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News and Editorials

Ubuntu: A Universal Bond of Sharing

September 22, 2004

This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar

Here is a little quiz. Which Linux distribution's mailing list recorded over 1,000 posts during the first week of its existence? Which project succeeded in attracting some of the best-known and most prominent open source developers to work on it? And why do their email addresses invariably end with

The answer, of course, is Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu, a Zulu word representing a belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity, gave the name to a new Debian-based Linux distribution, which very few people heard of as little as two weeks ago. Despite being a new kid on the block, Ubuntu has a potential to turn the Linux distribution world upside down and make rapid inroads into our minds, not to mention hard disks. The reason? Ubuntu Linux is the first distribution since LindowsOS that has serious capital behind it, a substantial financial backing from a wealthy open source advocate.

But let's start from the beginning. It is the late 1999 and we are in Cape Town, South Africa. A company called Thawte Consulting, the world's second largest provider of digital certificates, has just been sold to Verisign for $575 million. The name of the entrepreneur behind Thawte is Mark Shuttleworth, a young man who thus became a multi-millionaire just four years after he graduated from a university. The local press excitedly reported that Mark had paid bonuses of one million Rand (about $163,000 at the time) to every one of his employees, including those who had been with the company for a very short time.

Young and rich, Mark pursued some of his extravagant dreams as he became only the second space tourist when he visited the International Space Station on board of the Russian Soyuz shuttle in April 2002, in exchange for some $20 million. Part of his fortune was also channeled into more selfless projects, such as The Shuttleworth Foundation, established with a goal "to invest in projects that provide innovative solutions to educational challenges in an African context, focusing on maths, science, entrepreneurship and technology in education and open source." Note the magic words "open source" in the above statement. Then, earlier this year, he teamed up with Hewlett-Packard to launch Go Open Source, a massive campaign designed to increase the awareness of open source software solutions in South Africa. He also founded Canonical Limited, a Isle of Man-based company now funding the development of Ubuntu Linux.

According to the company's web site and some of the early interviews with its representatives, Canonical employs over 40 developers, most of them from GNOME, Debian and GNU Arch projects. Among them, one will find Sebastien Bacher (Debian GNOME packages), Carlos Perelló Marín (Debian PowerPC port), Nathaniel McCallum (Gentoo Linux), Dave Miller (Bugzilla), Martin Pitt (PostgreSQL packaging for Debian), Daniel Stone (Release Manager,, Colin Watson (Debian QA and Debian installer), Jeff Waugh (GNOME Release Coordinator) and Matt Zimmerman (member of the Debian Security Team), just to name a few.

Besides being a free project (in both senses of the word) and the fact that the developers are getting paid for their work, what else is special about Ubuntu Linux? And why would an average Debian user consider switching to it? One of the most interesting attractions is the promise of regular stable releases in roughly 6 months' intervals. In fact, the distribution's versioning scheme is time-based, with version 4.10 representing October 2004, while the next stable release due in April 2005 will be version 5.04. All releases will be supported by the security team for 18 months after the release. Ubuntu's default desktop is GNOME, with much less attention to other desktops (KDE is available too, but only as an unsupported "universe" component). One other peculiarity, rarely seen in a distribution, is the fact that the superuser account is disabled by default. The first user created during the installation has administrative rights on the system, and can run programs as root with "sudo". Although it is easy enough to reset the root password, the default setup encourages good security practices. Ubuntu Linux currently supports three architectures: i386, ppc and x86_64.

It is important to realize that Ubuntu Linux is not trying to compete with Debian, and those Debian developers who now work on Ubuntu will continue with their Debian duties as usual. But an interesting debate is starting to revolve around the relationship between Ubuntu and other Debian-based projects, especially the ones with commercial interests, such as UserLinux or Progeny Componentized Linux. The three of them have a lot in common, with the goal of developing a commercially supported Debian-based Linux distribution. Bruce Perens of UserLinux has already indicated his readiness to meet with Mark Shuttleworth later this year and discuss issues of mutual interest. This would certainly benefit UserLinux, the development of which has been moving forward at a remarkably slow pace. Progeny's Ian Murdock might be interested in this meeting too. It really is hard to justify the existence of three projects with roughly similar goals, much overlapping work and a risk of further fragmentation in the market place. After all, it makes sense to combine resources if a small start-up intends to compete with the likes of Novell or Red Hat.

