| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 228, 12 November 2007
Welcome to this year's 46th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! The Fedora project has once again risen the bar of desktop usability, especially in the area of hardware support, but what do the users think? Find out in our exclusive review of Fedora 8 by Simon Hildenbrand. In the news section, openSUSE announces the creation of openSUSE Board, Mandriva continues to fight the Nigerian Classmate PC deal, Fedora unveils the feature list for version 9, and LinuxTitans.com interviews creator of paldo GNU/Linux Jürg Billeter. Also in this issue, two sets of statistical analyses in the never-ending quest to find out which is the most popular distribution. Happy reading!
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Review of Fedora 8 (by Simon G. Hildenbrand)
In this article I will be reviewing the new Fedora 8 -- code-named "Werewolf" -- that was released this past Thursday (November 8). To give a brief background on myself, I have had Linux installed on my computer every day since I started with SUSE Linux back in 1999. I purchased a boxed copy of SUSE at a local video/media store in Greeley, CO. The funny thing about mentioning Greeley is that it's a relatively small, currently at 77,000 people, farming town where the University is the biggest part. Even then, Linux was being sold in small farming communities.
I had no idea which Linux distro I should choose, or the differences between them, but I had a choice between SUSE, Mandrake, and Red Hat. I ended up choosing SUSE for no particular reason; however, after installing SUSE, I wasn't disappointed as it did everything I wanted and more.
Since then, I usually switch between Ubuntu, openSUSE, Red Hat or Mandriva. I have, however, tried virtually every distribution on the top 100 list on DistroWatch and usually keep a distro on my machine for several months after installation if I was able to configure it successfully. I have to say that I love each distribution I've tried and each one is great in its own way.
As I always do with any installation, I will be doing a clean installation on my main machine which is an IBM/Lenovo X60 and I will be using the entire hard drive. The test machine has a Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of memory, and a 120 GB hard drive. I will be using it both docked (connected to a 20" ThinkVision monitor - 1600x1200 pixel resolution) and undocked (12" laptop monitor - 1024x768 pixel resolution). If it is docked, I will only be using the 20" monitor. The graphics card is an on-board Intel with shared memory and comes with an Intel 3945 wireless chipset. It's a good machine that's almost 1 year old. Since I don't do too much complex work and I would most likely see negligible gain in speed by using a 64-bit edition of Fedora 8, I have chosen to install the x86 edition for ease of configuring many browser plug-ins that are primarily distributed for x86 builds.
The installation went very smoothly and I didn't run into any problems. It is virtually the same Anaconda installer as before with only a few minor changes. There is nothing too exciting to report here. If you are new to Fedora 8 it should be pretty easy to navigate.
One of the most important parts of the installation program is the partition editor. The default in Anaconda is to remove all 'Linux' partitions and create a default layout. I think this is a good move for those users who are new to Linux and who want to dual boot with Windows. I can count way too many times I've heard that a Linux distribution 'ruined' a user's hard drive only because they were unfamiliar with the partitioning editor of the installer program and the installer used the entire hard drive when the user was expecting to dual boot. By having the default only remove Linux partitions is a good move in my opinion as it helps people who are new to Linux without giving them a bad experience at the start.
When partitioning the hard drive my personal preference is to always choose the option to remove 'all' partitions on the selected drive and to create a default layout which I've done here. Either way, you should click on 'Review and modify partitioning layout' before moving forward. Otherwise, you run the risk of loosing data on your hard drive that you might have wanted to save. I think the box to review and modify partitioning layout should be set by default, but it is at least provided as an option. The default layout is to create logical volumes which I usually prefer to use and which I've done for this review.
One aspect of Anaconda installer that I really like is that it provides the user to set more options during the installation process by offering points during the installation to click on advanced, but defaults to very common and easy-to-understand settings that the majority of users will use. I personally like and use some of the advanced features that can be set up during the installation such as a boot loader password. Many options available in the Anaconda installer just aren't available in other installation programs. While I'm not going to use a distro just for these types of options in the installer program, it is definitely an added benefit.
