| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 795, 24 December 2018
Welcome to this year's 52nd issue of DistroWatch Weekly!
Many common devices, particularly mobile phones and tablets, run on ARM processors. These low-power CPUs are ideal for situations where people want their devices to run at low temperatures or on battery. It is still relatively rare to see ARM-powered desktop or laptop computers where people tend to favour performance over energy efficiency, but that may be changing. The Pinebook is an ARM-powered laptop which ships with the KDE neon distribution pre-installed. This week Ladislav Bodnar takes the Pinebook for a spin and reports on how well it performs while running a variety of operating systems. In our Questions and Answers column we discuss disk partitioning and the pros and cons of certain disk layouts. In our News section we link to a discussion with the founder of Bedrock Linux, a meta distribution which mixes components from many other projects. Plus we share updates on the development of the Librem 5 open source phone, and talk about FreeBSD rebasing their ZFS implementation on the Linux port of ZFS. Plus we link to steps being taken to port Alpine Linux to the RISC-V architecture and report on Lubuntu dropping support for 32-bit machines. We are also pleased to share the releases of the past week and link to the torrents we are seeding. Next Monday we will be on holiday, and DistroWatch Weekly will return on January 7th 2019. We wish you all a wonderful holiday season and happy reading!
- Review: First impressions of Pinebook, the $99 Linux laptop
- News: Questions and answers with Bedrock developer, Librem 5 development kits shipped, FreeBSD to use ZFS on Linux code base, Alpine being ported to RISC-V, Lubuntu dropping 32-bit support
- Questions and answers: Separate /home partition and dual booting performance
- Released last week: Linux Mint 19.1, MX Linux 18, NethServer 7.6, SparkyLinux 5.6, HardenedBSD 12-120058
- Torrent corner: Alpine, ArchLabs, FreeBSD, Mint, MX, KDE neon, NethServer, NuTyX, Peppermint, SparkyLinux
- Upcoming releases: UBports 16.04 OTA-7
- Opinion poll: Running a Pinebook
- New distributions: Onix OS, NEMS, Tux Linux
- Reader comments
Listen to the Podcast edition of this week's DistroWatch Weekly in OGG (26MB) and MP3 (20MB) formats.
|Feature Story (by Ladislav Bodnar)
First impressions of Pinebook, the $99 Linux laptop
When I first heard about the Pinebook back in April 2017, I became very excited. I am always on the lookout for a good travel laptop, something that is small (less than 12 inches in screen size), light (not much more than 1 kg), thin and inexpensive. Although there are many nice notebooks that would meet most of the above criteria, they all have one big flaw on the software side of things - they come with Windows pre-installed. The last time I used Windows was in early 2001 and I have no desire to return to that estranged companion with which I'd never had a very good relationship anyway. As such, I don't see a point in paying a hefty license fee for a product I will not use. This disqualifies all computers built by the established manufacturers as they are extremely careful not to irritate the software giant by shipping Linux (quelle horreur!) on their machines.
So what about the specialist Linux laptops assembled by the likes of System76 or Slimbook, you might ask. Well, these have certainly been on my radar for some time, but unfortunately neither of them offers a sub-12" laptop configuration at present. One reasonable compromise would be a Chromebook which is light and cheap and which doesn't come with Windows. However, I've always found Google's implementation of Linux on these machines severely limiting, even in developer's mode (although I hear the more recent Chromebooks with the ability to add Android apps are much more versatile). Installing Linux alongside Google Chrome OS or booting a full-featured Linux distribution from an SD card would be a decent option, but still not ideal. So once the news about Pine64 developing a low-cost, 11.6-inch Linux laptop started circulating on popular tech websites, I became very interested.
Ordering and shipping
Back in April last year, the Pinebook was still just a concept. One could leave an email address on the project's website to show interest and then wait for further news. As months went past with no further news, I almost forgot about the whole thing. Then all of a sudden, on September 6th, 2018, an email from the company announced that the 11.6-inch Pinebook was about to start shipping and if I were still interested, I was welcome to place an order. I did that straight away, expecting to have a shiny new Linux notebook in my possession within a week or so. Unfortunately, that was too optimistic. Further six weeks passed before I heard from Pine64 again - the laptops would start shipping at the end of October, the message said. This once again proved inaccurate as there were further delays, but the Chinese-made product was eventually dispatched to my address from Hong Kong on November 16th via FedEx and, following another delay at the customs, I finally received my much awaited Pinebook on November 24th.
The box contained the laptop packed in a plastic casing, a power adapter, a set of Pine64 stickers and a letter addressed to "Dear Piner", informing me about an interesting change in my Pinebook's hardware configuration - a screen upgrade from the original 1366x768 pixel resolution to an IPS monitor supporting a 1920x1080 pixel resolution. This came at no extra cost to me, but the Pinebook's website already reflected the change with a slight price increase - from US$89 to US$99. Otherwise the laptop came in its default configuration. In any case, the ordering process did not provide any customisation options other than giving a choice between a US or European AC power plug. I imagine it would be possible, for example, to replace the standard 16GB eMMC module with a higher capacity one, but any such request would have to be made via email. As I was eager to lay my hands on the Pinebook as soon as possible, I didn't want to enter into any such communication and potentially delay the shipment.
I had not read any Pinebook reviews prior to receiving the laptop, so I did not know what to expect from this ultra-cheap computer. All I remembered from the day when I ordered the product was that it would come with a "Linux distro" or Android, but once again, no specific choice was given during the ordering process. So my new Pinebook was a little like a box of chocolates - I had no idea what I'd find inside. After plugging it in and pressing the power button, I found my eyes eagerly glued to the black screen with curiosity and anticipation, wondering what distribution and desktop I was about to see in a moment or two. After all that waiting, the first hint of what was to come finally appeared on the screen and, to my great surprise, it was the logo of KDE Plasma!
