cAos Linux is out…

Tonight, I gave cAos Linux a try.  I was really interested in it because it had a gnome default desktop with an Xfce backup…it had a nice bootsplash and really looked nifty via screenshots.  It also had a really interesting custom written installer called cinch.  However, after the install, it failed to boot.  So I tried just about every boot option I could possibly try during the install without success.  So…I’ll be forced to trim cAos from the list at this time.  For this experiment, desktop Linux MUST work out of the box.  CAos fell short (unfortunately).

On a positive note, PCLinuxOS 8 came out recently…so I’ll be downloading that and giving it a go here shortly.  I’m kinda bummed that cAos didn’t want to play nice…I was really looking forward to it.  Oh well.  So, up next will be PCLinuxOS and I’ll have a post about my initial impression within the next couple of days.

SELinux…the future of Linux?

Many of you may have heard recently that Fedora Core 3 contains “SELinux” or Security Enhanced Linux.  Then you may just say, “ bout that” and move on.  Most of us don’t realize what SELinux actually is and where it came from.  Recently there is a new book entitled, “SELinux NSA’s Open Source Security Enhanced Linux” that has been published by Bill McCarty for the O’Reilly Network.

I first noticed and downloaded SELinux about 2 years ago when there was no documentation supporting anything with it.  I installed it, configured it, and had a server set up in about a day.  I’ll have to say that it is just as easy to work on as a slackware box and most of my documentation issues were solved in slackware forums.  Does this mean it utilizes packages from slack?  No…everything is from source but there isn’t any cool portage or emerge system to manage things.  You simply have to know what you’re doing.  But recently, Distributions are now packaging the secure functions of SELinux into their respected distros.

From the LinuxInsider article, “In December 2000, researchers at the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) working with Network Associates and MITRE released a B1 Class operating system to the public known as SELinux. Although many Linux professionals have heard of SELinux, few recognize that its heritage reaches back to the work of David Bell and Leonard LaPadula, work begun in 1973. Bell and LaPadula’s work helped define the criteria that make up the U.S. Government’s Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria (TCSEC).”

There is much attention focused by some of the more cutting edge distributions like Fedora Core, Gentoo and the beta release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4. The question becomes, will other distros follow? Should they follow? I think the answer is a definitive yes on this issue.? But if all distros flock to this standard will it lessen its importance?  Perhaps.  Perhaps it will become ‘run of the mill’ and assumed until the next big thing comes along.  And perhaps it won’t.


2 down, 4 to go

Thus far, I’ve taken a quicklook at two distributions of Linux and provided limited feedback on them. I’m just running through the installations for these distributions so that I don’t hit any snags later on when I’m installing them for this blogs’ featured article…where I will have my wife who has no Linux experience work with one distribution per week and report back her feelings/thoughts on that distro.

I’ve decided that the order I’m currently going in is the order that I should keep when I kick things off. I’ll start with Mandrake, shift to MEPIS, follow on with PCLinuxOS, switch to cAos Linux, then to Libranet, then to Fedora C3. Why have FC3 last?? Ask a FC3 user and they’ll tell you it is the best distro out there. So, I’m going to ‘save the best for last’ (their opinion…not mine…yet).

So this entry serves as an update as to what I’m actually doing. All commentary from my wife and her Linux experience will be in the ‘reviews’ category. All commentary from myself will be in the ‘distros’ category. As I stated previously, if you want an unbiased comparison between the top ‘point and click’ Linux desktops…stay tuned. This truly will be a unique ride.

Update: I forgot to mention that I will be soon posting the review criterion that my wife will be using to compare the distros. This should be fairly straightforward but will be based entirely on the point of view of someone who has NO Linux experience…so things such as connectivity, sound, and graphics that aren’t operational out of the box will be something she will be looking at. If things are golden, she’ll give kudos where kudos are due. If not, she’ll be fair in her critique. It’s going to be really, really interesting. At the end of things, we’ll summarize both my critiques and hers. From there, we’ll draw a conclusion on what the best ‘out of the box’ ‘point and click’ Linux desktop is.

