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Test driving pre-releases of Ubuntu, Fedora and SimplyMEPIS

February 25, 2009

This article was contributed by Ivan Jelic

The versions used in this test drive are Ubuntu 9.04 Alpha 4, Fedora 11 Alpha and SimplyMEPIS 8 RC3. These were the current versions when this article was written. Herein you will find descriptions of the new and planned features for these popular distributions. This test drive is meant to get a better idea of how these releases are shaping up and what we can expect in the final, stable versions.

Ubuntu 9.04 Alpha 4

In addition to the regular package updates; GNOME 2.25, KDE 4.2, OpenOffice.org 3.0 and the latest, fresh versions of other popular programs — Firefox 3.0 is the default, but 3.1 is an option. Ubuntu 9.04 will be released with Linux 2.6.28.

Alpha 4 is beginning to show us how fast the new Ubuntu will boot and how nice the new notifications will look like when fully implemented. Fortunately, the Ubuntu team is producing live media during the alpha development, making testing and installation as easy as the final, stable versions.

Ubuntu

The installed system does indeed boot faster than 8.10 does, but it's still far away from Mark Shuttleworth's "blindingly quick" predictions from last September. Expectations do not always become reality, but Moblin shows us that room for improvement surely exists. As mentioned, Alpha 4 still doesn't have the planned new notification system fully implemented. A pop-up notification configuration tool offers the Ubuntu theme, but otherwise it doesn't differ from what we have seen before.

The installation now brings us support for installing ext4 partitions. Ext3 is still the default, but ext4 works like a charm, giving users a chance to try out the next generation extended file system.

The overall impression is that the current 9.04 Alpha leaves is very positive. The stability of the system is very good for an alpha version, bringing hope that 9.04 will be very nice release.

Fedora 11 Alpha

Fedora aims to be the bleeding edge leader and Fedora 11 Alpha makes this step forward by introducing btrfs support. It is still in heavy development though. A semi-functional fsck and conflicts with SELinux are the current highlights of brtfs in Fedora. Test with care. It's not available by default and requires passing the "icantbelieveitsnotbtr" test at the installation boot prompt. Fedora's GRUB still isn't able to boot either brtfs or ext4 partitions, so ext3 is still needed for the /boot partition.

Fedora Alpha

This early in the development cycle, Fedora 11 shows the current versions of software, but not much else. The new X server turns off the ctrl+alt+backspace shortcut (as does Ubuntu 9.04 Alpha 4). The new volume control system brings new usability (again, same as Ubuntu). The default desktops will be GNOME 2.26, KDE 4.2 and XFCE 4.6. Firefox is the latest 3.1 beta version which will hopefully transform into stable by the time Fedora 11 is released, which is planned for 26th of May.

Some packages from version 10 still exist and the first alpha gives us preliminary look on new system level features (file system support) and the planned software versions we should expect in 11. Upcoming pre-releases will give a better chance for deeper testing and closer estimations.

SimplyMEPIS 8 RC3

SimplyMEPIS returns to Debian after a brief affair with Ubuntu. This is the last release candidate (ed. note - the final version was released February 22). As such, this RC is very close to the final. It is based on the latest Debian release (5.0 "Lenny"). MEPIS remains loyal to KDE 3, including the 3.5.10 version.

It seems that the SimplyMEPIS team has decided to take the safe road by updating and tuning up the setup from previous releases. The installable live CD remains the only option for obtaining and installing SimplyMEPIS, making the process of installation very easy. After a few steps the installer transfers the live system to the chosen partitions in a very short time (a few minutes). Minimal activity is required from the user's perspective. Gparted may be run optionally from installer in case additional partitioning are required.

Beyond including the latest KDE 3 desktop, SimplyMEPIS developers made version 8 very fresh by including latest versions of popular programs. With rock solid Debian stable as a base, some popular programs are shipped in newer versions. This turns out to be very good practice, making MEPIS more than just a simple Debian derivative. MEPIS ships Firefox 3.0.6 (instead of Debian's Iceweasel) and OpenOffice.org 3.0 (Lenny has 2.4.1) which illustrates this practice. Those and like packages are maintained by MEPIS and stored in Debian compatible repositories. SimplyMEPIS 8 will be released with Linux 2.6.27, without Ext4 support.

MEPIS RC3

MEPIS configuration tools continue to make life easier in version 8. Probably the most interesting part of the suite is Network Assistant, which is the only option for user friendly network configuration. SimplyMEPIS 8 won't deliver Network Manager by default, but Network Assistant provides a simple interface for users who don't want to deal with shell commands for network configuration. Beside network connection management, Network Assistant provides options for additional network hardware configurations like drivers for wireless chips (ndiswrapper, Broadcom), and the possibility of switching from manual to automatic configuration (Network Manager). The rest of the administrative suite allows users to install proprietary drivers for graphic chips (Nvidia and ATI), perform X server configuration, maintain user accounts on the system, repair the boot loader and partitions, make a bootable MEPIS USB key, and do the rest of miscellaneous administrative tasks.

SimplyMEPIS 8 RC3 showed excellent stability and performance during testing. It delivers one of the fastest KDE desktops that the author ever tried. This release candidate gives very close look at what the final release will look like. It's good to see MEPIS back from a period of silence, specially with good release that 8 will be.

Final thoughts

Since SimplyMEPIS is close to the final version, it is difficult to compare to the other two. Ubuntu is ahead of Fedora at this time and Fedora does not yet give us much information about the final release. Nonetheless it's good to see that things are starting to move well in all cases.

Comments (4 posted)

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Comments (2 posted)

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