News and Editorials
Unfortunately, FreeBSD is not an easy operating system to set up as a desktop or workstation. It is perhaps even harder than setting up Slackware in the Linux world, as FreeBSD too requires a fair amount of dirty work and expert knowledge to mold it into a usable shape. With the curses-based sysconfig being just about the most user-friendly utility there is in FreeBSD, and where everything, even font anti-aliasing and sound module loading, requires extensive hacking in obscure configuration files, there is little wonder that FreeBSD, or indeed any other *BSD, has not taken over the desktops of ordinary users.
But this is about to change. Some six months ago a project called PC-BSD was born with a clear vision: to turn FreeBSD into a user-friendly and intuitive operating system that anybody can install and use without having to first obtain a computer science degree. Naturally, with so many new distributions launching all the time these days, it is easy to be skeptical about any new project with such lofty claims. Luckily, the response to the initial announcement was nothing short of overwhelming and the developers soon found themselves besieged by hundreds of enthusiastic users as well as experienced developers, translators and documentation writers who quickly set up channels for contributing to the project. Then, last week, they released a feature-complete release candidate which will shortly become the project's first official product - PC-BSD 1.0.
What exactly constitutes the "user-friendliness" of PC-BSD? Firstly, there is the installer. Based on the original FreeBSD live CD by FreeSBIE, the installation CD starts with auto-detecting and auto-configuring the system's video card before presenting the user with an installation interface somewhat resembling Red Hat's Anaconda. After selecting the keyboard layout, hard disk partition and a place to install the boot loader (with sensible defaults), the installer copies all applications from the CD to the hard disk. When done, the user is asked to set the root password and create a user account. That's it. Barring some unforeseen circumstances, a reboot will bring up KDE 3.4.3 with a scenic desktop wallpaper. FreeBSD has never looked so good!
Admittedly, the installation CD contains a rather minimal graphical system that is unlikely to satisfy most users. A quick solution to the problem is to visit pbiDIR, the official repository for .pbi packages or, in other words, a categorized collection of binary applications designed to work with PC-BSD. While not quite "click-n-run", the installation of .pbi files is fairly straightforward: after saving a .pbi package on the hard disk, a double-click will launch a package installation dialog (root password is required). This will guide the user through the process of installing the package and to make a couple of simple decisions, such as whether or not to place the application's icons in the KDE menu and/or on the desktop. All installed programs can be removed later from a graphical utility called "PC-BSD Package Manager". Although the number of .pbi software packages in the repository is fairly limited, the developers do provide instructions for creating these packages, so anybody can build and submit their preferred applications.
Since PC-BSD is essentially a dressed-up FreeBSD, the options of compiling applications from ports or installing binary ones with pkg_add are also available. In fact, the developers have created a graphical interface for downloading and installing the entire FreeBSD ports tree, although those who will want to take advantage of it will still need to reach for the command line. Likewise, downloading the FreeBSD kernel and userland sources is also just a mouse click away. Complementing the PC-BSD "System" utility is an option to switch to an SMP kernel, to enable or disable SSH, NFS, Samba and CUPS services, and to generate a diagnostic sheet - all from the comfort of a graphical user interface. Several Qt-based graphical tools for setting up monitor, network, users, printing, etc. are also available, while a custom "Online Update" utility will upgrade the installed system to a new version without the need to re-install.
I spent a couple of days examining the RC1 of PC-BSD 1.0 on a spare Pentium 4 computer with a Matrox graphics card, Sound Blaster Live! sound card and a Realtek 8139too network card. All of the hardware was detected and set up correctly during installation (except for the screen resolution which needed a quick adjustment). I also installed and removed a number of .pbi packages and even compiled a few ports from source - all without the slightest hitch. The system felt fast and responsive and the boot and shutdown times were noticeably shorter than those of most Linux distributions. The project has a well-designed web site with good basic installation documentation and highly active user forums frequented by many obvious beginners to BSD. Perhaps the only real drawback of PC-BSD, from the point of view of a novice user, is the relatively low number of easily-installable .pbi packages, but this can only improve with time.
PC-BSD is currently the best attempt at developing a desktop FreeBSD operating system with "a human face", and certainly the easiest way to get a FreeBSD desktop up and running without any toiling on the command line. Despite the project's young age, it has already achieved most of the early goals of producing a usable desktop FreeBSD for non-technical users where system installation and essential configuration can be effected with a mouse. More unexpectedly, there seems to be plenty of momentum and excitement about the project. It will be interesting to see whether PC-BSD will be able to popularize FreeBSD as an operating system that can be used by ordinary people, not just seasoned UNIX hackers.
