Once upon a time, installing Linux on a new computer was a tiresome process
requiring a couple dozen floppy diskettes. In 2012, finding a
floppy-installable distribution is not an easy task, but few users mind;
finding a new system with a diskette drive is even harder. The Linux
community was able to leave diskettes behind without a great deal of
discontent. Now, though, there are a couple of similar transitions looming
that may be a little harder to get past. A number of distributors are
struggling with the question of when older hardware can be left behind and
what can be done for the users of older systems who are inconvenienced by
In the Debian camp, Steve McIntyre recently raised the alarm: there appears to be no way
that the upcoming "wheezy" distribution will fit onto a single CD, at least
if one wants a GNOME or KDE desktop environment. Debian, it seems, may
have to consider alternatives to those CDs; these could include requiring
multiple CDs (bringing back memories of the old floppy days), requiring the
use of DVD or USB media, or only supporting a combined CD/network
installation. All of these options would have the effect of making Debian
less accessible to users with older hardware, a change that is not seen as
being desirable in the Debian camp.
As it happens, Debian may have another option: use XZ compression in its
binary packages. The additional space gained by this move is
about 2/3 of the size achieved with gzip. The biggest downside would
appear to be the need to rebuild much of the Debian repository, which is
not a small task. But, for the wheezy release, XZ may help the project to
avoid some more difficult choices.
But any such gains will clearly be temporary; the size of the software
shipped by all distributions is clearly on the increase. This is not just
a problem for Debian; Steve Langasek noted that Ubuntu 12.10 will be the first
Ubuntu release that will not fit on a CD. In the Fedora camp too, "some folks" are pushing for the abandonment of
the CD image for the Fedora 18 or 19 release. Some developers
are arguing for a stronger push back against software bloat, but, in
general, the consensus seems to be that putting a working distribution with
a contemporary desktop environment onto a single CD is an increasingly
impractical thing to try to do.
One might well argue that, in an age when bottle
openers come with 16GB of storage, worrying about an old medium with
capacity measured in megabytes makes little sense. Finding a system that
only supports CD as a boot medium is, at this point, possibly even harder
than finding one with a floppy drive. There seems to be little point in
limiting the size of the installation image to 700MB when computers with
such limitations have not been sold in some time. At least, no point
unless one's wish is to constrain the overall size of the system in
The problem, of course, comes in two forms: old systems and limited network
bandwidth. In the parts of the world where distribution hackers tend to be
found, CD-only machines are hard to come by. In many other areas where people
would like to use Linux, such machines are still in use. One can argue
that contemporary Linux distributions may not run well on such limited
hardware anyway, but it would still be better to avoid making life harder
for the owners of those machines. Network bandwidth also matters: for many people, downloading a full
DVD-size image can still be a long and painful exercise; an image limited
to CD size has a higher chance of being fully downloaded before the link
goes down or other users become too grumpy. Forcing a multi-gigabyte
download on such users is not a good way to win friends.
The best answer in this case may be to provide a minimal bootstrap CD image
that can then perform an installation from either the network or a USB
drive. That allows the installation image to grow for the large numbers of
users who can benefit from more software on the installation media while
not excluding those who have more limitations. It seems like an approach
that can provide the best solution for nearly everybody involved.
The Debian community has been pondering a related question: is the time
coming for the distribution to move away from 32-bit builds for the x86
architecture? Ben Hutchings recently posted a
proposal to that effect, noting that most new systems have 64-bit
processors, and that the number of 64-bit ("amd64") installations has
nearly equaled the number of 32-bit installations. Ben would like to see
the 64-bit kernel installed by default in the wheezy release and, after
perhaps two or three more release cycles, no more 32-bit x86 kernels built
at all. These are Debian-length release cycles we are talking about, so
the end of 32-bit kernels is far from imminent, but it's still near enough
to get attention. (This proposal would not end the building of 32-bit user
space, which can run just fine on a 64-bit kernel).
Certainly there are a lot of good reasons to go with a 64-bit kernel on
contemporary hardware. Even if user space runs in 32-bit mode (or the
upcoming x32 mode), an option that works nicely at this point, a 64-bit
kernel will run more efficiently for a number of reasons. Given that there
are fewer and fewer reasons to use a 32-bit kernel, perhaps Debian should
stop putting resources into building such kernels.
