| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 254, 26 May 2008
Welcome to this year's 21st issue of DistroWatch Weekly! An interesting week that brought two big enterprise Linux updates (SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 SP2 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2, both released on the same day) and a number of smaller distribution releases, of which Absolute Linux 12.1, Ultimate Linux 1.8 and TinyMe 2008.0 seem the most impressive. But the big focus of the coming weeks is undoubtedly openSUSE 11.0 - the most innovative Linux distribution release for some time. Do help with testing, though, if you can. In the news section, Paul Frields and Mark Shuttleworth talk to various publications about their respective distributions, CentOS explains why it takes three weeks to build a new version of its distribution, Xubuntu plans to add some of the much-requested features into Intrepid Ibex, and Famelix GNU/Linux receives undue attention from Microsoft's anti-piracy body. Also not to be missed: our first look at OpenSolaris 2008.05 and an update on Zenwalk's package management utility, Netpkg. Happy reading!
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A look at OpenSolaris 2008.05 (by John Frey)
OpenSolaris is based on the Solaris operating system by Sun Microsystems. The Solaris code was released under an open source license in June 2005 and has since spawned at least five distributions (unlike the BSD developers, the OpenSolaris coders don't object to calling these operating systems "distributions"). In March 2007, Sun Microsystems hired Ian Murdock and it was the founder of Debian GNU/Linux who launched "Project Indiana", a desktop-oriented distribution based on the OpenSolaris source code and complete with a graphical system installer and proper package management. Indiana was later renamed to OpenSolaris and this has now become the distribution that Sun Microsystems would like us to install and use on our desktop computers.
I ran the OpenSolaris 2008.05 CD on two test systems. The first with an AMD Opteron processor, 1.5 GB of RAM, a Radeon 8500 video card and an ASUS nForce3 motherboard. The second system was a Dell Pentium 3, with 256 MB RAM. I've installed several distributions on both of these machines and the hardware is well supported under Linux. The CD hung while booting on the Dell and that was it for testing on that machine. OpenSolaris needs at least 512 MB of RAM and so the Dell was under specifications.
The CD boots into a GRUB menu where you can choose OpenSolaris or boot from the hard drive. You need to select a keyboard layout and language to complete the boot process. This is nice and simple but I would have liked to see more text information about what is going on during boot and/or a progress bar. The boot messages stopped at a prompt "opensolaris console login:" and it stayed there for a long time before eventually starting GNOME. Obviously something was happening but there was no feedback and it had me confused, thinking I needed to type a user name and password to get to a desktop. The boot is neither fast nor slow, about what you would expect from a recent Linux distro.
OpenSolaris 2008.05 - the default desktop look
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The operating system has a standard GNOME desktop with four icons: LiveCD, Device Driver Utility, Getting Started and Install Open Solaris. I chose the Device driver utility first to check how well my hardware was supported. There were four devices not supported, both Ethernet cards (onboard and an add-on card), the onboard Promise SATA controller and a Syba 2-port SATA controller I added some time ago. This led me online to check out the hardware support on the OpenSolaris site. The list of supported hardware was well laid out and easy to browse but none of my devices were listed. Hardware support for OpenSolaris appears to be well behind Linux.
While browsing for information I found the Installation Check Tool, a bootable ISO image. I recommend running this tool before downloading OpenSolaris to see if your hardware is supported. After the detection scan I was informed that there was 3rd party support for my Ethernet cards, but no drivers for the SATA controllers. The IDE controller worked fine but I had no IDE hard drive and that put the kibosh on any plans to install OpenSolaris.
I didn't want to hassle with drivers without an Internet connection so I swapped out the D-Link and replaced it with an SMC 1211TX which seemed to work OK. On restarting the system there was no network connection but this time the device driver utility said the drivers were installed for the network card. OpenSolaris uses Service Management Facility (SMF) to start and stop services and daemons. Pretty soon I was reading the man pages for svcs (services) and svcadm (service administration). "Svcadm restart svc:/network/physical:nwam" was the command I needed to get a network connection. Throughout my testing I kept getting a pop-up telling me the network was going down then up again but this could have been a hardware issue.
