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Eight Distros a Week: Fluxbuntu 7.10

February 12, 2008 4 comments

[This is the fourth in an eight-part series on distros I use. These observations are based on distros running on one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 Pentium II, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary.]

Take the massively popular and versatile Ubuntu distro and minimize the impact on system resources so newer machines are raised to a higher level of performance while older machines can utilize it. What would you call it?

Fluxbuntu — Ubuntu under the hood with a Fluxbox desktop.

Fluxbuntu, which is based on Ubuntu (and, therefore, has its roots in Debian), is a wise choice for users who seek a low profile operating system, which would include a wide variety of users ranging from those who crave performance in their newer machines to those who wish to revive an older computer (something we’re fond of here — in the same way some folks would like to keep their ’57 Chevy or ’65 Mustang in top condition).

Fluxbuntu, like its distant cousin AntiX (which is based on Mepis, and also traces its roots to Debian), provides users with a lean, efficient operating system that accents performance and reliability. This was evident when we ran Fluxbuntu 7.10 — which was released at the same time Ubuntu’s Gutsy Gibbon saw the public light of day — on an IBM PL 300 (384MB RAM, Pentium II), which if you worked in an office in the 1990s was the machine with which you shared the most face time.

A minor caveat here was the boot time: While it took slightly longer to boot than AntiX on the same machine — Fluxbuntu provides a numberless stopwatch on the start-up screen in its green and gold motif that hung at what would have been the 4 o’clock position had there been numbers on it — but once over that minor hurdle, the distro and the programs associated with it ran without a hitch. The performance of programs on this office workhorse of decades past was flawless, and provides an exclamation point to the testament to Fluxbuntu’s versatility.

On a Pentium III-based laptop, the paces at which Fluxbuntu runs — and I do mean run, as in sprint — are nothing short of optimal. Multiple programs run seamlessly both together in the same window as well as in different windows (a GNU/Linux gimme, I know, but something I find incredibly endearing).

On the whole, Fluxbuntu conceivably could be all distros to all people, and Joe Jackson (not the musician/composer, but developer Joe Jackson IV, aka JoeJaxx) and his team have done a remarkable job with Fluxbuntu.

However — and I have to mention this — I am a little taken aback by my inability to sign up on the Fluxbuntu forum list. While this does not reflect on the distro’s performance or usability, it is a little annoying. In their defense, I know there was a problem sometime in the middle of 2007 which may have wiped out my account, but signing up should not be so difficult. In addition, personally my hopes were high that the PowerPC version of Fluxbuntu — discussed in the late spring of last year — would show up somewhere along the line, and it hasn’t. If one is forthcoming, those of us PowerPC users would like to know; and if not, that’s okay too.

Coming tomorrow: gNewSense 1.1

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: AntiX, Debian, Fluxbuntu, Mepis, Ubuntu

Eight Distros a Week: Fedora 7 / Fedora 8

February 11, 2008 2 comments

[This is the third in an eight-part series on distros I use. These observations are based on distros running on one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 Pentium II, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary.]

They say timing is everything. I use Fedora 7 on a machine on which I do development work for a program called dbEntrance, a very cool (in my opinion) MySQL browser that currently runs on Mac OS and Windows, and will soon to be ready for GNU/Linux prime time.

So just when I get around to upgrading to Fedora 8, an announcement rolls around that Fedora 9 is in the proverbial starting blocks, ready for the starting gun to go off.

Argh. Now do you see why I lean toward Debian’s, um, release schedule?

On a philosopical level, Fedora — Red Hat sans rouge — gets high marks for standing behind both free software and open source software, often joined at the hip as Free/Open Source Software (or FOSS) despite nuances that make them different; note its commitment to Ogg as opposed to mp3, for example. And the Fedora community wraps this philosophy into a pleasantly dependable and blazingly quick pair of distros in Fedora 7 and 8.

On this brandless Pentium III machine I call “Frank” (short for Frankenstein, since it has come to life as the result of putting a variety of computer parts together), both Fedora 7 and 8 tackle whatever I choose to throw at it. Unlike Steve Ballmer, I have yet to throw a chair at it, however having used this machine to work on the dbEntrance project and a couple of other test projects, adding and taking away programs en masse, Fedora has been one of most solid distros I’ve used.

Not only this, the security provision that are native to Fedora — SELinux and the like — deserve special mention, not because of any real or imagined threat, but having it there is a security blanket that gives a user one less thing to think about. Also, Fedora does away with one of my pet peeves — most distros put the Terminal in the Accessories listing on the drop down menu (Argh, how I hate that! It’s more than an accessory!). Fedora’s drop down menu has it in system tools, where it belongs.

Ironically, I use Fedora most as a “work distro” — that is, it’s the one I use on a machine on which I do testing and development work — however, it’s a lot more well-rounded for regular home computer use. I say “ironically” because the distro’s appearance itself is incredibly clean and, well I’ll say it, disarmingly beautiful out of the box. The way I use it borders on criminal — in using Fedora for solely testing purposes, I feel like I’ve hired Julia Roberts to do my gardening; naturally she could do it, but her talents clearly lie elsewhere.

