| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 267, 25 August 2008
Welcome to this year's 34th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Not all user-friendly desktop operating systems are based on Linux; as demonstrated by PC-BSD, it is entirely feasible to turn a "geek" project into a piece of software that can be installed and used by even less technical computer users. In this issue, we talk to Kris Moore, PC-BSD lead developer, about his love affair with FreeBSD and the upcoming PC-BSD 7.0. In the news section, Fedora admits that some of its servers have been compromised, Novell signs a new, US$100 million "interoperability" deal with Microsoft, openSUSE ads SELinux support as an alternative security framework, and gNewSense celebrates its second birthday with an updated release of the "freest" Linux distribution. Finally, FreeBSD announces tentative release dates for its upcoming versions 6.4 and 7.1. All this and more in this issue of DistroWatch Weekly - happy reading!
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Interview with Kris Moore, PC-BSD lead developer
The so-called "distribution for the average Joe" market has been expanding at a rapid pace in recent years. While the vast majority of these projects is invariably based on Linux, we have also witnessed a few attempts to create a user-friendly "distribution" based on operating systems that traditionally belonged to the hacker's domain, notably FreeBSD and OpenSolaris. One of them is PC-BSD, a project launched in 2005. Its main goal? To hide the complexity of FreeBSD and to deliver an alternative to Linux on the desktop. Its main claim to fame? The web-based software installation infrastructure called PBI. Its community? Over 8,000 registered forum members and a growing network of world-wide community sites. All this thanks to the original vision and undying conviction of Kris Moore (pictured on the right), the founder and lead developer of PC-BSD.
Kris was kind enough to answer a few questions about his beginnings with FreeBSD and the forthcoming release of PC-BSD 7.0.
* * * * *
DW: Kris, thank you very much for your time. First, could you please introduce yourself? How old are you? Where do you live? What do you do for living?
KM: I am 27 years old, married with 3 young children under the age of 5 (so you can imagine it's pretty hectic around here at times), I live near the beautiful smoky mountains of east Tennessee, in the town of Maryville, and work developing PC-BSD for a living.
DW: Tell us about the beginnings of your love affair with FreeBSD. How did it all start?
KM: Back in the mid-nineties, I started working as a phone technician at a local dial-up ISP, who just happened to run all FreeBSD on its servers. This was my first experience with any sort of *nix based system, and I learned a lot just experimenting with a command prompt for the first time. After I left this job to go to college, I didn't play with FreeBSD for a few years, until afterwards, when I wanted to set up an Apache-based web server.
By this point, I had obtained a few older desktops, and was playing around with various Linux distributions on them, such as Caldera, Red Hat, and SuSE, and enjoyed the nice GUI-based installation systems they offered. However, when I ended up using one of those distros for the web server, I ran into security problems, including a server being hacked into less than 24 hours after finishing a default server install. At that point, I remembered our system administrator back at the ISP, and how he swore up and down about the security and reliability of the FreeBSD system, and I decided to give it another shot. After a few hours of set-up and configuration, I had our FreeBSD Apache server up and running, and that system stayed secure and reliable for its entire lifetime.
DW: What inspired you to create an easy-to-use desktop OS based on a relatively hard-to-use BSD system?
KM: During my time of setting up BSD-based servers, I was still experimenting with various Linux distributions on the desktop. There were several times when I made the jump to run my desktop entirely on Linux, but each time I continued to run into problems. For the most part these weren't hardware issues, rather the problems all dealt with the area of package management. I grew more and more frustrated with the whole concept of a "packaged" distribution, in which all the individual programs are really a part of the OS itself. When trying to upgrade one package, it often triggered updates in other dependencies, which in turn updated other applications, and just often enough something would fail, causing a big mess that I was stuck trying to resolve.
At this point, I began to think, why is it that here we are after the year 2000, and I still have to fix some silly dependency issue, when all I wanted to do was run the latest version of X application. It's not that I couldn't fix the problems, but rather that I had better things to do than wasting time doing it. So I started experimenting with the concept of a self-extracting, self-contained package system, in which programs installed themselves, and lived in their own separate directories, not scattered across the landscape of the OS in a myriad of directories and file systems.
At first I wanted to try the self-contained, package management system on Linux, but found quickly that the differences between the various distros was a huge hurdle to overcome, and aside from a common kernel, pretty much all of them were so different, that a common package management system would be near impossible. This also didn't mesh with my idea of trying to keep the OS and the software completely separate.