I could read the network settings with ifconfig. My Ethernet card was called rtls0. I presume because the chip on the card was a RealTek. There must be a general system name like eth0 for all Ethernet connections but I did not find it. Some other commands like cat, nmap, and vi are available, but things like lspci, sed and cfdisk are not. The fdisk utility is available but you have to learn the Solaris designations for partitions as /dev/hdx are not there. You will find most of the standard file tree but there was a new (to me) folder named "platform". My Linux knowledge was useful but not reliable. Obviously if I wanted to administer OpenSolaris there would be a lot to learn. That's part of its appeal.
The OpenSolaris website is well laid out and easy to navigate. Digging down into the information will often lead you to the Sun site and Sun documentation. This means there is a lot of stuff to read and I had little difficulty finding answers to questions I had, whether it was about the operating system administration, the file system or software.
For general desktop use, OpenSolaris mostly has one application for each function. There is only a document reader but of course OpenOffice.org can be installed. Java is installed by default, no surprise there, and there is a Solaris Flash plugin on the Adobe site that I installed but it didn't work for me. I was not able to test video playback, but I have to assume that playable formats will be limited. There's no Skype or any other VoIP application for OpenSolaris, as far as I can tell. Other than that, the usual software for browsing, e-mail, photo editing, etc, are available. Don't expect to find a lot of alternatives in the repositories either. There is some extra software but you won't find a variety of web browsers or chat programs available.
From this experience I would not recommend OpenSolaris for older computers, although I would be interested in trying it on a PII or PIII server with the required 512 MB or more RAM. Also, hardware support is very limited. For OpenSolaris to become a player on the desktop they will need much better hardware support. I suspect that as far as Sun is concerned, this is fine because they are interested in rolling out end-to-end solutions that include hardware. The selection of software is certainly adequate for a general desktop computer, at least once OpenOffice.org is installed. The desktop was totally stable with nothing crashing during testing. The only real instability with the system was the network which may very well have been hardware related and the operating system handled user notification about the issue very nicely.
Just a note on licensing. Most of OpenSolaris is licensed under the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL). This is a free software license according to the Free Software Foundation (FSF), although incompatible with the General Public License (GPL) 2, and open source according to the Open Source Initiative (OSI). There are rumours that OpenSolaris may be released under the GPL 3 but that remains to be seen.
So to sum up, stable, fast, good documentation and web site. Very poor hardware support, on-board Promise controllers are as common as houses. Adequate GNU/Linux compatibility and an adequate software selection. This is mostly a release for developers but it is a fully functional, stable operating system on which to build.
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Editor's note. While OpenSolaris is a highly interesting project, it still belongs to the developers' domain, even after the first stable release. Why? Firstly, the minimum requirement of 512 MB of RAM (and that's "untested", according to the project's web site) seems unreasonably high. I booted the OpenSolaris CD on my old test machine which has 384 MB of RAM - just to find it completely unusable (the GNOME screenshot utility took 20 minutes(!) to launch). Interestingly, it wasn't the case with the two developer previews that the project released prior to stable 2008.05, both of which ran fine on the same box. It goes without saying that all Linux distributions and BSD operating systems (including live CDs) run satisfactorily on this system. Secondly, OpenSolaris 2008.05 ships with no text-mode installer, a feature that every serious Linux distribution has had for years. Yes, OpenSolaris 2008.05 might be targeted at the desktop, but with a large combination of hardware available today, it's ludicrous to assume that a graphical installer will work in all possible scenarios.
openSUSE's final testing push, interviews with Paul Frields and Mark Shuttleworth, plans for upcoming Xubuntu and CentOS, Linux.com on Famelix and NimbleX, Zenwalk's new Netpkg
Following the recent wave of new releases of many popular Linux distributions, all eyes are now on openSUSE and its upcoming version 11.0. Those interested in helping with beta testing and bug reporting will get their last chance later this week - the one and only release candidate is expected to hit the download mirrors before the weekend. What should we expect? Masim Sugianto gives a partial answer in this test report of openSUSE 11.0 beta 3: "Here is a short of summary of beta 3 from my own perspective: the live CD is much better than the previous one and it looks pretty stable for production use; beta 3 come with KDE 4.0.4, Firefox 3.0 beta 5, OpenOffice.org 2.4.0; the Zypper package manager is much faster and has become my default package manager...." One other quick note: if you are following the openSUSE 11.0 factory tree with Zypper and your recently updated system fails to boot, remember to add the "acpi=off" argument to the GRUB boot prompt before attempting to boot the system.
