Friday, June 20, 2008

Great spring for distros

As we are just about ready to head into summer beginning this weekend, I want to report that it has been a great spring for Linux distributions. According to the DistroWatch Roadmap, which is a collection of anticipated release dates, based on distributors that report on their plans, not too many major distributions have releases planned for this summer, though some of the smaller ones do. As soon as Debian Sid stabilizes enough to get a release out the door, sidux 2008-02 will be released. I have already been using the pre-release of it and it is awesome and it works well for me right now.

I wanted to review some of the great stuff that has come out recently. I believe that Mandriva 2008.1 Spring Edition was one of the first major distributions of the Spring and it was a good one indeed. Mandriva has great wireless support, a feature that I really use a lot these days, since I do most of my computing on laptops - mine are faster than any of my desktops, plus they are much quieter and consume far fewer energy resources. Mandriva is not the only one who has done a good job with wireless; they were simply one of the first to do it well - and it shows in derivative works, such as the MCNLive effort and the PCLinuxOS project.

Fedora is now in the game, vastly improving, not only wireless, but many other things as well. Fedora, when it is released, is not the most stable software in the world, but that is also improving. Fedora tends to improve consistently after each release, really getting pretty stable by the time the next release appears. They have also taken up the practice of building Live CDs and periodic re-spins, since so much changes during the course of their release. Fedora 9, in my opinion, is the best Fedora release ever, even if there are still some defects in it. For my purposes it runs great. I had it on my Lenovo for about a month, then switched to Linux Mint.

The Linux Mint 5 release is also pretty smooth and clean. It is based upon the Ubuntu Hardy Heron release, 8.04. Mint has a bit of simplicity added to it and it contains some Mint tools that further simplify desktop life, especially for beginners. It is not great about tactile feedback - nor is the default Fedora 9. Both seemed aimed at just using the desktop, though Fedora is an easy desktop designed to implement, test, and improve new features, whereas Mint is intended to provide a simple, relatively stable desktop. Both succeed at their objective.

Ah yes, Ubuntu, almost forgot to add my comments on it. The 8.04 project is intended to be the next Long Term Support (LTS) release. The previous LTS release was 6.06, so there was definitely a need for a new LTS release. The 6.06 release, to me, marked really major improvements in Ubuntu. For the first time, it was truly easy in every way, and as time went on, stability improved. Now we have that happening with a more current release. Compared to two years ago, wireless support has had fantastic improvements. Two or three years ago you had to do a lot of hand configuration to get most wireless implementations working. It is all automatic now and it works very well. I was anticipating a very good release because I had been testing the Alpha versions of 8.04 since just after the 7.10 (Feisty Fawn) release was completed, and even early on I was very optimistic about it. The relatively moderate amount of updated packages each month showed that the project was aiming for stability, and I believe they succeeded. I have multiple copies of Ubuntu in several flavors. My HP desktop is the main platform where I test Ubuntu, but I have given it a go on the Dell Dimension 4100 and the Lenovo 3000 as well and it works well on all of them. The live CDs are quite functional, but they are pretty big beasts - a full CD worth of software, not light like DSL, Puppy, SLAX, or AntiX.

AntiX M7.2 was introduced earlier this spring as well. I have AntiX 7.0 on my old Dell, but I upgrade it regularly, so it has the same software as M7.2, but sports a different appearance. I love AntiX. It runs great in live mode and works with wireless, but it also nicely installs to disk in a trivial fashion - and rapidly at that. If you just need a minimal, fast desktop, I would pick this system hands down. It is not number one in all aspects of simplicity because it uses lightweight window managers that lack a few of the features that novices generally expect, but it is still quite easy to work with, particularly if you set the window manager to IceWM instead of Fluxbox, the default. Fluxbox navigation relies on a lot of right clicks, which may be foreign to new users. Otherwise, it is amazingly flexible and fast. Kudos to anticapitalista, our friend and fellow USALUG member for working on this software!

My overall favorite, as you all well know, is sidux. The first release of sidux, 2008-01 was released late because of typical issues with the unstable one, Debian Sid. The previous release had been sidux 2007-04.5, the Christmas Edition, which I still have installed on my Dell Latitude D600, with excellent results. On my Dell Dimension 4100 and my Lenovo 3000 Y410, I installed sidux 2008-02 pre-release. It looks and runs great, and the sidux team has been making continual improvements in their scripts, which tame Debian Sid and turn it into an awesome platform. Any time now sidux ought to be releasing 2008-02.

What else? openSUSE 11.0 was released this week, and I installed it on the Dell Dimension 4100. It is much improved over previous releases, much improvement in the package manager in particular. openSUSE is always great in the amount of software available and in the ease of setting it up and using it. SUSE has long been one of the three top vendors in hardware support, and that remains true. However, some of the same tools that provide SUSE with so many capabilities have been their problem because they have become cumbersome. The openSUSE project has been working really hard to change that, making incremental improvements with each release. I am not sure that they have it perfected completely, but they have been making great progress and I applaud their efforts. I am enough interested in this release to attempt to install it on my newest laptop, the Lenovo.

I probably tested a few other systems this past Spring, but those are the highlights and the systems that stick out in my memory the most.

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