Dare I say it? Pun alert: A “tip of the hat” to the Fedora community (sorry) for making such a great, and attractive, distro. We promise to get to Fedora 9 when we have a chance to catch up.

Coming tomorrow: Fluxbuntu 7.10

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: Fedora, Red Hat

Eight Distros a Week: Debian 4.0

February 10, 2008 Leave a comment

[NOTE: For some reason, I went to bed last night thinking this had posted to WordPress. It hadn’t So I’m a day behind. Nevertheless, this is the second in an eight-part series on distros I use. These observations are based on distros running on one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 PII, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary.]

Talking about this particular review with a trusted friend who far out-geeks me (but I’m working on it), he made the following comparison. “Isn’t reviewing Debian kind of like reviewing your mother?”

There’s something to be said for that. As one of the three “mothers” of all currently active distros — Slackware and Red Hat being the other two — Debian is the first distro that I encountered after liberating myself from proprietary operating systems. So like thousands, possibly millions, of other GNU/Linux users, Debian and I have “a history.”

Before I start, a caveat: I was enamored by Debian the first time I used it on a friend’s machine; so much so that the first thing I did when I got home that day was to burn all 15 disks to install it. It wasn’t until much later that I was advised to use the net install for better results. The moral of this story: Do a net install and save your blank CDs.

[Anyone need a set of Debian CDs?]

I run Debian on all my Macintosh PowerPC machines for two basic reasons. First, because it works flawlessly on the hardware, and secondly — and probably more importantly — while Debian developers seem to be on top of just about every possible personal-computing architecture on this planet, they also have the foresight to recognize that there is a whole armada of PowerPC-based Macs (especially G3s) that have been abandoned by Apple — thanks a lot, Steve — and the G3/G4 family (shoot, even earlier PowerPCs) are going to need a distro that allows them to extend their already lenghty longevity.

For Macs, Debian 4.0 could very well be the best GNU/Linux distro available. The performance on two iMacs and an iBook were both flawless and no discernable speed was sacrificed even with the somewhat bearable heaviness of the GNOME desktop environment (keep those cards and letters, GNOME-heads: I like GNOME, but I find it a bit bloated and sometimes unwieldy on older machines).

The Debian library of software is legendary, so there’s no need to go into that here. The Synaptic Package Manager has always been one of my favorite programs — I know there must be a 12-step program out there to resolve that — but the availablilty of software is one of the more intriguing parts of the Debian experience; a facet it shares with the family of distros related to Debian. The software update feature — blasted by a Wall Street Journal writer recently as his primary reason not to convert to GNU/Linux (good reason, jerk) — is timely to a fault. I have to confess that I don’t always update when I’m told, but I find later that I should probably heed the updating call when requested to do so.

Speaking of software, I have to admit I’m enamored by Iceweasel, Debian’s browser. Another feature on the drop down Applications menu that some may find trivial — but I find it extremely helpful — is the Debian list that breaks down the programs on the computer by Apps, Games, Help, and Xshells. Trivial, perhaps, but it’s a feature that both newbies and experienced users can find what they’re looking for quickly.

A knock on Debian — an unfair knock in my opinion — is that they don’t release updates like clockwork, like this major distro that schedules its year on April and October releases, for example. But bear in mind that this distro — Ubuntu and its tribe of derivatives (we’ll be talking about Xubuntu later this week) — is based on Debian. So those of you using any of the *buntus should consider the source.

Debian 4.0 lives up to its name, and its continuing legacy, as one of GNU/Linux’s premiere and forward-thinking distros.

Coming tomorrow: Fedora 7.0 / 8.0

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: Debian, GNOME

Eight Distros a Week: AntiX ‘Spartacus’ / ‘Lysistrata’

February 8, 2008 Leave a comment

[This is the first in an eight-part series on distros I use. These reviews come using one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 PII, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary, and our opinions may not agree. But then, that’s what freedom is about, no?]

Let’s start with a question: How hard is it to resist trying out a distro that is named, arguably, after Kirk Douglas’ greatest movie role (not to mention one of Stanley Kubrick’s best films)?

[For those who need a refresher, go out to your video store and rent “Spartacus,” or if you’re too lazy, here’s a clip from a Pepsi ad parodying the climax scene in the movie. Of course, my favorite line of the movie is Laurence Olivier chirping, “I’m not after glory. I’m after Spartacus,” and I drive co-workers nuts with it. But I digress . . . .]

Hard to resist, I know. And naturally, a good name does not a good distro make. However, in this case, AntiX 6.5 “Spartacus” and it’s younger sister 7.0 “Lysistrata” are two admirable distros that run well on older machines, and absolutely fly on newer ones.

Taking the lead in developing AntiX — pronounced “antiques” — is a British teacher living in Thessaloniki, Greece, who goes by the name of anticapitalista. It comes as no surprise — at least not to those of us who stayed awake in ancient history class — that anticapitalista has chosen to name version 6.5 after the Roman slave who emancipated his bretheren, and has chosen to name 7.0 after the heroine in Aristophanes’ play who urges the women of Sparta and Corinth to withhold sex from their husbands in order to stop the Peloponnesian War.