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Softpedia has published an excellent interview with Fedora Project Leader Paul W. Frields. Replying to the author's question on how Fedora intends to overtake Ubuntu, Frields argues that the two projects have vastly different goals and that for Fedora, increasing the number of its users is not nearly as important as increasing the number of its contributors: "Interestingly, this question assumes that Fedora's goals, and the way we achieve them, are exactly the same as Ubuntu's. Like Ubuntu, we have millions of users. We're able to report that, based on the entirely open source technologies we use for our project. The key to Fedora's strategy is realizing that doubling our number of users doesn't help advance free and open source software as much as doubling the number of active contributors. The work those contributors do creates a far better experience with Linux, and that work reaches audiences through many channels besides just the Fedora Project. Some technology examples include NetworkManager, PackageKit, IcedTea and OpenJDK 6, and ext4. You can see these technologies in distributions other than Fedora, which shows the impact this 'culture of contribution' idea is having across FOSS."
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Another week, another interview with Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu. This time, however, the interview was conducted by a major UK daily newspaper, The Guardian. Does the benevolent dictator of the most popular desktop Linux distribution think that GNU/Linux will ever become a significant force on the desktop? "I think that depends on how people define a desktop. If people continue to define a desktop as the thing that they run Microsoft Word on, then Windows will retain its position. My sense, though, is that people are increasingly defining the desktop as the thing that they get access to the internet from. In that case, there's a real possibility that we're able to shift people onto different platforms. I think it's the emergence of the internet as the killer application, the thing that describes what you want from the computer, that opens the door to us."
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Those readers who are interested in Ubuntu technologies, but would prefer a distribution with a lighter footprint should take a look at Xubuntu, one of the project's most successful derivatives. Cody Somerville, in his blog post entitled Why Xubuntu Intrepid is going to rock, hints at some of the innovations and enhancements expected to feature in the project's next release, version 8.10 "Intrepid Ibex": "One things that has been constantly requested of Xubuntu is to maintain a light-weight, fast profile. Unfortunately, we're not seeing the performance we'd like, but one thing I've been focusing on is learning about ways to profile and slim down our desktop. If all goes well, I think we'll see Xubuntu lose a few pounds for Intrepid. Another item that I'm looking at implementing for Intrepid is browsing of Samba shares in Thunar via FUSE; another common request. Although this isn't guaranteed, I am rather confident this is an enhancement that we will be able to provide on time and one which will most undoubtedly improve user's experience while using Xubuntu."
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Following the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 last week, CentOS (and other Red Hat clones) are preparing to issue their own updated releases. But why does it take so long to build CentOS 5.2 from source code that is already available on Red Hat's download servers? Tim Verhoeven explains: "First, we need to remove all the logos and trademarks of upstream. Secondly, we need to build everything from source and this for both i386 and x86_64 architectures. Then everything that gets built goes past the QA team that verifies that everything works as it should. From all the build packages install media will be created and these also need to be tested by the QA team. For each release a set of release notes are created and these are translated in different languages (12 for CentOS 5.1). Finally, all the packages and media need to be uploaded in distributed to the mirror network so you can download it. So this is why it takes a couple of weeks for a CentOS release to come out and remember that all this is done by volunteers and we could always use some more. So if you have some spare time and are willing to help you can make yourself known in the centos-devel mailing list."