Whatever the outcome, it will be interesting to watch the development of Ubuntu Linux during the next few months. Will a Debian-based distribution finally break into enterprise, with an offer of a superior product, matching hardware and software support, certified by some by the major industry players, such as IBM or Oracle? With Ubuntu Linux on the table and Canonical Ltd behind it, hopes are higher than ever.

Comments (5 posted)

Distribution News


The announcement has gone out for the Mandrakelinux 10.1 release. This release features improved hardware support (including improved support for laptop systems) and the usual set of software upgrades.

In with the new, out with the old: Mandrakelinux 9.1 and Mandrakelinux 9.1/PPC products will be expiring on the 25th of September.

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Fedora Core 3 Test 2 has been released. This edition includes GNOME 2.8, KDE 3.3.0, X11 6.8.0 and more.

Maintenance of Fedora Core 1 has been transfered to Fedora Legacy.

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Debian Weekly News

The Debian Weekly News for September 21, 2004 covers Debian on a laptop, Security-Hardening Debian, Ubuntu 4.10 Preview, updating virus and security scanners in Debian stable, maintaining SSL certificates, another Installer release candidate, Sarge release notes, LSB status, and more.

Full Story (comments: none)

Gentoo Weekly Newsletter 20 September 2004

The Gentoo Weekly Newsletter is back. There's a new user survey out to get some feedback from Gentoo users, the forums have been moved to new hardware, Portage 2.0.51 is becoming stable, there will be an international Gentoo PPC developer meeting, and more.

Full Story (comments: 3)

DistroWatch Weekly

This week's DistroWatch Weekly looks at Ubuntu Linux, Mandrakelinux 10.1, Lycoris Desktop/LX and more.

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New Distributions


KAZIT is a KNOPPIX-based bootable CD translated into Hebrew. It features a collection of GNU/Linux software, automatic hardware detection, and support for many graphics cards, sound cards, SCSI devices, and other peripherals. It can be used as a Linux demo, educational CD, rescue system, etc. It is not necessary to install anything on a hard disk due to on-the-fly decompression. KAZIT Beta 2 was released September 20, 2004.

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Minor distribution updates

Astaro Security Linux

Astaro Security Linux has released v5.023. "This Up2Date adds Single Sign On with Active Directory (NTLM), adds DNS hostname support to the parent proxy, and improves the HTTP proxy performance when using authentication. It fixes also six smaller issues." Some minor security issues have also been fixed recently.

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CentOS has released v3.3 with support for both X86_64 and i386. "This is a complete rebuild of all the updated packages that Red Hat has included in the SRPM's of their Enterprise Linux 3 Update 3. The changed packages from update 3 are overlaid onto 3.1. This release includes a rebuilt anaconda and new boot kernels for the installer." Both X86_64 and i386 architectures are supported.

Comments (1 posted)

Feather Linux

Feather Linux has released v0.5.9. "This release adds wmapm, madwifi, and reiserfsck. It adds a new baby Tux background, makes dnsmasq.conf writable, and reverts the USB settings to the previous 0.5.7 ones. Other small bugfixes and changes were also made."

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Hiweed GNU/Linux

Hiweed GNU/Linux released 0.55beta1 for for the national day of China, with the newest Debian-Installer and other new features. Version 0.55beta2 fixes lots of bugs. " This is the second beta version for 0.55, for the national day of China. Major bugs were fixed. The font-size of GDM and XFCE4 was adjusted. Normal users can now shutdown on XFCE4 or GDM. root can now login via GDM. The GDM can start automatically every time the machine boots. mc can now display Chinese as normal. xpdf was replaced with gpdf. helix-player was replaced with RealPlayer 10. chmsee was added. A default sources.list was added. The last version of Debian Reference (Chinese Edition) was added. The console is now booted to a resolution of 800x600 by default."