No, there won’t be a test on this at the end of the blog.

AntiX is based on Mepis, stripped down and built for older machines. I don’t want to keep harping on this, but a lot of times that old Pentium II box faces a landfill death sentence when it could easily and flawlessly run a distro of this caliber. So AntiX not only is a quality distro, it also helps society in general, and the environment in particular, by keeping older machines working.

While AntiX could be the best “light” distro — light in a way that older machines with limited memory can use it — AntiX absolutely flies on newer machines. The speed with which it booted — a personal-best 48 seconds — on a Pentium III-based Dell laptop was the fastest I’ve seen on any machine I’ve ever owned.

The Fluxbox desktop — although AntiX also includes the IceWM desktop, and Xfce is available (though not supported yet) on a recent Lysistrata ISO release — could take some getting used to for new users, but the Fluxbox learning curve is not that steep, and coupled with Conky (which I’ll get to later), the desktop environment and its monitors make for an interesting foray into more hands-on computer use for new or intermediate-level users. I’m new to programs like Dillo and Leafpad, and find that I like them a lot. In fact, after spending some time fiddling with Fluxbox, I have to say that this desktop environment is growing on me more and more.

As for Conky — as I mentioned when I talked about Wolvix GNU/Linux a few weeks ago, I don’t know why this small but effective program isn’t in use in more distros. You wouldn’t drive your car without gauges, so it stands to reason that Conky serves in the same manner as a dashboard on a car, and an adequate one at that.

AntiX gets high marks across the board — for usability, speed and stability — and while I would tell new users about it, I think it is geared toward those users who have a fair amount of GNU/Linux experience under their proverbial belt by virtue of the fact that it natively runs Fluxbox (although, again, the learning curve for Fluxbox is not that steep, and that of Xfce is less). For those who are more experienced with GNU/Linux, by all means try this distro. If you’re a newbie and you feel daring — like its namesakes, who took chances of historic proportions — by all means give Spartacus and/or Lysistrata a try.

A tip of the hat and thanks to anticapitalista and the crew at AntiX for making such a great distro. Keep up the great work.

Coming tomorrow: Debian 4.0

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: AntiX, Conky, Fluxbox, Xfce

Notes, quotes and gloats

February 6, 2008 2 comments

Driving Mister Stallman: My 1994 Jetta (with the specialized California license plate “GNU LNUX”) and I had a special guest over the last few days: the Free Software Foundation’s Richard Stallman. RMS, as he is known, needed transportation from Palo Alto to Santa Cruz on Saturday morning, and at 8 a.m., we appeared at the doorstep of the home at which he was staying for a ride to KUSP in Santa Cruz for an appointment with a radio show.

After a spot of tea, we loaded up the Jetta and headed southwest. For the most part, RMS kept to his work on his laptop in front of him as he rode in the passenger seat (no, I don’t know what he was working on — I didn’t look) but we did have time to talk about some of the upcoming events — the radio show, his Op-Ed piece running in the Sunday Santa Cruz Sentinel and his talk on Monday at Cabrillo College. He also commented on the road noise my car makes, but after 274,000 faithful miles, the Jetta can play Sousa marches with every passing mile for all I care.

On Tuesday morning, I drove RMS from Santa Cruz to the San Francisco airport, and the trip was a little more conversational. While negotiating the twists and turns of Highway 17 over the Santa Cruz Mountains (hoping all the while I didn’t hit anything, lest his laptop become a permanent part of RMS’s forehead thanks to the driver side airbag), we talked about a GNU-friendly “Intro to Unix/Linux” textbook (which may soon be available — watch this space) and how much alike surfing and love are. Other topics — the folly of highway expansion in the face of peak oil and a McAfee billboard on Highway 101 that said “Hackers are bad” — led us both on conversational tangents punctuated by work on his laptop.

We arrived at SFO after a side trip to Palo Alto to the home he had stayed in before to pick up an item he had forgotten. At 11, he had plenty of time to catch his plane. As we shook hand to take leave of each other, he left me with two words (and you can say them with me): “Happy hacking!”

[Note to P.L.: Not to worry — I didn’t tell RMS about the dream you had about him.]

Blue Screen of REAL Death: The Defense Department and Boeing plan to base their new Future Combat Systems not on Microsoft Windows, but on a GNU/Linux based system using Red Hat. The reason the generals made is clear — they don’t want to be beholden to Microsoft — but another more important issue arose, this from John Williams, a sergeant at the Boeing plant in Huntington Beach: “Soldiers don’t care about software,” he said. What they care about is “if it’s going to work.” That means the men and women on the ground have their lives depending on software, and that software has got to work or the result could be fatal. So, arguably, that counts Microsoft out.

[So how far did that chair travel, Mr. Ballmer?]

Coming soon (like tomorrow): Starting tomorrow, I am going to release eight straight blogs on eight distros I use and particularly like, and why. Call it “Eight Distros a Week” if you like, because I plan to. In any case, hope you enjoy it. Up tomorrow: AntiX 6.5 Spartacus and 7.0 Lysistrata.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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