This I found rather unexpected. After all, I was booting an extremely low-cost and underpowered computer and yet it came with the heaviest of all Linux desktop environments? On the other hand, I was also pleased. KDE has been my preferred desktop since I started playing with Linux nearly 20 years ago and it has powered all of my workstations over the years. It also gave me hope that this machine was no laggard after all, despite the ultra-low price tag. As it turned out, the distribution that shipped on the Pinebook's eMMC module was KDE neon, in its live format. As many of our readers will know, KDE neon is developed by prominent KDE developer Johnathan Riddell; it is based on Ubuntu's current LTS release, but it is frequently updated to include the very latest Plasma desktop, KDE Applications and associated libraries. In other words, KDE neon has a rock-solid, well-tested base with a cutting-edge desktop.
A surprising choice - KDE neon is the distribution shipping on the Pinebook
(full image size: 1,122kB, screen resolution 1920x1080 pixels)
I didn't even know KDE neon produced a build for the ARM architecture and there is certainly no mention of it on the project's download page. You have to do some digging through the distribution's repository to find a directory called pinebook-remix-nonfree. Although the current build is based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and it includes the latest KDE Plasma, it booted into a severely outdated and unsupported Linux kernel, version 3.10.105. This is apparently due to several binary blobs that are needed to support some of the laptop's hardware (hence the reason for the "nonfree" word in the above-mentioned directory name), but the good news is that starting with version 4.19, the mainline Linux kernel should have built-in support for the Pinebook. I proceeded with the installation which went without a hitch, then rebooted the computer. The update utility in the system tray informed me that there were over 400 new updates available and I installed those too.
Detailed hardware specifications are listed on the manufacturer's website, so I won't repeat them here, but it's worth mentioning the processor which is a 1.2 GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53. This architecture is often referred to as AArch64 or ARM64. The laptop has 2GB of RAM which is not upgradeable. By contrast, the 16GB internal eMMC module is user replaceable and the company's online store sells 32GB and 64GB modules for US$25 and US$35 respectively. The laptop can boot either from the eMMC module or from the microSD card inserted into the microSD card slot. It goes without saying that the performance of any operating system installed on the eMMC module should be superior to the one booted from the SD card (provided all other variables are equal), but the latter is great for testing operating systems without having to flash the eMMC drive. As far as I know, it is not possible to install more than one distribution on the eMMC and then dual or triple boot them.
I've already mentioned the upgraded IPS screen which was a pleasant surprise, but using a 1920x1080 pixel resolution on a 11.6-inch monitor is bound to give lots of strain to those of us who no longer have young eyes and perfect eyesight. Fortunately, KDE provides an easy way to scale the desktop (in the "Display" dialog) and to increase the size of the bottom panel. The Pinebook comes with a mini-HDMI port, so theoretically it should be possible to connect the laptop to an external monitor. Unfortunately, I can confirm the many user reports on the product's forums - the mini-HDMI port simply does not work in KDE neon (although it worked in some other distributions I tried later). So there it is, a first major bug. The WiFi worked well though and I was able to connect to my router without any issues. To test the video acceleration, I fired up Firefox and went to YouTube - only to be disappointed by the video playback that kept skipping frames. Don't expect much from the built-in speaker either, but the laptop does have an audio port for connecting external speakers or headphones. So the Pinebook is definitely not a multimedia or gaming machine, as one would suspect.
I found the keyboard on the Pinebook disappointing. Some useful characters often used on the command line are accessible via a rather cumbersome key combination; as an example, the "pipe" (|) character is evoked by holding down both the Fn and Shift keys, plus the pipe key. Ditto for the "quotation mark" (") character. There is another key with the pipe character on it, but it is placed on the right of left Shift key, which is an unusual position and worse, it maps by default to the "greater than" (>) character (the fix is to change the keyboard layout to "US, international AltGr Unicode combining, alternative" to make it work as expected). The design of the two Shift keys is bad as well, especially the right one which is a very narrow button at the extreme right of the keyboard. I am not sure I'll ever be able to get used to this. I compared the Pinebook's keyboard with the one on the Acer One 10.1-inch netbook, but despite the latter computer's smaller size, it comes with more keys and also normal wide Shift keys. Of course, the keys on the Acer netbook are smaller and the spacing between them is narrower, but I am quite sure my fingers would be much more productive there than they will ever be on the Pinebook.
The keyboard layout on the 11.6-inch Pinebook
(full image size: 960kB, screen resolution 1024x815 pixels)
If the keyboard was less than ideal, I thought the touchpad was even worse, at least initially. It actually identifies itself as a "USB mouse" so the usual touchpad configuration options are not available. It emulates the mouse depending on the location of the click - you need to click on the relevant side of the touchpad to invoke a left/right click, but if you click somewhere in the middle, the click won't always register. Tapping works fine though and I found that emulating the left mouse click is easier with a single tap, anywhere on the touchpad. Emulating the right mouse click with a two-finger tap is a hit and miss and the same goes for a two-finger click. Scrolling with two fingers on the Pinebook is not always easy either - if you don't hold your two fingers in a perfect horizontal position then you might accidentally invoke the zoom function instead of a scroll. Perhaps this is why the Firefox browser in KDE neon came with the zoom function disabled by default. Reversing the scroll by selecting that option in KDE's mouse configuration dialog did not work (although there is a workaround using xinput set-prop 8 "Evdev Scrolling Distance" -1 1 1). Still, I could probably get used to the trackpad's anomalies easier than to the quirky keyboard layout. I also tried a USB mouse which worked out of the box.
Another major bug on the Pinebook is related to screen locking after which the laptop is (sometimes, but not always) unable to resume, presenting an unresponsive black screen instead. The simplest workaround is to disable the screen lock, both when resuming from sleep and after a pre-set period of time. This is a known issue that will likely be resolved by a software update in the future. On the positive side, the presence of an ARM processor means impressive battery life. To test it, I unplugged the computer and let it idle without allowing it to go to sleep, only doing occasional web browsing, and it took nearly 20 hours to completely drain the battery! Even with heavy continuous work the battery can easily last 8 hours or more. Recharging it back to 100% took around five hours. The laptop is powered with a 5V DC charger.
