In Hinduism and Buddhism, a chakra is one of several centers of energy in the body. In free software, The Chakra Project is a fork of Arch Linux. The name is appropriate, because, like its mystical namesake, Chakra concentrates on several centers of development within the general body of Linux, including a design that is simple yet aimed at intermediate users, the creation of a system that consists of only KDE/Qt applications, and an original selection of default software. Some of these concentrations are well-advanced, while others are still in early development.
According to project leader Phil Miller, Chakra began as a sub-project in
Arch Linux to develop a version of KDE called KDEMod. It differs from
other KDE versions in that it split and reordered packages and added a few
minor usability enhancements, such as extra options in the Dolphin file
manager's context menu. The same sub-project also started developing a Live
CD and a graphical installer.
However, he said:
As time passed by, we [had] troubles keeping up with the fast updates Arch
Linux had. KDEMod packages were more broken than working because of updates
in libraries or kernels (we needed a special patched kernel for our Live
Developer Jan Mette wrote scripts to create packages from the Arch Linux
repositories, and eventually created a new repository called core, which
was working toward a fork. Then, abruptly, he disappeared from IRC and forums. When news came that Mette had died, Miller said, those in the sub-project "decided to go on with his dream and started the fork. We honor Jan with the Chakra distribution."
Today, Chakra maintains its own repositories, with a schedule that Anke Boersma, one of the founding developers, describes as a "half-rolling release" as opposed to Arch's continual updates. In other words, while many applications are continually upgraded, they are tested and released in sets to minimize potential problems. In addition, core packages are upgraded on a semi-regular schedule. In this way, Chakra hopes to avoid the problems its founders found in maintaining KDE support for Arch.
Technically, Chakra differs from Arch Linux in several ways. Boersma explained that, for one thing, Chakra is developing a package manager that, instead of using text files like Arch Linux, uses a true database, and supports a graphical interface rather than a text-based installer.
In addition, Chakra developers are dedicated to creating a distribution consisting entirely of KDE/Qt applications, without any GTK2 build dependencies or libraries. This policy affects many aspects of Chakra, including its development priorities and application selection.
However, Boersma said, the major difference from Arch is philosophical:
Arch prides itself in being completely bleeding edge, always being the place where any and all new gets tested and tried first. Chakra developers felt that approach was not always in the best interests of its KDEMod users. Having a fully rolling KDE, [for] apps and games, but being much more conservative with the base packages, would be more appealing to many users and developers alike.
In other ways, Chakra continues to resemble Arch Linux, sharing an emphasis on speed, minimalism, and hands-on administration. The main differences are opinions on how to attain those goals and user-friendliness. If Arch Linux can be characterized as intended for experienced users, then Chakra could be described as aimed at intermediate users. Or, as the online help for the Live CD suggests, Chakra is aimed at "KISS-minded users who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty."
Boersma described the relationship today between Arch Linux and Chakra as "mostly mutual respect, where a few Arch developers communicate regularly with Chakra developers, giving advice, and exchanging ideas about found bugs, and how to correct those issues found."
Today, Chakra is developed by about ten regular contributors and enjoys a moderate popularity. Its first release series was downloaded nearly 115,000 times, while the 2012.02 release (codenamed "Archimedes") was downloaded 40,000 times in its first week, according to Boersma. At Distrowatch, Chakra is currently in thirteenth position for page views, which, if nothing else, indicates a strong curiosity in the free software community about the young distribution.
True to its basic policy, Chakra is developing its own Qt4-based installer,
called Tribe. Tribe
is currently in Alpha release, and its interface is sometimes illogical
— for instance, at the partitioning stage, users must click the
"Advanced" button rather than the "Format" button. Functionally, it is
about equivalent to the Ubuntu installer, offering much less user control
than Arch's installer, although more control of the installation process is
planned for later releases.
Tribe is different enough from other installers that users should read
Chakra's comprehensive Beginner's
Guide before plunging into an installation, as well as consult the Welcome widget, a small Plasma application that opens when you boot the Live CD's desktop to display release notes.
For instance, since you are never asked to set a root password, you might
assume that Chakra uses sudo without a root password, the way that Ubuntu does. In fact, sudo is set up, but Tribe also automatically assigns the root user the same password as the user account you create during installation — a practice that saves a step, but which security-minded users might want to change immediately after their first login.
Even more importantly, just before you install, you confront a button
inviting you to "Download Popular Bundles". Contrary to what you might
first think, "bundles" are not
Chakra's jargon for packages. Rather, they are Chakra's way of permitting
the use of GTK2 applications without actually adding their libraries and dependencies to the system. While Qt-based applications are installed via normal packages, GTK2-based ones are made available as loop-mounted squashfs/lzma filesystem images that also contain their dependencies.