After configuring the network settings, the time zone, and root password, the package selection is next. Fedora is primarily a GNOME-based distribution, though it does come with KDE. I personally prefer GNOME, but I do like the feel of KDE on Fedora releases. At the package selection, a user can choose to either customize the packages and or add additional software repositories, or to just use the default. If a user wants to customize, they are given a screen where they can choose to select a full high-level category, such as server, or development. I am not a fan of how this is done only for the fact that if a user selects one of the main categories such as development, they could get a lot of unnecessary packages that they will not necessarily need. Also, if a user selects to customize and then clicks on KDE, if GNOME isn't unchecked, the user would get both GNOME and KDE installed. I think that Mandriva makes it easier at this point of their installation process primarily because the user chooses one desktop environment (e.g. GNOME, KDE), and then proceeds into selecting individual applications to install.
The installation of the default package selection with GNOME finished after about 15 minutes. A little longer than some, but not overly long and nothing that I was concerned or thought needed improvement. After the installation finished, it asked for a reboot.
During the first boot, the installer will ask you a series of questions on your preference for the Firewall, SELinux, date and time, and users. One thing I really like about Fedora is that it has SELinux set to actively enforce. Also, when choosing passwords where prompted if it is too weak based on best practices, it will warn you. I work in security and believe that keeping your computer systems secure is vital when connected to the global Internet.
Fedora 8 - boot screen
Overall, I feel that Fedora has the best security features enabled by default with Mandriva coming in close with their recent 2008 release. It still concerns me when distributions, such as Ubuntu, still ship without a firewall or even a security framework such as SELinux, or AppArmor installed by default.
Look and feel
With every new Fedora release, the team puts together a new look and feel. I like the new look; however, I still wonder why Fedora has to use the classic icon theme for many applications (e.g. Evolution, OpenOffice.org) they have been using for what seems like forever. In my opinion Fedora has used it for too long. For me it is as ugly now as it was when it first came out.
The other parts of the look and feel (e.g. boot splash, GDM theme, desktop wallpaper) look very nice and professionally designed. Personally I think that the look and feel of Fedora 7 was the best theme of any distribution I've ever tested. However, the theme for Fedora 8 is very nice because it provides a nice professional look that adds to the desktop without distracting the user.
Fedora 8 - the default desktop (GNOME)
(full image size: 901kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
As with almost all distributions that install GNOME, you have the standard suspects when it comes to the default software. You have GNOME (2.20.1), GIMP (2.4.0), OpenOffice.org (2.3.0), Evolution (2.12.1), Firefox (220.127.116.11), and Pidgin (2.2.2).
All the software worked very well and I didn't have any problems running any of the default packages. I use my computer mostly for basic email (Evolution), Internet (Firefox), office software (OpenOffice.org Writer and Calc), and music (Banshee/Amarok). The default music player is Rhythmbox, but I am not a fan of the application. The main reason is that I think it is a little hard on the eye to look at, and it has never been able to sync any of my portable music players in previous releases like advertised. I decided to install Banshee and it worked perfectly.
However, one aspect of the software management process that still hasn't seemed to be fixed is the error I get when going to Add/Remove software. It usually happens after the first boot, but I would think that since this has been a problem for users in past releases that this would have been fixed by now. To fix it, you need to go into the GNOME System Monitor and kill the yum/Puplet package manager processes and then you can add and remove packages.
Outside of the error I indicated above, the upgrades that have been made to the yum package manager and the Puplet update tool are good improvements. I've noticed that it's a little faster than previous versions and overall I've been happy with it. I don't think it's as fast as the APT/Synaptic package manager, but I do think it has a nice and easy-to-use feature set and is easier to configure than any other package manager. It is interesting though that when searching for a package that the packages available to install aren't sorted in alphabetical order or at least provides the user the ability to sort the packages based on their personal preference.
