| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 312, 20 July 2009
Welcome to the 29th issue of DistroWatch Weekly for 2009!
Leading the news this past week is Mandriva, who has released several
new projects including updated 2009 Spring USB and MLO Live CD editions,
as well as Enterprise Server 5. We also take a look at the issues and difficulties
involved in making CentOS 5.3 run on a netbook. Elsewhere this past week, Moblin
benefits with contributions from HyperSpace, while version 4 of ULTILEX
is released - a new distro which ships several other distros on a
single live CD or USB stick. We also include interviews with Richard
Stallman and Mark Shuttleworth, and finally a case study which looks at
the relationship between distributions and upstream projects. Have a
great Monday and the rest of the week!
Join us at irc.freenode.net #distrowatch
|Feature Story (by Caitlyn Martin)
Installing CentOS 5.3 on a Netbook - A Cautionary Tale
For a number of years my business and indeed my career have largely been
focused on Linux and one distribution in particular: Red Hat
Enterprise Linux (RHEL). When I consulted for Red Hat, the company, in 2004 and
2005 and for sometime thereafter I had RHEL 4 installed on my old
Toshiba Satellite laptop and it ran reasonably well.
Last month Radu-Cristian Fotescu, who writes the Planète Béranger blog,
about running CentOS 5.3 on the desktop, describing his experiences as
"simple pleasures". Mr. Fotescu has a well
earned reputation for negativity, particularly when it comes to Linux
distributions. He has been positively effusive about CentOS 5.3, going
so far as to create his
own repository of additional or updated desktop software for CentOS
and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.x, and sharing it with the community. As a
result I began toying with the idea of running CentOS on my
Netbook Meso. CentOS is a 100% compatible rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise
Linux without support or cost.
I knew from my experience with the Toshiba laptop with both RHEL 4.x and
5.x that this wasn't going to be straightforward. Nobody has ever
accused CentOS or Red Hat Enterprise Linux of being easy to install and
configure. The reasons Red Hat has all but captured most of the corporate
server and Linux workstation market are reliability, stability, security,
and support. It's a professional operating system intended for Linux
professionals. Generally most larger business and organizations do
some sort of automated network installations. Doing a one-off installation
of CentOS on an odd piece of hardware involves some work.
In the case of my netbook "some work" is quite the understatement. CentOS
5.x is based largely on Fedora 6, now more than two
and a half years old and largely viewed as obsolete. The folks at Red Hat
famously backport support for newer hardware into their enterprise
releases which, in turn, show up in CentOS so I had hoped for fairly good
results out of the virtual box. While it certainly is true that netbooks
and nettops (mini desktops) have found their way into the corporate world
it turns out they really are not at all well supported by CentOS just yet.
In many ways making this work was analogous to putting a square peg in a
round hole. I was, in effect, trying to do something that CentOS really
just isn't designed to do.
This article should not be seen as a critical review of
CentOS or Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Both are very, very good at what they
set out to do, which is to provide an extremely secure and stable
environment with tried and tested (usually meaning older) software. Rather
it is a cautionary tale of what happens when you try to use this
particular distro in a way that really wasn't intended. After all, when
CentOS 5 first appeared there were no netbooks on the market yet. Even when
the Asus EeePC first became popular nobody would have imagined netbooks
in an enterprise environment. It took a combination of improved
netbook specs and a severe global economic crisis to make that happen
even on a small scale. Netbook support simply wasn't seen as something
important to backport into to an enterprise OS.
While making CentOS work on a netbook is certainly possible it isn't for
the faint of heart. I decided to document and share some of my
CentOS 5.3 uses Red Hat's venerable anaconda installer. Since my
intention was to install to the hard drive I used the standard CentOS
DVD iso image, not the live DVD. In effect what I was installing was all
but identical to the upstream (Red Hat) product.
The first sign that this wasn't going to be easy showed up as
soon as the graphical part of the installer loaded. anaconda does not
support the 1024x600 resolution popular on netbooks with 8.9" and 10"
screens. Instead the installer ran at 800x600 but rather than stretching
to fit the screen as some distros do it left a large black space on the
right hand part of the display. This really didn't present a problem in
and of itself.
