Foresight, rPath, LiveCD, and Unity Linux

Most, if not all, top distributions of Linux ship a live CD that allows an end user to preview the operating system without installing it.

Foresight Linux is the exception.

Now, this isn’t because they don’t WANT to have a Live CD…they do.  The problem is that rPath, the creators of rBuilder Online, have discontinued the Live CD image creation type.

There was no announcement…no news posting…no clue dart thrown toward Foresight for this discontinuation.  There was only a comment on a single bug in the rPath issue tracker just this past May…Formally discontinued…which in my opinion, is a HUGE mistake as far as community goes.  Why? Because a community is a solid base on which to stand for any distribution or toolset for open source.  rPath has essentially dismissed a feature that the community would find valuable and in the process alienated anyone who finds this feature valuable or desirable.  But I’m not here to talk about whether or not people want to develop their own distributions on rBuilder Online using rPath tools nor the incentive to do so…I’m talking about Foresight. 

So, what incentive does rPath have to help Foresight by fixing it?  Not much…I’m sure there will be those that argue: “rPath has customers and their first allegiance needs to be to them” and those people would be right.  But can’t the Foresight community pick up the torch for Live CD building  on rBO and develop it as a community effort?  Can’t a license be found that it can be released under that would prevent forking?  Can’t it be modularized as a ‘plug-in’? I don’t pretend to know the answer to those questions…I just think that Foresight will continue to suffer as they have been for many, many months now with respect to not having a Live CD.

I’m sure that there will also be those out there saying “but Foresight has a bunch of Virtualized Images to choose from!! No one really cares about a Live CD!!” and I’d say you’re halfway correct.  Developers don’t really care about a Live CD…but those that Foresight attempted to attract…the end user…they DO care about having something they can ‘try before they buy’.  It is my belief that Foresight would be a crap-ton more popular if they had a Live CD.

So What Solutions Are There?

I don’t think rPath will suddenly fix the broken Live CD creation in rBO.  I don’t think they’ll release the code anytime soon (though this is more likely than a fix).  So in the meantime, what if Foresight helped out with LiveCD project that recently was taken over by Unity Linux?  Both Unity and Foresight are Red Hat like distributions and use similar file structures and OS organization.  I think that if Foresight were able to integrate LiveCD onto the distribution, a huge niche would be filled.

Where to Start?

Being involved both with Foresight Linux and Unity Linux gives me a unique perspective on what areas of collaboration could be developed.  One thing is for sure…having both distro development teams onboard would be a huge boon to LiveCD development…and Foresight could suck in SRPMs quite easily from Unity to hit the ground running right away.

I am by no means offering to be the head of this project because I can’t even begin to know where it would start or finish.  I’m just offering a workaround to a problem I’ve seen Foresight have for longer than it should have.  I know the Unity Linux guys would welcome anyone wanting to get involved with helping LiveCD development.  Would Foresight be open to this?  I can’t answer.  I hope so…Foresight needs a Live CD if it hopes to attract more people to it…and that’s something I’m keen on seeing.  Is this something you’d like to see as well?

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Slackware and Zenwalk

I’ve been distro shopping lately.  I had become complacent while working with PCLinuxOS because everything just works when using it.  With nothing broken, I had nothing to fix 🙁  This is a good thing, unless you want things to break every once in a while so you can learn to fix them.  I know, I’m a glutton for punishment.

After some initial toolings in Arch and Gentoo, I settled on Slackware…which was my first distribution I tried ever in 1995.  It felt good to be coming back to Slackware…there is a simple elegance about it.  It’s ultimately fast on just about every system I’ve put it on.  I really like the unix like rc files Slackware has; to me, it’s simple to get things working.  This could be because I cut my teeth on Solaris…but then again, I think it’s much easier to manage system services by making an rc file executable (chmod).  Sure Red Hat style is ok with ‘service name start|restart|stop’ but I really like going into a directory, listing it out, and seeing all my services that execute on startup in green.  Maybe it’s my nostalgia getting the best of me.  I’m sure that’s it.