As I've mentioned already, the Pinebook ships with KDE neon, which means the latest stable version of KDE Plasma as the default desktop (and regular 100+ package updates every time a new version of Plasma is released). The default installation comes with the latest Firefox browser, LibreOffice 6.0.6, VLC media player 3.0.3, Gwenview, Okular, Kamoso (for using the built-in camera) and a handful of other useful utilities. The distribution's APT software management tool points to ports.ubuntu.com (besides KDE neon's own repository) which provides a substantial range of additional software available for installation, including the likes of Chromium or GIMP. Needless to say, non-free and proprietary software (e.g. the Vivaldi browser) won't work on the Pinebook as most companies developing these applications don't usually provide binary packages for the ARM architecture.
KDE neon is not the only distribution that works on the Pinebook, however. A number of other projects have also started building specialist images for this laptop and the choices are bound to increase significantly in the coming months. The easiest way to try another distribution is to install it on a microSD card, then boot it up after inserting it to the microSD port. The laptop's boot order is "microSD, eMMC" and there is no way to change this, so it will only boot from the eMMC module if there is no microSD card present. Probably the simplest way to create a bootable SD card is by using the Pine64 Installer (a fork of Etcher) which is a user-friendly graphical utility available for Linux (AppImage format), macOS and Windows. After launching it, you'll need to select your Pine64 board, then decide which of the presented operating systems you wish to transfer onto the SD card. The tool will then proceed with downloading the image, transferring it to the card and verifying the integrity of the transferred image. You can also work with an image downloaded separately and stored on the hard disk. Of course, you can always use the good old dd command for this purpose as well.
Pine64 Installer - a user-friendly tool for flashing SD cards with bootable images
(full image size: 1,122kB, screen resolution 1158x683 pixels)
If you wish to install a distribution onto the eMMC module, the process is a little more involved. Once again, the Pine64 Installer comes handy, as it offers several special images that can be transferred to a microSD card, booted up and installed to the internal storage (after answering "yes" to a dialog that asks whether you'd like to install the distribution to the eMMC module). At the time of writing the Pine64 Installer provided three images that could be installed to the eMMC module in this way - the one built by the KDE neon team, a stock Android 6.0 image and an image created by the AOSC Linux community (which uses the MATE desktop). Alternatively, it is also possible to dd an image directly to the eMMC. The Pine64 documentation talks about a preferred way of doing this which involves taking out the controller and using an eMMC-to-USB adapter available from the Pine64 Store.
That document was probably written for users of one the Pine64 development boards where removing the eMMC module is a simple process. With the Pinebook, this is much less practical as it requires unscrewing ten tiny screws at the bottom of the laptop, removing the bottom cover, detaching the stencil that covers the eMMC module and taking out the controller itself - I did it once (to replace the 16GB module with a 64GB one) and while it's not as hard as it sounds, it's not something I want to do too often. It seemed to me that an easier way of getting an image onto the eMMC module would be booting up a distribution installed on a microSD card, downloading a Pinebook image, then using the dd command to transfer that image to the eMMC module. After all, eMMC is just another Flash drive, so it should work. I proceeded to try this method by using "dd if=image-for-pinebook.img of=/dev/mmcblk2" to transfer the image to the eMMC module. This worked great and, after rebooting, I found myself in a brand new distribution (which replaced the original KDE neon on the eMMC).
Manjaro Linux with LXQt is one of the distributions built specifically for the Pinebook
(full image size: 638kB, screen resolution 1920x1080 pixels)
In the course of my testing, I tried all of the distributions available through the Pine64 Installer. I started with Arch Linux which provides a standard (if somewhat spartan) Xfce desktop, plus the Firefox browser, then continued with Manjaro's LXQt variant. Both distributions have switched to the 4.19 Linux kernel which, at the time of writing, seemed to work reasonably well, except for one known issue - no sound support on the Pinebook. On the positive side, the Pinebook's mini HDMI port worked with these distributions. I also tried the Debian-based Q4OS which uses the Trinity desktop (a fork of KDE 3) and which should therefore provide a much lighter alternative to Plasma 5 while still retaining KDE's power and ability to customise the user interface. However, Q4OS has decided to stay with the unsupported 3.10 kernel for now. Overall I found Q4OS excellent on the Pinebook; it is noticeably lighter and faster than KDE neon, but it's still very versatile and customisable.
Q4OS 2.6 and its Trinity desktop running on the Pinebook's eMMC module
(full image size: 187kB, screen resolution 1920x1080 pixels)
A somewhat unusual choice among the available operating systems for the Pinebook is Android 6.0. I spent some time investigating this option, but I came to an obvious conclusion - it's very hard to justify running a system designed for handheld devices on a laptop, especially if the laptop in question does not have a touchscreen. That said, there is perhaps one scenario where Android on the Pinebook could be useful - if you need to run an Android application, but don't have any other Android device at hand. As an example, I was able to add Skype to my Android installation and it worked out of the box, including voice and video. So even though Android may not be a particularly suitable operating system for the Pinebook, it might be worth keeping a microSD card with Android on it in case the need arises.
Stock Android 6.0 boots up from the Pinebook's microSD card
(full image size: 400kB, screen resolution 1920x1080 pixels)
For those users who prefer BSD instead of Linux, here is some good news: NetBSD has developed an early image for the Pinebook. As most of you will know, NetBSD is an operating system that specialises in supporting a vast range of processor architectures and computing devices, so it's hardly surprising that they've been quick to provide an image for the Pinebook. The NetBSD image uses the project's current tree and it is highly experimental. After the first boot, the installer will expand the file system on the microSD card before rebooting. The initial system is command-line only, with the BSD kernel at version 8.99.25. Unfortunately, there is no Pinebook-specific manual about configuring the operating system so one would have to rely on NetBSD's generic documentation to get started. Worse, NetBSD did not recognise the wireless network card present in the laptop (the Pinebook does not have a port for wired networking). As such, this early NetBSD Pinebook image is really only suitable for developers and contributors who want to help with filing bug reports.