I began going through the normal install process, answering the usual
questions. I chose to do a highly customized installation, reusing an
existing partition and picking and choosing what to install on an
application-by-application basis. While selecting packages the display
went black. This wasn't the usual screensaver blanking as I was
actively working with the system when it happened. I could use CTRL-ALT and
the function keys to get to the virtual terminals and see what appeared
to be normal installer progress but I couldn't get the graphical installer
to reappear no matter what I tried.
I could have started over with the old text based installer which is
still offered as an alternative with CentOS 5.3. Partly because I
wanted to understand why this was happening and partly because I am more
than a bit stubborn at times I decided to try anaconda again. I never
did get an error in the log and on the third try it did get all the way
through the installation process. I never did figure out what caused the
problem. If you intend to try installing CentOS on a system with an
Intel Express Graphics 945 video chipset I do recommend using the text
Once I had CentOS 5.3 up and running I decided to
install any security patches and updates before doing anything else. I
saw no sense in running an insecure system even for a short while.
Since I was planning a feature article on CentOS for DistroWatch Weekly
(actually a review of CentOS 5.3 on the desktop rather than what I've
published today) I decided to do things the user friendly way and use
pirut, the graphical update tool, rather than yum at the command line.
It turned out that these decisions may not have been the best.
I had never seen this particular netbook run slowly before. After the
initial installation everything was creeping. Even filling in the icons
in the Applications menu on the default GNOME desktop took time. That should have
been my first
order of business. Pirut ran but it was painfully slow. It showed a
large list of necessary upgrades. I went ahead and clicked on the button
to apply the upgrades. The result had the appearance of a fly trapped in
amber: the system was trying to move but it just couldn't. I walked
away, made a cup of tea, and did see some very slow progress when I returned. Opening the
system monitor made clear that part of the problem was a poor connection
to the CentOS repository or mirror with only intermittent network
traffic. Even when the downloads were completed pirut still ran
incredibly slowly. The upgrade process did successfully finish, more than
three hours later. My recommendation here is not to repeat my mistakes.
Tweak first and patch later. I know the security paranoid folks who are
reading this are shaking their heads and with good reason. At the very
least if you must patch first use yum rather than pirut.
With my system now patched but still excruciatingly slow I decided to start looking
at the cause. I went into the System menu and took a look at what
services were running. CentOS starts a lot of things by default that
make sense in a large enterprise environment but which really aren't
needed on a netbook. I expected that I'd have some services to disable and
that I'd see improved performance once I'd done that. What I didn't
expect to see was that everything I had deselected during install had
been automagically reselected by anaconda. I had a long list of
daemons running services that I had deliberately tried not to install.
The best explanation I have for the cause is that for the packages I wanted
anaconda had resolved dependencies and deemed that all the cruft was
somehow necessary. CentOS packages are built for maximum features and
functionality, not streamlined for efficiency. This is a philosophical
choice which makes sense for the target audience: enterprise customers
with large, diverse networks. The result outside such an environment is
I first stopped and then disabled all the services I just do not need.
The increase in performance was immediate and obvious. My system was no
longer slow at all. A further review of what processes I still had
running allowed me to do a bit more cleanup and the final result was a
Missing Drivers and Other Issues
When I reviewed the services I actually added one: Network Manager. Once
I had that running it became very clear that WiFi wasn't working. CentOS
is the first current distro which I've tried on the netbook that didn't
recognize my RaLink wireless chipset and load the rt73 driver. That
driver wasn't part of the 2.6.18 kernel and hasn't been backported into
the CentOS kernel as of yet. I visited all of the third party
repositories I know of for RHEL/CentOS and couldn't find a package for
the driver. The only available solution was to get the legacy source
code from CVS on SourceForge and compile it.
My webcam was also decidedly non-functional, also due to a missing driver.
