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29 June 2012, 20:32
Linux Distro Digest

Linux Distro Digest

by Christopher von Eitzen

With new major releases of Ubuntu and Fedora out the door in the past quarter, the developers at these and other community distributions are now hard at work on future versions of their respective Linux-based operating systems. Smaller, more specialised distributions have also been publishing new versions at a rapid pace.

Spring is traditionally a busy time for the Linux world's heavy hitters, with both Fedora and Ubuntu releasing major upgrades to their popular distributions. Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, code-named "Precise Pangolin", was released in late April, and Fedora 17 made its appearance at the end of last month. The Linux Mint and Mageia projects have published new stable releases, while progress on the next version of openSUSE has been delayed due to problems within the project.

Ubuntu and co.

Ubuntu logo Precise Pangolin is Canonical's latest long term support (LTS) release of its Ubuntu Linux distribution. It further polishes the sometimes controversial Unity desktop and adds a new head-up display feature. With the HUD, users can search their systems and quickly launch applications. Development on the project's next major release, 12.10 "Quantal Quetzal", kicked off earlier this month with a first alpha for testing. Scheduled for final release in October, Ubuntu 12.10 has already seen a number of applications, such as the installer, ported to Python 3 as the final release will only include the 3.x branch of Python. The recent second alpha of Quantal Quetzal included a release candidate for the 3.5 Linux kernel; it will be followed by another alpha at the end of July and two betas in September.

Linux Mint logo About a month after 12.04 LTS arrived, the Linux Mint project issued version 13 of its increasingly popular Ubuntu-based Linux distribution, providing fans with new desktop options other than Unity. Available as two separate editions, Mint 13 "Maya" lets users choose between version 1.4 of Cinnamon, the project's own fork of the GNOME Shell interface used in GNOME 3, and the 1.2 release of the MATE GNOME 2.x fork. Versions for computer vendors and manufacturers that enable Linux Mint to be "pre-installed" on a machine arrived at the beginning of June. For those who prefer Debian over Ubuntu, Linux Mint Debian Edition 201204 is also available with these desktops.

Debian logo Speaking of Debian, in a recent announcement, the Debian project's release team confirmed that version 7.0 known as "Wheezy" will be feature frozen at the end of the month, as it moves from the distribution's testing branch. After this freeze, no new major changes will be integrated, instead the developers will focus on finding and fixing bugs to improve its overall stability. If all goes according to plan, Debian 7 should arrive early next year with support for the ARM architecture and Ext4 as its default filesystem.

Snowlinux is another up-and-coming distro that gives users a choice of Ubuntu- or Debian-based editions. Snowlinux 2 "Cream" is built on Ubuntu 12.04 and is available with either the MATE or Cinnamon desktops, while the "Ice" version features Debian 6 "Squeeze" Stable at its core and the older 2.3x branch of GNOME because of, its developers say, "drastic changes with GNOME 3 and Unity"; a version with KDE was published just over a week ago.

Fedora, Mageia and more

Fedora logo Controversially named "Beefy Miracle", Fedora 17 also featured updates to its desktop; in this case, an upgraded version (3.4.1) of the GNOME Shell that now works on systems with graphics drivers that don't support 3D hardware acceleration. The Red-Hat-sponsored distribution also implemented major changes to the filesystem structure that saw the removal of the /bin/, /sbin/, /lib/ and /lib64/ directories – these have been moved to similarly named sub-directories of /usr/.

Version 18 of Fedora will be code-named "Spherical Cow" and will include support for UEFI Secure Boot, which will be enabled by default on some future Windows 8 hardware. It will also change the way that updates are installed: some updates will only be installed when the system is rebooted, in order to avoid problems that can occur with some applications and services if they're updated while still in use.

Clones of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) also saw releases of new versions in recent months. CentOS and Oracle published their RHEL 5.8 clones in March, while the Scientific Linux project took until the end of April to publish its version. Red Hat itself released the latest version of its enterprise distribution, RHEL 6.3, mid-June, with enhancements for virtualisation, storage and a number of new drivers. With that release, the race was on for the first RHEL cloner to ship their own version. That race was quickly won when in the last week of June, Oracle Linux 6.3, based on RHEL 6.3, was released with its "Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel" and various driver updates.

Mageia logo Between the Ubuntu and Fedora updates, the Mageia development team published the second major release of the community fork of Mandriva Linux. Mageia 2 is a big step for the developers, who say that their distribution is "growing up": it is the first version to make significant changes to the code on which it is based. These include switching to the systemd init system and upgrading GNOME to version 3.4; other desktops, including KDE, Xfce and LXDE, as well as various window managers, have been upgraded.

Following financial troubles and failed bids, the company behind Mandriva announced that control over the Linux distribution would be handed over to the community, which began working on a new release in May and recently published a technology preview of Mandriva Linux 2012. The Mandriva management has now confirmed that it wants to work with Mageia to collaborate on future versions of the operating system, and has started outlining plans for the creation of a foundation for Mandriva Linux. An LXDE edition of the ROSA customised version of Mandriva Linux from Russian company ROSA Laboratory was also published recently.

openSUSE logo However, not all community distributions are progressing smoothly: the openSUSE project has encountered some growing pains and other issues that have caused it to delay its upcoming 12.2 release from mid-July to September. Version 12.2 of openSUSE, currently available as a second beta for testing, upgrades the distribution's Linux kernel to 3.4.2 and KDE SC to 4.8.4. Its currently unknown whether it will change its release cycle or switch to the Tumbleweed rolling release model.

The Linux Toolbelts

Not all Linux distributions have to be an everyday operating system; bootable Linux-based systems like Parted Magic, Clonezilla Live and SystemRescueCD don't require installation and can be used for hard disk partitioning and duplication, as well as fixing other operating systems and even removing viruses on Windows systems. Unlike traditional desktop distributions, these tend to be updated more frequently to upgrade the included applications and add new features.

Parted Magic logo The versatile Parted Magic partitioning tool has already been updated twice in the past month, with the most recent version adding an option to install a proprietary NVIDIA driver for systems that have trouble with the open source nouveau graphics driver. Earlier this month, its developer announced that he is now working on the project as his full-time job and is living on donations from users.

Clonezilla logo Another popular tool is the Debian-based Clonezilla Live open source clone system, which includes a range of features that the developers say is similar to that of the Symantec Ghost Corporate Edition, with applications such as the Partclone image utility. Its most recent 1.2.12 update upgraded the underlying Debian "Sid" OS and the GDISK interactive partition table manipulator, while also adding support for booting from CD on UEFI machines.

SystemRescueCd is a useful tool for those needing to administer and repair both Windows and Linux systems. With it, users can find and recover data after a crash, scan for and remove viruses, and also create and edit hard drive partitions. The latest 2.8.0 release upgraded the GRUB2 boot loader, and the standard and alternative Linux kernels, while also adding the newest release of DBAN for securely wiping drives.

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