The last distribution I tested was AOSC OS. AOSC is a community project that develops a surprisingly large number of rolling-release Linux distributions for various architectures and with several different desktop environments. Their Pinebook edition is built around the MATE desktop and it uses the 4.19 Linux kernel (which means no sound). The desktop itself is light and pleasant to use. The menus are sparsely populated, with the only heavy-duty application present by default being Firefox. The APT sources.list file points to the project's own repository which contains additional software, but it is not as extensive as Debian or Ubuntu repositories. Those users who prefer the GNOME way over KDE will likely find this an excellent option. Additionally, the AOSC OS image supports installation to the Pinebook's eMMC module in the Pine64 Installer.
The AOSC OS community provides a Pinebook image which features the MATE desktop
(full image size: 609kB, screen resolution 1920x1080 pixels)
The Pinebook is an exceptional project created by a bunch of enthusiasts whose mission is to build a full-featured laptop while keeping the price tag to an absolute minimum. Clearly, up until this point in time, nobody has ever achieved anything even remotely similar (ignoring the One Laptop Per Child project which builds simple, low-cost laptops for children). At the same time, this is a very young project and, even though the Pinebook is indeed very usable, it is far from perfect. It has several bugs and some will find a few of its design decisions a little odd. The software issues will certainly be eliminated through updates in the future. The hardware bugs will hopefully be gone by the time the next generation ships to eagerly awaiting customers. In any case, if you decide to order a Pinebook after reading this review, chances are you won't receive it for many long months by which time the product will have no doubt undergone various changes.
It is obvious that the Pinebook is a product built "by the geeks, for the geeks". If you are thinking about buying this laptop for your young child or elderly parent, then please don't. It is not designed for them (unless your young son exhibits signs of turning into a Linux hacker or the grandmother in your family spends a great deal of her waking hours on DistroWatch downloading and installing free operating systems). The Pinebook is clearly not a product for people who use computers mostly for entertainment. (On the Pinebook forums you'll already find users trying to sell the thing.) Plus, you'll prevent somebody more suitable from receiving it. But if you are a Linux enthusiast or an open-source software developer and if you feel comfortable on the command line, I'd find it hard to imagine that you won't be totally enamoured with this exceptional product. It's an engineering marvel, even in this early iteration. That it's even possible to build a full-featured laptop costing less than US$100 is nothing short of a miracle.
As far as software is concerned, the laptop ships with KDE neon which some might find a little too heavy, although certainly not unusable. I can see why the company made the decision to choose it as the default distribution - it's developed by a well-known developer who has put a lot of effort into building a system that is functional, if not completely bug-free. (Which is just as well; after all, what self-respecting geek would enjoy a computer system where there is nothing to tinker with because everything "just works"?) However, some users might prefer a lighter and snappier alternative and after trying out several, I had very favourable impressions of both Q4OS (with Trinity) and AOSC (with MATE). The two distributions that use the Pacman package manager, Arch Linux (with Xfce) and Manjaro Linux (with LXQt) were still in the "preview" stages of their respective developments during my testing and they lacked polish. The NetBSD image was not suitable for the end user when I tested it as it failed to detect the wireless network card while Android seemed like an odd choice for a laptop without a touchscreen.
|Miscellaneous News (by Jesse Smith)
Questions and answers with Bedrock developer, Librem 5 development kits shipped, FreeBSD to use ZFS on Linux code base, Alpine being ported to RISC-V, Lubuntu dropping 32-bit support
Bedrock Linux is a meta Linux distribution which allows users to utilize features from other, typically mutually exclusive distributions. Essentially, users can mix-and-match components as desired. The meta distribution provides compatibility with CentOS and Ubuntu, and access to Arch Linux's Arch User Repository (AUR). The project's founder has engaged in a question and answer session on Reddit to discuss Bedrock Linux and its merits. When describing the beginnings of Bedrock he writes: "Years and years back I experimented with writing my own sandbox software for Linux, more as a learning exercise than to make something practical. At one point my software was too locked down. I could download a PDF with Firefox, but then Evince couldn't open that PDF, which lead me to work on a way to transparently allow certain interactions while disallowing others. Eventually I had an 'Eureka!' moment that my system would be useful to allow software from different distros to work together without conflicting and changed gears in that direction. I never explicitly set out with this as my goal so much as stumbled upon a working solution having come from a different direction and ran with it."
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Purism has been working towards making and shipping a mobile phone with a GNU/Linux operating system for a while now, and the organization has hit an important milestone. The phone, which is a work in progress, is called the Librem 5 and development kits for people working on the phone's software are shipping. "The Librem 5 dev kit's hardware is done and shipping! We are beyond excited for our backers to receive their dev kits before year-end. Our entire PureOS Librem 5 development team will getting the same dev kits, upgrading the generic i.MX 6 boards (which most of the demos you have seen have been based on) to the Purism i.MX 8M based dev kit. We aim from this point forward to have a community assisted development environment. There is still a lot of work required to make the dev kit truly functional for Librem 5 development, so we need your assistance. The frenetic pace of development continues and it's astonishing how much we've accomplished in the two months since we've put the hardware together." According to the project's update, the Librem 5 is scheduled to ship in approximately four months.
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FreeBSD has been shipping with integrated support for the ZFS advanced file system for several years. The implementation of ZFS the FreeBSD operating system uses is imported from the Illumos project and lightly modified to make it work on FreeBSD. Other ports of ZFS traditionally came from the Illumos implementation too. However, the focus of development has shifted and now the bulk of work being done on ZFS is being done through the ZFS on Linux (ZoL) project. This has led some FreeBSD developers to decide to rebase FreeBSD's ZFS implementation off the Linux port. Matthew Macy explains: "FreeBSD has regularly pulled changes from Illumos and tried to push back any bug fixes and new features done in the context of FreeBSD. In the past few years the vast majority of new development in ZFS has taken place in DelphixOS and ZFS on Linux (ZoL). Earlier this year Delphix announced that they will be moving to ZoL. This shift means that there will be little to no net new development of Illumos. While working through the git history of ZoL I have also discovered that many races and locking bugs have been fixed in ZoL and never made it back to Illumos and thus FreeBSD. This state of affairs has led to a general agreement among the stakeholders that I have spoken to that it makes sense to rebase FreeBSD's ZFS on ZoL. Brian Behlendorf has graciously encouraged me to add FreeBSD support directly to ZoL so that we might all have a single shared code base."