Luckily, I was already fairly well-versed in FreeBSD, and decided instead that building our desktop OS on BSD would be far more viable in the long run. I felt, and still feel, that at its core, FreeBSD itself was actually far easier to use than Linux, because of the consistency it provided. All it needed was some of the same attention that Linux has gotten over the years, namely a nice GUI-based installer, and graphical tools to make running the desktop doable for casual computer users.
DW: Do you still get the chance to play with Linux? If so, what do you think are the main differences between the mainstream desktop Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu or Mandriva, and PC-BSD? What do you think are the most compelling reasons for choosing PC-BSD over desktop Linux?
KM: It has been a while since I've sat down and used any of the mainstream desktop Linux distributions, so I've only seen most of the recent versions in passing. However, at first glance to an end user, they would appear to be very similar. We are running on KDE, have a nice working desktop, with 3D support, sound, WiFi and almost all of the same open-source programs, such as Firefox, OpenOffice.org, K3B, etc.
Where the user would immediately begin to notice a difference is in package management. Instead of a large management program, or a repository, users will download a single .pbi file (Firefox3.0.1.pbi, for example). Double-click it, and Firefox will be installed in its own separate directory, such as /Programs/Firefox3.0.1. No mess, no fuss, it just works as it should.
Another area where more experienced users will notice a difference is when they dig down into the command prompt. PC-BSD is 100% FreeBSD under the hood, not a fork. This means experienced users are free to use FreeBSD's ports and package system, re-roll kernels, and tweak the system in any way they see fit.
DW: What about DesktopBSD? Are you in touch with their developers? Do you ever cooperate? How would you compare the two systems, both of which seem to have exactly the same goal - to bring FreeBSD to the desktop of an average computer user?
KM: We communicate with the DesktopBSD developers from time to time. Most of our goals are similar, except in package management. DesktopBSD provides a nice GUI tool which allows users to install software via the FreeBSD ports and packages system. This would appeal to more technical desktop users, while PC-BSD tries to focus on the PBI system, which we feel allows *any* user, either moving from Windows or Mac OS X, to switch to our system and feel immediately productive.
DW: The development of the upcoming PC-BSD 7 is in full swing, with weekly alpha builds getting more and more usable with each release. Can you please introduce the new version? What are the main new features compared to the previous stable PC-BSD release?
KM: PC-BSD 7 is a large step forward in our releases. First of all, we have switched the version scheme to match the base FreeBSD version, which is why we are jumping from PC-BSD 1.5 to PC-BSD 7. This is our first release based on FreeBSD 7, which includes much better driver support, WiFi support, greatly improved SMP support with the ULE scheduler and more. We also have moved to KDE 4.1 and ported our PBI system and GUI toolset to Qt 4.x at the same time. Version 7 will offer several new installation methods as well, including CDs 1 - 3, a DVD, USB image, and boot-only CD/USB image which will allow you to install from a local network or the Internet. This should make getting PC-BSD installed easier than ever, with options for everyone.
PC-BSD 7.0 will be based on FreeBSD 7.0 and will ship with the latest KDE 4.1.
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DW: You have obviously decided that KDE 4.1 will be the default desktop in PC-BSD 7. Was this an easy decision or do you still sometimes have doubts about its usability and bugs? Will there be an option to install KDE 3.5 for those who aren't yet ready to migrate to KDE 4?
KM: This was a tough decision, but one we felt was worth the effort. Since this release is a huge jump up anyway to FreeBSD 7, it will be more worth it in the long run. With all of our tools now KDE4/Qt4-based, we can simply issue patches and online updates to the KDE 4.x desktop quickly, which is not as huge of a jump as it would be releasing with KDE 3.5.x, and then trying to jump to KDE 4 a few months down the road. At this time we don't plan on including KDE 3.5.9 in the default install, but more technical users are welcome to do so via ports after installing the OS. (They can both be installed at the same time.)
DW: A technical one about file systems in PC-BSD: the latest alpha builds offer three file system options: UFS2, UFS2 + Soft Updates, UFS2 + Journaling. Could you please briefly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each? Why is UFS2 + soft updates the default file system?
KM: Actually we are offering four file system types, including ZFS, which can be enabled during the installation boot-up. ZFS, however, is aimed at server installs and probably won't be seen on the desktop as often due to its larger hardware / RAM requirements. On the desktop side of things, we have expanded to offer some choice this time around. Previously we had defaulted to UFS2 + Soft Updates, which we still default to in this release. This was done primarily because during the testing phase, it has proved to be the most reliable and consistent choice for a desktop. UFS + Journaling is also a good choice for a desktop, since it negates the necessity of having to do an "fsck" after a power-failure, among other things.