SimplyMEPIS 2004.04 after 2 days

I have to admit that I’m a bit biased toward SimplyMEPIS. I was a hardcore MEPIS enthusiast for most of the year last year…even had a site dedicated entirely to the Linux desktop and SimplyMEPIS. However, that was then and this is now. I will attempt to refrain from my bias toward MEPIS as much as possible.
MEPIS truly is a fantastic distribution. The hardware detection far surpasses even Knoppix. Hands down, this is the best distribution I’ve evern installed. Everything works right out of the box. I only have to to touch my sound. It installed itself to the network, detected my W2K fileserver, detected all my shares drives, detected my multimedia machine….detected EVERY single piece of hardware I’ve got installed in the computer…I was waiting for it to detect me and flash onto the screen, “Installing devnet, please wait…”
There’s not much this distro can’t do. It takes advantage of Debian repositories which means it can install anything Debian can. It’s a Live CD so it can be ‘test run’ before you actually install it. The cool thing about it is that you have 7 clicks of the mouse to a full on Debian install. Try that one with anaconda! 😛 I’m not going to spend much time on this one because I’ve used it soooo much. I’m going to retire this distro early and move on to ones I’m not used to using.
Remember, I’m just cycling through the 6 distros first for a quick look. My wife will be test driving the rest of these with detailed new user insite for an unbiased look at Linux. That’s right, 6. I’ve decided to add caOs Linux to the mix. Someone recommended it to me and I’ve determined I’d like to give it a go. Therefore, to end this silly entry…the distro list is up to 6 now and I will be pressing my quicklooks at these distros away from MEPIS and toward caOs Linux. Thus far, Mandrake and MEPIS are down, 4 more to go.

Solaris, Open Source, and the Schwartz…

Ran across a nice blog entry from Sun Microsystems’ main man Jonathan Schwartz…and find myself disagreeing whole-heartedly with him. Who am I? I am the customer he’s been touting is always right. With this being said, I’m telling him he’s wrong. Utilizing his logic, I’m 100% right about this point. 🙂

Mr. Schwartz,

You stated that “it’s increasingly evident the OS wars are down to three – Microsoft Windows, Sun’s Solaris, and Red Hat’s Linux.” Let’s talk a bit more about this. First, some background.

Solaris will soon release it’s version 10, which I will download when it is made available. I was pretty impressed with Solaris 9. However, I also understood that many people out there would not be too impressed with it…because the average customer doesn’t deploy large networks. The average person who drives the market checks email, surfs the web, and chats with an IM client. Mr. Schwartz, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that most open source users know and that few large CEO’s and companies don’t….he who wins the desktop will win the world. Microsoft realizes this and that’s why they are winning right now. It’s not how many servers you can sign up or how many contracts you fill. It is BRAND RECOGNITION that gets you the market…both servers AND desktops. I ask the question…where is JDS? It’s still choking itself on older versions of the gnome and KDE window managers (by the way, JDS= Java Desktop System…which runs on Linux? Maybe some clarification is in order). Until you achieve brand recognition on the desktop market, you’ll never rule the server market.

The only 2 vendors that can claim to even attempt to satisfy any niche of the market is Novell and Microsoft. Novell with it’s Dell Server Line AND HP Desktop and Microsoft with Server 2003 and XP/Longhorn. RedHat has decidedly enterered into this forray, albeit late, with their Redhat desktop. JDS lags behind even further. And yet Mr. Schwartz, you still claim to be in the top three. The top three without any brand recognition. Sure you have some, but not with common users. Allow me to ellaborate:

I took some classes at the local college lately to broaden my horizons. In this class, we talked about javascript, Java, applets, and ActiveX in relation to web browsers and operating systems. When told that Sun Microsystems is Java…most people didn’t even know who your company was or where it was based or what technology it was based on. They knew Java was something you needed during web browsing and that was it. Remember that these are CIS and MIS majors. Also remember that there are no mentionings of Solaris in the textbooks that these students are learning out of…but there are mentionings of Linux and Microsoft (less for linux of course). You’re losing the desktop market and subsequently setting yourself up to fail in the server market.

If we were face to face right now Mr. Schwartz, I’d offer you a cup of coffee and a bundle of roses. That way you would either wake up and smell the roses…or take time to smell the coffee 🙂 Good luck with that Solaris thing…I’ve been a loyal user since Solaris 2.0. I’ll hate to see it go.

The Point is Click Linux; a managed theme…

I’ve decided to adapt a central theme for the distros category in this blog. I’m going to cycle through the 5 biggest ‘Point and Click’ distros and am going to do a quick 2 day assessment on each. After I get through all the distros, I am going to do a fresh install starting with the first one (whatever that may be) and I am going to have my wife, who is new to Linux, check out what she can do with each and which distro she feels is truly the most ‘Point and Click’ distro out there. Remember that it doesn’t matter what distro of Linux is used to most new users…they just want something that WORKS. They want to be able to browse the web, listen to music, and check email and if something is broke from the get go…they abandon it and go back to something that does work. So…we’ll be looking specifically at distros that work out of the box on a standard hardware and hard disk setup.

