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25 March 2009, 12:09

Distributions: The big and the small

Linux distributions (the Linux kernel plus a desktop and applications) come in many flavours. Here's an overview of just a few of the recent releases

by Alexandra Kleijn (akl)

New release Tux

While the community distributions Fedora and Ubuntu, as well as Mandriva, prepare for their spring releases, Novell has been busy completing final adjustments to SUSE Linux Enterprise. Smaller Linux distributions are also doing some spring cleaning and publishing updated versions.

Ubuntu logo The Ubuntu countdown: This week will see the release of the first beta of the upcoming Ubuntu 9.04 release (aka Jaunty Jackalope), with the final release expected on the 23rd of April. The next version of Mandriva, Mandriva 2009.1, is scheduled to be released on the 29th of April, following the first release candidate that was made available on the 11th of March. Ubuntu will have support for the Ext4 file system alongside the new 2.6.28 Kernel, however, the default file system will continue to be the proven Ext3. Fedora 11 is expected to be released at the end of May and will use Ext4 as its standard file system. The Fedora team recently announced that the Fedora 11 beta, originally scheduled to be released on the 24th of March, has been delayed an additional week.

The Debian Project has officially signaled the start of the development of Squeeze, the next stable version of Debian. The developers have not yet announced a release schedule. The project team released the long awaited Debian 5.0 Lenny in the middle of February. The Team also recently updated the Debian Policy and the Package Policy. Elections for the new Debian Project leader are scheduled to run from the 29th of March through to the 11th of April. The only other candidate this year is Stefano Zacchiroli, who is running against the incumbent, Steve McIntyre.

openSUSE has announced a release cycle of eight months. The upcoming release of 11.2 (code-named Fichte) is aimed at November, eleven months after the release of the current version 11.1, which arrived just before Christmas. Meanwhile, there were increasing signs of an early release of the upcoming version 11 of SUSE Linux Enterprise. Novell provided a sneak preview of pre-release versions of both SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 11 as well as Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 11 in late February and released them both on the 24th of March.

Later this week, CentOS version 5.3 is expected to appear. The Red Hat clone, which traditionally releases a few weeks after the final releases of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), this time is a little late. Scientific Linux 5.3, also a Red Hat clone, appeared late last week. Just like CentOS, the developers built the distribution from the source packages of Red Hat Linux. However, the Scientific Linux developers have added some of their own extras and the distribution is backed by several scientific institutions, including Fermilab and CERN.

After nearly two years, this month saw the release of a new version of PCLinux OS, a Mandriva derivative with its own additions that has attracted a growing community of German users. In contrast to the rpm-based Mandriva, PCLinuxOS uses the packet manager from Debian and Ubuntu with the graphical front end from Synaptic. A community version with the alternative desktop GNOME was released alongside the official KDE version (KDE 3.5.10 – the features of KDE 4 did not suit the developers). The team, however, didn't want to wait for the recently published 2.26.0 release of GNOME, so PCLinuxOS GNOME 2009.1 is based on GNOME 2.24.3.

The slim Zenwalk Linux arrived at version 6.0 with the Xfce 4.6 desktop environment a few weeks ago. It was shortly followed by the release of Zenwalk GNOME 6.0, which included the new 2.26.0 release of the GNOME desktop.

There is now a new version of Absolute Linux, a lightweight Slackware-based distribution, which includes the IcwWM window manager and a new version of Frugalware Linux. The developers of Absolute Linux 12.2.3 consider Ext4 stable enough to use it as the standard file system for automated installations. The Frugalware developers are more conservative and continue to use Ext3 as a base for standard installations. Noteworthy in the recent Frugalware release is the new PPC (Power PC) port and support for ASUS Eee PC netbook models.

Persian speaking Linux enthusiasts are likely to enjoy the new 2.0 version of Parsix GNU / Linux. The GNOME centric distribution is based on the testing branch of Debian and comes as an installable Live CD. It contains several free Persian fonts, an English-Farsi dictionary and works well with the Persian keyboard layout.

Tiny Core is a small minimal version of Linux only 10 MB in size. Tiny Core is based on the 2.6 Linux kernel, features the BusyBox tool collection and a minimal graphics system based on Tiny X and the window manager Jwm. The mini-distribution can be expanded to include additional applications with the help of online repositories. The system can boot from CD or a USB drive and then be installed to a hard drive. Tiny Core Linux can function on as little as a i486DX processor and 32 MB of RAM.

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