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Should Linux distributions look and behave like Windows or Mac OS X, or should they introduce their own features and technologies without copying other operating systems? While each of the two sides has valid arguments, the simple fact is that as long as they are other operating systems, there will be Linux distributions trying to imitate their user interfaces. One of the more successful among them is Brazil's Famelix GNU/Linux, a Debian-based distribution that has successfully cloned the look and feel of Windows Vista: "One of the perennial debates about the GNU/Linux desktop is how much it should resemble Windows. Usually, the debate is framed in terms of whether the desktop should look familiar to new users, or be developed in whatever way seems most logical. However, if the experience of the Famelix distribution in Brazil is any indication, imitating Windows and outperforming it can also leave you open to other threats, including accusations of piracy and changes of policy by Windows-centric management."
Famelix GNU/Linux 2.1 - even a Microsoft representative apparently mistook it for an illegal copy of Windows Vista.
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Finally, a note and a screenshot from Jean-Philippe Guillemin, the lead developer of Zenwalk Linux. The reason? A large number of interesting improvements in Zenwalk's graphical package manager, Netpkg: "Netpkg 'NG' is a full object-oriented rewrite of the graphical user interface and package processing engine in multi-threaded Gtk-Perl and C. Netpkg is designed around two modules: the Netpkg module providing main and common functions, and the PVfilter module providing the binding to Netpkg's binary version parser. Improvements: better layout - treelike view of packages, many help pop-ups, ultra-intuitive user interface, automatic colorization of icons depending on the status of each package; full internationalization of the user interface; real-time multi-level recursive dependency computing; repository browser, with history and automatic saving; two levels of full-text search into packages descriptions; 500% faster."
Zenwalk Linux 5.2 - package management with Netpkg
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|Released Last Week
eAR OS 1.08
Acoustic Reality has announced the release of eAR OS 1.08, an Ubuntu-based, multimedia-oriented distribution featuring an advanced media centre: "eAR OS Free edition 1.08 has been released for free download. New features have been added, for example you may now record your LPs to the hard disk in lossless FLAC format. Also the dockbar has been recompiled to be visible on all workspaces and users with much RAM may enable the 3D desktop effects. eAR OS Free Edition Version 1.08 has build-in recovery of the eAR Media Center It also comes with semi-automatic installation of proprietary hardware drivers; compared to a previous release, the live CD now supports more than 20 extra sound cards that work out-of-the-box. eAR OS 1.08 comes with Linux Real-Time kernel 2.6.24 for audiophile sound quality." Visit the distribution's news page to read the full release announcement.
eAR OS 1.08 features a Mac OS X-like dockbar with a variety of effects.
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Michael Creel has announced the release of PelicanHPC 1.5.1 (formerly PrallelKnoppix), a Debian-based live CD designed to make it simple to set up a high-performance computing cluster. This updates fixes the recent "predictable randomness" vulnerability in Debian's build of OpenSSL and all users are strongly encouraged to upgrade. From the announcement: "PelicanHPC1.5.1 released. Changes: fixes a major security problem related to SSH keys, all users who connect their cluster to a network are strongly encouraged to update; added fail2ban to discourage brute force SSH attacks; MPITB and other example code for Octave is now pre-compiled; package updates, including Octave 3.0.1 and OpenMPI 1.2.6."
Absolute Linux 12.1
Paul Sherman has announced the release of Absolute Linux 12.1, a light-weight, Slackware-based distribution featuring the IceWM window manager: "Absolute Linux 12.1 final released. Last tweaks before release involved file-finding utility (ff.py) for which I improved the graphical user interface (colors, font usage). Because I also updated to latest PCMan File Manager (4.1.1), which I believe was a code clean-up, performance improved and I further customized it to include the file finder utility mentioned above in the Tools menu. Absolute Linux CD2, additional software and documentation: recompiled libsndfile and Audacity for CD2; latest libsndfile does not work with latest flac. Also read that Audacity will be worked on in Google Summer of Code for additional sound formats, which would be nice - but I updated Audacity for CD2, anyway." Read the full release announcement for more details.