This was despite the fact that anaconda had seen fit to install video
conferencing software I had specifically deselected: software which is
useless without a functional webcam. Once again my only choice was to
download and compile source code. I actually haven't found time to do
Another mildy annoying issue is the way my SD cards are handled by
CentOS. Instead of getting one icon on the desktop when I insert the
card I get two. In addition, I can't unmount the card without
forcing it as root at the command line. Right clicking on one of the icons and
selecting unmount doesn't work. One icon does disappear but the
card is still mounted and the system thinks the card is still in
use. Unmounting by right clicking on the second icon doesn't solve
the problem. Nothing happens at all. I haven't had time to
troubleshoot this problem yet either.
Getting CentOS working correctly on my netbook has turned into a long and
somewhat arduous process. Fortunately I am very, very familiar with this
distro and I'm willing to get under the hood and fix things. Everything
I've described can be solved and had I been slightly less stubborn and
had I made some better decisions I probably would have it all done by now.
I do expect that, in the end, CentOS will work properly on my system. It
just takes a lot of work to get there.
By now I'm certain some if not most of you are asking why I just don't
go back to a distro that "just works" on my hardware. Most do. My
compelling reason for getting CentOS working and working well on a system
where Windows XP would be sluggish is impressive to some and a good
selling point. It's also nice to be able to successfully replicate much of
my business computing environment on my itty bitty laptop, particularly
when I travel. For the typical home user or Linux hobbyist the effort
I've gone through probably isn't worthwhile.
Even under the best of conditions making CentOS into a desirable desktop
environment for the home user takes significant work and visits to third
party repositories and upstream sources for additional packages and
upgrades. CentOS just doesn't have the software selection that popular
desktop distros have. While I have no objection to tried, tested and
reliable if somewhat older applications I do object to having apps with
known and serious security vulnerabilities even after patching. I've
also been known to complain about the amount of work I have to do after initial
installation with Slackware. Slackware seems
mild when compared with what I had to do with CentOS and I'm still not
On the other hand, if you plan on taking a netbook or any notebook into
a business or organizational environment where security is a
paramount concern you'd be hard pressed to do better than CentOS.
Almost every authentication scheme you are likely to encounter is
natively supported, as is SELinux. Stability and reliability are
There is no one size fits all Linux distribution. For use on a netbook
CentOS needs considerable tailoring. I thought it would be worthwhile
to share just how much.
5.3 running GNOME on my netbook with some customization
(full image size: 832kB, screen resolution 1024x600 pixels)
|Miscellaneous News (by Chris Smart)
Mandriva releases several updated products, Moblin to benefit with HyperSpace technology, ULTILEX a multiple live CD distro project, interviews with Richard Stallman and Mark Shuttleworth, distro and upstream relationship case study
Things are steaming ahead in Mandriva land with a few new products recently announced. The first comes from the Online team who has released the second version of the MLO Live CD (announcement in French only). The Live CD itself is available in both French and English and brings several important new features, the most important of which is the focus on migrating Windows users. It also comes with updated versions of key pieces of software such as Linux 2.6.29 and version 4.2.4 of popular desktop KDE. There is a script on the desktop to automate the installation of a Flash player and audio-video codecs. Elsewhere, Mandriva has announced the release of its new Enterprise Server 5 product. The product is optimised for speed and ease of use, offering a 15 minute install time and the ability to easily configure email, file, print and directory services. Finally, the project has also announced the very latest Mandriva Flash 2009 Spring edition. The product can be purchased on a USB key from the online store, and comes in 6GB and 8GB versions. "Take your desktop wherever you want and let your friends share the Mandriva Linux experience by inserting your USB key into their PCs in the knowledge you are protected completely from viruses."
* * * * *
Phoenix Technologies who makes embedded systems, has announced plans to "align" its fast-boot "HyperSpace" technology with the Moblin project. HyperSpace is a highly optimised minimal Linux environment which includes a web browser, wireless network manager, booting from a cold start in under a second. Interestingly, HyperSpace can load Windows simultaneously in the background and let users switch between the two. Although targeted at Windows machines, the advanced in the Linux technology are to be further developed for the benefit of the wider free software community. President and CEO of Phoenix Technologies, Woody Hobbs said: "Moblin provides OEMs with an optimized framework for Intel Atom processor-based systems. HyperSpace enhances this platform with a unique, easy-to-use and fun interface and the ability to bring any application to life instantly." It will be interesting to see how this technology is adopted in the wider Linux community and indeed the Moblin operating system, as Intel prepares to do battle with ARM based systems.
