News and EditorialsAsianux was first announced in January 2004, it raised the eyebrows of those Linux users who have to deal with the many complex writing systems found across the culturally rich Asian continent. Will we finally have a distribution that solves all the headaches associated with reading, inputting, mixing, and printing Asian characters in documents? Will Asianux become a standard distribution throughout Asia? We downloaded and installed the newly released Asianux 1.0 in search for answers to these and other questions.
First a little background. Asianux is a joint collaborative project by Japan's Miracle Linux and China's Red Flag Linux. Miracle Linux is a well-established server oriented distribution, essentially a Red Hat Enterprise Linux pre-configured for certain specific tasks (e.g. database, cluster, backup, etc.), and sold as complete sets. Some of these sets are not cheap - as an example, a standard Miracle Linux 2.1 together with Oracle 9i sells for an equivalent of $2,450 per seat. On the other hand, Red Flag Linux has historically been focusing on the desktop with an attempt to create a very Windows-like user interface and configuration utilities, thus easing the migration of computer users to Linux. Although Red Flag is a well-known Linux distribution, reports from China indicate that most Chinese users prefer Fedora or Mandrakelinux rather than any of the domestically developed products.
Asianux is designed as a base server platform, not dissimilar from the now-defunct United Linux. Each vendor takes the common base and customizes it to serve a certain purpose, then ads localization features depending on the vendor's sphere of influence. Thus, while Asianux is a usable and installable distribution in its own right, it will also serve as a base for the upcoming Red Flag Linux 4.1 and Miracle Linux 3.0. The influence of each of the two vendors is apparent - Asianux inherits Miracle's strong bias towards server use (you won't find any office suites, multimedia or graphics software in Asianux 1.0) and Red Flag's KDE modifications (e.g Konqueror includes a very Windows-like Control Panel module and many configuration utilities strongly resembling those present in Microsoft Windows; see screenshot). Yes, despite being designed for server use, Asianux ships with XFree86 and KDE.
The installer is a simplified Anaconda. However, unlike Red Hat's original Anaconda, the number of available languages during installation and for later use is limited to three: simplified Chinese, English and Japanese. This was the first disappointing aspect of the distribution - the term "Asianux" somehow implies that it is intended to be a pan-Asian project supporting, at the very least, the most widely-used Asian languages. Even worse, there is no easy way to change the language after installation. When choosing to install the distribution in simplified Chinese, the system was ready for Chinese input immediately after install; however, when choosing Japanese, it required further command line tweaking by following instructions in the release notes before one could start typing text in Japanese. Interestingly, looking through the RPM package list it would seem that Asianux also supports Korean, although the release notes make no mention of the fact and they don't provide instructions for setting up a Korean desktop. Traditional Chinese, used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where many people would struggle to read the simplified Chinese character set, is absent from the distribution, and so are all other Asian languages.
There was further disappointment when examining the security features of the distribution. Firstly, the simplified Anaconda installer is missing the "Add Users" screen, so the only user created during installation is root. Of course, it is easy enough to add new users to the system, but one has to question the wisdom of creating an entire user infrastructure for the root user, including a "My Documents" folder and an easy root login without any warnings. This is obviously a "feature" by Red Flag, which has been known for trying to emulate Windows to the extent that it even removes some of the inherent security aspects from its Linux distribution. No wonder that the Red Flag Linux web site is hosted on a server running Red Hat Linux, rather than the company's own distribution!
Another worrying factor is the lack of any package update tool. Red Hat's up2date is not included in the distribution and there seems to be no repository designed to provide security updates for Asianux. Perhaps the distribution itself is not meant to be a standalone product and those interested in deploying it should use one of the products based on Asianux, be it Red Flag Linux or Miracle Linux. If this is the case, the Asianux web site, which, incidentally, is entirely in English, does not make it very clear.
Other than the above peculiarities and the reduced number of available applications, Asianux seems to differ little from Red Hat Linux 9. This poses an interesting question - why would any user choose Asianux over Red Hat Linux or any other well-established distribution? The Asianux development team provides very few innovations of its own, with the only exception being the above-mentioned addition of graphical configuration utilities strongly resembling the Control Panel found in Microsoft Windows. A questionable value, some would say, especially for a distribution designed for server use.