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Alpine Linux is a lightweight distribution featuring the musl C library and a small collection of userland utilities provided by BusyBox. Recently work has been going into porting Alpine Linux to the RISC-V open architecture. Drew DeVault reports: "The first order of business is the cross-compiler. RISC-V support landed in binutils 2.28 and gcc 7.1 several releases ago, so no need to worry about adding a RISC-V target to our compiler. Building both with --target=riscv64-linux-musl is sufficient to complete this step. The other major piece is the C standard library, or libc. Unlike the C compiler, this step required some extra effort on my part - the RISC-V port of musl libc, which Alpine Linux is based on, is a work-in-progress and has not yet been upstreamed." Further details on the steps to get Alpine working on RISC-V is covered in DeVault's blog post.
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The Lubuntu distribution is one of the lighter official flavours of Ubuntu and is often used on older computers. The Lubuntu team has reported that they will no longer support 32-bit computers in future releases of the distribution. "With i386-only machines becoming an artifact of the past, it has become increasingly clear to the Lubuntu Team that we need to evaluate its removal from the architectures we support. After careful consideration, we regret to inform our users that Lubuntu 19.04 and future versions will not see a release for the i386 architecture. Please do note that we will continue to support Lubuntu 18.04 LTS i386 users as first-class citizens until its End of Life date in April of 2021."
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These and other news stories can be found on our Headlines page.
|Questions and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Separate /home partition and dual booting performance
Two-partitions-or-one asks: I've read that it is a good idea to place the /home folder on a separate partition. Is this always a good idea? What are the pros & cons to putting /home on its own partition?
DistroWatch answers: Putting the /home directory on its own partition, rather than having it share the root partition, is almost always a good plan. Keeping your /home separate means that your user's files and configuration settings are kept separate from the operating system. Having your files and operating system on different partitions is almost always a good idea because it allows you to upgrade or re-install the operating system without affecting your data or settings. Many people also like to keep a separate /home and share it between multiple distributions, which usually works well (though it can introduce some settings conflicts).
There are very few drawbacks to keeping your root partition and /home separate. One potential problem is that you need to set the size of each partition up front, during the install process. If you make one partition too small, it is a hassle to try to resize the partitions later. People who place everything on just one partition have some added flexibility as their data and programs will both fill up the same, large pool of storage space.
Assuming you use separate partitions for your operating system and /home, try to make sure you set aside enough space for both partitions right from the beginning. I recommend putting aside around 20-30GB of space for the root partition, a few gigabytes of space for swap, and give the rest over to your /home partition.
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Planning-to-dual-boot asks: Will dual booting with another distribution slow down my computer?
DistroWatch answers: Your computer will not run slower with a second operating system installed. Your system may take a few extra seconds to start since it should pause at the boot menu to ask you which operating system you want to use. But once the boot process completes either operating system will run at full speed.
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More answers can be found in our Questions and Answers archive.
|Released Last Week
NethServer is a CentOS-based Linux distribution for servers. The product's main feature is a modular design which makes it simple to assign the server various roles. The project's latest release is NethServer 7.6 which introduces multiple backup storage options, Rspamd is included for blocking unwanted e-mail messages and Fail2Ban can track attacker activity inside jails. "Today, we're happy to announce that NethServer 7.6 has been released and is publicly available. This release marks a big step forward for communication, collaboration and security, introducing: Multiple backups, with new storage backends and encryption. New modern look and feel for NethServer user interface (alpha). E-mail: Rspamd is now the default, with quarantine support. WebTop Groupware: CalDAV/CarDAV server, optimized layout for tablets, favorite folder and video calls. Fail2Ban: track the activity of the attackers with new jails. nDPI: performance and security improved. Accounts: easily delete a list of users, DC container upgraded and password expiration management improved." More information can be found in the project's release announcement.
SparkyLinux is a lightweight distribution based on Debian. The project's latest release is SparkyLinux 5.6 which is based on Debian's Testing 'Buster' branch. The new version includes several package updates and includes PAE support in the 32-bit kernel. Users who need non-PAE kernels are advised to switch to SparkyLinux's Stable branch. "There are new live/install ISO images of SparkyLinux 5.6 'Nibiru' available to download. This it the 4th and the last this year ISO image update of the rolling line, which is based on Debian Testing 'Buster'. Changes: system updated from Debian testing repos as of December 16, 2018; Linux kernel 4.19.9 (4.19.10 & 4.20-rc7 available at Sparky 'Unstable' repos); the Calamares installer 3.2.1; many small fixes. Changes of small window managers configuration (can be installed via Minimal ISO images or APTus): a previous sound applet changed by pnmixer; PCManFM file manager changed by Thunar; added packages: xfce4-notifyd, xfce4-power-manager, sparky-fileopen; Thunar daemon is enabled as default." See the project's release announcement for more details.
HardenedBSD is a security-enhanced fork of FreeBSD. the project has released a new stable branch, 12-STABLE, and 12-1200058 is the first version of the new series. The new branch includes the ability to run bhyve inside a jail and introduces Non-Cross-DSO Control-Flow Integrity (CFI). "Non-Cross-DSO CFI is an exploit mitigation technique that helps prevent attackers from modifying the behavior of a program and jumping to undefined or arbitrary memory locations. Microsoft has implemented a variant of CFI, which they term Control Flow Guard, or CFG. The PaX team has spent the last few years perfecting their Reuse Attack Protector, RAP. CFI, CFG, and RAP all attempt to accomplish the same goal, with RAP being the most complete and effective implementation. Clang's CFI is stronger than Microsoft's CFG and PaX Team's RAP is stronger than both CFI and CFG. RAP would be a great addition to HardenedBSD; however, it requires a GPLv3 toolchain and is patented." Further details can be found in the project's release announcement.
