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News and Editorials

Substituting RHEL with Free Alternatives

February 4, 2004

This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar

Ever since last year's announcement by Red Hat that it would discontinue its free Red Hat Linux, concentrating instead on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) product line, a new breed of Linux distributions began to emerge. Since source RPM packages of all RHEL products are freely available on the company's FTP servers and mirrors, why not use them to build a complete RHEL clone? All that had to be done was remove trademarked logos and other references to Red Hat from the original source RPMs, then compile them into binary ones, and voilà - a new distribution is born. And because all Red Hat erratas and updates are also released in the form of source RPMs, keeping this new distribution up-to-date with security patches would be a simple matter of compiling the updated source RPMs and releasing them for download.

Indeed, several such projects have been born over the last few months. Although not all of them are completely free (beer), they all have one thing in common - they cost a lot less than the real RHEL. As such, they are more likely to attract small businesses and organizations that had standardized on Red Hat Linux before it was discontinued. What are their choices? Some of the projects that have built a complete Linux distribution from RHEL source RPM packages include CentOS, Lineox Enterprise Linux, Tao Linux and White Box Enterprise Linux.

White Box Enterprise Linux was the first officially released distribution built from RHEL's source RPMs. The project was initiated by a public library in Louisiana, USA and its motivation is best summed up by the representatives of the library itself:

We had several servers and over fifty workstations running Red Hat Linux and were left high and dry by their recent shift in business plan. Our choices were a difficult migration to another distribution or paying Red Hat an annual fee greater than the amortized value of our hardware. So we chose a third path, made possible by the power of Open Source.... White Box Linux.

White Box Enterprise Linux is completely free in both senses of the word. While the project lacks a flashy web site, all the most important pieces are present: basic documentation (including a tutorial on compiling source RPMs), highly active mailing lists, and most importantly, security updates via "yum" from several available mirrors. Version 3.0, code name "liberation", was released on December 15, 2003.

Tao Linux is another free RHEL clone. It was created for reasons not much different than those driving the White Box project - the attraction of having a well-built distribution running critical servers for years with very little maintenance beyond occasional security updates. The project also supports upgrades via "yum". The maintainer promises to provide free security and bug-fix updates for a period of at least 3 years, making them available within 72 hours after their upstream release by Red Hat. However, the author does not currently recommend Tao Linux to inexperienced users. Like White Box, the Tao Linux project provides detailed information about rebuilding Red Hat's source RPM, access to mailing lists and several download mirrors. Tao Linux Release One (code name "mooch") was released on December 16, 2003.

Lineox Enterprise Linux is a product of Lineox, Inc, a commercial company based in Finland. It was created from source RPMs used in RHEL's Advanced Server, Cluster Suite and Developer Suite. Unlike the previously mentioned offerings, Lineox goes a little further by providing upgrades with "apt" (and optionally Synaptic, a graphical user interface for "apt"), and it also offers some updated packages, such as OpenOffice 1.1 and Linux kernel 2.6. Currently all updates are available free of charge, although users will be required to pay a modest fee for the upgrade service once the introductory "free updates" period expires. The company promises to provide security and bug-fix updates within 12 hours after their official release by Red Hat.

CentOS is a product of cAos - Community Linux. CentOS-2 and CentOS-3 are what the developers call "sanitized rebuilds" of Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1 and RHEL 3.0 respectively. According to the project's FAQ, CentOS is a stepping stone towards cAos, a more distinctive Linux distribution with many package updates. All of these projects are in various development stages, with CentOS-3 now at release "build5-rc1". While the distribution is available for free download, the project maintainers are considering several revenue generating models to pay for the cost of the development.

It is clear that the Open Source Software development model has created interesting opportunities not available in the world of proprietary software and there is no reason why we shouldn't take advantage of them. Of the four Red Hat Enterprise Linux clones, White Box Enterprise Linux is looking like the most promising effort, with a public sponsor behind it and many active users on the project's mailing lists. Tao Linux is another project worth considering.