Absolute Linux - a light-weight, Slackware-based distribution with IceWM
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SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 SP2
Novell has announced the release of SUSE Linux Enterprise 10, Service Pack 2: "Novell today announced the availability of SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 Service Pack 2 (SP2), containing enhancements in virtualization, management, hardware enablement and interoperability. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP2 is the only Xen-based virtualization solution with full support from Microsoft for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003 guests and live migration of those guests across physical machines." This release provides security fixes and feature enhancements to SUSE Linux Enterprise 10, originally released in July 2006, but also includes package updates for popular software, such as Firefox (22.214.171.124) and OpenOffice.org (2.4.0). Please read the complete press release for further information.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2
Red Hat has announced the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5.2, the second update to its RHEL 5.x product series: "Today we released the second update to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. As with earlier minor releases, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 comes with a broad set of bug fixes, updated hardware support capabilities, quality improvements, and a set of new software features that have been backported from upstream open source projects to the Enterprise Linux 5 code base. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 enhancements are primarily focused in six areas: virtualization, laptop and desktop improvements, encryption and security, cluster and storage enhancements, networking and IPv6 enablement, serviceability." Read the press release and release notes for more details.
Ultimate Edition 1.8
Ultimate Edition 1.8, an Ubuntu-based distribution featuring a variety of user-friendly enhancements, has been released: "Ultimate Edition 1.8 is built based on Ubuntu Hardy Heron; unlike the previous builds, which were created by a tool called 'reconstructor', I built this one by hand. I am releasing both a 32-bit and a 64-bit edition. Hotrod is a fitting name for it, if you have a 64-bit processor I highly recommend the 64-bit edition. This release was built from scratch using Ubuntu 'Hardy Heron' LTS with all the goodies you have came to love with previous editions and a few new ones. I would like to point out that the usplash is fully carried through after installation (the dragon)." Read the complete release announcement which includes a number of screenshots.
Ultimate Edition 1.8 delivers an enhanced DVD with extra applications and attractive artwork.
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Musix GNU+Linux 1.0R4
Marcos Guglielmetti has announced the release of Musix GNU/Linux 1.0R4, the fourth revision of the Debian-based distribution featuring a large collection of free software for creative artists: "The Musix GNU+Linux 1.0R4 live DVD was produced on the basis of the stable version 1.0R3 CD. Musix 1.0 is based on KNOPPIX and stable Debian but it has the latest versions of many important applications. New and upgraded software on the live DVD: Rakarrack (a great effects processor for guitars), LASH 0.5.4, AZR3 1.0.3 (a high quality Hammond organ emulator, ported from a VSTi), Asma davul drum kit... Many fundamental programs have been updated since Musix 1.0R3: Ardour 2.1 (2.4.1 available as a DEB package), Rosegarden 1.7.0, Jackd 0.109.2, LMMS 0.3.2, QJackCtl 0.3.2, WhySynth 2008-04-12, and more. Dozens of packages were upgraded to the latest Debian Etch versions for security reasons." Read the complete release notes for further details.
Musix 1.0r4 is the project's first live DVD release.
(full image size: 188kB, screen resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Volker Theile has announced the release of FreeNAS 0.686.4: "FreeNAS 0.686.4 stable was released today. It is a maintenance release so no new features have been included. Changes: Set subnet mask to 24 per default if DHCP is activated, otherwise WebGUI is not accessible in most networks when changing from DHCP to static; do not validate sync time values when pressing 'Now' on status report page; add ability to add multiple destination email addresses on status report page; display interfaces with status 'associated' in UPnP services WebGUI too; add ability to configure multiple host names for Dynamic DNS service; add patch to do a file system check on root if necessary; display correct share name for mounted ISOs on initial system page; fix CPU graph script error...." More in the release announcement.
VMKnoppix (formerly Xenoppix) is a specialist Debian and KNOPPIX-based Linux live medium featuring a collection of Virtual Machine (VM) software, such as Xen, KVM, VirtualBox, QEMU, KQEMU (QEMU with accelerator) and UserMode Linux. A new version, based on KNOPPIX 5.3.1, was released yesterday: "VMKnoppix 5.3.1 CD with Xen 3.2.1 (20080519 version) is released. Features: the KNOPPIX base is updated to version 5.3.1 (kernel 2.6.24); include secure virtual machine monitor, BitVisor 0.2;updated Xen to version 3.2.1; include Internet boot loader InetBoot; includes network bootloader gPXE which deals with normal PXE and HTTP/iSCSI boot; include GRUB-IMA (Integrity Measurement Architecture) which treats trusted boot; set up Xen 3.2.1 + vTPM (TPM Emulator) for trusted computing; include Internet Client, OS Circular; includes QEMU 0.9.1 (x86_64) which offers ADM-V instruction set for virtual machines." Visit the project's home page to read the release announcement.