Regardless, I stuck with Slackware only a short while because I was interested in XFCE (not that Slack doesn’t have XFCE…just that I wanted to see a distro that prides itself on XFCE) and decided to give Zenwalk 6 a try (I’ve tried Wolvix already…it just didn’t click with me).  I’d heard nothing but good things about this distro and it is Slackware based, which makes all the nostalgic parts of me tingle.

I installed and all I can say is WOW!  It’s a fantastic implementation of XFCE regardless of distribution.  The Slackware speed and rc system are there, greeting me on each startup/login.  XFCE is done brilliantly there and really feels like a superb implementation.  Updating is a snap with netpkg, something I haven’t had any experience with…it does the job nicely though.  Overall, I’m quite satisfied with Zenwalk and will be sticking with it for a while.  I’ll post back from time to time with any tips or tricks I might find as I’m stretching my legs so to speak in my new environment.

Zenwalk 6, slightly altered

The New Planet Unity

Some of you may have noticed that Planet Unity got a face lift recently. I took a page from Linux Mint and their planet page and grabbed Gregarius which is a feed reader that aggregates your feeds into a central feed and has some really nice display options including tags for individual feeds.

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This gives us a great opportunity to organize our developer blog feeds and developer resources for the end readers to drill down to the information that is important TO YOU. You’ll be able to search through feeds using the search function on planet or click on tags to display similar content.

So not only is this a new look, it’s a whole new set of features and functions:

  • Supports RDF, RSS, ATOM feeds
  • Imports and exports OPML
  • AJAX powered tagging of feeds and items
  • Supports themes and plugins
  • Search in your feeds
  • Basic i18n support
  • Committed to web standards: renders XHTML/CSS
  • Gregarius is FREE software and is released under the GPL

Now not all of these features and functions matter to end users, but they do give Unity Linux developers an opportunity to provide you with a good planet experience…that is, getting the most information in the least amount of time with the least effort!

Look for more great improvements soon!  We’re working furiously all the time to make this the best Linux core out there!

An Open Letter to Foresight Linux

Theoden is a guest blogger writing his first post for Yet Another Linux Blog. The views expressed inside this post are part of his personal experience and opinions regarding Foresight Linux. I’d like to thank him for taking the time to make Linux better with constructive criticism as well as the many bug reports and fixes he contributed to the Foresight Linux community. Click Theoden’s name above for more information on him.

I have decided – after running Foresight for two months – to no longer use Foresight Linux on my systems. Let me say however that I found the experience interesting and dare I say – challenging. Everyone in the IRC channel was great – very friendly – and most tried to be helpful.

I thought it might be helpful and instructive to provide an explanation as to why I am not going to use Foresight any longer, rather than just disappear. Hopefully, in doing so I may contribute to Foresight becoming a better distro that I might want to run in the future. So, here goes ….

Concerns With Foresight Linux

Conary: When you read about conary it all sounds very exciting and innovative with many really good features. However – when you install Foresight and actually use conary – it doesn’t take too long to realize that unless you are a developer or very involved packager – very little of conary’s goodies really touch you or help you (with the exception of rollback).

However – it’s negatives do impact you as a user:

  1. It is very complex and difficult for the average user to understand and use with any effect
  2. It is hard to locate individual packages and make sure you have what you need when things are failing to work right
  3. The idea of ‘group’s puts numerous things together making it somewhat confusing to sort out when a dependency is not met for an app you really need.

Development and QA: To be very honest – the development of this distro ‘seems’ from my perspective to be done as a fun project – almost a ‘toy’ if you will – for the creator and a couple of his ‘close’ friends. Everything seems to be about advancing to the next version of things – the constant cutting edge challenge of adding in the latest or something really new – without ever really QA’ing and stablizing the existing released code. So problems users are having never really get fixed properly. And this leads to the next concern ….

JIRA: This is the issue tracker for Foresight.  By and large – it appears that issues that don’t personally effect the developers are ignored. I personally have an issue in the tracker concerning sound – which has been there for over 30 days and no one has done anything with it. I finally figured out what was causing the break – but it requires the devs to fix the code. But they have not – and ignore the issue because it works fine for them. Many people have complained about sound issues – but the developers are concerned always with developing the latest code for the next cutting edge release instead of stopping to fix the broken code and solve problems. Poor QA – poor response to user problems.

