Like many in the IT profession, I have amassed an arsenal of hardware and
software tools to assist in my daily duties. Rarely do I let the
opportunity pass by to show off a newly found treasure to a friend or
colleague. One of my recently discovered gold nuggets is the
distribution. From the project's website the mission of the project is
stated quite succinctly: "Parted Magic is a Linux LiveCD/USB/PXE
with its elemental purpose being to partition hard drives.
From a base Linux OS created from scratch (okay, he has a few init scripts from Linux From Scratch), the project originator and main developer, Patrick Verner, has assembled a collection of tools and utilities that are brought together in a cohesive manner with a high level of polish.
After downloading and burning the tiny 37 megabyte ISO image (version 1.9
was released on 10/26) to a CD, I booted a test PC and was greeted with a
boot menu that provides just about any option necessary to make the system
work without having to memorize boot parameters or dig through the
documentation. After a short time-out, the default settings take effect and
a simple XFCE desktop appears.
Exploring the XFCE panel, I found a logically organized arrangement. The
first launcher starts the GParted application, the primary tool included to
partition hard drives. GParted is a graphical front-end to the GNU parted
utility. It offers all of the features of the command line version of
parted, but they are wrapped in an easy to use GUI.
Verner has actually extended this application with a few patches of his
own, one of which being the addition of the ability to create HFS+
partitions for those wishing to prepare a hard drive for use with Mac OS
The second launcher is that of the Thunar file manager, a light-weight
system for browsing disks that is the default with any standard
XFCE desktop installation. It was impressive just how fast the file manager
(and the rest of the desktop) responded even on my old test laptop. Verner
has obviously made a wise selection to use XFCE as the default
environment. Although aesthetically very pleasing, it is not very resource
intensive, providing a nice balance between form and function.
The remaining launchers continue the logical progression previously set
forth: one for a shell prompt, one for a tool for taking screenshots (which
is very handy to have for making documentation), one for the other
utilities present (such as the very useful TestDisk recovery
program), and finally one for documentation. For a
full list of all the programs included, please see here.
As you may have already surmised, I like this project. It has become my 'go
to' tool when dealing with any hard drive related issue, whether trying to
setup multiple operating systems on a PC, or trying to recover some
pictures for a friend that he accidentally deleted. It would take a long time to delve into
each feature, so I would recommend you check out the website for more
My optimism started to fade recently when Verner posted on his web site
that, due to the overwhelming amount of time that the project was
consuming, (by his own estimate he has invested over 1,000 hours into the
project), and the general lack of support from the community (in the form
of donations, patches, etc.) that version 1.9 of the project would be its
last. I was chagrined to say the least, but could understand. After reading
through the project's web forum it was obvious that Verner was growing
weary of fielding support requests from people who had not read the
documentation or seemed to be demanding help rather than asking for it.
Since I had not contributed to the effort in any way, I sent a small
donation with a note of thanks to Verner. He replied and it led to me
questioning him about details of the project via email. It made me think
about Free Software and what it means.
There are any number of reasons why a free software project might fail.
It seems that (at least in this instance) too many people think of free
software as in free beer, not as in freedom. When I advocate the use of
free software such as Linux, I always tend to think of the freedom to make
changes, the freedom not to be locked in. What I forgot is the old adage
that freedom is not free. Along with that freedom comes the responsibility
of the community at large to do what they can to help.
This help can come in any form, whether it is writing documentation,
helping to moderate a web forum, or just simply sending a thank you email
to the developer(s). In Parted Magic's case, the primary developer is a
family man with an unrelated day job. He had hoped to be able to work
on the project full time if given enough support. Because of the low amount
of involvement of the community, a unique LiveCD project is going to cease
I can only wonder how many other projects in the free software world have
met the same fate. What great application or
idea is lying dormant in Google's cache or the Internet Archive? I know
what you are thinking, if we are dealing with open source software, why
doesn't someone else just pick up where the original developer left off?
The simple answer may be that people with the time, skills or inclination
to scratch the same itch that brought a project to fruition are few and far
between. Quite frankly, why would someone want to, knowing that they might
meet the same fate as Patrick Verner?
The power of the concept that makes
free software great lies in one area alone, the community. If we truly
believe in the principles we espouse, we must each do what we can to help
the foster work the community puts out there. My thanks go out to Patrick
Verner, and all the people that did help him (they are listed on his
web site), as well as all the other free software developers out there. I
will try my best to do my part for software freedom. I hope (always the
optimist) that other people do the same.
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