Comments (4 posted)

Five Live CDs Reviewed

This guest article by Lenish Namath takes a look at five of the leading Live Linux CD distributions; MEPIS Linux, KNOPPIX, GNOPPIX, ADIOS and MandrakeMove. "MEPIS had the best hardware detection. The others had problem identifying my laptop's refresh rates, so my screen was flickering. It also had a control center where you can configure the system. The fonts seemed a bit clunky, but it was very easy to mount partitions. It also had QTParted which can be used to resize your fat32, NTFS and GNU/Linux partitions."

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Distribution News

Mandrake Linux

MandrakeSoft has announced a major evolution in the way that future Mandrake Linux distributions will be engineered and released. "The spirit of the new development road map is to keep providing a release similar to what was released in the past, which will now be called "Mandrake Linux Community." This is the regular Mandrake Linux distribution, based on Cooker, which goes through the traditional QA process. But from now on, a second 'rock-solid' version titled "Mandrake Linux Official" will be released two or three months after Mandrake Linux Community. This new version will include all Erratas applied to the initial release, and as a result will be particularly solid and problem-free. The Community release will be ideal for those who want the 'latest and greatest' features as soon as available, while the second release will be perfect for those who prefer to wait and avoid any potential glitches."

The php-ini package previously had modules located in /usr/lib/php for AMD64 when the actual modules were being installed in /usr/lib64/php. The updated packages provide a fixed php.ini file for Mandrake Linux 9.2.

Comments (1 posted)

Gentoo Weekly Newsletter - Volume 2, Issue 5

The Gentoo Weekly Newsletter for the week of February 2, 2004 is out; it contains a pointer to the summaries and logs for two of January's Gentoo Managers' Meetings and several other topics.

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Debian GNU/Linux

The February 3 issue of the Debian Weekly News is available; this week's topics include the new XFree86 license, various conference reports, the Debian Extra CD Project, and several others.

Look for the Debian Project at several Conferences in Europe, including Solution Linux, Paris - Linux Expo Ulm, Germany - and Free and Open Source Software Developers' Meeting, Brussels.

The debian-boot team is looking for some help on the next-generation installer they are building for sarge.

Pablo Lorenzzoni presents a DebConf4 status report.

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Fedora Core

The Fedora News Updates for February 4 is out; it looks at a new multimedia HOWTO, the new Fedora Core 2 test schedule, and several other topics.

MozillaZine looks at a How-to on installing and configuring plug-ins for Mozilla Firebird using the Fedora Core Linux distribution.

Here are the latest Fedora Core 1 updates:

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Trustix Secure Linux 2.1 Technology Preview 2.

The second "technology preview" prerelease of Trustix Secure Linux 2.1 is available. A number of packages have been upgraded and improved; see the announcement for details.

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Party Updates

Just in case you still haven't found the right option for your Red Hat refugee systems, consider "Party Updates". Party Updates are rebuilt from Progeny source RPMs. Updates for Red Hat Linux 7.2, 7.3 and 8.0 are available, and 9 will be added when Progeny begins 9 support later this year.

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Lindows offers software for free over P2P ( covers an announcement by that LindowsLive will be available for download from P2P networks.

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Slackware Linux

Slackware has several updates, as seen the slackware-current changelog, including xscreensaver-4.14, xmms-1.2.9, xlockmore-5.11.1, xfce-4.0.3, slackpkg-1.02-noarch-6, perl-5.8.3, kdevelop-3.0.0r1, and the bootdisks to Linux 2.4.24, plus a few more upgrades.

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New Distributions

Compact Flash Linux Project

The Compact Flash Linux Project is making Linux run on a compact flash. It is developed on a 16MB CF, and still there is free space. It uses the Linux kernel. The main library is uClibc and the main commands are provided by Busybox. The initial release, v0.1.1, is dated January 8, 2004. Version 0.1.2 was released January 25, 2004.

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Lineox Releases Lineox Enterprise Linux 3.0

Lineox Enterprise Linux is built from modified Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.0 sources. It offers customers an enterprise level Linux operating system without bundled support options. Lineox Enterprise Linux 3.0 is available from the website and also from resellers. Lineox Enterprise Linux 3.0 was released January 29, 2004.