Conclusion: So – Why Use Foresight? Given the above issues that concern me, I must ask the inevitable question – “Why use Foresight then?” And frankly – I can come up with no compelling reason to do so. Outside of cutting edge gnome – it offers me nothing I cannot get elsewhere – in debian or slackware or archlinux, etc. And those distros are more stable – address issues that are legitimate user concerns – work hard to QA their distros – and in general put out a more user friendly product. The truth is – it’s all linux. So what really counts then is product presentation – QA testing – responsiveness to user problems – and stability providing the ability for the users to do actual work with their linux systems without always trying figure out why something doesn’t work. These things all need real work in Foresight Linux.

The result for me then is that I have returned to Debian. I wish only the best for Foresight Linux and it’s developers and users. I hope some of the issues that have led to my decision will be addressed and that one day I might come back and give it another go. I believe there’s a lot here to like and a great deal of talent. Thank you for your patience with me.



Thoughts on Package Management

The Change in Distro-Land

Distros have changed. In the past, they were made up of a small, tightly knit group collaborators working toward a common goal. With distributions today we now have an informal, large group of collaborators…some of which may not even be aware of the main goal of the distro. That informal collaborator may just want package foo version 2.2 included in his/her distribution so that he/she can use it on their desktop. How does that informal collaborator become empowered? How can the developers reap what that collaborator sows and harness the collective collaboration of thousands of informal contributors? The answer for many software projects is version control. But how can this system benefit package management?

What If?

What if you could combine SVN/CVS/git behavior and packages? What if when you build the package properly, it is checked into the software development tree. You’d be eliminating an entire step in the process (i.e. working more efficiently) and you’d reap all the benefits of version control (diff, merge, shadow, exports, rollbacks, tags, logs) with the actual software packages without losing the benefit of working with source or binaries. Thousands of contributions could be made in the form of ready to install packages that are CERTIFIED (see how this is possible later in this post) to work on the distribution. The contributions would come in on a version control branch designed by the distribution developers…say 1-contribs (much like a contribs rpm server would be)…but unlike most distributions, they would be certified to run on your distro before they even hit the contribs server/branch. Imagine the impact that this would have for bug testing alone.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s Conary and it is getting ready to go to version 2.0. Let’s take a look at some advantages that conary has over traditional package management and how it can empower the end user.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Package Management”

PCLinuxOS & What Sets it Apart: Part I

I originally intended this post to be a review of 2007 Final for PCLinuxOS. However, after finishing it up, I realized that posting a review wouldn’t have the desired effect of truly showing off PCLinuxOS to everyone. It would just be a “business as usual” type of post. So, I decided to do a analysis on what I feel sets PCLinuxOS apart from many Linux distributions.

I often see people steer new Linux users to other distros such as OpenSuse, Ubuntu, and SimplyMEPIS…even Sabayon in a few instances. This is fine…they’re good, solid distros. However, out of those distros, I’d recommend only one…OpenSuse. Why? Because of YAST. A New user needs to feel comfortable with system configuration tasks. Not everyone is ready to drop to the shell when coming in from that other operating system. Not every 65 year old grandmother is ready to crack a Konsole and vi their way to .conf bliss. Ubuntu’s control panel is continually getting better but YAST still leads the pack in putting new users or even seasoned ones at ease with system configuration.

I regularly used SimplyMEPIS from 2003 until 2005 and continue to recommend it for new users despite it not having a YAST Like tool. It now has inherited many things from Ubuntu so it has a greatly improved way of doing things. The added tools also make common tasks easier like emptying out logs, installing graphics drivers, and setting up your monitor/resolution. It’s getting there quickly.

That brings me to OpenSuse. YAST is a fantastic and powerful tool. Still, when I use OpenSuse, I often find that I’m not up to date with applications and I find the repositories move much slower than I’d like. I have to rely on third party repos which isn’t a bad thing but often gets me into trouble with dependencies. So I was on a search for a cutting edge distro that was solid, up to date with the latest packages, and had a YAST-like utility for it. Of course, Mandriva (Mandrake at the time) was a good fit but I found PCLinuxOS even better.

So, today I’ll talk about what I feel sets PCLinuxOS apart from other freely available distros.

Continue reading “PCLinuxOS & What Sets it Apart: Part I”