DW: Will it be possible to upgrade an older PC-BSD version to PC-BSD 7.0 or do you recommend a clean installation?
KM: I'm still working on the upgrade system and hope to have it allow upgrades from PC-BSD 1.5.x -> 7. However, I would strongly recommend a clean install, since this is a very large jump forward, and most programs installed on PC-BSD 1.x (based on FreeBSD 6) will most likely not be binary compatible with 7.
DW: How long before PC-BSD 7.0 goes gold? What exactly still needs to be implemented or fixed prior to the product being declared good enough for public consumption?
KM: We are hitting code freeze this Monday, the 25th, and will then release a public beta in the following week. After that, as long as no serious bugs are found, we plan on going gold early to mid-September.
DW: Kris, thank you very much for your answers and best of luck with your work!
Fedora and Red Hat servers compromised - CentOS unaffected, Novell extends "interoperability" deal; openSUSE ads SELinux support, gNewSense celebrates second birthday, user-visible changes in NetBSD 5.0
Let's start with an item that dominated the coverage on many Linux web sites - the security breach of Fedora and Red Hat servers. This is what happened: "Last week we discovered that some Fedora servers were illegally accessed. The intrusion into the servers was quickly discovered, and the servers were taken offline. One of the compromised Fedora servers was a system used for signing Fedora packages. However, based on our efforts, we have high confidence that the intruder was not able to capture the passphrase used to secure the Fedora package signing key." The fact that it took Fedora more than a week to publish a report on the problem was heavily criticised by some media (see this article by ITWire). However, the simple truth is that as soon as Fedora discovered the breach, they have stopped providing software updates, they mobilised their resources to deal with the situation and, once they analysed the extent of the problem, published a report about it. That's pretty much what I would expect from any distribution - nothing more and nothing less. The incident also confirms another fact: there is no such thing as "100% secure" and similar issues are bound to happen from time to time (one of the Debian servers was also hit by a security compromise in July 2006). While it is regrettable that a server of a major Linux project gets broken into, there is no doubt that Fedora has dealt with the situation in a highly efficient, competent and responsible manner.
* * * * *
As far as the users of Red Hat Enterprise Linux are concerned, the company sent out the following security alert (RHSA-2008-0855) to its customers: "Last week Red Hat detected an intrusion on certain of its computer systems and took immediate action. ... In connection with the incident, the intruder was able to sign a small number of OpenSSH packages relating only to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 (i386 and x86_64 architectures only) and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (x86_64 architecture only). As a precautionary measure, we are releasing an updated version of these packages, and have published a list of the tampered packages and how to detect them." But those customers who use Red Hat Network to update their products are not affected by the issue: "Our processes and efforts to date indicate that packages obtained by Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscribers via Red Hat Network are not at risk."
* * * * *
Next, it was the turn of CentOS, a distribution that is effectively a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and which uses RHEL packages for their own security updates. Karanbir Singh in CentOS position on systems intrusion at Red Hat: "We take security issues very seriously, and as soon as we were made aware of the situation I undertook a complete audit of the entire CentOS 4/5 build and signing infrastructure. We can now assure everyone that no compromise has taken place anywhere within the CentOS infrastructure. Our entire set-up is located behind multiple firewalls, and only accessible from a very small number of places, by only a few people. Also included in this audit were all entry points to the build services, signing machines, primary release machines and connectivity between all these hosts. ... Finally, while we feel confident that there is no possibility of this compromise having been passed onto the CentOS user base, we still encourage users to verify their packages independently using whatever resources they might have available."
* * * * *
The second big newsmaker of the week was Novell as it announced a massive US$100 million expansion of its original "interoperability" agreement with Microsoft. The press release was very clear about the target and benefactors of this agreement - the company's high-volume enterprise customers: "The collaboration between Microsoft and Novell has been built on our desire to meet our customers' real-life IT requirements as well as give our partners greater breadth in their solution offerings." Unfortunately for Novell, the deal is unlikely to go down well with the Linux community, which is generally suspicious of any involvement in Linux by Microsoft, a company with a long-history of threats and anti-Linux FUD campaigns. This is a delicate balancing act on the part of the Utah-based networking giant - on the one hand, its shareholders want the company to deliver solid financial results. On the other hand, however, Novell also needs to be careful not to alienate its openSUSE developer and user community. A difficult task indeed....