This approach may seem like an overly complicated way to ensure a pure
KDE/QT system. However, what it means in practice is that if you want
applications like Audacity, Chrome, Firefox, Inkscape, GIMP, or
Thunderbird, you should select the button during installation, even though nothing in Tribe itself indicates why you might want to. Otherwise, you face installing GTK2 apps afterward with a bundle manager that is currently little more than a list placed in a window.
But even without such idiosyncrasies, Tribe leaves something to be
desired. For one thing, it has no provision for selecting individual
packages and bundles within the installer, which is unlikely to to please Chakra's target audience.
For another, Tribe does not work consistently on some hardware. In my experience, it seems especially prone to display corruption at the partitioning stage. A workable but annoying solution is to repeat efforts to install three or four times until they succeed. Overall, Tribe is an interesting preview, but unfinished enough that perhaps it should not be included in the current release.
Desktop and software selection
With GTK2 applications banished to Bundles, Chakra has a KDE orientation
whose thoroughness is unusual among current distributions. Boersma told me
that Chakra's founders decided that having too many desktop environments would only create a "splitting of resources," so that the distribution would end up "not doing any desktop environment the way it could be done, if it had the full and only attention." The founders chose KDE, Miller said, because "we want to showcase KDE as it should be."
For this reason, Chakra offers what appears to be a largely unmodified
version of KDE 4.8, using the standard Oxygen widgets and icons with the
main menu in its usual position on the bottom left along with the basic selection of Activities. Branding is confined chiefly to the Chakra Project wallpaper.
The main difference in KDE on Chakra is that — subjectively, at least — it is much faster than most installations. Boersma attributed the apparent speed to the removal all traces of GTK2 from core packages. "Because Chakra has stripped all of its base packages of any GTK libs, it does start showing a difference in lightness," Boersma insisted. "Strip it from one or two applications you run, you won't notice so much, but keep multiplying it by so many base packages that carry everything to run on both GTK2 and QT/KDE based systems, and the end results start adding up. ."
Where possible, Chakra's software is free-licensed, although it does include the common proprietary drivers and proprietary-dependent free tools like Q4wine, a Qt interface for WINE. Much of the software, too, will be familiar to KDE users, such as Marble, KDE's answer to Google Earth and Maps, or KNetAttach, the wizard for integrating network resources for the desktop.
However, much of Chakra's software will be strange even to many KDE users. The default browser is Rekonq, and the lightweight music player Bangarang. Chakra also borrows SUSE Studio Imagewriter for creating bootable USB drives, and Ubuntu's System Cleaner for removing unwanted files. Other menu items, such as miniBackup, are merely shell scripts to automate a process. Taken as a whole, they make an intriguing change from the standard applications in most distributions, and are enough by themselves to make an afternoon's exploration of Chakra worthwhile.
In the current release, Chakra uses Arch's Pacman for package installation, and CInstall, a rough and ready interface which the project site calls a "temporary GUI" for bundles. This division is inconvenient — especially if you cannot recall or have no idea whether a particular application uses Qt or GTK2. However, Pacman is scheduled to be replaced in the near future with a new package manager called Akabei. Eventually, too, package and bundle installation will be combined into a single utility, possibly based on Arch Linux's Shaman, a front end for Pacman.
One to watch
Chakra's latest release may inspire mixed reactions. On the one hand, the incompleteness of the installer and the mixed system of packages and bundles is irritating. Granted, the development team makes no secret that Chakra is incomplete, yet could the release not wait until these things were more polished? Or does the project not consider initial setup and application installation part of the core that needs to be reliable?
On the other hand, these shortcomings offer few difficulties that Chakra's target users should not be able to overcome. Moreover, Chakra's traditional virtues — speed, efficiency, and do-it-yourself maintenance — are likely to have a deep appeal to its target users. At a time when many major distributions hide complexity for the sake of helping newcomers, Chakra aims for simplicity with a hands-on approach. Add an original selection of applications, and many users might be able to forgive the distribution's uneven edges.
Others might prefer to wait until Chakra is out of rapid development before using it as a main desktop. However, no matter what the immediate verdict, Chakra is among the most innovative of newer distributions. What it accomplishes in the next release or two should be worth watching.
Comments (3 posted)
My intuition (based on anecdote from non-Ubuntu-y developer friends
and not real data) is that most people just want to dump patches on
us. Furthermore, if they did want to do it all themselves, they're the
sort of person likely to be a repeat contributor anyway, so at worst
they'd only get "cheated" the first time and would have additional
opportunities to do it all themselves later.