ArchLabs Linux 2018.12.17
Matthew Dobson has announced the release of ArchLabs Linux 2018.12.17. Originally a minimalist, Arch-based live distribution with Openbox, the latest release of ArchLabs Linux is a radical departure from the original concept as the distribution is now designed for users who like to customise their system during installation. Version 2018.12.17 is provided as an installation image only and it introduces a comprehensive selection of options, including a fine-grained choice of desktops/window managers (bspwm, Cinnamon, dwm, i3-gasp, GNOME, KDE Plasma, Openbox and Xfce) and applications: "The Team and I are happy to present the ArchLabs 2018.12 release. It has been almost six months since our latest release and this one brings a different approach. We have decided to do away with the live environment. When you start your USB install you will be thrown straight into the installer. Instructions on how to start the installer are right there. No need for passwords with this live USB either. Most of the changes with ArchLabs this release is under the hood but we do have some other more obvious changes." Read the full release announcement for further details.
ArchLabs 2018.12.17 -- The default ArchLabs graphical interface
(full image size: 99kB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Linux Mint 19.1
The Linux Mint team have published an update to the distribution's 19.x series. The new release, Linux Mint 19.1, is based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and is available in three flavours: Cinnamon, MATE and Xfce. Apart from some visual and performance improvements to Cinnamon, Linux Mint also makes it easier to report bugs and help developers fix problems: "When software crashes tools such as mintreport produce a stack trace our developers can look at to understand the cause of the crash. This is the first step towards fixing such a bug. For the stack trace to be meaningful, users need to have debug symbols installed. In an effort to reduce bandwidth for their mirrors, Debian decided to move debug symbols outside of the main repositories. This decision affected not only Debian and LMDE but also Ubuntu and Linux Mint and made it much more difficult for users to install these symbols. To simplify this process, support for debug symbols was added into the Software Sources tool. Adding debug symbol repositories can now be done with a click of the mouse."
MX Linux 18
The MX Linux team have announced the release of version 18 of their distribution. The new release is based on Debian 9.6 "Stretch" and features both core system updates and new versions of desktop applications. "We are pleased to offer MX-18 Continuum. MX-18 offers the following features: Updated packages - the latest updates from Debian 9.6 (Stretch), antiX and MX repos. GIMP 2.10 (with plugins); MESA 18.2.6; updated firmware; 4.19.5 kernel (with blk-mq file system corruption patch). The new kernels feature meltdown/spectre mitigation, even on the 32-bit kernel. The 32-bit ISO has a PAE kernel for RAM usage above 4GB. Easily change kernels, say to the latest liquorix kernel or downgrade to Debian Stable Kernel (4.9) with MX Package Installer. Browser: Firefox 64.0. Video Player: VLC 3.0.3. Music Manager/Player: Clementine 1.3.1. Email client: Thunderbird 52.9.1. Office suite: LibreOffice 6.0.1. Some Xfce components updated (Xfce-settings, Thunar, etc...)" Additional information can be found in the project's release announcement.
MX Linux 18 -- The MX Welcome screen
(full image size: 1.5MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Peppermint OS 9-20181222
Mark Greaves has announed the release of an version of Peppermint OS 9. Peppermint OS is a lightweight distribution based on Ubuntu and featuring a combination of local and web-based applications. The new version is based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and offers a number of improvements: "Swapped VLC for Xplayer (we've had reports that VLC has been getting a little 'flaky' for some users over their last few releases). Removed the Linux Mint 'Levels' from mintupdate (in line with our update policy, not Linux Mints). Fixed the ICE applications 'Where in the menu ?' category names, so they now match the Xfce Whisker Menu categories (i.e. 'Sound & Video' renamed to 'Multimedia', and 'System Tools' renamed to 'System'). Added 'Accessibility Settings' utility to the Peppermint Settings Panel 'System' Category. Added 'Enable/Disable Neofetch' utility to the Peppermint Settings Panel 'Tweaks' Category. Added 'System Information' utility to the Peppermint Settings Panel 'System' Category. Added a 'Transparent' wallpaper (so users can now set solid colour backgrounds via the 'Wallpapers' utility)." Further details can be found in the project's release announcement.
NuTyX is a French Linux distribution (with multi-language support) built from Linux From Scratch and Beyond Linux From Scratch, with a custom package manager called "cards". The project has released NuTyX 10.5 which offers a number of software updates in Base (command line) and MATE (desktop) editions. "I'm very please to announce the new NuTyX 10.5 release. NuTyX 10.5 comes with Linux kernel 4.14.89 LTC, glibc 2.28, GCC 8.2.0, Binutils 2.30, Python 3.7.1, X.Org Server 1.20.3, Qt 5.11.3, GTK+ 3.24.1, GIMP 2.10.8, KDE Plasma 5.12.6 LTS, kf5 5.53.0, MATE 1.20.3, Xfce 4.12.3, Firefox 64.0. A second kernel is proposed for people who want to use the very last version of the kernel 4.19.11. NuTyX 10.4 users are invited to upgrade. Four new ISO images are available in 64-bit and 32-bit variants. Sizes are from 315 MB up to 1.29 GB. They are available on the download page. The 64-bit image is available in 'Fixed' and 'Rolling' release models as a Base and a MATE ISO image. The installer has been split in two installation modes - simple and advanced." Further information on NuTyX 10.5 can be found on the distribution's news page.