Here, though, the situation is not quite so clear cut. As some developers
pointed out, 32-bit-only x86 systems are
still shipping. Ubuntu considered moving to a 64-bit kernel for the 12.04
release, but backed
off after somebody noticed that 25% of the submissions to the Ubuntu
Friendly hardware database came from 32-bit machines. 32-bit
processors are still well established in the x86 world, so it seems
unlikely that distributors will be able to stop supporting them anytime
The fast-moving nature of technology ensures that distributors will
continue to face these questions indefinitely. In general, Linux
distributors have erred on the side of keeping support for old hardware;
few distributors want to alienate potential users. But supporting older
systems is not free; those systems can place constraints on what can be packaged,
slow down performance on newer systems, take up developer time, and present
testing challenges when nobody has the relevant hardware around anymore.
So there comes a point where older systems have to be cut loose. Some
newer-style distributions (CyanogenMod, say) are showing signs of having
less patience with older hardware—arguably an unsurprising decision for a
project supporting well over 50 separate targets. Expect more discussions
like the above as distributors try to make the most of their limited
development and build resources.
Comments (28 posted)
After 3 days of constant phone calls my brother-in-law told me about the
forums and I started directing my questions there. When 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon)
was released I performed my first installation but I couldn’t get the sound
to work. Searching the forums taught me all sorts of cool linuxy stuff like
recompiling alsa and blacklisting modules even applying a patch to the
kernel. In the end, it turned out that you have to plug the speakers into
the green hole to hear anything.
One day, I'm going to create something called Stone Age Linux. It'll be
awesome. Nobody will want to use it because it will be so uncool and so
slow paced it'll make every enterprise distro look cutting edge.
Looks like the bloodbath begins. I too am in favor of killing cvs.
-- Anthony G. Basile
(Gentoo evaluates git)
Comments (8 posted)
Mageia 2 has been released. "Mageia 2 is available as Live CDs,
install DVDs and a netinstall CD, and is available in various languages for
easy download, from FTP, HTTP, or torrents.
" The release notes are
previewed this release
Full Story (comments: none)
Fedora Project Leader Robyn Bergeron announced that the release of Fedora 17 has been delayed by one week, to May 29. "GA [General Availability] for F17 is now scheduled for 2012-05-29. Adjustments to the schedule and wiki will be completed later today. We will be meeting again next Thursday, 2012-05-24, for another Go/No-Go meeting." The decision was reached in order to close four outstanding blockers. A second F17 release candidate (RC2) will be spun in the interim.
Comments (36 posted)
The fifth update of Debian 6.0 "squeeze" is available. This update to
Debian's stable distribution contains fixes for security bugs and other
serious issues. Click below for a summary of the updates contained in this
Full Story (comments: none)
The release team plans to freeze "Wheezy" in the second half of June.
Another sign that the release is getting closer is the announcement of the first alpha
version of the
Full Story (comments: none)
A town hall meeting schedule has been set for the members of the Fedora
Project to hear from the candidates in the upcoming elections.
Full Story (comments: none)
The Mandriva Blog contains a
stating Mandriva SA's intent to hand control of the
distribution over to the community. "This means that the future of
the distribution will not be arbitrary decided by the Mandriva company
anymore, but we intend to let the distribution evolve in and under the
caring responsibility of the community. Mandriva SA will of course be a
part of this entity and will support it with direct contributions.
How the governance of this community will work is to be worked out.
Comments (5 posted)
to the news that Mandriva Linux will be a community project.
"Mageia.Org’s board was contacted privately by Mr. Croset before this
announcement, to discuss the opportunity to have Mageia representatives
joining their working group (unfortunately the discussion had to be
private, as it was requested by Mandriva to keep the information private
until their announcement). Ultimately, the Mageia.Org board declined the
offer and for clarity we are publishing the reasons for this decision
Comments (none posted)
Newsletters and articles of interest
Comments (none posted)
The O'Reilly Community site has a
review of the Rosa 2012 Marathon distribution
. "The ROSA Labs
developers have done an excellent job in creating a polished, functional
distribution which is stable, reliable, and performs well. The desktop
design is intuitive and user friendly and yet it is not dumbed down. The
ability to customize the KDE desktop to suit individual needs or to select
an entirely different desktop environment is in no way compromised for the
sake of simplicity. New tools and applications like KLook and ROSA Media
Player provide functionality which is unique to this distribution. ROSA
2012 Marathon isn't just an update of Mandriva 2011. Rather, it's a fork
which takes the distribution in new directions.
Comments (1 posted)
Page editor: Rebecca Sobol
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