News and EditorialsSpecifix Linux, first announced in July this year, was different for two reasons. Firstly, it was founded by well-known former executives at Red Hat, Inc. - Erik Troan and Kim Knuttila, and joined by two more ex-Red Hat software engineers - Michael K. Johnson and Matt Wilson. Secondly, Specifix Linux was to be built around a new package management system, called "Conary".
Upon hearing the words "new package management", many readers will probably react with a "oh, no - not another one", fearing further incompatibilities and fragmentation in a market already split between RPMs, DEBs, TGZs, ebuilds, and many other "novel" ideas. But the fact that Conary was being coded by several high-profile developers, with extensive experience in helping to build Red Hat Linux, did arise more than just slight curiosity among many Linux users. After all -- and let's be honest about it -- the RPM package manager was created in 1995, when it was a radical idea that helped Red Hat gain converts from the then dominant Slackware Linux, but is it still the best we have, some nine years later? Isn't there a better, more universal way of managing software on a Linux distribution?
Enter the world of Specifix Linux and Conary. Since the original announcement, the project has been moving along at a rapid pace, producing new ISO images on a (more or less) weekly basis. The latest version of Specifix Linux is 0.11, complete with a graphical installer (Anaconda) and inclusive of Linux kernel 2.6.8, X.org 6.8.0, GNOME 2.8 and the usual range of software packages on two CDs, with more available on the distribution's FTP repository. At first sight, there isn't much unusual about this distribution - that's until one starts examining its star application: Conary.
In the words of its developers, Conary is a distributed software management system for Linux distributions meant to replace traditional package management solutions (such as RPM and dpkg). It operates around two principal characteristics - shadows and changesets. Shadows provide a simple way of maintaining customizations in applications and libraries that change often - a common feature of most open source work these days. While in the traditional package management model, any newly introduced package version would have to have any customizations manually applied after each upgrade, shadows allow for individual maintenance of the original package, and its customization. This is done by keeping the customization as a separate component of the "Conary package", or "trove" in Conary-speak, together with other components, instead of merging all customizations into the package itself.
The above process is further facilitated by the use of changesets. In a traditional package management system, any package upgrade will mean that all files present in the original package will be replaced with files in the upgraded package, irrespective of whether the files have changed or not. This represents unnecessary overhead in terms of hard disk storage, processor use, and, if the upgraded package is fetched from a remote repository, bandwidth use. On the other hand, the concept of changesets, as implemented in Conary, merely fetches and upgrades those files that have been modified upstream. An interesting indication of this feature's intelligent design is the fact that the changesets are not cached on the Specifix FTP server, but rather generated dynamically with every remote request, depending on the version of the package already installed on the system and the desired version of the upgraded package.
The concepts of shadows and changesets are not particularly easy to explain in a couple of paragraphs, but further understanding can be gained from white papers published by Specifix and available in PDF formats on the Specifix Wiki pages. Additionally, investigating the structure of troves and their components within conary-gui (a GTK2-based graphical frontend for conary, see screenshot) will further clear things up. However, it is important to stress that much of these technical details will only be relevant to developers and system administrators, rather than end users of the distribution. [Editor's note: see also LWN's description of Conary from last July.]
Despite the many sound concepts and rapid development progress, the Specifix Linux is still alpha status. The code powering Conary has not been optimized for speed and in its current state, it feels sluggish, especially when using its GUI frontend. It also misses essential features found in other graphical package management tools (Conectiva's Synaptic comes to mind), such as package searches, remote repository definitions, listings of dependencies, etc. These will likely be added in time, but right now the application feels rather bare-bone.
Once you start comprehending the basic concepts of Specifix Linux, it is easy to understand the company's sales line, which revolves around the term "customization". While users of other enterprise distributions are often unable to customize the purchased software to fit their needs without invalidating the accompanying support contract, with Specifix Linux, and its idea of maintaining all customizations separately from the base product, this is no longer an issue. The customers will maintain their own customizations, while Specifix will continue providing support for the base system. It should be a win-win situation for both parties, at least in theory.
