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News and Editorials
Debian Man Pages - a Call for Volunteers. The Debian Project, having made a commitment in their policy to provide a man page for every executable file, is now looking for volunteers to help create man pages for over 600 binaries that do not currently have them.
The lack of man pages for many Linux commands stems back many years. While providing an excellent quick reference guide for the experienced user, man pages lack a lot in terms of providing a good format for comprehensive documentation. Alternate formats, including "Info", texinfo, DocBook and more, have provided ample fodder for debate on the "best" solution. As a result, the documentation for any given Linux command is not necessarily easy to find.
For the newcomer, the lack of a consistent source for command documentation has been a sore spot. Since a man page can easily direct the user to the appropriate full documentation source, having at least a minimal man page available would improve the current situation many-fold.
However, previous efforts to provide man pages for each Linux command have, up until now, failed. Will the Debian effort succeed? It has two points in its favor. First, the actual package author does not have to be convinced to spend the time to develop the man page, or even to accept it into the default package if they do not so choose. So political issues should not derail the project.
Second, important for the volunteers doing the work, if they create a man page, it will get used, at least by Debian. That guarantees a forum for their effort.
Still, it cannot succeed unless enough people are willing to donate their time.
We hope the project succeeds. Other distributions can easily choose to package man pages developed for Debian. We would like to see every Linux distribution provide a man page for every executable command. That will make the introduction of the Linux command-line to new users much simpler. Of course, from the man page, they may end up using a variety of documentation sources. But the journey can't begin until that first step is taken.
Debian Transitions. The Debian leader election is over, and Ben Collins has been declared the winner. For the curious, here is Ben Collins' platform, also entitled, "My little self-pumping/ego-trip/self-righteous speech :)". Ben's major development foci in Debian have been the SPARC port and glibc (among many). Two important traits he felt a good Debian Project Leader would need to have included "visibility", the ability to be a spokesperson for the project, and leadership skills, including knowing when the project leader's involvement is unnecessary, stepping in quickly when it is needed and planning for the future, including handling future growth.
Specific areas he plans to work on include bringing more structure to Debian, in order to handle the growing number of Debian developers and maintainers, addressing the problem of Debian's rising bug count and improving Debian's security efforts.
Congratulations, Ben, and best of luck.
At the same time Debian is moving forward with its leadership transition, in the smoothest manner we've seen to-date, the project is also dealing again with the loss of a project member as the result of death. The Debian Project issued this statement mourning the recent deaths of project members Chris Rutter and Fabrizio Polacco. "The Debian Project honors their good work and strong dedication to Debian and Free Software. The contributions of both Chris and Fabrizio will not be forgotten, and other developers will step forward to continue their work."
Rock Linux Distribution Survey.Clifford Wolf, founding developer for the Rock Linux distribution, took the time this past week to fill out a Distributions Survey for Rock Linux (thanks also to Jocelyn Yeo). We've talked about Rock Linux in the past and have been covering its development since October, 1999. This survey, though, provides more comprehensive information about Rock Linux.
Unlike many distributions we cover nowadays, Rock Linux is not derived from any other base. Rock Linux packages are .tar.bz2 files that contain the source code for the packages, administrative files and package meta information. Rock Linux is support on the Intel, Alpha and Sparc platforms.
The unique feature of Rock Linux is its auto-build system, which allows the end-user to quickly and easily build the entire distribution from scratch, optimized for the hardware on which it will run. It supports a variety of mini-distributions based on Rock Linux, including Rock Router Linux and Rock Read-Only Linux. As such, it is probably most similar to Slackware and also dates its development back to 1997, originally under the name "GNUX" and later, in 1998, under the name "Rock Linux".
For more information, check out the Rock Linux Guide.
Floppy ISDN/DSL for Linux (fli4l). Another entrant into the group of distributions tailored for use as floppy-based routers, fli4l is German-based. A new version of fli4l, version 1.6, with minor feature improvements, was announced this past week. It contains some nice features (least-cost routing, display/calculation of connection times and costs, etc.). Note, however, that the documentation is still available only in German.
EnGarde Secure Linux released. Guardian Digital has announced the release of EnGarde Secure Linux. It is a new distribution which "incorporates intrusion alert capabilities, a complete suite of e-business applications using AllCommerce, improved authentication and access control, strong cryptography, and complete SSL secure Web-based administration capabilities."
SmoothWall News. SmoothWall 0.9.8 was announced this week. The new version includes automatic probing and set-up for popular ISDN devices, handles multiple ethernet devices, adds IPSEC and VPN capabilities and now supports ADSL and Cable users.