The first stable version of TinyMe, a PCLinuxOS-based mini-distribution designed for older computers, is out: "TinyMe 2008.0 has been released! TinyMe is a PCLinuxOS-based distribution, which is targeted at older computers and people who want a very light and fast desktop environment. Although TinyMe comes as a small, 200 MB ISO image, it provides tools for most everyday wants and needs: AbiWord word processor; Opera web browser; Audacious media player; GThumb photo viewer and digital camera application; Asunder CD ripper; easy-to use Control Centers which make customizing the system and desktop look and feel a snap; Sylpheed e-mail client; ePDFView, a PDF viewer; SciTE text editor. TinyMe's desktop environment consists of Openbox for the window manager, LXPanel for the panel, Nitrogen sets the wallpaper, and iDesk provides the icons." Read the rest of the release announcement for further details.
TinyMe, a mini-distribution for older computers, features the Openbox window manager.
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Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
- Untangle Gateway. Untangle Gateway is a KNOPPIX-based network gateway with pluggable modules for network applications like spam blocking, web filtering, anti-virus, anti-spyware, intrusion prevention, VPN, SSL VPN, firewall, and more.
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New distributions added to waiting list
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DistroWatch database summary
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 2 June 2008.
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|Linux Foundation Training
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|• Issue 740 (2017-11-27): Artix Linux, Unity spin of Ubuntu, Nitrux swaps Snaps for AppImage, getting better battery life on Linux|
|• Issue 739 (2017-11-20): Fedora 27, cross-distro software ports, Ubuntu on Samsung phones, Red Hat supports ARM, Parabola continues 32-bit support|
|• Issue 738 (2017-11-13): SparkyLinux 5.1, rumours about spyware, Slax considers init software, Arch drops 32-bit packages, overview of LineageOS|
|• Issue 737 (2017-11-06): BeeFree OS 18.1.2, quick tips to fix common problems, Slax returning, Solus plans MATE and software management improvements|
|• Issue 736 (2017-10-30): Ubuntu 17.10, "what if" security questions, Linux Mint to support Flatpak, NetBSD kernel memory protection|
|• Issue 735 (2017-10-23): ArchLabs Minimo, building software with Ravenports, WPA security patch, Parabola creates OpenRC spin|
|• Issue 734 (2017-10-16): Star 1.0.1, running the Linux-libre kernel, Ubuntu MATE experiments with snaps, Debian releases new install media, Purism reaches funding goal|
|• Issue 733 (2017-10-09): KaOS 2017.09, 32-bit prematurely obsoleted, Qubes security features, IPFire updates Apache|
|• Issue 732 (2017-10-02): ClonOS, reducing Snap package size, Ubuntu dropping 32-bit Desktop, partitioning disks for ZFS|
|• Issue 731 (2017-09-25): BackSlash Linux Olaf, W3C adding DRM to web standards, Wayland support arrives in Mir, Debian experimenting with AppArmor|
|• Issue 730 (2017-09-18): Mageia 6, running a completely free OS, HAMMER2 file system in DragonFly BSD's installer, Manjaro to ship pre-installed on laptops|
|• Full list of all issues|
|Random Distribution |
Cub Linux (formerly Chromixium) was an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution that attempts to recreate the look & feel and functionality of Google's Chrome OS on a conventional desktop. It combines the Openbox window manager with the Compton desktop compositor, Plank dock and LXDE's LXPanel to provide the desktop and menus. The Chromium web browser, equipped with the PepperFlash plugin, was the main online application, although the complete array of Ubuntu software can be easily added for offline/desktop use. Ubuntu updates are installed automatically, providing long-term security support.