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LinuxConsole has released v0.4.5.1 with major bugfixes. "Many bugfixes and some improvements were made. The boot messages were updated and boot commands were added. Patch 5.1 was enabled. English, French, Italian, are German languages are now available in icewm, GNOME, and Freevo. The NVIDIA files were moved from xfree_drivers to the nvidia module, and the NVIDIA licence must be accepted before they are used or else the XFree drivers without 3D acceleration are used. Mplayer now supports Real Media streams."

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Sentry Firewall

Sentry Firewall has released v1.5.0-rc15. "A number of bugs have been fixed in the configuration scripts, and a lot of code cleanups have been made. "path[#]" directives and a "mkdir" command were added to sentry.conf. Several packages have also been updated including snort, squid, and dnsmasq."

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VectorLinux has released v4.3. "The kernel has been updated to version 2.6.7. A submount filesystem has been added for automounting of removable media. All the base programs and libraries have been upgraded to their latest stable versions. Mozilla-1.7 is configured to have Java, Flash, and video streaming working out of the box. Rox-Filer is now the default desktop file manager, using its pinboard feature to manage icons. A new GUI-configurable firewall (Gshield) has replaced the old firewall script. ALSA is now the default sound system. The automatic hardware detect feature has been improved, and printing service is now an installable option."

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Newsletters and articles of interest

Interview with Jeff Waugh On Ubuntu Linux (OSNews)

OSNews talks with Ubuntu team member Jeff Waugh about this new project. "What are its main differences from Debian? Why would someone pick Ubuntu over Debian or any another distro?
Jeff Waugh: At its core, Ubuntu *is* Debian. Our six-monthly releases are based on Debian's "sid" development branch, with lots of bugfixing and integration work (which goes back to Debian), and some special additions such as the very latest GNOME releases. Ubuntu 4.10, which we call the "Warty Warthog" shipped GNOME 2.8 in our Preview release last night. :-) We provide 18 months of high-impact, dataloss and security support with every release.

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Introducing OpenVistA VivA FOIA Gold live CD (LinuxMedNews)

LinuxMedNews introduces a live Linux CD with OpenVistA software. "VistA as traditionally released by the VA did not run on GT.M. OpenVistA as available to date has been FOIA VistA ported to GT.M, but it also had some enhancements not in the FOIA software. With the release of a recent patch, FOIA VistA now runs on GT.M, which makes possible an OpenVistA VivA live CD that is exactly the software available under FOIA, no more and no less. Since the FOIA software has been referred to as the "gold standard", the name of this live CD is "OpenVistA VivA FOIA Gold"."

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SECURE Linux OS expected in early 2005 (

Government Computer News reports that Trusted Computer Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va., expects to begin beta-testing Trusted Linux this fall. "The trusted version of the open-source OS will automate and enforce stringent security policies to achieve multilevel security, enabling top-secret and below interoperability. It will be based on the kernel from the National Security Agency's Security Enhanced Linux project." Here's the press release from TCS.

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Distribution reviews

The Stealth Desktop: Managing Users, Fonts, and Printers (

Here's the third installment of Eduardo Sánchez's look at Slackware on the desktop, on Open for Business. "If you ask any person more or less knowledgeable in distributions about the most distinctive feature of Slackware, they will most likely reply "the lack of GUI tools". They are right in the sense that there aren't any Slackware-specific GUI tools, but you do have graphical administration tools at your fingertips that might be very useful in the task of administering a system. Let's see a few of them."

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DeLi Linux 0.6 Review (OSNews)

OSNews reviews DeLi Linux version 0.6. " I think, DeLi Linux is a good attempt to create a Linux distro specialised to older hardware. What it currently lacks of, is the amount of software included. I understand that the developer wants to keep it small in size, but I think this should only be appliable to the software you have installed on your hard disk; on the CD or in the ISO, some more software should be included, mainly alternatives to already available types of software ... Also the using of a 2.2 series kernel was a wise choice; to mention an example, the PCMCIA controller of my Notebook is only supported by kernels up to 2.2 - it was dropped in 2.4. The installation system is yet quite o.k. for such a young distro. Maybe the amount of system settings supported by delisetup will grow in the future."

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Review of UserLinux Beta LiveCD ( has brief review of the recently released UserLinux LiveCD. "The current LiveCD is based on Morphix but includes the UserLinux package selction."

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