SmoothWall is a GPL Linux distribution specifically designed to be a router and a firewall. SmoothWall is based on VA Linux 6.2.1 "which is an optimised RedHat 6.2 build customized in the labs at VA Linux". Note that SmoothWall is not a VA product, just based on one.
Red Hat News. Red Hat's ftp sites, including ftp.redhat.com and updates.redhat.com, now have modified directory structures. The changes are fairly clear and understandable. The old structure has been modified in order to allow for support of the various language-specific versions of Red Hat. (Thanks to Christof Damian).
However, if you've got bookmarks, or, more importantly, update programs with encoded URLs, you'll need to change them to accomodate the new structure.
SuSE News. SuSE 7.1 for SPARC, though no availability of a boxed product has been announced, is available for download as ISO images and has been since early March. A boxed product for SPARC is still promised someday. (Thanks to Joshua Uziel).
Slackware News. Upgrades to KDE 2.1.1, openssh 2.5.2pl2 and the Linux kernel 2.2.19 were made across all platforms.
On the Intel platform, the Java(TM) 2 SDK, Standard Edition, Version 1.3.0_02 from Sun was added (with thanks to Sun for allowing them to use it).
On the Alpha platform, the MySQL security patch mentioned last week went in. In addition, Will Woods' aboot 0.8pre-alpha patch was included to fix ISO9660 filesystem code and allow booting from Slackware-style CDs.
On the SPARC platform, 1.44MB root disk images now available. If you plan on using these, check the SPARC changelog for a related note. epic 4-1.0 was added, per user request. The latest amateur radio packages from Arno Verhoeven have been added. There is now a network supplemental disk for SPARC (same as Intel). Last, but not least, the Java(TM) 2, Runtime Environment, Version 1.2.2 rc4 was added. This is the Blackdown port of Sun's Java(TM) 2 SDK, so it looks like Slackware will be using both the Sun and the Blackdown Java ports for Linux, depending on which platform you are using.
Linux-Mandrake News. The third beta of Linux Mandrake 8.0 was released on Monday. This won't be the last beta, though, since the announcement of the release of Gnome 1.4 means that Linux-Mandrake 8.0 will probably include the full Gnome 1.4 release.
Meanwhile beta versions of the upcoming Linux-Mandrake 8.0 Tutorials are now on-line.
More Debian News. This week's edition of the Debian Weekly News is possibly also the last one, though that has not yet been decided for sure. Other Debian news sources have come on-line since DWN started publishing in early January, 1999. They include the Kernel Cousin Debian (summarizing debian-devel), the Debian Planet (a ticker-style news site with frequent updates) and of course, this section of LWN.net. Still, the Debian Weekly News gave an important perspective to Debian events that will be missed, if editor Joey Hess decides not to continue (certainly, we will have to work harder again!).
Speaking of this week's Kernel Cousin Debian, issues of handling packages containing cryptography came up again. Debian, unlike OpenBSD and FreeS/WAN, allows US maintainers to work with cryptographic packages, but requires that a copy of the software be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org before it is uploaded by the maintainer.
Problems mixing and matching Debian GNOME and Ximian GNOME packages were also noted.
Also published last week was the Kernel Cousin Debian Hurd, with the latest news on the Debian GNU/Hurd development.
Ah KRUD. (evil3d.net). Kevin's Red Hat Uber Distribution (KRUD) got its first official review this week. "Obviously, KRUD is based on the ever popular Red Hat distribution with a couple of twists thrown in. Twist number one is that KRUD is a subscription based distribution. Unlike other big boys, KRUD subscribers get a monthly KRUD update mailed to them".
Peanut and Vector get a review. In a nice change of diet from the usual reviews of one of the leading distributions, Michael P. Deignan has put out a comparison of Peanut Linux and VectorLinux, two distributions that aim to provide small, streamlined versions of Linux that fit onto a disk without requiring Gigabytes of space. (Thanks to Cesar A. K. Grossman).
"Both Peanut and Vector Linux are good if you want to get your feet wet in the Linux waters but aren't able (or willing) to devote a great deal of computing resources to the process. Their compact download sizes make them attractive alternatives, but each appeals to a very different audience, judging from each package's bundled applications. Peanut Linux's abundance of desktop apps and lack of development tools make it suitable if you want a functional Linux workstation but don't plan to install any additional programs. Vector Linux is a good choice for those who want to explore the application development aspect of Linux, but who also need a functional X environment to access the Internet."
Section Editor: Liz Coolbaugh
April 5, 2001