While most of the packages that I use are installed by default, I do always need to add the Livna (http://rpm.livna.org) repository. Livna has everything I need to finalize the installation process. I always add the GStreamer "mad" and "ugly" packages to get MP3 and such working correctly, and then I add VLC and MPlayer (with the Firefox plug-in) to round it out. This usually gets all the other dependencies that I need to play DVDs so that I can start using my computer for real work.
Since this review is covering the desktop installation of Fedora 8, I wanted to add that I am still perplexed as to why Fedora ships with and runs the Sendmail mail server by default. I selected the default packages and didn't add any additional selections on the server category. Sendmail is one of the first services I disable after an installation. On a related note, when I did do server work, I always tried to stay away from Sendmail because of the security concerns with the application. Whether or not the application is secure, I still find myself wondering why this application is installed and running by default. OpenSUSE does the same thing with their release but I don't know of many other distributions that do. I think that by installing and enabling Sendmail is just opening up the computer to risk when there, for the majority of the users, is no need to be running a mail server.
All the hardware on my computer was properly configured and set up. When I first purchased my computer, several things didn't seem to work across any distribution (screen resolution on my external monitor when docked, internal secure digital (SD) card reader, suspend/hibernate). It wasn't until this most recent release cycle where almost everything worked perfectly out of the box. Fedora 8, however, worked the best overall for me.
Laptop support was one feature that the team has said it put considerable time and effort into getting to "just work." I would have to say that after a miserable attempt at suspend/hibernate in Fedora 7, which failed every time (which is the reason why I chose not to use Fedora 7), it now works perfectly, every time. It 'just works.' In fact, this has to be probably the best implementation of suspend/hibernation out of any distro that I've tried.
Another impressive implementation was the screen resolution. I always install a distribution using the main laptop monitor rather than the external monitor. I've run into too many problems before when installing while the computer is docked. For most installations I've done, once I re-dock the laptop and restart, I usually have to configure the monitor to support the external monitor's native resolution of 1600x1200. With Fedora 8, it automatically configured the resolution during boot-up to the proper resolution. I was really impressed as it was the first time that it was truly a seamless experience for me across all distributions I've tried.
The only drawback that I had with the distribution is with the wireless support. I'm very glad that Fedora ships the Intel Pro Wireless 3945 drivers by default, but I'm surprised at how it is implemented. NetworkManager is not enabled by default so you have to first start the service and then set it to start at boot time by going into the Services application in the Administration menu. This is easy to do, but a step I think should already be done for the user when a wireless card is detected and installed during installation. Also, since I use WPA encryption on my network, by default on start-up, the boot-up will stop for a period of time while trying to find a network IP address. To fix this, I have to set the network card to not start at boot time. This is easy to do in the Network application, but another step that must be taken. After I've done that, I can now get wireless to work through the NetworkManger.
Fedora 8 includes NetworkManager 0.7, which as far as I've read has been overhauled from previous releases. However, it's very buggy. Joining my wireless network was a hit and miss at times and sometimes it would ask for the password several times before it finally connected. I would have preferred Fedora to ship the previous version of NetworkManager since I felt as though it was much more stable than 0.7, but hopefully after an update, the issues that I saw will be resolved. So far I've found that the best wireless implementation is by Ubuntu 7.10. It just worked perfectly. Mandriva 2008 was also well, but at times I didn't see any networks available when many would show up under NetworkManger using Ubuntu.
Other extra features of Fedora 8 that are included is the latest CompizFusion. I enabled it and it worked perfectly as it did in the previous Fedora release as well as Ubuntu 7.10 and Mandriva 2008. It was funny that while it seemed that every other distribution that had CompizFusion installed by default worked for me, openSUSE did not. I find it funny because SLED (SUSE) was the first distribution to release it installed by default and yet I felt their implementation of Compiz in 10.3 was very poor. I have heard that there can be problems getting desktop effects to work correctly with KDE in Fedora 8. I didn't run into any problems, but if this is indeed a problem, hopefully an update gets provided soon as it's a feature that many people expect to work out of the box.
