News and EditorialsFedora Core 2 was released last week, after a 10-day delay from the original schedule. Also known as version 1.90 or FC2-test1, this is the earliest preview of what will in due time form the basis of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, and what will soon be making its way to desktops and servers of Fedora users. In many ways, this is the most significant product by Red Hat in years, with the brand new Linux kernel, substantially enhanced security, and new versions of the popular GNOME and KDE desktop environments. As such, it warrants a closer look, even in its present unfinished state.
First the bad news. Those accustomed to high standards of past releases by Red Hat, even the beta ones, will be surprised at the apparent lack of attention to detail in this release. A glaring error while building the ISO images prevents the installation CD from booting on architectures other than i686. The usually comprehensive release notes were replaced by a quick overview listing a few known issues and a link to Red Hat's bugzilla. The two main desktop environments, GNOME and KDE are both beta versions - GNOME is a development release 2.5, while KDE is version 3.1.95 (also known as 3.2rc1).
The version of GNOME included in this release is very buggy. Both Evolution and Nautilus are reportedly prone to crashes and Evolution is unable to import existing mail. Some users have complained about the new default way of browsing folders in Nautilus, the so-called "spatial mode", in which every click on a folder opens a new Nautilus window (without a menu or toolbar). The left panel with a tree structure is missing in spatial mode. Apparently, this is an intended behavior of Nautilus in GNOME 2.6, so those users who prefer the old way of doing things can restore the "browsing mode", either by launching the program with the "nautilus --browser" command, or by right-clicking within a Nautilus window and selecting "browser mode". Others have voiced their concerns about the newly overhauled "Open File..." dialog in GNOME, which in the words of one of the testers on the Fedora mailing list, is "poorly laid out, improperly sized and unnecessarily complex". Even the most faithful GNOME users are bound to be displeased with all the glitches and inconsistencies in this development version of GNOME.
Surprising as it may sound for a distribution that has traditionally demonstrated a clear preference for GNOME, the KDE desktop seems in much better shape. It still uses the Bluecurve theme by default, but users can select a different one during KDE's initial configuration dialog. Apart from misplaced menu entries of certain system applications, accidentally placed under a "Lost and Found" (!) menu entry, there have been few reports of KDE applications crashing or behaving unexpectedly.
Another surprise, and a rather pleasant one for users with older hardware, is the appearance of XFce (version 4.0.3) in the distribution. This is the first time that XFce was included in any Red Hat product and it comes at the expense of WindowMaker, which was dropped from Red Hat Linux after version 8.0. The inclusion of a light-weight desktop would seem to indicate that Red Hat has decided to lower the stringent hardware requirements and give users an option to run a less resource-hungry desktop on older hardware. Unfortunately, there is no mention of this in the release notes. XFce is not given as a choice during system installation; however, once installed directly from RPMs, it appears as an option on the login screen, alongside GNOME and KDE.
Disappointingly, the much awaited SELinux functionality was pulled from this release due to "a couple of last minute problems". It is now expected to be ready for inclusion in Fedora Core 2 Test 2, scheduled for release on March 8. SELinux (or Security Enhanced Linux) is one of the two major new features planned for Fedora Core 2; it is designed to enhance security of the operating system by allowing users to define explicit rules for file and device access and by confining user programs to the minimum amount of privilege they need to perform their tasks.
Unless you are an experienced user or intend to help with bug reporting, this first beta release of Fedora Core 2 is best left alone. Some of the many, many bugs in it are not necessarily Red Hat's fault, although one has to question the company's insistence to ship a highly experimental version of GNOME, which seems to have a long way to go before it becomes 2.6 final. Other frequently reported problems include issues with sound, printing, up2date and yum, which together with missing SELinux functionality and haphazard release notes make for a rather poor distribution. The Fedora developers have a lot of work on their hands before the product enters its second phase of testing.
Luckily for them, the final release of Fedora Core 2 is only scheduled for April 19, so there is plenty of time. But as things stand now, Mandrake's own beta releases appear to be in a much better shape.
I installed FC2 on two machines, a dual Pentium III Xeon machine with 1 GB of RAM and a Pentium III 500MHz machine with 384 MB of RAM. The install hasn't changed significantly since Fedora Core 1, though the install procedure no longer automatically ejects CDs -- something that has been widely discussed on the Fedora-test mailing list. The first install, on the dual Xeon machine, went flawlessly. The second install failed on the first attempt when I jiggled the mouse while Anaconda was in the process of trying to detect it. The second attempt at installation went fine.
Unfortunately, test1 does not include the much-anticipated SELinux functionality, at least not by default. The packages are included in the distribution, but the user will have to install and configure them manually. There is precious little documentation for the user to do so. The package "selinux-doc" contains only a brief README with a list of necessary components, a file with instructions for porting SELinux-aware applications to the new policy and API, and a brief Changelog. According to this post from Jeremy Katz, SELinux should be available in test2. Users who are looking forward to trying SELinux without having to get deeply involved in the actual mechanics of SELinux will have to wait a while.