* * * * *
Speaking about openSUSE, a surprise announcement appeared on the project's news site last week: the upcoming openSUSE 11.1 will include support for SELinux, a Linux kernel security framework developed by the US-based National Security Agency (NSA): "Beginning with openSUSE 11.1, SUSE users will have an additional option regarding security frameworks. In addition to AppArmor, we will be adding SELinux capabilities in openSUSE 11.1, which will allow users to enable SELinux in openSUSE if they wish. While our customer experience shows that AppArmor is the best solution for the vast majority of users, applications, and use cases, we want to give all of our users the ability to choose the security framework that's appropriate for their respective environments and needs." Although the announcement insists that SELinux will become nothing more than an alternative security option, others are more sceptical about the future of AppArmor: "In late 2007 Novell laid off almost all the developers of AppArmor with the aim of having the community do all the coding. Crispin Cowan (the founder and leader of the AppArmor project) was later hired by Microsoft. ... In a way it's a pity that AppArmor is going away so quickly. The lack of competition is not good for the market, and homogeneity isn't good for security. But on the other hand, this means more resources will be available for SELinux development which will be a good thing."
* * * * *
The fans of free software, as defined by Richard Stallman's Free Software Foundation (FSF), had a chance to rejoice late last week as the gNewSense project announced an updated release of its Ubuntu-based, 100% free Linux distribution (see the "Released Last Week" section below). Interestingly, the release was announced as the project celebrated its second anniversary since the first beta build had hit the download mirrors in August 2006. Brian Brazil, the project's founder and lead developer: "I've just realised that tomorrow will mark the 2-year anniversary of our first release. Accordingly, it's somewhat appropriate that our 10th live CD is released today. It's strange to think that it's well over 2 years since Paul and I started gNewSense. While I remain the main developer, many other people have contributed code, and many many more time and effort, to ensure that this distribution stays free and usable. We were the first to remove all non-free blobs from the kernel and also the first to remove GLX. Through all this work we have produced what is, to the best of my knowledge, the freest GNU/Linux distribution in existence. I'd like to thank everyone for their help and support thus far, and look forward to the future of gNewSense."
gNewSense 2.1 - the freest Linux distribution of them all
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* * * * *
Finally, an update on a project that doesn't often get much coverage in the mainstream computing media, but which nevertheless continues to provide a free operating system for a vast range of devices and processors - NetBSD. With the upcoming version 5.0 about to enter final testing, here is a list of some interesting changes since 4.0, as summarised in Hubert Feyrer's NetBSD 5.0 preview: User visible changes in NetBSD-current: "I've found a bit of spare time to upgrade a NetBSD 4.0 system to NetBSD-current (4.99.69), and during the usual update procedure (boot new kernel; build.sh install=/; etcupdate) I found a number of user-visible changes over NetBSD 4.0 that I'd like to spotlight here: 1. audit-packages and download-vulnerability-list are now part of the NetBSD base system, there's no longer a need to install them via pkgsrc. 2. Per-user-tmp: currently, /tmp is shared by all users. In order to avoid name clashes, the /tmp directory can be made to be unique for each user now. 3. httpd: NetBSD now ships with a web server in base. 4. dhcpcd: NetBSD has shipped with ISC's DHCP client so far, which uses quite a bit or memory. As a supplement, Roy Marples' dhcpcd has been added to the base system. 5. /boot.cfg: NetBSD's second stage bootloader can now load a configuration file on the i386 and amd64 platforms."
|Released Last Week
EnGarde Secure Linux 3.0.20
Guardian Digital has announced the release of EnGarde Secure Linux 3.0.20: "Guardian Digital is happy to announce the release of EnGarde Secure Linux Community 3.0.20. This release includes many updated packages and bug fixes and some feature enhancements to the EnGarde Secure Linux installer and the SELinux policy. New features include: several new packages such as CUPS (1.3.7), lockdev (1.0.1), Minicom (2.3); the latest stable versions of MySQL (5.0.51b), Alpine (1.10), Apache (2.2.9), Asterisk (18.104.22.168), BIND (9.4.2-P1), Dovecot (1.1.1), Linux kernel (2.6.26), OpenSSH (5.0p1), PHP (5.2.6), Postfix (2.5.2), PostgreSQL (8.2.9), Samba (3.2.0)...." Read the release announcement and release notes for further information.
