[This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar]
It is that time of the year when commercial Linux companies are readying
their new boxes full of the latest and greatest Linux software. While their
programmers do the last minute debugging and marketing departments prepare
for the grand product launches, for the consumers among us it's time to
face the usual decisions: to upgrade or not to upgrade? And should we stick
with the existing choice or try a different distribution? Let's take a look
at what we can expect to come our ways within the next few weeks.
Slackware Linux, the oldest
surviving Linux distribution, is the first one to grace us with a new
release this season. What's new in 9.0? This question is best answered by
this little dialog I noted on a public forum discussing one of the
Slackware release candidates. The question: "What has Slackware
accomplished? Red Hat has given us plenty of useful utilities, SuSE has
developed YaST, Mandrake has drakconf, but what about Slackware? All they
do is compile packages that others develop and put them on a CD, nothing
extra, no major accomplishment." And this was one reader's reply:
"Thank you, Slackware, for not putting anything extra into your
distribution. This is why you develop the most stable, dependable and
bug-free Linux distribution on earth!"
Yes, Slackware is like a medieval city surrounded by modern skyscrapers, a
stark contrast of an installer and package management tools developed in
mid-nineties, together with the most up-to-date software found in any
distribution. The result is highly appealing as demonstrated by Slackware's
continuing popularity as the tool of choice for many seasoned Linux users
and administrators. Suggest that they switch to something else and they'll
laugh at you...
MandrakeSoft will launch Mandrake
Linux 9.1 shortly. Users who have tested the release candidates have
reportedly been impressed with the product's stability and lack of major
bugs as well as some of the new features. What can we expect? One of the
main new features is the inclusion of a NTFS partition resizing tool,
which makes Mandrake only the second distribution, after Xandros Desktop,
offering this feature. A new theme called "Galaxy", running under both
KDE and GNOME desktop environments, has been revealed to make the user
interface more consistent. Another new and long overdue feature is
"zeroconf" which promises to make network configuration as easy as plugging
the cables into your network's workstations and servers. All this,
together with the fact that the applications on offer were chosen by their
users, the MandrakeClub members, and you seemingly have a winner.
Of course, there is a big question that has to be answered sooner or later.
Will 9.1 be the MandrakeSoft's last release in its present form? Or will
the company survive their financial woes and come out as strong as before?
MandrakeSoft's practice of releasing a new version to the FTP servers at
the same time it goes to the manufacturer allows many people to download
the release before the boxed sets are available. This practice has pleased
Mandrake users, but it also cuts into Mandrake sales. Their customer support
was reported to be far from top-notch. Producing a quality distribution is
the first priority, but there is much more to generating revenue.
Mandrakesoft has a thin line to walk to generate the revenue they need to
survive, while keeping their customers happy with cutting edge software
that is freely available. If they can do that, we will likely see many
more Mandrake releases in the years to come.
SuSE Linux AG has
announced that a new release, version 8.2, will be available on April 3
in Europe and on April 14 in North America. Besides all the latest
software, the new release claims to be the first distribution shipping a
professional video editing application called MainActor. The release also
provides improved wireless networking support, tools for automatic network
reconfiguration for mobile computer users as well as further improvements
to the YaST configuration utility and enhanced security. Certainly a very
tempting bunch of features.
Other major distributions will no doubt follow soon. Red Hat, which
traditionally does not pre-announce final releases, has produced three
betas of its upcoming Red Hat Linux 8.1 and even the Debian developers have
started talking about a package freeze of their testing branch called
"Sarge". The next two months will be highly interesting for the industry
while all the major players try their best to please the consumers. We
will be watching the competition with great interest.
Of course it's not just the major players that are announcing new
releases. Below we have new release announcements from Immunix and Yellow
Dog Linux. Who knows, maybe even the long awaited Gentoo Linux 1.4 will be out soon.
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