IME, people are pleasantly surprised when they drop a patch on [LaunchPad] and
that results in a package getting fixed; I've never heard of someone
being disappointed they didn't have to go through another round of
-- Evan Broder
Comments (none posted)
The alpha version of the Fedora 17 ("beefy miracle") release is out.
"When we said Beefy, we weren't kidding: an a-bun-dance of condiments,
err, features, are available to help you feed your hunger for the best
in free and open source software. We take pride in our toppings, and in
our fine ingredients; Fedora 17 includes both over- and under-the-bun
improvements that show off the power and flexibility of the advancing
state of free (range) software.
" See the announcement for an
overview of new features in this release.
Full Story (comments: 21)
MINIX 3.2.0 has been released
. From the
project's home page
: "MINIX 3 is a free, open-source, operating system designed to be highly reliable, flexible, and secure. It is based on a tiny microkernel running in kernel mode with the rest of the operating system running as a collection of isolated, protected, processes in user mode.
Comments (none posted)
Andrew Wafaa posted
plans for "full ARM support
" in openSUSE 12.2 to the opensuse-arm mailing list. "ARMv7 is the focus. This isn't necessarily news, but we just
wanted to reiterate the message. Also the ARMv5 builds are going to
have their priorities in the OBS lowered to minimise the build power
consumption. We're not deleting them, just not focusing on them; if
someone *really* wants v5 builds then best you roll your sleeves up
and get stuck in, we will provide support, guidance and
" The Pandaboard has been chosen as the reference platform, but not to the exclusion of others, and XFCE will be the reference desktop.
(Thanks to Trevor Woerner.)
Comments (none posted)
Scientific Linux 4.x has reached its end of support. "Anyone still
running production workloads on Scientific Linux 4 should be aware that
after today [February 29] no updates of any kind will be published.
Because of this, we hope everyone has completed their migration to
Scientific Linux 5 or Scientific Linux 6 by now.
Full Story (comments: none)
64 Studio has announced Stevland a new GNU/Linux distribution designed to
make web kiosks more accessible to people with disabilities.
"Stevland is a GNU/Linux distribution, based on Ubuntu, designed so
that people with disabilities can enjoy access to the Internet, regardless
of their level of computer knowledge. It includes a wizard designed to help
computer users set their accessibility preferences. This wizard uses large
buttons and text, together with audio description and key press
feedback, so that users with vision impairments, hearing impairments or
mobility impairments can set up the kiosk for their individual needs,
without having to know anything about system administration.
Full Story (comments: none)
The Tizen Association and the Linux Foundation have announced
the beta release of the Tizen platform source code and Software Development
Kit. "As announced today by the Tizen Technical Steering Group on tizen.org, developers are encouraged to start working with the new features and functionality of the Tizen beta source code and SDK and provide feedback to help improve the platform during the final stages of its development.
Comments (none posted)
The Fedora Project is collecting bids for the next FUDCon (Fedora Users and
Developers Conference) in North America. The process will close on March
23, 2012 and a decision will be made in early April. "Important to note: FUDCon for North America should occur between December 1, 2012 and February 28, 2013, though ideally in December or January, as February is the last month of the fiscal year, and, well, expense reports need to get in, or Daddy Shadowman gets sad. The North American FUDCon has approximately a $20k (USD) budget.
Full Story (comments: none)
Newsletters and articles of interest
Comments (none posted)
LinuxUser & Developer has an interview
with Clement Lefebvre
, the creator of Linux Mint. "The vast majority of features and improvements which make it to each Linux Mint release come from ideas and feedback contributed to us by the community. Linux Mint is easy to use, it’s comfortable and it packs some of the most advanced features available in desktop Linux nowadays, but the main thing about it is that it brings to people what they need, what they want and what they ask for.
Comments (1 posted)
look at Red Hat's corporate history
in ars technica. "Red Hat
Linux was much like today's Fedora, releasing new versions quickly to get
the bleeding-edge technology out to users. But new versions and patches
could break old applications, and there was no ecosystem of software and
hardware vendors supporting applications running on Red Hat. With RHEL, Red
Hat gives the enterprise what it wants: a stable lifecycle and roadmap, and
a more careful system for inserting patches without breaking application
compatibility. That model has certainly proven its worth.
Comments (46 posted)
The Register looks at
the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 Service Pack 2 release
brings a lot of new software with it. "[T]he snapshotting features of
btrfs as well as the scalability are why SUSE Linux is recommending it as
the root file system for SLES 11 SP2. The company has encapsulated some of
these btrfs features into a tool called Snapper, which integrates with the
SLES update and Yast management tool and allows system admins to take a
system snapshot before they make important changes to the system and then
instantly roll them back if something goes snafu.
Comments (22 posted)
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