TUX Issue Preview: April 2006

TUX's Editor in Chief offers a peek at what you can expect in the next issue.

by Kevin Shockey

A distribution smackdown is going on, and it looks to be a no-rules brawl. That's right, TUX is cooking up something special for its first anniversary issue.

In Issue 12, available April 1, 2006, TUX features its first Linux distribution review and comparison. We feature seven reviews of some of the most popular Linux distributions. As explained in our review introduction, we wanted to capture these reviews from the freshest "out-of-the-box" perspective possible. For me, this was important because once you've used Linux as a desktop for a few years, you tend to forget what it feels like to be new to Linux--especially if the new user happens to be an ordinary user and not an engineer.

One of the most frequent questions new Linux users have is, "Why are there so many different distributions?" Without a doubt, this can be a confusing situation. Which one is better? Which one does what you want and need? Ultimately, our Smackdown issue is meant to help reduce this confusion. Nevertheless, our approach to the reviews might be fallible, and we're certain someone has had a negative experience with our Editor's Choice selection. What we've done, though, is give new Linux users a realistic look at many popular distributions. In addition, we explain why we believe mobility and multimedia, among other categories, are important issues for the new user. We also tell you what to expect from distributions regarding those areas.

One question we don't answer in the upcoming issue, however, is why so many different distributions are available. So let me take the opportunity here to address why hundreds of options exist. In general, I believe there are two main reasons for the plethora of Linux distributions. First, if you have the necessary skills and patience, it is relatively easy to create a new distribution. So for many people, creating a distribution is a hobby. That hobby may have been born of fascination, curiosity or the desire to learn, but it usually ends with a new distribution and another big Linux fan. Ultimately, I believe this accounts for the bulk of the distributions available. Second, some people build a distribution that meets a particular need. In these cases, people have a unique problem that cannot be solved by existing distributions. Necessity pushes them into action, and the fruits of their efforts are new distributions.

For most, these explanations are obvious and completely understandable. But why do the creators of these distributions then make them available for others to use? It's a matter of Licensing. GNU/Linux is available for use under the terms of the General Public License. As with all software, when we obtain Linux, we do not "own" the software. Instead, we own a license to use the software. The license is that long, dense text document often displayed before we download free and open-source software. You know, the one we never read. Typically, that document is the General Public License (GPL). When we download and use Linux, we agree to the terms of that license. Several clauses within the GPL dictate that people who make changes to the software must make their changes available to others under the terms of the very same GPL. Therefore, they make the new distribution and the underlying source code available to the public. This is one of the many freedoms that GPLed software guarantees.

Besides the license-related reasons, most people make their distributions available for pragmatic reasons. First, they understand that if they encountered an unmet need, many other people most likely are suffering from the same unsatisfied need. Second, they understand that they cannot test the entire distribution themselves, so they offer the Linux distribution available to the public to enlist the community's help in finding errors. Further, as I state in my editorial column in the coming issue, they want their solution to be useful enough that it actually is used. The biggest compliment you can give to creators of free and open-source software is to use their software.

For me, I don't enjoy the potential confusion of the many distributions, but I believe it solves an important problem in the Microsoft one-size-fits-all approach to operating systems. In my opinion, the strategy of using one operating system to meet all demands is incorrect. When someone builds software that meets all needs, the resulting program includes a potentially large chunk of functionality that many do not use. Unfortunately, whether or not you use that functionality, it still is packaged up and delivered to you. The industry affectionately labels this bloatware; software that includes many features that are useless to a majority of users. The Linux community's response to bloatware is hundreds of Linux distributions and hundreds of thousands of open-source projects that are pared down in scope.

Of course, as in life, the trick is understanding exactly what you need or want. Choosing the right distribution requires some thought about what you intend to do with your computer. If you're unsure exactly what those needs might be, then any one of the options we review this month may be right for you. However, if you are able to pinpoint the type of work you expect to do, you might be able to find a distribution that better meets your needs. And, if you can't find one now that exactly meets your needs, someone probably is working on creating it. Through the power of the GPL license and the vast Linux community, we can count on a constant stream of innovation and selection.

The new issue of TUX will be available on April 1, 2006, on the TUX Web site. A subscription is required if you're not already subscribed. Hopefully, if this review is as successful as we think it might be--which depends on our readers--we'll repeat our distribution review annually. No other magazine focuses on the new Linux user's experience, so where else are going to find distribution recommendations written with you in mind?

Web Editor - Tue, 2006-03-28 00:14.
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Linux distro u say

Slackware Slackware Slackware Slackware
Slackware Slackware Slackware Slackware
Slackware Slackware Slackware Slackware
Slackware Slackware Slackware Slackware

need i say more

Brian Kellet (not verified) - Sun, 2006-05-21 20:41.

More GPL Myths...

Unfortunately, this editorial perpetuates one of the most common misconceptions about the GNU GPL. In your own words:

"When we download and use Linux, we agree to the terms of that license. Several clauses within the GPL dictate that people who make changes to the software must make their changes available to others under the terms of the very same GPL. Therefore, they make the new distribution and the underlying source code available to the public."