Samuel F. Baggen has announced the release of Elive 3.0.3, an updated build of the project's desktop-oriented Linux distribution based on Debian 7 "Wheezy" and featuring a highly customised Enlightenment 17 desktop: "The major stable release of Elive 3.0 has been updated. We were so pleased with this stable release of Elive and the result has been so amazing that there's almost nothing that needed to be changed from it. It was a truly a rock solid system and we wanted to update it with a slightly updated and polished build which includes: wallpaper - dynamically changes depending of the hour of the day, looking more magical and nicer for your eyes, and it also includes a hidden surprise for Christmas; pop-ups - you won't be annoyed any more by the Hotkeys Document that appears in the desktop startup, we moved it to the launcher bar of applications; desktop - disabled the screen off timeout and the asking for the presentation mode; Flash - updated the Adobe Flash player for common browsers to the last version, tested on Chrome, Firefox and Opera; multiuser - improved the multiple user desktop switching mode compatibility...." Read the rest of the release announcement for more details.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
The table below provides a list of torrents DistroWatch is currently seeding. If you do not have a bittorrent client capable of handling the linked files, we suggest installing either the Transmission or KTorrent bittorrent clients.
Archives of our previously seeded torrents may be found in our Torrent Archive. We also maintain a Torrents RSS feed for people who wish to have open source torrents delivered to them. To share your own open source torrents of Linux and BSD projects, please visit our Upload Torrents page.
Torrent Corner statistics:
- Total torrents seeded: 1,176
- Total data uploaded: 22.9TB
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
Running a Pinebook
Our Feature Story this week talks about the benefits and drawbacks to running a Pinebook, an ARM-powered laptop which ships with a Linux distro pre-installed. We would like to know what you think of the Pinebook. Do you have one, are you planning to get one? Let us know what you think of the device in the comments.
You can see the results of our previous poll on Void's unusual features in last week's edition. All previous poll results can be found in our poll archives.
Running a Pinebook
|I have a Pinebook and I like it: ||21 (2%)|
| I have a Pinebook and do not like it: ||12 (1%)|
| I do not have a Pinebook and want one: ||392 (32%)|
| I do not have a Pinebook and do not plan to get one: ||714 (59%)|
| Other: ||74 (6%)|
Distributions added to waiting list
- Onix OS. Onix OS is an Arch Linux based distribution providing an O language development platform.
- NEMS. NEMS is the Nagios Enterprise Monitoring Server for single board computers. NEMS Linux is a modern pre-configured, customized and ready-to-deploy Nagios Core image designed to run on low-cost micro computers. At its core NEMS is a lightweight Debian Stretch deployment optimized for performance, reliability and ease of use.
- Tux Linux. Tux Linux is a lightweight distribution based on Ubuntu and featuring the Xfce desktop.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. We will be on holiday next week and the next instalment will be published on Monday, 7 January 2019. Past articles and reviews can be found through our Article Search page. To contact the authors please send e-mail to:
- Jesse Smith (feedback, questions and suggestions: distribution reviews/submissions, questions and answers, tips and tricks)
- Ladislav Bodnar (feedback, questions, donations, comments)
- Bruce Patterson (podcast)
|Linux Foundation Training
|• Issue 807 (2019-03-25): Pardus 17.5, finding out which user changed a file, new Budgie features, a tool for browsing FreeBSD's sysctl values|
|• Issue 806 (2019-03-18): Kubuntu vs KDE neon, Nitrux's znx, notes on Debian's election, SUSE becomes an independent entity|
|• Issue 805 (2019-03-11): EasyOS 1.0, managing background services, Devuan team debates machine ID file, Ubuntu Studio works to remain an Ubuntu Community Edition|
|• Issue 804 (2019-03-04): Condres OS 19.02, securely erasing hard drives, new UBports devices coming in 2019, Devuan to host first conference|
|• Issue 803 (2019-02-25): Septor 2019, preventing windows from stealing focus, NetBSD and Nitrux experiment with virtual machines, pfSense upgrading to FreeBSD 12 base|
|• Issue 802 (2019-02-18): Slontoo 18.07.1, NetBSD tests newer compiler, Fedora packaging Deepin desktop, changes in Ubuntu Studio|
|• Issue 801 (2019-02-11): Project Trident 18.12, the meaning of status symbols in top, FreeBSD Foundation lists ongoing projects, Plasma Mobile team answers questions|
|• Issue 800 (2019-02-04): FreeNAS 11.2, using Ubuntu Studio software as an add-on, Nitrux developing znx, matching operating systems to file systems|
|• Issue 799 (2019-01-28): KaOS 2018.12, Linux Basics For Hackers, Debian 10 enters freeze, Ubuntu publishes new version for IoT devices|
|• Issue 798 (2019-01-21): Sculpt OS 18.09, picking a location for swap space, Solus team plans ahead, Fedora trying to get a better user count|
|• Issue 797 (2019-01-14): Reborn OS 2018.11.28, TinyPaw-Linux 1.3, dealing with processes which make the desktop unresponsive, Debian testing Secure Boot support|
|• Issue 796 (2019-01-07): FreeBSD 12.0, Peppermint releases ISO update, picking the best distro of 2018, roundtable interview with Debian, Fedora and elementary developers|
|• Issue 795 (2018-12-24): Running a Pinebook, interview with Bedrock founder, Alpine being ported to RISC-V, Librem 5 dev-kits shipped|
|• Issue 794 (2018-12-17): Void 20181111, avoiding software bloat, improvements to HAMMER2, getting application overview in GNOME Shell|
|• Issue 793 (2018-12-10): openSUSE Tumbleweed, finding non-free packages, Debian migrates to usrmerge, Hyperbola gets FSF approval|
|• Issue 792 (2018-1203): GhostBSD 18.10, when to use swap space, DragonFly BSD's wireless support, Fedora planning to pause development schedule|