* * * * *
Ubuntu has remained in the spot light, and this week we provide a link to an interview with Mark Shuttleworth, founder and leader of the project, discussing the future of the GNOME desktop. Ubuntu uses GNOME as its default operating system and the proposed changes to make up version 3.0 has been drawing much attention. Following a successful migration to new technology for the KDE desktop, GNOME is also looking to shake things up. One important new piece of the puzzle is GNOME Shell, about which Shuttleworth says: "We participate - although at some distance - in the GNOME Shell stuff, our design team was part of the User Experience Hackfest that sort of laid out the principles for GNOME Shell. Although we don't have dedicated people working on it at the moment." When it comes to improving the desktop experience, Shuttleworth points towards their recent "100 Papercuts" initiative and working with other specific projects: "A lot of the stuff we do is very public, like the "100 papercuts" and the design stuff we are doing engaging with apps like F-Spot, Empathy, Pidgin, Thunderbird and others." The next Long Term Release is scheduled for April 2010, when GNOME 3.0 is expected to be released. Will Ubuntu ship the new and potentially unstable desktop, or revert to the previous branch? When KDE 4.0 was released they did not release a LTS version, which turned out to be the right move.
* * * * *
Are you a fan of live Linux distributions? Always carrying around several on numerous sets of optical media? ULTILEX could help ease that burden! It is a Linux meta-distribution which combines several other distros on a single Live CD/DVD and USB devices. "When you boot ULTILEX, the first thing you'll see is a beautiful startup screen with menu from which you can choose the exact live Linux distribution to run. The current version of ULTILEX is 4.0.0 and it contains the following live Linux distributions: Slax version 6.1.1, Puppy Linux, version 4.2.1, Tiny Core version 2.1, System Rescue CD version 1.2.2, Parted Magic version 4.3." The latest version is now available for download. "One interesting feature of ULTILEX is that you can install it with ease on USB flash device and save the changes you've made during the live session on it. You can modify files and even install/remove modules and all your changes are saved on the USB flash." Is this a worthwhile project for you?
* * * * *
Richard Stallman (the father of the free software movement) has been making lots of news lately with comments on the use of Mono in distributions. He has also given an interview with technology website Neowin, in the current state of GNU/Linux. They discuss the availability of commercial products making use of free software and comparisons between closed source and open source software in terms of functionality, he says: "I have never used Photoshop, and just touched the GIMP once, so I can't compare them from personal experience. I have heard people say the GIMP is better, but the lack of a restricted color-matching feature hampered certain uses. I have used OpenOffice Writer occasionally, but I can't compare it myself with Microsoft Word. Large organizations have moved to it; whatever its imperfections may be, it is clearly adequate. Any conclusion about comparing free and proprietary programs depends on the values we judge them by. If we judge solely in terms of practical convenience, either one might be better, depending on specifics. But if we value freedom highly, the program that respects our freedom is always better than the one which takes it away." Finally, he finishes with a message for users of non-free operating systems, saying: "My message for anyone that uses Windows or MacOS is to notice that using them means that Microsoft or Apple controls your computing. They decide what you can do, and what you can't do. So escape! Join us in the Free World! We have worked 25 years to build it, for freedom's sake. Now all you have to do is choose freedom."
* * * * *
Linux distributions track upstream projects, releasing a particular version with each official release. But how far behind the latest versions do these releases linger? Scott Shawcroft aims to find out. He wrote to tell DistroWatch about his interesting new study into this relationship between distributions and upstream projects. Shawcroft says: "Over the last 10 months I've been working on Linux evolution research. Similar to distrowatch, I track the current versions of packages in a number of distributions and the current upstream version. Based on that data I then graph a number of metrics to understand the relationship between upstream and downstream." His presentation on the topic scheduled for next week's open source convention, OSCON, should provide an interesting insight into that relationship. Currently he is tracking 20 projects including the Linux kernel and GNOME on Arch, Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, openSUSE, Sabayon, Slackware, and Ubuntu. It's a very interesting study and well worth a look!