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Linux Netwosix

Linux Netwosix aims to be a small, powerful and highly configurable Linux distribution for servers and network security related jobs. Version 1.0, with Linux Kernel 2.6.1, GCC 3.3.2 and GLIBC 2.3.2, was released January 31, 2004.

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Minor distribution updates

Buffalo Linux

Buffalo Linux has released v1.1.2 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: Six kernel options are now available at install time. The 2.6.1 kernel has been integrated as an install-time option. The "newkernel" build now includes an option to create a Slackware package for the newly built kernel and modules. There were many minor bugfixes. Some new packages were added: python-2.3.3-i486-1, python-tools-2.3.3-noarch-1, and qt-3.2.2-i486-2. Upgraded packages include sendmail-8.12.11-i486-1, sendmail-cf-8.12.11-noarch-1, alsa-lib-1.0.1-i486-1, lvm-1.0.7-i486-1, and xchat-2.0.6-i486-2."

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Crash Recovery Kit

Crash Recovery Kit has released v2.4.24. "Changes: This version is based upon the Mandrake 9.2 i586 Linux distribution. The Logical Volume Manager (LVM) administration tools and the NTFS driver v2.1.6a and ntfsprogs-1.8.4-1 have been added. A small utility to select a foreign keyboard keymap is included."

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Gentoo For Zaurus

Gentoo For Zaurus has released v0.2.2 with code cleanup. "Changes: Kernel sources were added, which will allow some more base packages to be emerged. The base layout has been reordered to be more like standard gentoo. tbz2ipk.nodev was added, which removes the development libraries from the resulting ipk, making it smaller."

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INSERT (INside SEcurity Rescue Toolkit) has released v1.2.1 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This version is based on the latest KNOPPX V3.3-031119, booting Linux 2.4.22-xfs and offering the ability to run from RAM or the hard drive. It provides full read-write support on NTFS partitions, which is being achieved with captive. The latest version of nmap, man pages, and the missing floppy disk boot image have been added. A lot of minor bugs have been fixed."

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KnoppiXMAME has released v1.2 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This release has an "addroms" boot option to create a custom CD with ROMs added from a running CD. This is done with a new graphical addroms utility. X-MAME has been updated to 0.78.1, GXMame to 0.34b, and the Linux kernel to 2.6.1. Dynamic path configuration for GXMame is now generated at boot time to find /roms and /samples folders on all hard drives or extra CD-ROMs."

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Linux From Scratch

Linux From Scratch has released development version 5.1-pre1 with minor bugfixes.

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Linux Live

Linux Live has released v3.0.28 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: A script to copy and install LiveCD to a USB mass storage device (such as a flashdisk) was added. It is in ./bootfiles/, and it is untested. Some minor fixes were made. Floppy automounting is now disabled. USB modules for linuxrc are loaded only with the "usbdisk" boot parameter."

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Phrealon Linux

Phrealon Linux has released v0.96 with major bugfixes. "Changes: The ability for the sending machine to act as a DHCP server was added. However, there are still some rough edges with this feature."

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RUNT (ResNet USB Network Tester) has released v3.2 with minor security fixes. "Changes: This release upgrades the kernel to 2.4.24, lftp to 2.6.10, and rsync to 2.5.7."

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slimlinux has released v0.5.0 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This release includes kernel 2.4.18, PCMCIA support, and USB support for mass storage devices. Other new features are udhcpc 0.9.8, fetchpop 1.9, and smtpclient 1.0 and ssmtp 2.48 for receiving and sending email. The very small but efficient e3 text editor is included in this release."

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Source Mage GNU/Linux

Source Mage GNU/Linux has released v0.9, code named "Virtue". The announcement (click below) also contains a call for developers, testers and maintainers.

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ThePacketMaster has released v1.2.1 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This release adds 70 more security packages, bring the grand total to 200+. The system will not proceed with the bootup until a root password has been created. Some initialization scripts that were included in 1.2.0 have been tweaked."

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