Commercial Linux distributions have provided much of the driving force
behind the increasing adoption of free software. These distributions tend
to be high-quality products, and most Linux users end up running one of
them. One disadvantage of commercial distributions, however, has typically
been the relatively closed nature of their development process. It is hard
to know where a distribution is going until the next release arrives;
consider how surprised many Red Hat users were when the expected Red Hat
Linux 8.1 release turned into Red Hat Linux 9 with a number of
disruptive changes. This situation is not unique to Red Hat; of the commercial
distributions, only Mandrake has really gone out of its way to open up its
development process to its users.
The evolution of Red Hat Linux into Fedora has changed things. Red Hat may
still guide Fedora with a firm hand, but the process is now being carried
out in a relatively open manner, with input from the wider community. As a
result, it is possible to develop a reasonable idea of what will appear in
the Fedora Core 2 (FC2) release, which is now scheduled for
April 5, 2004.
From the beginning, FC2 was destined to be based on the 2.6 kernel. It
will thus likely be the first big-name distribution to be truly committed
to 2.6, rather than just offering it as an option. There may be a backup
2.4 kernel available for systems that simply can't run 2.6, but its use
will probably be rare.
FC2 is not stopping at adopting 2.6, however; this distribution will also
be set up to use the NSA Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) subsystem.
SELinux is packaged with 2.6 (as a Linux security module), but actually
making use of it is not just a matter of turning it on. SELinux is based
on a complex, rule-based mandatory access control mechanism which requires
that a whole set of rules and policies be created. To this end, Red Hat
Russell Coker, who got his start in this area doing SELinux work for Debian.
Russell's SELinux work will show up in FC2, and, after the Fedora users
have shaken out the bulk of the problems, in the Enterprise Linux Advanced
FC2 will also include full IPSec support, given that the requisite protocol
support exists in 2.6. Not everybody is happy with the choice of
IPSec-Tools for configuration and management, however.
A big issue on the fedora-devel list was whether GNOME 2.6 would make
it into FC2. Nobody spoke against the idea, but Fedora leader Michael
Johnson did point out one issue with GNOME
and Fedora: how their respective schedules work together. GNOME tries to
make releases every six months, while Fedora is trying to go a little
faster than that. The result is that, sooner or later, Fedora will miss a
major GNOME release and spend a few cycles catching up. Recent discussions
suggest, however, that GNOME 2.6 will be in FC2. The FC2 release
schedule should allow the developers plenty of time to incorporate the
imminent KDE 3.2 release as well.
Web browsers are a topic of conversation. It may be hard to remember that,
only a few years ago, the only real browser alternative for Linux was the
proprietary Netscape 4.x release - and we were glad to have it. There are
now so many browsers available for Linux there there is no real hope of
including them all. For FC2, it looks like the choices may be Konqueror,
Epiphany, and Mozilla. In the future, when Mozilla Firebird stabilizes
somewhat, it may replace Mozilla "classic" in Fedora.
There have been a fair number of requests to drop sendmail in favor of a
more secure mail transfer agent. Postfix would appear to be the preferred
replacement. There does not appear to be a whole lot of desire within Red
Hat to change the system's MTA, however, so sendmail looks likely to hang
around for a while yet.
One user requested a natively-compiled version of the Eclipse development
environment. That wish appears likely to come true; the FC2 schedule
states that a number of Java components, compiled with GCJ, are on the list
to be incorporated into the distribution.
There is a fair amount of interest in a "bare-bones" installation mode. A
minimal install could be used for old and small systems, or as a base
platform for a subsequent network install (much as Debian installations can
be done). This "bootstrap" install option may well show up in FC2.
Some desired packages will be kept out as a result of licensing issues.
Thus valgrind, though often requested, is off the list; it apparently
suffers from software patent problems. MySQL 4.x is also an interesting
problem; with the 4.x release, the license on the MySQL libraries was
changed from the LGPL to the GPL. That change makes it harder to write
proprietary applications using the libraries, which can be a
concern for distributors (UserLinux is coping with similar issues).
