News and Editorialsthis report at NewsForge, which claimed that FreeBSD 5.3 shipped without support for 32-bit FreeBSD binary compatibility and without support for 64-bit Linux binary compatibility. This fact would almost certainly have made FreeBSD 5.3 look incomplete in comparison with most current Linux distributions, so we decided to wait for version 5.4 before attempting to install FreeBSD on our AMD64 box.
Six months after FreeBSD 5.3, the second production version of FreeBSD 5.x series was released. Has it addressed the concerns in the above-mentioned review? To find out, we installed the AMD64 edition of FreeBSD 5.4 on a system with the following specifications: AMD64 3500+ processor (2.2GHz), K8N Neo2 (Socket939) mainboard from Micro-Star International, 2 GB of DDR SDRAM, 2 x 120 GB Maxtor hard disks, Plextor PX-712A DVD/CD Rewritable Drive, and NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600 graphics card. First, we installed a base FreeBSD system, rebooted, then proceeded with further package installation from a local FTP mirror. To save time, we did not compile desktop applications from source, but used FreeBSD's binary packages instead; with 'pkg_add -r kde' and 'pkg_add -r gnome2', we had both the KDE and GNOME desktops set up in no time. We also added Firefox, Apache, PHP and a few other popular applications.
We started investigating the compatibility issues right after setting up our desktop environment. We checked out the default kernel configuration file, which included options for "COMPAT_IA32" and "COMPAT_LINUX32". This looked promising, but we were still curious about how complete the AMD64 port was. Looking through the FreeBSD 5.4 package trees we noted that there were a total of 10,383 packages for the i386 architecture, and 9,807 packages for the AMD64 architecture, which suggested that almost 95% of all FreeBSD packages have been ported to the AMD64 platform. This is in line with most Linux distributions. Running 'diff' on the two package sets gave us a more clear picture about what is missing from the 64-bit edition; besides the usual culprits, such as OpenOffice.org, Opera, proprietary multimedia codecs, and Java-based applications (Eclipse, Jakarta...), we also noted the absence of Azureus, Blender, TightVNC and Wine, among other packages. The 'sysinstall' interface did list a few dozens of Linux applications that could be installed under a binary compatibility mode, but it did not include anything terribly exciting.
This was disappointing. At this point we couldn't help thinking about how far Linux has evolved in providing a near-complete support for 64-bit processors. Fedora, Mandriva, SUSE and Ubuntu come pre-configured with 32-bit compatibility libraries, so that applications that do not compile under AMD64 (e.g. OpenOffice.org) can be run in a 32-bit mode. Debian provides an excellent write-up about how to set up a minimal 32-bit Debian system in a chroot-ed environment and how to integrate transparently any 32-bit applications into the main 64-bit system. Even though none of these solutions are ideal, they are certainly workable - at least until OpenOffice.org compiles under AMD64 and until makers of proprietary software, such as Opera, RealPlayer, Acrobat Reader, Flash Player, and others wake up and start building 64-bit binaries. Unfortunately, this means that the 64-bit edition of FreeBSD remains somewhat limited as a workstation. A brief search on the Internet revealed that, while it was not impossible to install the 32-bit Linux binary edition of OpenOffice.org on a 64-bit FreeBSD system, this was by no means straightforward and certainly not officially supported.
Of course, if you don't need any of the proprietary applications or OpenOffice.org, then FreeBSD 5.4 is certainly a workable system. We only spent one day testing it, but had no trouble with installing a large number of applications from the binary package pool. Some hardware, such as sound cards, still required manual setup with 'kldload', but the network card and USB mouse were detected and set up automatically. FreeBSD 5.4 comes with the very latest open source applications available today; these include X.Org 6.8.2, GNOME 2.10, KDE 3.4, Apache 2.0.54, and PHP 5.0.4, just to name a few. As a server, FreeBSD 5.4 seems to be a noticeable improvement over 5.3; as an example, we host DistroWatch.com on FreeBSD and had a few serious problems with version 5.3 (which our hosting provider confirmed to have affected a number of other FreeBSD 5.3 boxes), but these problems have yet to manifest themselves after upgrading to FreeBSD 5.4.
