the GNOME + Wayland to be sufficient enough to be provided as a default experience for our users, and I largely concur with Canonical's reasoning for deferring it as a default for Ubuntu as well." Additional changes coming to Solus are covered in the project's blog post.
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These and other news stories can be found on our Headlines page.
|Technology Review (by Jesse Smith)
KDE's Plasma Mobile
Toward the end of January the KDE team published their intention to get the Plasma Mobile desktop, a graphical interface for small and mobile devices, into a stable and usable state: "We want to make 2018 the year Plasma Mobile becomes a fully functional mobile environment and get it on as many devices as we can."
Accompanying this announcement the project presented the public with a live disc image which uses Plasma Mobile as the default desktop. The live disc uses Ubuntu 16.04 LTS as the base operating system with Plasma Mobile packages and a small collection of applications pre-installed. The available ISO is approximately 1GB in size and the KDE team has invited people to try out their mobile desktop on physical hardware and in virtual machines. I decided to take them up on the offer.
Plasma Mobile 2018 -- The empty desktop
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Booting from the provided live disc automatically loads the Plasma Mobile desktop (hereafter simply called Plasma). The interface is roughly divided into five areas. At the top of the screen is a status and notification area. This top area shows us the battery indicator, a network connectivity monitor and a count of the number of notifications the system wants to show us. We can drag the status bar down to gain access to settings and read recent notifications.
Plasma Mobile 2018 -- The settings and notifications panel
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The second section of the desktop is a thin search bar. Typing words into the bar brings up applications which match our search. Sometimes these applications are already installed, but packages available in the operating system's software manager are also shown. I found search results were often not relevant to what I was looking for, unless I typed the proper name of an application. Searching for items based on their function gave less useful results.
The third area of the screen is mostly empty desktop space. This is the area that gets covered up when we pull down the status bar or pull up the application bar. The application bar just mentioned is a thick, quick-launch bar near the bottom of the screen. There are buttons on this bar which open the phone application, the system installer, a camera app and the Discover software manager. We can drag the application bar up, exposing a drawer of installed application icons. Clicking on an icon in the drawer launches the application and displays it on our empty desktop area.
Plasma Mobile 2018 -- The app drawer
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The final region of the desktop is a bar which houses three buttons. One button brings up a list of open applications. We can click on a window's entry to switch to it or drag the entry to the side to close the application. The second button minimized windows and shows us the empty desktop. The third button closes the currently active application.
Two aspects of the Plasma interface I feel deserve more attention. The notification and settings area is especially well organized, I think. Pulling down the status bar shows us a grid of settings modules and we can tap one to bring up configuration options for items such as our wi-fi network, location, power saving and volume control. I think the settings are clearly labelled and well organized. The notifications I found to be a bit jumbled together. The notices were printed with small text and I found they were too close together.
The Discover software centre deserves a mention. This is a pretty standard-looking application manager, I think, by mobile standards. We can search for items we want and they are displayed in a list. We can tap a button next to each entry to install it. It seems like the necessary pieces are all in place with Discover, but the interface still needs some polish. The software centre used lot of extra screen space and some menu items had bits of HTML embedded in the text.
Plasma Mobile 2018 -- The Discover software centre
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I experimented with the Plasma Mobile demo in a VirtualBox machine and on my laptop, which has a touch screen. When running in VirtualBox, Plasma crashed a lot. If I clicked on the status bar instead of clicking-and-dragging it, the desktop would crash. If I clicked the close button in the lower-right corner of the screen, the desktop would crash. If I tried to close an open application, the desktop would crash. I booted into the Plasma demo about ten times in VirtualBox and each time the desktop stopped working within about two minutes.
On the other hand, Plasma ran smoothly on my laptop with no crashes. The mobile interface worked well on my laptop and responded smoothly to both mouse and touch gestures. The interface was responsive on the laptop and the picture was clear, while in VirtualBox I often saw screen artifacts during animations. The only issue I ran into when using Plasma on my laptop was I couldn't find a way to shut down the operating system.
When I went into this experiment I wasn't sure if I would be getting a pure mobile experience or a desktop interface squeezed into a mobile space. The drawer of application icons gave me a flash of nostalgia for the CDE desktop, but otherwise I think Plasma Mobile most closely resembles Android. For the most part I would say Plasma Mobile does a good job of being purely mobile, but with some controls or screens which will look familiar to Plasma's desktop users.
On the whole, I think the general layout and behaviour of Plasma Mobile is good. Everything worked pretty much the way I expected it to, at least when the interface was running on my laptop. This is a purely mobile interface, not a full desktop environment crammed down into a mobile space. My only issue was with the little details. The notification area fonts were smaller than other fonts, for example and the search bar returns some poor results when looking for items by task. Stability was certainly an issue in VirtualBox, but Plasma redeemed itself on my laptop by being stable and responsive.
Parts of Plasma mobile look a little rough and uncoordinated right now, but the pieces are all in place and the basic functionality is there. Now I think it's a matter of polishing the interface and improving the search options a bit. Then Plasma Mobile will be ready to compete with other mobile interfaces like Android and Unity 8.
|Released Last Week
Zevenet 5.0 "Community"
Zevenet is a load balancer and application delivery system based on Debian. The Zevenet team has announced the release of Zevenet 5.0 "Community" edition. The new version is based on Debian 9 Stretch and features the following changes: "A new web GUI frontend in Angular. New API JSON+REST capabilities for processes automation. New networking section for a better management and configuration of interfaces. New LSLB module (Local Service Load Balancer) which manages both L4xNAT and HTTP/S profiles. Two different maintenance modes (cut and drain) for HTTP[S] and L4xNAT profiles. Improved HTTPS profile with new options to enable/disable SSL/TLS protocols... Faster response based on REST API. Improved look and UX. Enhanced logs management. Support save options for better troubleshooting and support. Linux Kernel based in a common Debian Stretch. Easier upgrade by modules and transitions to Enterprise. Improved the backup and recovery procedure." Further information can be found on the company's Timeline page.
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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: 742
- Total data uploaded: 17.9TB
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
Getting software not in a distro's official repositories
Most of us install software from our distribution's repository using a package manager. However, this approach only works when software has been packaged for our operating system. When we want to install third-party software, software not in our distribution's repository, we need to look elsewhere.
When your distribution does not include an application you want, where do you usually turn to get the software? Do you add a third-party repository (such as a PPA), use a portable package, compile the software from its source code, use a distro-neutral ports system like pkgsrc? Let us know your preference in the comments.
You can see the results of our previous poll on mining cryptocurrency verses advertisements in last week's edition. All previous poll results can be found in our poll archives.
Getting software not in a distro's official repositories
|I use a third-party repository (PPA): ||846 (40%)|
| I use an independent portable package (AppImage): ||90 (4%)|
| I use a portable package framework (Snap/Flatpak): ||100 (5%)|
| I use a distro-neutral package manager (Nix): ||23 (1%)|
| I use a distro-neutral ports tree (pkgsrc): ||20 (1%)|
| I compile software manually from source: ||314 (15%)|
| Any/All of the above: ||555 (26%)|
| Other: ||191 (9%)|
Distributions added to waiting list
- Maemo Leste. Maemo Leste is a Devuan-based Linux distribution for mobile devices, such as the Nokia N900, as well as desktop personal computers.
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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, 26 February 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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