The MySQL 4.x library license, however, also blocks the use of
MySQL with PHP, which has a GPL-incompatible license. A MySQL/PHP adaptor,
as a derived product of both systems, cannot be distributed. So MySQL 3.x
will likely be in Fedora Core for a while yet.
The actual Fedora Core 2 release will doubtless contain some surprises.
But it will be, by far, the most open release ever to come out of Red Hat.
This visibility into the development process will give Fedora users the
opportunity to be better prepared for future releases (a good thing, since
quick upgrades will be required to keep getting security patches) and to
have some influence on how the distribution is developed. It is too soon
to say whether Fedora will be a success, but the new approach to its
development is already showing some benefits for its users.
Comments (11 posted)
Now that Thunderbird has reached
its 0.4 milestone
, we thought we would
take it for a test drive and see how far the new email and newsgroup client
has come. The conclusion is that Thunderbird is indeed maturing into quite
a nice email client.
Setting up Thunderbird is as simple as uncompressing a tarball in the
directory you'd like Thunderbird to live in. Configuring Thunderbird is
likewise an easy task, and it only takes a minute or two to have the client
up and ready to send and retrieve email from the default account. Like most
modern email clients, Thunderbird allows users to set up multiple email
accounts if they wish to do so.
One of the more exciting features with Thunderbird is adaptive spam
filtering. Users can tag email as "junk" and Thunderbird will try to
automatically determine which incoming email is spam in the future. This
feature is not on by default, so the user will need to enable the junk
folder and features.
Thunderbird's adaptive junk mail controls aren't perfect (yet), but after
only using Thunderbird for a little more than a week, I found that it was
pretty quickly. Thunderbird didn't tag all of the spam I received as junk,
but it didn't tag any of my legitimate email as junk after a few
days. While some may be annoyed when they see spam slip through
Thunderbird's filter, I'm much happier to know that it does very well at
avoiding false positives. There is also a junk mail log, so users can
follow which messages have been tagged and moved. I would recommend using
the Junk folder rather than deleting messages for at least a few weeks.
As the developers point out in the release notes, the default interface for
Thunderbird has matured since the last release, and is looking very
nice. If the default theme isn't quite right, Thunderbird allows the user
to choose custom themes instead. Right now there are about twenty themes
available for Thunderbird. Installation of themes is easy, though it's
still necessary to restart the application once you've installed a new
Themes aren't the only thing that's changeable. One of the nicest features
of Thunderbird is the ability to add extensions to the
application. One of the goals for Thunderbird was to stay "small and
unbloated," which is a laudable goal. However, most users will differ on
the features which are necessary, and the features that should be
considered bloat. Extensions allow users to modify Thunderbird's feature
set to their liking; available extensions include a calendar, external
application launchers, "splitter grippies," a calculator, an offline
operation mode, and numerous others. Installing extensions in Thunderbird is as simple as
downloading an extension and running the "Install New Extension" wizard.
By default, (unfortunately) Thunderbird's message composer is set to send
mail in HTML format rather than plain text, but this behavior is easy to
turn off. If a user prefers to send HTML-formatted email, or if certain
recipients prefer to receive HTML-formatted email, Thunderbird allows the
user to set specific domains that will receive plain-text or HTML
email. However, at this point this feature only works if the user has
Thunderbird set to compose HTML email by default. It would be nice if this
worked both ways, so a user could send grandma HTML emails by default and
avoid getting flamed by accidentally sending HTML email to a mailing list.
Another welcome feature in Thunderbird is customizable message
views. Users are able to view messages according to a wide range of
criteria, which makes it very easy to sort through your inbox. For example,
the user can choose only to view messages with attachments, or only
messages sent by people who are in their address book. Thunderbird includes
only a few preset filters, but users can create others of their own.
One of the few gripes I have with Thunderbird is that it only allows the
user to import mail from Communicator 4.x clients. If the user wishes to
switch from Pine, Evolution, Outlook, Eudora, Sylpheed or any number of
other mail clients, there is no automated tool with Thunderbird to help
with the task. A simple utility to import email stored in mbox format would
be a nice addition, and might help Thunderbird add to its user base.