Another feature of Fedora 8 is that it ships with IcedTea, an open source implementation of Java. The verdict on this is still being decided for me. The plug-in for Firefox didn't work for me out-of-the-box even though it was installed. I had to run the command "mozilla-plugin-config -c -f" for it to finally recognize the plug-in. Also, when I tried to run the Sun Download Manager (a favorite program when downloading large files), it would not work. I also tried to install the standard Java runtime environment (JRE) files from Sun, but couldn't seem to get it to work. At times, Fedora's hardline stance on issues (e.g. codecs, wireless drivers, Java, etc.) has turned me off. I've just had to learn to deal with it and hack away until I get it to work like I want since I like Fedora.
Another nice feature that users of live CDs will enjoy are the Fedora-based spins (Fedora Electronic Lab, Fedora Developer spin, Fedora Games spin). Some other tentative spins are Fedora Art Studio and Xfce spin. I didn't test these yet, but I will after the mirrors have settled down from the download rush of the release.
There are a lot of other great features in Fedora 8. Some of them include Online Desktop, PulseAudio (installed by default), further security improvements, and improved Bluetooth to name a few. To go through each of their features here would take considerable time. I do recommend trying them yourself though.
Overall, I truly believe that Fedora 8 is by far the best Fedora release to date (and I've tried every one of them). From the look and feel of the system, to the out-of-the-box configuration during installation, I couldn't be happier with a cutting edge release.
As I mentioned before, the biggest aspects of a successful distribution for me are suspend/hibernate, correct screen resolution and the the ability to change the screen resolution in a GUI if it didn't configure it correctly the first time, system stability, and overall look and feel of a distribution. For me, Fedora 8 has excelled in all categories when I evaluate and review a system and I hope that Fedora continues to release versions that are put together as good as Fedora 8 has been.
Release dates page hits, IRC channels
With all four major Linux distro releases now completed, a reader wrote in to ask about the number of hits each of the four distribution pages received on the day of the release, plus the following day. To make the statistical comparison more complete, we added a number of other major releases from earlier in the year. Here is what the table looks like:
|| Ubuntu 7.10
|| PCLinuxOS 2007
|| openSUSE 10.3
|| Fedora 8
|| Debian GNU/Linux 4.0
|| Mandriva Linux 2008
|| SimplyMEPIS 6.5
|| Gentoo Linux 2007
|| Slackware Linux 12.0
|| Sabayon Linux 3.4
While on the subject of distro statistics, here is a set of figures collected last week by Marijn Schouten, a long-time DistroWatch reader. He thought that an interesting way of measuring the popularity of distributions is to log in to each distro's IRC channel on Feenode.net or similar service and count the number of users present. He picked a random time - 11:30 GMT on 7 November 2007. When done, he compiled the following table:
After collecting the above data, Marijn Schouten concluded: "I think that IRC statistics are more representative of current number of users while PHR is more representative of the number of people that are not actually using a distro, but are merely curious as to what sets it apart from the others. Such interest is more fickle than being an actual user of a distro. Therefore I think IRC rank is more representative of the actual size of the community around a distro, which I think is the relevant measure to rank distros by."
Fedora 9 feature list, openSUSE Board, update on Mandriva vs Microsoft, interview with paldo developer, Linux Journal
So what do you think about Fedora 8? The consensus of the reviewers seems to be that it is indeed an excellent release, especially good on the hardware support front, but the many small improvements to the package manager, the new audio server, and the updated artwork have all contributed to the generally positive vibe. The only real criticism of Fedora is the usual omission of non-free software and patent-encumbered media codecs, but with the Livna.org community working round the clock to bring your all these goodies on the day of the release, this often-cited Fedora drawback is rather easily eliminated. Although Fedora 8 probably won't dethrone Ubuntu from its current position as the most popular desktop Linux distribution, those users looking for an alternative solution to deploy on their desktops or those who found the latest Ubuntu lacking in quality, could do much worse than evaluating the latest community distribution from Red Hat.