So how did the AMD64 edition of FreeBSD 5.4 fare in our brief test? As a server, it is an excellent operating system. As a workstation, we won't use it and won't recommend it. It lags behind both the i386 edition of FreeBSD, and the AMD64 editions of all major Linux distributions, mainly due to the limited support for 32-bit applications. Without it, the overall experience of running the 64-bit edition of FreeBSD on the desktop is simply not on par with any of the current 64-bit Linux distributions.
New ReleasescAos Foundation and the cAos Linux development team have announced the public release of cAos Linux version 2. "cAos Linux 2 is scheduled to be maintained for the next 3-5 years. During that time, it will maintain a stable core OS ABI as well as receive prompt security updates. We are very open to receiving donations not only the form of money, but also code, testing, development, and package maintainers. If you want to join in an uprising open source project, then we encourage you to take a look at cAos." announced MontaVista Linux Carrier Grade Edition 4.0 (CGE). "CGE 4.0 integrates the latest Linux 2.6 kernel with the most advanced hard real-time capabilities, new and unique clustering services, and the broadest AdvancedTCA hardware support available in the market." There aren't many visible installer changes beyond Hoary yet, as we've been concentrating on merging work from Debian unstable, on getting things up and running at all, and on design work for this development cycle. To date, there have been 4741 uploads to Breezy, of which most (4092) have been automatic syncs from Debian unstable. Many of the remainder have been improvements to the rest of the distribution, including a good deal of work on the compiler toolchain."
Distribution NewsRight now, this schedule is looking more ambitious than when we cooked it up, but it's not completely out of the question -- we just need to pick up the pace a bit."
New DistributionsSymphony OS is based on Debian and KNOPPIX. It uses a lightweight window manager, includes its own package management system that can install deb packages, source packages and Symphony binary packages, and includes the Orchestra application development environment. The distribution is still in Alpha development. Read more in this Tuxmachines review.
Distribution NewslettersDistroWatch Weekly for May 16, 2005 is out. "Read our brief roundup of interesting news bits with a quick look at the upcoming Debian Sarge release, new features in Ubuntu's "Breezy Badger", a fantastic resource for SUSE users and administrators, and an unofficial Alpha port of Fedora Core. Also in this issue - choose that perfect distribution with the Linux Distribution Chooser. Our featured distribution of the week is QiLinux, while the Tips and Tricks section investigates GRAMPS, a powerful genealogical application."
Package updatespygtk2-2.4.1-fc3.1 (bug fix), fonts-xorg-6.8.2-0.FC3.1 (minor glitches). drakxtools (bug fixes in drakfirewall, drakconnect and drakroam), drakxtools (hardware related bugs), kdebase (various bug fixes). security update to NcFTP was issued, following by a retraction. Slackware is NOT vulnerable to this particular issue. Also xfce has been upgraded to 4.2.2. See the complete slackware-current change log for the gory details.
Distribution reviewsreviews SUSE Linux 9.3. "Novell's latest release of SUSE Linux, SUSE 9.3, demonstrates Novell's continuing commitment to delivering polished, off-the-shelf Linux distributions for the desktop and professional markets. October 2004, which is when the previous version of SUSE Linux was released, seems like only yesterday. So what's new--and, perhaps, why should people care?" reviews Puppy Linux. "For a distribution that provides the typical tools that a user might need to do their work, Puppy Linux is the superior small Linux distribution. Puppy Linux has two other very strong points that make it the small Linux distribution of choice. The first is the ease with which Puppy Linux can generate a bootable USB thumb drive version of itself." article on NewsForge from a Vectorlinux fan. "I became acquainted with VectorLinux a year ago when I was testing several distros for an old Pentium II I had. It was running Slackware fine, but I was searching for something more complete. VectorLinux not only proved faster than the original Slackware but was also packed with a lot of goodies that Slackware lacks: Flash support, Java, Firefox extensions, and many more."
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