It should also be noted that the application isn't entirely stable. It did
crash during testing a few times
though it didn't lose any messages or important data. Note that I
experienced crashes during testing before installing any extensions,
so it wasn't the addition of third-party code that caused the problems.
interface is also a bit slow, even on a fast machine. Often, it takes a few
additional seconds for dialog boxes to disappear completely and for new
windows to appear.
Of course, one does not normally expect perfection from such an early
Overall, however, Thunderbird is a well-designed mail client, and is quite
usable for an application that is only a 0.4 release. I expect that as
Thunderbird matures, the stability will improve even further and that the
speed of the interface will also be improved. Thunderbird should be
acceptable for daily use for users who are looking for a different mail
client. Though I only tested the Linux version of Thunderbird, there are
also builds for Windows and Mac OS X for users of those platforms.
Comments (16 posted)
We first reported on the dispute over the direction and management of the
Linux Gazette back in November
. Since then,
the Linux Gazette has tended to resemble a forked development project; both
(at SSC) and LinuxGazette.net
(where the departing
editors set up shop) remain online. Both have published an Issue #97
for December. Each maintains its own "Answer Gang." And both claim to be
the real Linux Gazette. Behind the
scenes, however, things have been happening.
There have been repeated charges that LinuxGazette.com has been censoring
its forums to keep them free of criticism of SSC's actions. SSC, it would
seem, has dealt with that issue by eliminating the forums
altogether. Most of the forum posts will, evidently, be simply
SSC has sent a
letter claiming trademark rights over the name "Linux Gazette" and
requesting that ownership of the LinuxGazette.net domain name be forcibly
transferred. Over at LinuxGazette.net, they respond that no trademark
was ever transferred to SSC when it started running the Linux Gazette, and,
in any case, the Linux Gazette is a noncommercial operation. In the U.S.,
trademarks are for commercial use and cannot be obtained for names which
are not used in a commercial setting.
Rick Moen, of LinuxGazette.net, took the time to track down John Fisk, who
founded the Linux Gazette back in 1995. In his
response, Mr. Fisk betrays a clear desire to not get drawn into the
current dispute. He also states, however, that he had no intent to
transfer any sort of trademark rights to SSC when he let SSC take over
operation of the Linux Gazette.
In other words, the waters have been well and truly muddied. If the rights
to use the "Linux Gazette" name end up being the subject of a legal battle,
it is hard to predict what the eventual result would be. One can
predict, however, that such a fight would not be good for either Linux
Gazette, the people who contribute their articles, or the community as a
Comments (12 posted)
For the sixth year in a row, LWN has put together its annual Linux Timeline
. We've gone over
the events of the last year, sorted out the most significant happenings and
quotes, and put them together in a concise, informative, and (we hope) fun
form. Have a look and relive the last year in the Linux world - some of
which even doesn't involve SCO.
The next Weekly Edition will be published on December 24, one day
earlier than usual, in anticipation of the Christmas holiday. There will
be no Weekly Edition the week of January 1; the front page will
continue to be updated, however, and we may put up a feature article or
two. We will return to our regular schedule on Thursday, January 8.
Comments (2 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Spam-proofing the email system; new vulnerabilities in lftp and xchat.
- Kernel: Lustre 1.0; Linux 2.6 for small systems.
- Distributions: LindowsOS or Xandros Desktop?, plus PCLinuxOS, SACIX, and SCMLinux
- Development: The Double Choco Latte Project Management System,
new versions of:
MySQL, BusyBox, AFPL Ghostscript, phpWebSite, TownPortal
GNOME Development, BIE, SQL-Ledger, Inkscape, Samba, Wine,
AbiWord, Gtk2-perl, numarray, and Leo.
- Press: Open Source Developer Myths, UserLinux picks GNOME over KDE,
Australian open source bill, lots of interviews, Linux phone review.
- Announcements: Lindows name blocked in Sweden, Red Hat Application Server B1,
Independent Qt Tutorial, several CFP announcements, EC Open