New ReleasesNew features in the German package include NoMachine thin client support and OpenOffice.org 2.0 for creating standards-based documents and spreadsheets."
Distribution NewsThe Constitution of the Debian Project specifies a decision making process known as "delegation", which the Debian Project Leader can use to spread decision-making authority throughout the Project. Historically, this power has been underused (including by myself), particularly in areas of infrastructural administration. This turns out not to be due to past (or present) Project Leaders' lack of motivation or desire to do so." It's an experimental new way of searching Debian packages: you start with a normal text search, and then you work with categories." announcement covers changes in Dapper's menu system.
Dapper has a new 2.6.15-2.2 (2.6.15-rc1 based) kernel available for AMD64 and x86. The PowerPC kernel was not available at the time of the writing, but it should be available soon.here. Following the release of Mandriva Linux 2006, Mandriva is mobilizing its network of Linux User Groups (LUGs). Free community installation sessions will take place around the world. Major participating locations include the United States, Brazil, Canada, China, Moroco, and the island of Reunion. More than 60 cities are involved, including a dozen in China and 15 and Brazil."
New DistributionsBent Linux is a compact Linux distribution, inspired by Linux From Scratch. It uses Busybox, uClibc, and static linking to keep the size down. "It's particularly suited to building dedicated servers, initrds for custom installers and rescue disks, and systems with a nice crisp mid-1980s mouthfeel to satisfy the mid-life crises of crusty curmudgeons." (Thanks to Wladimir Mutel, who is running Bent on an AM386 test box with 8 MB of RAM.) G-ZyX is a Fedora based distribution with a collection of open source software that runs from a single CD/DVD. Optional configurationless installation (smart caching) to available hard disk or flash based storage is supported. G-ZyX is the flagship manifestation of the ViROS distribution generation platform. ViROS leverages popular open and free RPM based *nix distributions to generate custom purpose live-CDs. G-ZyX's predecessor cousin TVOS is suited for home theater applications, while G-ZyX is suited for general purpose computing and development. An alpha release of G-ZyX is currently available.
Distribution NewslettersFedora Weekly News, issue #22, looks at the Linux Worm Lupii, the new Fedora Logo, a logo lesson, Fedora International community websites, FOSS India 2005 Fedora slides, and several other topics. Gentoo Weekly Newsletter for the week of November 14, 2005 is out. This week's edition notes the switch to stage3 as the default installation method, an interview with Douglas Robertson about his video jukeboxes on Gentoo, Gentoo at the LWE and DevCon in the Frankfurt/Main area, and more. DistroWatch Weekly for November 14, 2005 is out. "The controversy over Nexenta's use of GPL software in its OpenSolaris-based distribution and the never-ending GNOME vs KDE flame wars dominated the headlines last week. We will briefly look at the above stories before examining other interesting events and releases of the week. We also feature an exclusive interview with Barry Kauler, the founder and lead developer of the increasingly popular Puppy Linux. And to prove that a new distribution is born just about every day, we have added seven new ones to the waiting list last week - including a controversial one called "Open Windows", developed by -- wait for this -- a law firm!"
Package updateskernel-2.6.14-1.1637_FC4 (rebases to 220.127.116.11 and includes several patches), net-tools (bug fixes), mc (bug fixes, update to the 4.6.1a branch), kdenetwork (rebuild against new wireless-tools), kdebindings (3.4.2-0.fc4.2), chkconfig-1.3.22-0.4 (bug fixes), gaim (bug fixes), chkconfig-1.3.23-0.4 (more bug fixes), xterm (upgrade to upstream version 205), pkgconfig (update to 0.20.0), ghostscript (fix lips4v driver), shadow-utils (fix useradd segfaults), mc (new slang support). scim-qtimm (fix for 2006/x86_64), e2fsprogs (fix segfault in mklost+found), ldetect-lst (bug fix), drakxtools (multiple bug fixes), autofs (bug fix), acpid (bug fixes).
Newsletters and articles of interesttutorial on setting up Xen on a Debian Sarge box. "This tutorial provides step-by-step instructions on how to install Xen (version 2) on a Debian Sarge (3.1) system. It should apply to Ubuntu systems with little or no modifications. Xen lets you create guest operating systems (*nix operating systems like Linux and FreeBSD), so called "virtual machines" or domUs, under a host operating system (dom0). Using Xen you can separate your applications into different virtual machines that are totally independent from each other (e.g. a virtual machine for a mail server, a virtual machine for a high-traffic web site, another virtual machine that serves your customers' web sites, a virtual machine for DNS, etc.), but still use the same hardware."
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