Fedora still sports the familiar "Bluecurve" theme for GNOME and KDE, so there are no real surprises for users of Fedora Core 1 when GNOME starts up. FC2 uses GNOME 2.5 by default, though KDE and XFce are also available. The GNOME panel froze on me a few times during testing, which required a restart of GNOME. Evolution 1.5.3 is also a bit buggy. I wanted to import a mailbox file from an older version of Evolution, but it simply refused to open the Import dialog from the menu.
Nautilus, or at least its default behavior, has changed in FC2 -- and not necessarily for the better. The familiar "browser" interface for Nautilus is no longer the default, though the user can return to the old behavior by launching Nautilus with the "--browser" option, or by right-clicking on an object and selecting "Browse Folder." Annoyingly, the default for Nautilus is now to open a new window for each object, rather than opening the object in the same window. Users who prefer to point-and-click their way through the directory structure will find their desktop filling up with Nautilus windows in short order. This is, of course, not specific to Fedora Core, but a reflection of upstream changes in GNOME.
A number of users have reported having problems with sound in test1. Some users have noted that their sound card is detected, but sound is muted by default -- leaving the user to think that sound is completely broken. Other users have noted that their sound card, which was previously supported, simply isn't detected. Neither of my test systems has a sound card, so I was unable to verify the sound-related problems.
Another interesting feature for FC2, of course, is the inclusion of the 2.6 kernel by default. From a user perspective, however, I didn't notice any real difference in using the 2.6 kernel versus using a system with a 2.4 kernel.
Other than aforementioned glitches, the user experience for FC2 is pretty much the same as FC1. Most, if not all, of the packages in Fedora Core 1 have been upgraded -- but it feels more like a minor version upgrade than a major version release. This isn't a bad thing, Fedora users are likely to appreciate the fact that FC2 is largely familiar and full of gradual improvements rather than jarring changes.
If all goes as scheduled, the second test release should be out around March 8, followed by a third test release by the end of March. The final Fedora Core 2 release is slated for April 16, if all goes well. However, if the first test release is any indication, it may take longer for the Fedora project to fully integrate SELinux and iron out all of the various bugs present in FC2.
Distribution NewsDebian Weekly News for February 17, 2004 is out. This week's topics include a debian-desktop IRC meeting, Debian ranking according to Google, the new ftp-master, Project Leader nominations, and more.
Debian Project Leader Martin Michlmayr lists the conferences that he will be attending in February.has been released. "Yes, it's time for the first test release of Fedora Core 2. This release is the first Fedora Core release to include the 2.6 kernel, GNOME 2.5, KDE 3.2, and XFCE. Testing of all of these areas would be appreciated, above and beyond any other testing."
Fedora Core 1 updates:
A bug was discovered in Nautilus where if the last file is deleted in the list view, Nautilus continues to display the file and if clicked on to open, Nautilus will crash. This bug has been fixed for Mandrake Linux 9.2.Linux Netwosix has announced that the official Linux Netwosix Mailing Lists are available. Three lists have been created to help Netwosix users. Click below for more information. Slackware Linux has lots of recompiled, rebuilt and upgraded packages, and some unsupported packages were purged from -current See the slackware-current changelog for complete details. uses Netcraft numbers and other factors in this discussion of popular Linux distributions. "Which Linux distribution is the most popular? For many players in the open source realm, that answer depends on which part of the globe is counting, and how. It could also depend on where the major Linux distributors stand with their product release cycles with the latest 2.6 Linux kernel."
New Distributionscovers a new live CD distribution. BIOKNOPPIX comes from the University of Puerto Rico High Performance Computing facility (HPCf) and the Puerto Rico Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN-PR). It's a Live-CD Linux distribution, based on KNOPPIX, specialized to include tools for bioinformatics. Bio-Knoppix beta version 0.2 was released February 13, 2004. The 0.3 release mentioned in the Bioinformatics article was recalled due to errors in the master. Mandows is a live CD project based in France. The Mandrake 9.2 fivestar distribution was chosen as the base because of its ease of use. A package list is available here. Version 1.4 was released under the GPL on February 3, 2004. The current version is 1.5, released February 15, 2004. Medialinux is a live CD based on Knoppix. It includes all audio, graphics and video software included in Debian. Version 1.0 was released February 17, 2004 - based on KNOPPIX 3.3 with extra packages from Debian experimental and unstable trees.
