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14 December 2009, 14:11

Distributions: No winter break in Linux land

With Fedora 12 and Ubuntu 9.10 now out the door, developers are already turning their attention to the spring releases. KDE3 has definitively gone the way of the dodo as far as openSUSE and Mandriva are concerned. Google is taking its first steps in the operating system market with Chrome OS.

by Alexandra Kleijn

Autumn is traditionally a lively period in the Linux world, with both Ubuntu and Fedora releasing new versions of their popular distributions at this time of year. Ubuntu 9.10, 'Karmic Koala', was released in late October and Fedora 12, 'Constantine', arrived on the 17th of November. Squeezed between the two was a new edition of openSUSE, version 11.2, which hit the streets on the 12th of November. openSUSE also has fixed release intervals, but the new eight month cycle means there is no longer a fixed release month. French distributor Mandriva also released the latest Mandriva 2010 in early November.

What all of the major distributions have in common is the switch to using Ext4 as their default file system. All of them use the Linux 2.6.31 kernel. Kernel-based mode setting (KMS), included in the kernel in all four systems, now leaves it to the kernel to select screen resolution with most graphics chips. The benefit is the lack of flicker when starting X Server and better reliability when resuming from suspend to RAM, with KMS taking care of reinitialising the graphics core. Linus Torvalds has since concluded kernel 2.6.32 development.

Ubuntu and Fedora both traditionally use GNOME as the default desktop and both now include the latest version (2.28). In openSUSE and Mandriva, it's KDE which is pre-selected during installation. openSUSE 11.2 is the first version for a very long time in which the distribution – traditionally KDE-centric, but increasingly GNOME-oriented following its takeover by Novell – returns to its roots. The KDE3 era is definitively over at both openSUSE and Mandriva, as both now officially no longer support KDE3.

With Red Hat releasing version 5.4 of its Enterprise Linux in September, October saw CentOS and early November Scientific Linux following suit. The prime directive for both Red Hat clones is compatibility with their parent. Users wishing to avoid dependence on Red Hat's paid-for support should find either of the two interesting.

Ubuntu in green

The first new editions of a number of Ubuntu-based distributions have also now been released. These include Linux Mint – "a better Ubuntu" according to some users – version 8.0 of which (code named Helena) came out a couple of weeks ago. Mint adds a few extensions to Ubuntu, such as a simple start menu and its own program for installing additional software (Ubuntu uses Synaptic). The new release is also now suitable for OEM installations.

Zoom The Linux Mint 8 desktop.

Linux Mint is released in two variants – Main, which is available in English only but includes numerous multimedia codecs and proprietary plugins and drivers, and Universal, which doesn't (but offers the option of installing them at the click of a mouse). The Universal version also offers support for a wide range of languages. Mint uses GNOME as the default desktop, but there are also variants with KDE, Xfce and minimalist window manager Fluxbox.

The latest version of xPud may be of interest to netbook owners. Rather than using GNOME, the Taiwanese mini-Linux, which is also Ubuntu-based, uses the internally developed Plate, a web-based user interface based on Mozilla's Gecko runtime engine and XUL.

Google's Chrome OS operating system

Google's Linux-based Chrome OS operating system made the headlines in November. It's specially designed for simple hardware and currently runs on x86 systems, including Atom netbooks (the ARM platform is in the pipeline), turning them into a kind of "surfboard", in that in Chrome, everything takes place within the browser. The recently published source code for the open source Chromium OS version can be compiled into a preview of what the Chrome OS will be. According to Google, the first devices with Chrome OS preinstalled will hit the shelves in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Zoom Google's Chrome OS uses web apps instead of local applications.

Next - Open source Nouveau graphics driver on the up

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