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News and Editorials

Distributions in 2005

December 14, 2005

This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar

With the year 2005 coming to an end, let's take a brief look at some of the changes on the Linux distribution landscape over the past 12 months.

Arguably the most exciting event of the year was the announcement by Novell to open up the development of SUSE Linux to public participation. Popular as SUSE has always been, the creation of the openSUSE project has clearly won many new users who have found the attraction of free ISO images, combined with SUSE's reputation for ease of use and excellent administration tools, irresistible. More importantly, many developers, beta testers and volunteer contributors have flocked to openSUSE and several SUSE-based subprojects were born on the project's Wiki-style web site. With reviews overwhelmingly positive, the new SUSE Linux 10.0 can safely be declared a winner in gathering most media attention, as well as attracting many new users in 2005.

Another distribution that has been marching from strength to strength is Ubuntu Linux. Although the project has only just celebrated its first birthday, the success of Ubuntu has demonstrated two interesting phenomena. Firstly, if done right, even a newly created distribution can become enormously popular - without the need to spend a single penny on advertising. Secondly, Linux users aren't particularly attached to a distribution and are quite willing to switch to a new product - if it fits their needs better. The credibility of Ubuntu was also boosted when its sponsor, Canonical Ltd, announced the creation of the $10 million Ubuntu Foundation; the upcoming version 6.04 will be enterprise ready in a sense that security updates will be provided for a minimum period of 5 years.

In contrast, Fedora and Mandriva, the two traditional power houses of the Linux distribution world, have had a relatively quiet year. Partly responsible for this is the fact that both distributions have extended their release cycles - from 6 months to 9 and 12 months, respectively. The September release of Mandriva Linux 2006 attracted mixed reviews in the media; perhaps a victim of its own success and its reputation for being one of the most user-friendly products on the market, the expectations are always high and even the slightest inconsistency or lack of attention to detail tends to result in harsh criticism by the reviewers. And although Mandriva remains a popular and much appreciated operating system, its long release cycle and the increasingly commercial nature of the product will undoubtedly result in some of its more advanced users drifting towards one of the non-commercial, community distributions.

Similarly, the Fedora project has also lost some ground this year, especially on the desktop. The lack of beta testing excitement that used to characterize the third quarter of each year and the relative calm on the project's mailing list (even after the recent release of the first beta of Fedora Core 5) are an indication that some Fedora users might have started looking elsewhere. The project's next stable release of is due in late February, which means that, unlike Ubuntu, which has essentially synchronized its releases with those of the GNOME desktop, it will just miss GNOME 2.14 (scheduled for release on March 15, 2006). That said, Fedora Core 5 will form the basis of the upcoming Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, so it is expected to be one of the better tested releases, without too many experimental features.

The traditionally more server- and geek-oriented Debian GNU/Linux and Slackware Linux continued in their development work, even producing an odd stable release, which, in case of Debian, is a fairly rare achievement. By some accounts, Debian is the fastest-growing server distribution available today - perhaps a tribute to the project's legendary quality control and stability of the operating system. Both Debian and Slackware stayed with the tried and tested 2.4 kernel series (at least on the i386 platform), while Slackware remained the only major distribution shipping a vanilla kernel with its product. But despite its unusually conservative nature, Slackware continues to have surprisingly strong following, thus confirming that adding extra (and sometimes buggy) bells and whistles might not necessarily be the best way to increase the Linux user base.

Besides the above-mentioned main distributions, dozens of smaller projects continued fighting for the market share with the big boys. We keep getting very positive reports from users of PCLinuxOS and KANOTIX, two free, user-friendly distributions designed for the desktop. Those who wish to bring an older machine or a laptop back to life might consider trying Damn Small Linux or Puppy Linux, two small, incredibly fast and light-weight operating systems. And if you ever get tired of Linux, it's nice to know that several exciting alternatives were born during this past year, including Nexenta, a project that attempts to marry the OpenSolaris kernel with GNU and Debian utilities, and PC-BSD, which is building an easy-to-use installer and graphical administration utilities for FreeBSD.

What can we expect in 2006? While Fedora will be the first distribution with a new release in the new year, both SUSE and Ubuntu are already deep in the development of their next versions - expect two new releases from each during the course of the year. Among the commercial projects, Linspire 6.0 and Xandros Desktop 4 should feature in the headlines sometimes during the first half of 2006 as both companies continue in their quests to remove the last barriers of Linux acceptance among non-technical computer users. Mandriva's next new release is only expected in the third quarter of the year, while Debian's current plan is to complete the development of "etch" just before the end of the year. On the enterprise Linux front, both Red Hat and Novell are likely to announce major new releases. With the current trend in municipalities and government offices to migrate parts of their IT infrastructure to Free Software, both are well-positioned to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Comments (11 posted)

New Releases

64 Studio 0.6.0 released

64 Studio is a native x86_64 Linux distribution, based on Debian testing and designed specifically for creative desktop users. Version 0.6.0 alpha was released this week and is available for download.

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Ark Linux 2005.2 Released (DesktopLinux)

DesktopLinux covers the recent release of Ark Linux 2005.2. "A new version of Ark Linux, v2005.2 -- touted as an "easy-to-use distribution designed for non-technical users" -- was released Monday. It's based on Linux kernel 2.6.14rc2 and boasts the new KDE 3.5 desktop, 2.0, overall improvements to system size and speed, and better automatic handling of inserted CDs and DVDs, the project said."