This is flatly FALSE. "Downloading" and "using" GPLed software does not bind anyone to the terms of this license -- you can do both of these things without reading and/or agreeing with the terms of the GPL. Rather, users of GPLed software are bound by the terms of the license if and when they choose to DISTRIBUTE the (possibly modified) software to others. As the GPL FAQ states:

"Does the GPL require that source code of modified versions be posted to the public?

The GPL does not require you to release your modified version. You are free to make modifications and use them privately, without ever releasing them. This applies to organizations (including companies), too; an organization can make a modified version and use it internally without ever releasing it outside the organization.

But if you release the modified version to the public in some way, the GPL requires you to make the modified source code available to the program's users, under the GPL.

Thus, the GPL gives permission to release the modified program in certain ways, and not in other ways; but the decision of whether to release it is up to you."

-- http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html

Therefore, anyone is free to create their own distribution built from GPL-licensed code without ANY obligation to share it with others. The real reason that people who create distros choose to share their creations with others is because they like to share, and enjoy the benefits of sharing and cooperation. It's not the result of some spurious legal obligation!

Alex Berkman (not verified) - Tue, 2006-05-02 15:01.

Tux Magazine rocks!!

Dear Sir,

I am regular reader of Tux magazine since its inception. Tux magazine really rocks in quality of contents and indepth knowledge.
I learned so many new things because of Tux magazine and I would like to thank for the same.

Keep it up and I am waiting for this really wonderful magazine in print edition in India.

Regards.
Santosh Tirthpurikar

Santosh Tirthpurikar (not verified) - Sat, 2006-04-15 06:24.

Distribution Smackdown

Couldn't agree less with the appraisal and score given to Mandriva. After reading the article I decided to give it a try. Found that the boot loader ignored my other operating systems, didn't recognize my onboard ethernet port and gForce 6100 video adapter. Very dissapointing to say the least. Noob-friendly installer?

In comparison, SuSE 10, Ubuntu/Kubuntu, and Fedora Core 5 identified all my hardware successfully and left me with a boot loader listing all my installed OSes.

Actually it isn't very clear how the test comparisons were made in this admittedly unscientific assessment, as it doesn't seem that any of the same reviewers reviewed the other distributions.

Wolf (not verified) - M - , 2006-04-03 15:23.

I have 4 machines and am

I have 4 machines and am using Mandriva ( Mandrake) since version 8.2
The bootloader always recognised all my partitions, my graphics cards ( onboard or in slot ) and my onboard network chips.

On the other hand, I had many times problems with the above on Ubuntu/Kubuntu releases, except now on Dapper

wolf+s (not verified) - M - , 2006-05-01 00:38.

I could not agree more. If

I could not agree more. If you want to do a real smackdown then build a computer that has the most difficult to detect stuff you can find like a network printer, wireless routers, access points, etc. Put it all together in one machine and then load the distros one at a time. Then tell us which one(s) did a credible job.
Better yet, have someone NOT familiar with Linux try it. Then it will be a smackdown.

dedgar (not verified) - Sun, 2006-04-16 21:50.

Distro Smackdown in April 2006 issue

Haven't read the article yet, but I hope that Vector Linux is mentioned. I'm amazed at how many distributions seem to have sprung from Slackware.

Your magazine is devoted to new users. VL deserves mention because it so easy to install and configure. Getting my ThinkPad soundcard recognized was a breeze, for one example. SuSE 9.3 and Ubantu 'breezy badger' still have not figured out how to do sound on old ThinkPads. I like IceWM as a window manager.

Vectorbie (not verified) - Sun, 2006-04-02 13:34.

printers

I have read all eleven issues of Tux.
And not one issue has been written to comfort us the "reader" on the problems encountered with printer installation and crashes.
The near obscure instruction even when filled in correctly often will not install the printer. And if the installer is luck enough to get it to print, the printer will fail for other reasons the user has no clue as to how to fix the problem.

I have read many explainations as to why this happens.
From the point of view that Tux says it writes from, this should be a much hotter topic for Tux to face than the many rarely used application Tux has covered. Many are cute but of little real value.
We don't need "ANOTHER" comparision issue.

A smackdown true to the defination is "not another" comparision issue.
The first 6 issues, OK, Tux has to have a starting point and reviewing the open source software is to be expected and accepted.
From now on get real, and use the biggest share of the magizine to inform the reader of the real problems with linux, the desktop, configuration and solutions if there are any. If not, tell use!

The March '05 issue Phil Hughes had us comparing Linux to a car.
Well, installing and fixing printers is not what is should be for those who wish to fill-up and drive. How much more importance can one place on dependable printing? None, zero.

If your going to be the "mouthpiece" for software as the Microsoft magazines are, then please tell us.

Have a good one,
Sam

sam b - ham (not verified) - Thu, 2006-03-30 14:21.

Correction

"Peak" should be "peek" in the article subtitle. If this was a wiki, I'd make the correction myself, but we know how dangerous that can be.

xagr - aut (not verified) - Wed, 2006-03-29 06:11.