Minor distribution updatesAstaro Security Linux has released beta v4.702 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This release has intrusion detection and prevention, content filtering that now includes HTTP virus protection and POP 3 spam protection, IPSec VPN client features, Microsoft Windows native IPSec VPN Client, L2TP over IPSec, centralized and unified logging, local as well as remote archiving, increased support for system reliability and performance with high memory support for up to 4 GB RAM, and symmetric multi-processor support. There are a lot more enhancements and improvements under the hood." Bluewall GNU/Linux has released v1.1 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This release includes Linux 2.4.24 and 2.6.2 with ext2, ext3, Reiserfs, and XFS (only 2.6) support, Bluewall Perl installer scripts (bw-config/bw-post/bw-install) for making the installation easier and faster by only running three commands, 95 new Debian packages, and a preconfigured initrd to load modules at boot-time. The reboot command/scripts have been fixed and included in the ramdisk. The NetBSD package system (pkgsrc) has also been included." Damn Small Linux has released v0.6 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: A new kernel and modules were added, supporting more hardware. busybox is used to save space. Space was saved by having dpkg-restore restore not only package structure, but also related programs. Backup or restore to a specific device (such as a hard drive) was improved. The PPP dial scripts were improved, so manual editing is no longer required. The hard drive install script was improved to pass the fb800x600 screen size. The speed of installation was also improved. The menu was reorganized for easier navigation. The /opt/bootlocal.sh was added to allow the user to specify miscellaneous system startup commands." Feather Linux has released v0.3.5 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: This version adds ntfstools, dosfstools, e2undel, iftop, gtkrecover, bbpager, utelnetd, picocom, bridge-utils, index, and various dockapps to show the system status. It includes BusyBox versions of dc and fbset, and changes the Firebird script to download Firefox instead. It adds menu options to play CDs and DVDs, and a documentation menu. There are small changes to HD install script, and adds a script to save the config to HD (use knoppix hdrestore=hda1)." INSERT has released v1.2.2 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: The latest virus database for ClamAV has been added, making the virus scan functionality independent from a working network connection. The floppy boot image has been removed; instead, a small script and syslinux provide the functionality to generate the boot disk from the files already on the CD. Some minor corrections in the captive documents page have been made. wmnet has been removed." KnoppiXMAME has released v1.2.1 with minor bugfixes. "Changes: This is a small point release which fixes a bug where the new addroms utility would not save configuration changes if remastering from an already remastered CD. Type "addroms" at the boot prompt to try the new utility which adds your ROMs to the CD and makes you a new .iso. All filesystems are supported, but writing to NTFS (although possible) is still experimental." provides an update on LGIS GNU/Linux. "The ISO images contains many more updates than in the first announcement, and I've added the mono packages to the installation." LEAF has released Bering-uClibc v2.1-rc2 with minor bugfixes. "Changes: This release fixes bugs reported for the first 2.1 release candidate, such as problems loading the airo module, saving packages smaller than the original one, and some more minor changes." MoviX has released v0.8.1rc3 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: MPlayer menu functions have been greatly improved. The menu is now available in Italian and German. Subtitle information is also displayed for CDs and playlists. Net booting through TFTP has been improved. Many small bugs have been fixed." Pingwinek GNU/Linux has released v1.0rc1 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: This release has a new XML-based package management tool (BOX). It features many new software packages like OpenOffice.org and XFCE4. The main desktop is now GNOME 2.4.2. The release contains the stable kernel 2.6.2." Sentry Firewall has released v1.5.0-rc9 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: This release updates the kernel to 2.4.24-ow1, upgrades Snort and net-snmp, and adds radvd and OpenVPN. It also adds support for pulling the sentry.conf and other configuration files from a USB thumb drive." Source Mage GNU/Linux has released the v0.9.1 ISO image. Trustix Secure Linux has released 2.1 Beta 1, also known as Snow. Click below for more details. White Box Linux has rebuilt Red Hat Update1 SRPMs and has these packages available for download. Click below for a package list.
Distribution reviewsreviews Xandros 2.0. "There is very little about Xandros which will raise the ire of a user - though one can complain that there are limited applications. But then, when all common tasks are looked after, why does one have to look any further? Those of an adventurous turn of mind can add new packages and play around as their knowledge of the system increases. About the only thing which I could fault was the absence of the best-known graphics program for Linux, the GIMP." reviews Red Hat Enterprise Linux Workstation. "By contrast, small businesses that ran Red Hat Linux 9 on their servers certainly will notice what they're missing. A lot of the functionality that was available in Red Hat Linux 9 has been stripped out of Enterprise Linux WS, undoubtedly to force subscribers to the Enterprise Linux product line to move to the more expensive ES and AS platforms. This has naturally filtered down to Professional Workstation, which is missing server components such as BIND, OpenLDAP, DHCP, inews, and Kerberos 5." newbies take on three LiveCD distributions; Knoppix, MandrakeMove, and Slax. "Slax, the most unlikely finalist, is based on Slackware Linux. Slackware is often perceived as the no-nonsense, geeks-only distribution, and Slax remains true to its roots, providing the same no-nonsense approach that purists will appreciate. In spite of invoking a little culture shock, Slax was surprisingly well received by my team of novices." says XandrosOS is friendly, but not secure enough. "There's a serious lack of attention to encryption and data hygiene. It's very easy to integrate GnuPG with KMail; unfortunately, GnuPG and KGpg are not included. It's also easy to integrate GnuPG with Mozilla Mail using a recent feature called Enigmail, though the Mozilla version (1.4) packaged with Xandros lacks it. The Shred utility is included, but it's not integrated with the file browser. The right-click menu and menu bar offer only to delete a file, not remove it securely. Shred must be run from the shell, which, again, is a bit much for novices."
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