With Fedora 8 out of the way, the attention of the developers can now turn to finalising the feature list for Fedora 9, scheduled for release on May 1st, 2008. The first draft of the proposed features is now available for your viewing pleasure; it includes a number of interesting items, such as a new GNOME display manager, KDE 4, an alternative graphical package management front-end called PackageKit, RandR support, Bluetooth enhancements, support for binary delta packages during software updates, introduction of TeXLive, and even a web-based interface for generating custom Fedora distributions and live CDs. It sounds like a very ambitious release, but it's always nice to see that the developers maintain that innovative spirit Fedora has acquired in the recent past.
* * * * *
The openSUSE project has announced two important infrastructural changes to the way its distribution is developed - the Guiding Principles and the openSUSE Board. The most interesting part is that the Board consists not only of Novell and openSUSE employees, but also of several community members: "The openSUSE project has introduced its Guiding Principles. The Guiding Principles provide a framework for the project and give a clear view of who the project community is, what it stands for, what the project wants and how it works. At the same time, the openSUSE project has introduced its first board to lead the overall project. Made up of a combination of Novell employees and external community members, the openSUSE board will act as a central point of contact to help resolve conflicts, communicate community interests to Novell, facilitate communication with all areas of the community, and smooth decision making where needed."
* * * * *
The Mandriva versus Microsoft operating system battle over the 11,000 computers delivered to Nigerian schools continued last week. Following the open letter in which Mandriva CEO François Bancilhon accused Microsoft of unfair play, Computerworld UK now reports that the Nigerian government agency in charge of funding the purchase has overruled the earlier decision to replace Mandriva Linux with Microsoft Windows: "Now, however, a government agency funding 11,000 of the PCs has overruled the supplier. Nigeria's Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) wants to keep Mandriva Linux on the Classmate PCs, said an official who identified himself as the programme manager for USPF's Classmate PCs project. 'We are sticking with that platform,' said the official, who would not give his name."
* * * * *
Besides the updated Red Hat Enterprise Linux and new Fedora, the only other stable release of the past week was paldo GNU/Linux 1.12. Paldo, you ask? Yes, paldo, an interesting recent addition to the Linux distro scene, an independently developed hybrid (binary and source) distribution with its own package manager and highly up-to-date software set. But what exactly does paldo differently from other distributions? Philip Ingram, the webmaster of LinuxTitans.com, has conducted an IRC interview with paldo developer Jürg Billeter to find out more about this promising project: "My interview with Jürg Billeter, or 'juergbi' on IRC, took place on a cold November morning, the day before the release of paldo 1.12. If you have not heard of paldo, you are missing out on one of the most intuitive 'just work' distros out there. It's stable, fast, comes in x86 and x86_64 flavours, uses its own package manager called Upkg, and can be used as a live CD or installed onto your hard disk. ... This distro will be on the tip of everyone's tongue in about 3 months. Watch the DistroWatch rankings - this distro will make it to the top ten in a year's time."
* * * * *
Finally, something not really distribution related, but this news hasn't been widely publicised, so we thought we'd mention it here. Linux Journal, the oldest surviving Linux magazine on the market, is offering a free download of its November 2007 issue in PDF format: "Linux Journal is pleased to offer you a copy of our digital edition FREE! Best of all, there's no obligation, and no credit card is required to download your free copy." The only piece of information the magazine wants in return is an email address, to which it will send the direct download link. Linux Journal is designed primarily for system administrators and Linux programmers rather than general desktop users, but it's worth taking a look at as it usually offers excellent tips and authoritative articles. Some of the headlines from the free issue include: High-performance networking programming in C, Fast processing with multiple CPU cores, and Open-source compositing in Blender.