Nevertheless, the idea behind Asianux is sound. What the product needs now is broader support by Linux vendors from across the region; it would certainly benefit the project if the likes of Korea's Hancom Linux and Hong Kong-based ThizLinux joined the development. Hancom Linux has emerged as the dominant Linux player in Korea with extensive effort at "Koreanization" of KDE and other applications. ThizLinux has evolved as one of the most significant Linux development companies in Greater China, with expertise in both simplified and traditional Chinese character sets (including Cantonese), Chinese input methods and printing. Another Asian country with substantial Linux development drive is Thailand, and even less developed countries of the region, such as Vietnam or Mongolia, have their own internationalization projects and Linux development communities.
Once all these vendors and communities get together and establish an efficient working group, perhaps we could see Asianux as a significant Linux player in Asia, able to compete with Red Hat, which enjoys strong brand recognition in the region, and with the newly revived Turbolinux currently making strong gains in Japan and China. A foundation has been laid. All that needs to be done now is to persevere in building upon it.
Minor distribution updates2-Disk Xwindow embedded Linux has released source code v1.2.12. "Changes: The zlib dependencies, maplay, and the intitial font hack were removed. SSL suport was removed from the desktop system, and many other superfluous files were removed. busybox was upgraded. The fbdev code was reintegrated with kdrive. Font changes were made. The init scripts were modified and optimized for the upcoming 1disk 386 version. A .config file was added for kernel 2.4.26. Improvements in kernel VM paging were added. Xlib was integrated into desktop. Documentation updates were made." This version is the second beta of the 1.2.0 series, which sports tighter integration with Debian, using the Sarge Debian Installer and the CDD (Custom Debian Distributions) framework." Ark Linux 1.0 Alpha 12.1 is out. The release notes can be found here. Cobind Desktop 2.0 (beta) has been released. This release includes a new software management program, mplayer, K3B, and other improvements. CRUX has released v2.0 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This release features the 2.6 kernel, Glibc 2.3.3 with NPTL, GCC 3.3.3, and X.org's X11 6.7.0." DeLi Linux has released v0.6 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: A new "graphic" deliinstall, a new network and PPP install floppy disk, and enhanced delisetup." LinuxDefender has released v1.5.6 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This release adds BitDefender SMTP Proxy 1.5.6 with antispam, kernel 2.6.1, BitDefender Remote Admin 1.5.6, and GNOME Desktop." Linux LiveCD Router has released v1.9.5 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: The new default language is English. A new version of linux-wlan-ng 0.2.1-pre21 for Prism2 wifi cards is included. USB webcam driver support was added, including ov511, ov51x, nw802, spca5xx, philips, pencam, and more. Hotspot, Samba, and webcam server documentation was added." LormaLINUX 5 RC1 has been released. "Based on Fedora Core 2 and optimized for i686 architecture and above, Lormalinux 5 features extremely simple installation for Education and Workstation users on just one CD!" RIP has released v9.5. "Changes: The kernel and some of the software were updated. There's a way to install and boot the system, from a USB flash/pen drive, under Linux or Windows XP." announced its 1.0 release. "Skolelinux v1.0 is the first stable version, after more than three years of development. 47 test candidates and 3 prereleases have been released, and more than 93 Norwegian schools have registered as test schools -- with a surge the last few months. Recent changes include improved installer support, better hardware detection, a Java J2RE upgrade, and more. (Thanks to Tom Simonsen). System-Down::Rescue has released v1.0pre7 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: The kernel has been upgraded to 2.4.25, and the glibc libraries were upgraded to 2.3.2. The system architecture is now fully modular. There are new modules with new useful tools, for example, tools for system recovery, network analysis, some network servers (ftp, ssh), and PCMCIA support. Support for the ClamAV Anti Virus toolkit was added. The boot sequence has been redesigned, both in the scripts and in the graphics." White Box Linux has released v3.0 Respin 1 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: This version included all errata released by Red Hat through May 31, 2004, an x86_64 port, and an FC2 Up2date ported in for transparent mirror support. rhn-applet was fixed and added to the default install. 3rd party package repo support was improved, and Tora was linked against Oracle 10g and MySQL."
Distribution reviewschecks out the new Cobind Desktop beta. "The surprising thing has been just how much of a pleasure Cobind is to use. Most things snap to the screen. The software feels modern and smoothly integrated. I haven't had this much fun with a new distribution in a long time. For just a second version (with first only a month or two old), Cobind is remarkably stable and polished." reviews Xandros Desktop OS 2.0. "Xandros was extremely easy to install, configure, and use. The whole effect is completely different from the first version of Linux I put on my computer several years ago--and different, even, from the version of Linux I put on my computer 18 months ago. Of the three versions I've reviewed recently, Xandros does the best job of steering the user away from the classic Linux complexity, showcasing the most useful open source tools, and keeping the experience intuitive and easy."
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