|Released Last Week
Ubuntu 8.04.3 LTS
Steve Langasek has announced the release of Ubuntu 8.04.3
LTS, the third update of the distribution's special version with
long-term support (3 years on the desktop and 5 years on the server):
"The Ubuntu team is proud to announce the release of
Ubuntu 8.04.3 LTS, the third maintenance update to Ubuntu's 8.04 LTS
release. This release includes updated server, desktop and alternate
installation CDs for the i386 and amd64 architectures. In all, 80
updates have been integrated, and updated installation media has been
provided so that fewer updates will need to be downloaded after
installation. These include security updates and corrections for other
high-impact bugs, with a focus on maintaining stability and
compatibility with Ubuntu 8.04 LTS." Read the full
announcement for a complete list of changes.
Pardus Linux 2009
Onur Küçük announced the official release of
Pardus Linux 2009: "The
international CD of Pardus 2009, containing 11 languages to choose from,
is also available from FTP servers. This new release contains many bug
fixes and enhancements. A new, shiny KDE 4 desktop environment, improved
hardware support, latest releases of Pardus Manager tools, up-to-date
software repository, and performance improvements are among the many new
features of Pardus 2009. Pardus 2009 has also been improved graphically
in every part of the distribution. All splash systems, from bootloader
to login screen, have been revised. The latest version of Pardus
contains up-to-date packages like KDE 4.2.4, Linux kernel 184.108.40.206,
OpenOffice.org 220.127.116.11, Mozilla Firefox 3.5.1, GIMP 2.6.6, K3b 1.66,
X.Org 1.6.2 and Python 2.6.2." Here is the complete
Stefan Lippers-Hollmann announced the release of
sidux 2009-02, a desktop Linux distribution based
on Debian's unstable branch: "A little later than
originally planned, we now have the pleasure to announce the immediate
availability of sidux 2009-02 'Αether', shipping with kernel 2.6.30 and
KDE 4.2.4. The ISO is completely based on Debian 'sid', enriched and
stabilized with sidux' own packages and scripts. 'Aether' mostly
concentrates on integrating KDE 4 into sidux and implementing the
changes caused by kernel 2.6.30. We strongly recommend against allowing
'ia32-apt-get'." Read the detailed
notes for further information.
Version 7.0 of ExTix a desktop Linux distribution
from Sweden based on paldo GNU/Linux, has been
announced: "ExTiX has full Swedish language support
and many more programs installed than paldo. This new version of ExTiX
Linux live DVD includes the 2.6.30 -extix kernel by default, GNOME
2.26.1, OpenOffice.org 3.0.1, all development tools, GIMP 2.6.6,
Skype 18.104.22.168 (free Internet telephony), Apache, all win32 codecs,
VLC 1.0.0, GParted 1.3.6, aMule 2.2.2 (file sharing), Firefox 3.0.11,
WINE 1.1.20, GNU Emacs 22.3.1 and Epiphany 2.26.1. Unionfs stacks your
ExTiX ramdisk on top of a read-only file system on the DVD, the effect
being that one can upkg-install, and otherwise modify all of the files
on the running system. The standard GNOME and system language is
English." Check for more information on the
7.0 with the default GNOME desktop
(full image size: 606kB, screen resolution 1024x768 pixels)
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to waiting list
Browserpuppy is a fast and small (66MB) distribution based on Puppy
Linux strictly for surfing the web. Office software is not included.
- Ice-Z Linux.
Ice-Z Linux is an Ubuntu-based distribution with new dark default
themes. Other differences include the removal of games and the addition
of functional packages. .
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
And this concludes the latest issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 27 July 2009.
Caitlyn Martin and Chris Smart
If you've enjoyed this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly, please consider sending us a tip.
(Tips this week: 0, value: US$0.00)
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|• 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|
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RancherOS is a tiny Linux distribution that runs the entire operating system as Docker containers. This includes system services, such as udev and rsyslog. RancherOS includes only the bare minimum amount of software needed to run Docker. This keeps the binary download of RancherOS very small. Everything else can be pulled in dynamically through Docker.