|Released Last Week
paldo GNU/Linux 1.12
Jürg Billeter has announced the release of paldo 1.12, an independently developed source/binary distribution that uses the Upkg package management system: "The paldo Team is proud to announce the release of paldo GNU/Linux 1.12. The paldo live CD now comes with an easy-to-use graphical installer which will install 2 GB of up-to-date software on your system in a few minutes. The new paldo 1.12 ships with OpenOffice.org 2.3.0, GNOME 2.20.1, Linux 18.104.22.168, and X.Org 7.3 with input hotplug support for x86 and x86_64 architectures. This version features a new GDM theme and default desktop background. There is also a server and a media center version available via network installation." Visit the project's home page to read the release announcement.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1
Red Hat has announced the availability of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5.1, the first update to the RHEL 5 product line: "Red Hat is pleased to announce the general availability of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1. This update includes the following enhancements: completion of virtualization support on Itanium2 platforms; improved support for Fully Virtualized (FV) guests; improved ACPI power management support including support for S3 suspend to RAM and S4 hibernate; ext3 file system now fully supports file system sizes of up to 16 TB; IPv6 improvements; hardware support enhancements; Samba update for improved interoperability; PAM/Kerberos and NSS-LDAP updates for improved integration in Active Directory environments; improved support for autofs load balancing with replicated servers...." Read the rest of the release announcement for a detailed list of changes and enhancements.
Fedora 8 has been released: "Announcing the release of Fedora 8 (Werewolf). This release includes significant new versions of many key components and technologies. Features: GNOME 2.20; Online Desktop; KDE 3.5.8; Xfce 4.4.1; NetworkManager 0.7 provides improved wireless network management support; PulseAudio is now installed and enabled by default; CodecBuddy is now included; CompizFusion, the compositing window manager that re-merges Compiz and Beryl, is installed by default; the completely free and open source Java environment called IcedTea is installed by default...." Learn more about all the features in the release summary and release notes.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list|
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 19 November 2007.
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|• Issue 718 (2017-06-26): Debian 9, support for older hardware, Debian updates live media, Ubuntu's new networking tool, openSUSE gains MP3 support|
|• Issue 717 (2017-06-19): SharkLinux, combining commands in the shell, Debian 9 flavours released, OpenBSD improving kernel security, UBports releases first OTA update|
|• Issue 716 (2017-06-12): Slackel 7.0, Ubuntu working with GNOME on HiDPI, openSUSE 42.3 using rolling development model, exploring kernel blobs|
|• Issue 715 (2017-06-05): Devuan 1.0.0, answering questions on systemd, Linux Mint plans 18.2 beta, Yunit/Unity 8 ported to Debian|
|• Issue 714 (2017-05-29): Void, enabling Wake-on-LAN, Solus packages KDE, Debian 9 release date, Ubuntu automated bug reports|
|• Issue 713 (2017-05-22): ROSA Fresh R9, Fedora's new networking features, FreeBSD's Quarterly Report, UBports opens app store, Parsix to shut down, SELinux overview|
|• Issue 712 (2017-05-15): NixOS 17.03, Alpha Litebook running elementary OS, Canonical considers going public, Solus improves Bluetooth support|
|• Issue 711 (2017-05-08): 4MLinux 21.0, checking file system fragmentation, new Mint and Haiku features, pfSense roadmap, OpenBSD offers first syspatch updates|
|• Issue 710 (2017-05-01): TrueOS 2017-02-22, Debian ported to RISC-V, Halium to unify mobile GNU/Linux, Anbox runs Android apps on GNU/Linux, using ZFS on the root file system|
|• Issue 709 (2017-04-24): Ubuntu 17.04, Korora testing new software manager, Ubuntu migrates to Wayland, running Nix package manager on alternative distributions|
|• Full list of all issues|
|Random Distribution |
SquiggleOS was a Linux distribution built from publicly available open source packages provided by Linspire, a prominent North American Linux vendor. SquiggleOS conforms fully with the upstream vendor's redistribution policies and aims to be 100% binary compatible. SquiggleOS mainly changes packages to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork.