News and EditorialsThe Linux Documentation Project and Linux Journal will tell you more than you could ever wish to know. But there is little information on the history and evolution of Linux distributions. As of this writing, there are 303 Linux distributions according to DistroWatch [editor's note: currently 353 "active" distributions are listed on LWN's Distribution List]. It would seem that everyone and his dog has a distribution available. This hasn't always been the case.
Back in late 1991, when Linux first hit the 'Net, there were no distributions per se. The closest thing was HJ Lu's Boot/Root floppies. They were 5.25" diskettes that could be used to get a Linux system running. You booted from the boot disk and then, when prompted, inserted the root disk. After a while you got a command prompt. Back in those days if you wanted to boot from your hard drive you had to use a hex editor on the master boot record of your disk. Something that was definitely not for the faint of heart. I remember when Erik Ratcliffe wrote the first instructions (this was long before HOWTO files) on how to do just that. It wasn't until later that anything you could call a real distribution appeared.
The first such thing was from the Manchester Computing Centre. Known as MCC Interim Linux, it was a collection of diskettes that, once installed on your system, let you have a basic UNIX environment. It was console only, no X. Shortly after that there was a release out of Texas A&M University called TAMU 1.0A. This was the first one that let you run X, though the method they used to configure it occasionally allowed the magic smoke to escape from your monitor. Both of these were developed for their universities' in-house use. They were also released to the world for anyone to use.
The first commercial, in the sense that it was developed for public consumption rather than in-house use only, Linux distribution was Yggdrasil. This also had the distinction of being the first "Live" Linux CD. You could boot from a diskette and run everything off the CD. This was back in days of 1x and 2x CD-ROM drive speeds so it wasn't exactly setting the world on fire. You could start X then literally go get a cup of coffee before it finished coming up. Yggdrasil had some nice features dealing with configuration, though, especially for the time.
On the heels of that came the first widely recognized and used Linux distribution, SLS Linux. It was put together by Soft Landing Systems, hence the name, and came in a handful of files that you would unzip and copy to floppy disks. This was Linux's first big breakthrough. SLS dominated the market until the developers made a decision to change the executable format (if you remember the a.out to ELF conversion you'll remember this). This was not well received by the user base. Just around the time this happened Patrick Volkerding had taken SLS and adapted, modified, tweaked and cleaned it up making it a different thing all together. He called it Slackware. With the unpopular direction SLS had taken, Slackware quickly replaced it and became the dominant distribution used by nearly everyone. In fact it's still in use today.
Now, all of this took place in the span of about 3 years. In those days the speed with which changes happened was unbelievable. By the time '94/'95 came around you started seeing more distributions popping up. Familiar names like Red Hat, Debian, Caldera, TurboLinux, and SuSE were becoming popular. There were also a few other distributions that came and went between '91 and '95. However, they had little impact on the overall direction that Linux distributions would take. If you search the 'Net you can still find references to these early distributions, and possibly even some archives of the releases themselves. If you have some free time you should look at these old releases. Not only will you be able to see how far Linux has come, you'll also see what life was like in the early days of Linux distributions.
Distribution Newsthe announcement for details. Downloads are available via the mirrors or with BitTorrent. This one announces a deal with Red Hat; that company's upcoming desktop distribution will feature Helix Player and a "no-cost upgrade" option for RealPlayer 10. There is also an arrangement with Novell; which will simply ship RealPlayer directly. Debian Weekly News for June 29 is out. Topics this week include the general resolution which would allow the release of Sarge with non-free data (voting ends July 2), various installer topics, and Debian at LinuxTag.
To vote in the general resolution (if it's not too late) go to the voting page.
Robert Millan announced the release of the GNU/kFreeBSD LiveCD rescue system. You can use it to try GNU/kFreeBSD without the hassle of installing, and for now it is also the recommended install method.There are offers simply impossible to turn down. When Gentoo developer Lars Weiler (Pylon) was approached to try an installation on the finest machine displayed at the Hewlett-Packard booth during the German LinuxTag, the HP staff really didn't have to ask him twice."
This advisory covers minor bug fixes in libpng, mod_php4, openssl, rsync, slocate and swup for TSL 1.5, 2.0, 2.1 and Enterprise Server 2.
Trustix has several bug fixes available for apache, libpng and python. (TSL 2.0, 2.1 and Enterprise Server 2)
New Distributionscovers the released of the Linux Government Desktop at LinuxTag 2004. The Linux Government Desktop is produced by the German Federal Office for Information Security and the company credativ as a Live CD as well as an Install CD Edition. It is composed entirely of free software, based on Debian stable "woody" and contains KDE 3.2.2, Mozilla and a special themed version of OpenOffice 1.1.1 which integrates seamlessly with KDE. Hiweed GNU/Linux is a Chinese Linux distribution, based on Debian GNU/Linux. Its features include preconfigured Chinese applications, such as Chinese input method, Chinese-English and English-Chinese dictionaries, and Chinese true-type fonts. Hiweed joins the list at version 0.3RC1 released June 29, 2004. Nitix is a product of Net Integration Technologies Inc., a server OS with autonomic computing features -- self-management, self-healing, self-configuring and self-optimizing capabilities. (Thanks to Leandro Guimarães Faria Corcete Dutra)
Minor distribution updatesAstaro Security Linux has released v5.012 with minor bugfixes. "Changes: This Up2Date improves the Up2Date backend and fixes a bug which prevents the operation of the "Pause" button in livelog on MS Internet Explorer." BG-Rescue Linux has released v0.3.2 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: The kernel was updated to 2.4.26 and NTFS was updated to 2.1.6b. nForce Ethernet support was added. Parts of reiserfsprogfs were replaced by the smaller progsreiserfs. The new busybox applets udhcpc and telnetd were added. progsreiserfs 0.3.0.5 was added. tar was downgraded to the version from busybox 0.60.5, which is more reliable. cloop was updated to 2.01, e2fsprogs to 1.35, lilo to 22.5.9, mdadm to 1.6.0, ms-sys to 2.0.0, ntfsprogs to 1.9.2, reiserfsck to 3.6.17, and syslinux to 2.08." blueflops has released v2.0.4 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: The kernel was upgraded to 2.6.7. Only English and Romanian translations are currently available. The mouse configuration has been separated from that of the video card. NumLock status is now a setup option. A new Finnish keymap (fi-latin1) was added. A "links_text" script was added to run "links" in text mode. Various scripts were changed in minor ways, and some small fixes were made. A better logo was created." Buffalo Linux has released v1.3.1 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This major release makes Buffalo fully compatible with Slackware 10.0. Additional enhancements include: desktop improvements, a new Buffalo GUI "admin", an improved CD upgrade option, kernel 2.6.7, OpenOffice 1.1.2, GIMP 2.0.2, GNOME 2.6.1, GCC 3.3.4, Mozilla 1.7, a total of 59 package upgrades, and new builds of MySQL, Scribus, GAIM, and others. With this release, the rate of new Buffalo releases is expected to slow down. Future version releases will track new kernel versions or major package updates." INSERT (INside SEcurity Rescue Toolkit) has released v1.2.13 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This is a major new release. The kernel was updated to version 2.4.26. INSERT is now based on KNOPPIX 3.4. The result is even better hardware support and detection. The bug with the file system on the image not being readable from Windows is fixed. Also other minor issues have been addressed. Various feature requests have been dealt with. Support for virus scanning is improved with clamav being updated to the latest version. Most of the other packages come in newer versions now." Linux LiveCD has released v1.9.6 with minor bugfixes. "Changes: Minor default config bugs were fixed. The documentation was updated." Mulimidix has released the build tree of Mulimidix 0.7. You can use this LFS based source-compilation to build your own Mulimidix, optimized for your processor. NSA Security Enhanced Linux has released v2004062816 with minor feature enhancements. "Changes: The current prototype and the experimental NFS code are now based on Linux kernel 2.6.7. Fine-grained netlink classes and permissions have been added. Many enhancements and bugfixes for policy as well as userland tools including slat and setools have been incorporated." Overclockix has released the third revision for v3.4. "6/22/04- New 3.4 release is finished. Mostly minor bugfixes in this release. Also worthy of news- I've been assisting the develpoer of Barnix/DebXPde with iso hosting. Barnix is a custom Knoppix which uses XPde as the default desktop environment. It should look and feel very much like Windows XP. I hope in the future to incorporate XPde as an option in Overclockix, but will probably not set it as the default desktop." Puppy Linux has released sources for puppy-0.9.0. See the June 28th entry at Puppy News for more information. Rock Linux has released v2.0.2 with major security fixes. "Changes: This is a maintenance release and includes a number of security fixes and minor version updates pulled from the development tree. It includes linux-2.4.26+fpu-state-fix, linux-2.6.7, kde-3.2.2, qt-3.3.2, apache-2.0.49, samba-3.0.4, and wine-20040615. New packages include firefox, thunderbird, e2fsimage, device-mapper, and lvm2. usability improvements were made for ROCK Net and the CD-Installer. This release now features full boot-CD support for IBM RS/6000 and Ultra SPARC and iBook-G4 support." tinysofa has released tinysofa enterprise server 2.0-pre1 (Persistence), technology preview of the next version. wrt54g-linux has released v0.51 to add documentation. "Changes: This release adds a FAQ to address most common installation problems."
Distribution reviewsreviews Aurox Linux 9.3, a Polish distribution based on Fedora Core 1. "A large portion of this review either directly or implicitly compares Aurox with Fedora Core 1. This is inevitable, as Aurox is directly derived from Fedora and most of the packages, including the kernel, are the same. What Aurox does is that it seamlessly fits into the area where Fedora lacks mostly, that is multimedia support. That means if you are considering Fedora or it is already your distro of choice, then you definitely should give Aurox a try."
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