|• Issue 791 (2018-11-26): Haiku R1 Beta1, default passwords on live media, Slax and Kodachi update their media, dual booting DragonFly BSD on EFI|
|• Issue 790 (2018-11-19): NetBSD 8.0, Bash tips and short-cuts, Fedora's networking benchmarked with FreeBSD, Ubuntu 18.04 to get ten years of support|
|• Issue 789 (2018-11-12): Fedora 29 Workstation and Silverblue, Haiku recovering from server outage, Fedora turns 15, Debian publishes updated media|
|• Issue 788 (2018-11-05): Clu Linux Live 6.0, examining RAM consumpion, finding support for older CPUs, more Steam support for running Windows games on Linux, update from Solus team|
|• Issue 787 (2018-10-29): Lubuntu 18.10, limiting application access to specific users, Haiku hardware compatibility list, IBM purchasing Red Hat|
|• Issue 786 (2018-10-22): elementary OS 5.0, why init keeps running, DragonFly BSD enables virtual machine memory resizing, KDE neon plans to drop older base|
|• Issue 785 (2018-10-15): Reborn OS 2018.09, Nitrux 1.0.15, swapping hard drives between computers, feren OS tries KDE spin, power savings coming to Linux|
|• Issue 784 (2018-10-08): Hamara 2.1, improving manual pages, UBports gets VoIP app, Fedora testing power saving feature|
|• Issue 783 (2018-10-01): Quirky 8.6, setting up dual booting with Ubuntu and FreeBSD, Lubuntu switching to LXQt, Mint works on performance improvements|
|• Issue 782 (2018-09-24): Bodhi Linux 5.0.0, Elive 3.0.0, Solus publishes ISO refresh, UBports invites feedback, Linux Torvalds plans temporary vacation|
|• Issue 781 (2018-09-17): Linux Mint 3 "Debian Edition", file systems for SSDs, MX makes installing Flatpaks easier, Arch team answers questions, Mageia reaches EOL|
|• Issue 780 (2018-09-10): Netrunner 2018.08 Rolling, Fedora improves language support, how to customize Kali Linux, finding the right video drivers|
|• Issue 779 (2018-09-03): Redcore 1806, keeping ISO downloads safe from tampering, Lubuntu makes Calamares more flexible, Ubuntu improves GNOME performance|
|• Issue 778 (2018-08-27): GuixSD 0.15.0, ReactOS 0.4.9, Steam supports Windows games on Linux, Haiku plans for beta, merging disk partitions|
|• Issue 777 (2018-08-20): YunoHost 220.127.116.11, limiting process resource usage, converting file systems on Fedora, Debian turns 25, Lubuntu migrating to Wayland|
|• Issue 776 (2018-08-13): NomadBSD 1.1, Maximum storage limits on Linux, openSUSE extends life for 42.3, updates to the Librem 5 phone interface|
|• Issue 775 (2018-08-06): Secure-K OS 18.5, Linux is about choice, Korora tests community spin, elementary OS hires developer, ReactOS boots on Btrfs|
|• Issue 774 (2018-07-30): Ubuntu MATE & Ubuntu Budgie 18.04, upgrading software from source, Lubuntu shifts focus, NetBSD changes support policy|
|• Issue 773 (2018-07-23): Peppermint OS 9, types of security used by different projects, Mint reacts to bugs in core packages, Slackware turns 25|
|• Issue 772 (2018-07-16): Hyperbola GNU/Linux-libre 0.2.4, UBports running desktop applications, OpenBSD auto-joins wi-fi networks, boot environments and zedenv|
|• Issue 771 (2018-07-09): Linux Lite 4.0, checking CPUs for bugs, configuring GRUB, Mint upgrade instructions, SUSE acquired by EQT|
|• Issue 770 (2018-07-02): Linux Mint 19, Solus polishes desktop experience, MintBox Mini 2, changes to Fedora's installer|
|• Issue 769 (2018-06-25): BunsenLabs Helium, counting Ubuntu users, UBports upgrading to 16.04, Fedora CoreOS, FreeBSD turns 25|
|• Issue 768 (2018-06-18): Devuan 2.0.0, using pkgsrc to manage software, the NOVA filesystem, OpenBSD handles successful cron output|
|• Issue 767 (2018-06-11): Android-x86 7.1-r1, transferring files over OpenSSH with pipes, LFS with Debian package management, Haiku ports LibreOffice|
|• Issue 766 (2018-06-04): openSUSE 15, overview of file system links, Manjaro updates Pamac, ReactOS builds itself, Bodhi closes forums|
|• Issue 765 (2018-05-28): Pop!_OS 18.04, gathering system information, Haiku unifying ARM builds, Solus resumes control of Budgie|
|• Issue 764 (2018-05-21): DragonFly BSD 5.2.0, Tails works on persistent packages, Ubuntu plans new features, finding services affected by an update|
|• Issue 763 (2018-05-14): Fedora 28, Debian compatibility coming to Chrome OS, malware found in some Snaps, Debian's many flavours|
|• Issue 762 (2018-05-07): TrueOS 18.03, live upgrading Raspbian, Mint plans future releases, HardenedBSD to switch back to OpenSSL|
|• Issue 761 (2018-04-30): Ubuntu 18.04, accessing ZFS snapshots, UBports to run on Librem 5 phones, Slackware makes PulseAudio optional|
|• Issue 760 (2018-04-23): Chakra 2017.10, using systemd to hide files, Netrunner's ARM edition, Debian 10 roadmap, Microsoft develops Linux-based OS|
|• Issue 759 (2018-04-16): Neptune 5.0, building containers with Red Hat, antiX introduces Sid edition, fixing filenames on the command line|
|• Issue 758 (2018-04-09): Sortix 1.0, openSUSE's Transactional Updates, Fedora phasing out Python 2, locating portable packages|
|• Issue 757 (2018-04-02): Gatter Linux 0.8, the UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook, Red Hat turns 25, super long term support kernels|
|• Issue 756 (2018-03-26): NuTyX 10.0, Neptune supplies Debian users with Plasma 5.12, SolydXK on a Raspberry Pi, SysV init development|
|• Full list of all issues|
Star Labs - Laptops built for Linux.
View our range including the Star Lite, Star LabTop and more. Available with a choice of Ubuntu or Linux Mint pre-installed with many more distributions supported. Visit Star Labs for information, to buy and get support.
|Random Distribution |
Troppix was a stand-alone Linux live CD based on Debian GNU/Linux, aimed at security professionals, penetration testers and auditors. In particular, Troppix features support for a wide range of wireless cards, and offers several tools for detecting and penetrating wireless networks. Troppix also includes several well known security tools, such as the nmap port scanner and the metasploit framework for vulnerability exploitation.