antiX MEPIS 7.5
MEPIS has announced a new release of antiX MEPIS, a Debian-based distribution designed to run on computers with older or limited hardware: "Anti and MEPIS announce the release of antiX MEPIS 7.5 'Toussaint Louverture'. Built using the MEPIS Linux 7.0 core, including the MEPIS 2.6.22 kernel and utilities, along with selected additions from Debian 'Lenny', this light-weight operating system is especially appropriate for older hardware and users who like a very fast and highly configurable system. New features based on community contributions are led by the antiX Control Centre, which provides a single place for managing desktop, system, network, and hardware. Also the well-tested smxi script permits the user to maintain a rolling upgrade of kernels and drivers" Read the rest of the release announcement for more information.
antiX MEPIS 7.5 - an interesting alternative for older or underpowered boxes
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Zenwalk Linux 5.2 "GNOME"
George Vlahavas has announced the final release of Zenwalk Linux 5.2 "GNOME" edition: "Zenwalk GNOME 5.2 is now available. Based on Zenwalk current, it features the latest stable GNOME 2.22.3 Desktop, with a familiar Zenwalk desktop layout and beautiful Zenwalk artwork. Included in this release are Linux kernel 22.214.171.124, the latest X.Org 7.3 suite of X servers and the next generation of the Netpkg package manager. Zenwalk GNOME follows the 'one application per task' philosophy: Iceweasel and Icedove for all your browsing and email needs, wicd for easy connecting to wireless networks, Brasero for burning CD/DVD discs, AbiWord and Gnumeric for your office needs, the GIMP for editing graphics files and photos, gtkam for managing your digital camera and gmusicbrowser for handling huge collections of music. Totem is the multimedia player of choice." Here is the complete release announcement.
A "GNOME" edition of the Slackware-based Zenwalk Linux made its official debut over the weekend.
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Brian Brazil has announced the release of gNewSense 2.1, an updated version of the Ubuntu-based distribution which contains free software only: "I've just released the live CD for gNewSense 2.1, the second full release of 'DeltaH'. This brings in a number of updates, fixes and improvements. Changes since 2.0 include: Linux-ubuntu-modules cleared of non-free blobs; usplash added; new theme and artwork; re-added fix for module-init-tools for eepro100; builder - live CD no longer asks for password on sudo; builder - added support for extra repositories in python-apt; builder - various tweaks, fixes and improvements. Upgrading from 1.9/2.0: Follow the upgrade notifications in GNOME. There's no need to download the 2.1 CD. To change to the gNewSense theme in GNOME, go to System -> Preferences -> Appearance. Select 'gNewSense' in the 'Themes' tab and press 'Close'." Read the full release announcement for more details.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
FreeBSD 6.4 and 7.1
The FreeBSD project has published a preliminary roadmap that will eventually lead to the stable versions 6.4 and 7.1, both of which are expected in the first half of October 2008. For more information please see the announcement on FreeBSDNews.net. As always, this is a tentative proposal rather than a fixed release schedule and delays can be expected.
* * * * *
Summary of expected upcoming releases
Site news: translation to Urdu, status reclassification|
Two quick site updates. Firstly, the native speakers of Urdu, the national language of Pakistan and one of the many official languages of India, can now read parts of DistroWatch in their language - all thanks to excellent work by Muhammad Fahd Waseem. Secondly, Luke Seubert has volunteered to check the status of each distribution (whether it's active, dormant or discontinued) and update the DistroWatch database. This work is ongoing; it should result in greater accuracy and in elimination of those projects that no longer work on their distributions. Many thanks to both Luke and Muhammad for their help.
* * * * *
New distributions added to database
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 1 September 2008.
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|• 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 |
Leeenux is an Ubuntu-based commercial Linux distribution tailored to netbooks. Several editions, depending on the user interface are available; these include Unity 2D, MATE and LXDE desktop environments.
|Tips, Tricks, Myths and Q&As |
|Tips and tricks: Find common words in text, find high memory processs, cd short-cuts, pushd & popd, record desktop|
|Questions and answers: Getting to know how the system works|
|Tips and tricks: Basename, for loop, dirname, aliases, bash history, xsel clipboard|
|Tips and tricks: Hiding processes from other users, get geographical location of IP address|
|Tips and tricks: Running Fedora "Rawhide"|
|Questions and answers: Removing zombie processes|
|Tips and tricks: Running Mandriva "Cooker"|
|Questions and answers: Using a distro with upstream packages|
|Questions and answers: Converting ext3 to ext4|
|Questions and answers: Kernel blobs and getting rid of them|
|More Tips & Tricks and Questions & Answers|