Here’s the list of distros I’ll be posting w/ screens on:

  1. Mandrake 10.1
  2. Libranet 2.8.1
  3. PCLinuxOS Preview 7
  4. SimplyMEPIS 2004.04
  5. Fedora Core 3

Some of you might be wondering why I don’t have ‘X’ distro listed in there. The reason is that I’m looking for the following criteria: 1. Full version is free 2. Noted by the Linux as very new user friendly 3. the distro’s not Ubuntu (REVISED: Ubuntu is now in the mix due to reader response).

As a past user of Ubuntu, I can tell you that it doesn’t hold a candle overall to any of the distros I’ll be investigating and will therefore NOT be included into this group. If you need Ubuntu snapshots and reviews…go google it and you’ll come up with at least 500 misguided ones. I suppose if there is any feedback about Ubuntu here I can probably give my two cents on it.

As I posted earlier, I recently installed Mandrake Linux 10.1. I was quite impressed with the default install and how it appeared. Now that I’ve had about a week to analyze it I can share some observations.

First and foremost, this OS is eyecandy. Everything looks and feels organized and soft. There aren’t any hard, right angled fonts, icons, or windows. You look at the desktop and get a sense of completeness. Â I can’t explain it any more than that. For appearance, Mandrake is hands down the most eye pleasing free distro available.

The second most noticeable thing is the organization of the menus. Everything has its place and there isn’t a ton of confusing menus to mess things up. For instance, with most KDE default installs on distros that don’t preconfigure them for you (i.e., slackware) you find ALL of the KDE menus intact. This means that when you go to the more applications link in the K-Menu, you find EVERY SINGLE APPLICATION INSTALLED. This makes the menu branch out and get quite confusing and frustrating. If one knows how to tweak this, it isn’t a problem. But for those that are just starting out in Linux, it’s very confusing.

I like the fact that it is very easy to configure the various aspects of your desktop and the settings. They have the menu organization down to a tee. I really think this is the way a Linux distribution should be after it is installed. It is simply KDE done right. You’d think with all of this going for it, Mandrake would rate high on my list…but remember, I’m thinking more along the lines of this distro being ready set go right out of the box. So it fell short on a few points.

The first place it falls short is package management. I realize that Mandrake is trying very hard to have a ‘package warehouse’ like that of Linspire and Xandros…but it falls very short. I tried to upgrade for any security holes numerous times without any success. Also, requiring the user to ‘register’ in order to receive said updates put me off somewhat. If I’m just installing an operating system…I want to accomplish my goals ASAP without adding my email address anywhere in order to accomplish them. So, I was a bit annoyed by this little detail. Perhaps they should make it so it asks on the 2nd update try.

The second place Mandrake falls short is configurability. I know many of you are going to hop all over me for saying this touting “It’s totally up to the individual to configure it” and you’re right…it is up to the individual. But what new user is going to know how to do this out of the box? If I were a new user, I’d be going to the Mandrake Control center for everything I needed…kinda like the Control Panel in WinDozeXP and I wouldn’t want to snoop around to find anything else. I know that this could be a ‘KDE’ or ‘Gnome’ thing depending on the OS…but you’d think that a distro that has developed as many custom menus and such for Linux would go the extra step and take ‘Y’ out of the equation…i.e. making it just one step easier to configure the look, feel, and styles of the desktop.

The last place Mandrake fell short for me was sound. I had no sound at the first boot. No probs I thought….I ran ‘alsaconf’ and pumped up the sound volume making sure it wasn’t muted. I tried the sound again with no go. So…no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the sound going without having to jump farther into the command line that I should have to with a distro such as this. Eventually I did get the sound going. It seems Mandrake detected my onboard sound as active even though it was deactivated in BIOS. Odd, because it is the only distro that has done so. However, I couldn’t ignore the fact that sound wasn’t good to go after a few intervening actions on my part.

Overall, I’d give Mandrake a thumbs up though. This is a pretty solid distro. I can’t wait to see how it fares with my wife. She is really good about checking into what programs can and can’t do and will really put these distros to the ‘new user’ test. As promised, I’ll cycle through each distro myself during the next couple of weeks and post my thoughts on it. Then at the end of this period, I’ll install one of the five listed at the beginning of this post and I’ll have a true new user come and check out each. I think sticking with a distro a week for her to test will be a good idea. That should give her enough time to truly ‘feel’ what it is like and decide for herself if it will get her stamp of approval. I consider this type of test MUCH more unbiased than one you’d read on some large new site…mainly because new users don’t do the reviews…and I’m sure you’d agree that having someone new to Linux take a look at a distro would provide some really interesting feedback.

Thanks for reading and stick with us…it looks to be very interesting.

PS: On the horizon…I’m uninstalling Mandrake 10.1 right now to look at SimplyMEPIS 2004.04. I should have initial reports back sometime in the next few days.