Distribution Newsis now available. "This release candidate contains a snapshot of Ubuntu that the Warty team thinks is ready to release. We believe this release is potentially the final Warty release, and are calling it a Release Candidate to encourage very widespread testing."
Ubuntu is also available as a live CD.available. This is the last planned test release before the final FC3 release. This release provides an opportunity to check the accuracy and completeness of translations, preview Evolution 2.0.1 and GNOME 2.8 and more.
Fedora Core 2 updates:
DebianGis is a recently launched sub-project. "The goal of DebianGis is to create a Custom Debian Distribution oriented to serious Geographical Information Systems (GIS) users and applications."
The developers reference has received some much needed updates recently, including a chapter about i10n, information on wnpp usage, and more.
A recent upgrade of the Z/VM of the S/390 machine caused some problems which will slow down security support for woody and sarge. If you are having problems building S/390 packages, this may provide some answers.
Here's this week's woody update as preparation continues for Debian GNU/Linux 3.0r3.forum for SUSE Linux. DistroWatch Weekly for October 11, 2004 features Aurox Linux, and covers Mandrakesoft awards, Ubuntu momentum and more. slackware-current will have noticed the updated packages this week, including: util-linux, doxygen, guile, gst-plugins, gstreamer, slrn, ImageMagickudev, getmail, netatalk, fvwm and gaim. Glibc has been updated from CVS. Also new rsync packages are available for all supported Slackware releases.
Minor distribution updates2-Disk Xwindow embedded Linux has released v1.2.13 binary of its 1 disk product. "Changes: There are lots of updates in this release with the addition of a paint application, a calculator, changes to video mode defaults, and many minor script changes. There were also dependancy reductions, fixes for bugs in desktop apps, and window manager enhancements in property change handling. The kernel is now version 2.4.27." BasicLinux has released v3.32. "Changes: Major improvements were made to X. AbiWord, Sylpheed, and Xfreecell now work. More space is available in the loop file." BLAG Linux was seized by the US government. Details are very sketchy, but it appears that the seizure was related to Indymedia, which was on the same box. BLAG should be back by the time you read this. More information is available at jeblog. jumped on the live CD bandwagon. "The current default package selection uses the minimal-desktop template, which incorporates a full KDE desktop and some other apps like mplayer, xine, etc. Of course this package selection can be altered to fit your needs. In the default configuration the system takes up only about 400 MB, so there's still some space left." Linux/Coldfire has a new uClinux port available for the Motorola Coldfire family of processors, version 20040930. "Changes: The 2.6 series Linux kernel is now used and the source code can be compiled with either GCC 2.95.3 or 3.3-based compilers. Support for C++ applications was improved and excellent PIC support was implemented for reducing memory usage. The whole environment, kernel, and applications are now all very stable. Networking, IP masquerading, and dial-on-demand are working well, and a port of FreeS/WAN IPsec was added. NFS and SMB filesystems are supported and a DHCP client was included in the default network setup."
Distribution reviewsreviews Rubyx. "R is for Ruby: rubyx is one large script written in Ruby (programming language comparable to Python). This script manages all aspects of running the system: installation, configuration, booting, managing services, adding and updating software, and even creating isos. The details of installation for all packages - Rubyx ebuilds, if you like - are small Ruby scripts as well." takes a quick look at SUSE LINUX Professional 9.2. "In version 9.2, Suse Linux Professional offers Bluetooth wireless support including automatic recognition of Bluetooth-enabled devices via the YaST central configuration and administration tool. Bluetooth configuration can be easily set up through YaST, and the software also makes it easy to connect to and move between wireless LANs and other network connections. Its advanced power management through ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) and suspend-to-disk features also make it easy for laptop users who require the increased mobility this affords."
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