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New Openwall GNU/Linux ISO available

Openwall GNU/Linux has released an ISO snapshot of -current with a new installer that implements an ncurses/CDK-based user interface and many other patches and updates.

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New Quantian release available

Quantian has been released. This version is based on Knoppix 4.0.2 and adds hundreds of scientific / numeric packages, as well as the openMosix enabled 2.4.27 kernel.

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Ubuntu Flight CD 2

Ubuntu has a Flight CD 2 ready. This is the second in a series of milestone CD images that will be released throughout the Dapper development cycle, as images that are known to be reasonably free of showstopper CD-build or installer bugs. The Kubuntu Flight CD 2 is also available.

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Volkerding 2.0

Hidden away in the December 10 Slackware changelog (click below) is this news: "I know a lot of you have been wondering what's going on here, and the news is that my wife Andrea delivered our first child, a daughter Briah Cecilia (briah at slackware dot com :-) on 2005-11-22, and that event (and the weeks that led up to it) has had to take priority over the usual tasks of download/compile/test/package/upload." Congratulations, Patrick and family!

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Distribution News

Intel notebooks for needy Debian developers

Intel has generously provided ten notebook computers for Debian Developers in developing countries.

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Fedora-netdev FC4: kernel-2.6.14-1.1644_FC4.netdev.5

The latest Fedora-netdev kernel (kernel-2.6.14-1.1644_FC4.netdev.5) is available for FC4.

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Ubuntu Server Project Unleashed!

The Ubuntu Server Team has been established to pursue short term, high impact goals for the Ubuntu 6.04 release, such as server hardware testing and kernel quality assurance. Watch for Dapper Drake Server Daily Builds to become available for testing.

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New Distributions

QiLinux Docet: an Italian Educational Live Cd

QiLinux Docet is an Italian Educational Live Cd designed for Italian-speaking Schools. It is based on QiLinux and can be downloaded from the Download section of the QiLinux web site.

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Distribution Newsletters

Debian Weekly News

The Debian Weekly News for December 13, 2005 covers a call for talks at FOSDEM, progress with C++ transitions, joining forces with Skolelinux, stabilizing the Linux Landscape with Debian, the release of DCC Common Core 3.0, new features on, and several other topics.

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Fedora Weekly News Issue 25

The latest edition of the Fedora Weekly News looks at Fedora Logo Approval, - Fedora report, Fedora Ambassadors FAQ, Fedora Core 5 Test 1 Review, Netcraft stats for web servers, Real Introduces, and more.

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Gentoo Weekly Newsletter

The Gentoo Weekly Newsletter for the week of December 12, 2005 covers Qt4 as it moves into Portage, an Alpha project status update, the release of a GWN guide, Gentoo Forums statistics visualized, and other topics.

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Mandriva Linux Community Newsletter #111

The Mandriva Linux Community Newsletter looks at the release of Mandriva Linux 2006 Free, Mandriva Linux 2006 Installation Party a success, a Mad Penguin review, and more.

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DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 130

The DistroWatch Weekly for December 12, 2005 is out. "This issue covers a variety of interesting topics, including a call to protest against introducing a DMCA-style law in France, Linux migration efforts by Berlin, Prague and Cape Town, and an insider's feedback to our last week's feature on backporting newly released applications to existing distributions. In the news section we'll introduce Security Enhanced SUSE, congratulate Patrick Volkerding, and draw your attention to a newly compiled list of FreeBSD projects for volunteer programmers. Finally, we'll take a brief look at the new Ark Linux 2005.2."

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Package updates

Fedora updates

Fedora Core 4 updates: fetchmail (upstream maintenance release), mc (bug fixes), yum (bug fixes and additional caching), kbd (removes loadkeys), GFS-kernel (built against 2.6.14-1.1653_FC4 kernel), cman-kernel (built against 2.6.14-1.1653_FC4 kernel), dlm-kernel (built against 2.6.14-1.1653_FC4 kernel), gndb-kernel (built against 2.6.14-1.1653_FC4 kernel), dhcp (bug fixes), xterm (upgrade to upstream version 207).

Fedora Core 3 updates: fetchmail (upstream maintenance release), mc (bug fixes).

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Trustix updates

Trustix Secure Linux updates: amavisd-new, cpplus, mrtg, mysql and slocate & apache and postfix.

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Newsletters and articles of interest

A Concise apt-get / dpkg Primer for New Debian Users (DebianPlanet)

BlogSpot has a Concise apt-get / dpkg primer for new Debian users. "Debian is one of the earliest Linux distribution around. It caught the public's fancy because of the ease of installing and uninstalling applications on it. When many other linux distributions were bogged down in dependency hell, Debian users were shielded from these problems owing to Debian's superior package handling capablities using apt-get." (Found on DebianPlanet)

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Distribution reviews

SUSE Linux 10.0 (Globe and Mail)

The Globe and Mail reviews SUSE Linux 10.0. "I did have one heart-stopping moment when the just-installed system couldn't find its way to the Internet. I opened up various setup procedures to see if I could fix that, and was confronted by the kind of mind-crushing geekery that has hampered Linux's acceptance among the newbies for such a long time. I backed out of it without changing a thing. But by the time I had done that, SUSE reported that it had located the Internet all by itself, and I was off and surfing. The whole experience still baffles me."

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