Mandriva’s future?

Now that my blog is not aggregated anymore on Planet Mandriva, I can safely express my opinion about Mandriva’s future without offending too many people.

Recently it became clear that Mandriva was once again in serious financial trouble. Mandriva 2010.1 was even delayed because of that, although not much explanation was given. In the end the company was saved by a new investor, but how things will involve in the more long-term, remains unclear.

Probably because of the financial crisis and the uncertainty of the future of the company, more and more employees started leaving the company, among them some people who played a very important role in the development of the distribution and who have been working for Mandriva for a very long time. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

Employees seem to be unhappy because of their doubts of the future of the company and once even the most faithful employees have the impression that the ship starts sinking, everyone leaves as fast as possible. Because nobody wants to be the last one and go down with the ship… Some of them clearly expressed their frustration with the management of the company in their goodbye message sent to the public mailing lists. There have not been any indications that these employees are being replaced.

The last few years Mandriva had always trouble keeping up with the other big distributions because of lack of staff and that will only become worse now that the company faces more cost cuttings. Does this distribution still have a future? I am not sure whether the company will still continue investing in the distribution. Actually I think it is a waste of money investing in something which will always lag behind the competition. Maybe the company could drop the distribution and specialize in Linux services. On the other hand, I am not sure what is the chance of succeeding if you throw away the main product for which you are best known. Anyway, I can believe that the Mandriva distribution would survive even if the company stopped working on it because right now a lot of work is already being done by external contributors.

Now I have the feeling that Mandriva is not much more anymore than any of those smaller alternative distributions, like PCLinuxOS or Slackware. Those distributions will always have their share of fans but they do not play a significant role in the development of Linux. Already for several years most real innovations happen under the impulse of companies like Red Hat and Novell. Mandriva’s reputation has been very problematic for a long time already and this will definitely not improve after all what is happening now.

I have used Mandriva with pleasure on all my machines for about 10 years and I have always strongly defended the distribution in the past when people criticized it. But now I can only conclude that for me Mandriva does not have any future anymore and that it is time to move on.

So thank you to all the people who made Mandriva such a great distribution in the past and thanks to whom I learned a lot about Linux in those 10 years. I wish them all the best now and in the future!

Why prefer Debian GNU/Linux over another distribution

Quite some time ago I wrote a blog post explaining why I preferred Mandriva over other distributions. But I have now switched to Debian GNU/Linux, so it is time for an update. I will mostly compare with Mandriva because that is where I come from and what I know the best, although most points are rather universal.

So, these are some reasons why I prefer Debian GNU/Linux over other distributions:

  • All officially released Debian GNU/Linux stable versions are supported for a long time. Where most other free distributions are supported for about 1,5 year, this is much longer for Debian stable. For example, security updates for Debian Etch were published up to about 3 years after its release.
  • Debian is more stable than most other distributions. This is due to the large amount of testers and due to Debian’s unique development model: the “unstable” branch contains only software which is considered stable upstream (with a few generally accepted exceptions). When a package is in “unstable” for 10 days without new release critical bugs it gets moved to the “testing” distribution. The stable releases are a snapshot of the testing distribution after a freeze during which all release critical bugs are fixed. Releases of the stable distribution are not time driven: the stable distribution is only released when it is really ready.
  • By using apt pinning it is possible to easily mix and match packages from different repositories so that you can run the latest version of specific applications. Apt pinning can be used to pick packages from the extensive backports repository or to install packages from the testing, unstable and even the experimental repositories without having to update your whole system to the same release (unlike Mandriva for example, and as far as I know the same is true for other distributions like Fedora). Instead, carefully defined dependencies will make sure that all packages which need to be updated together are pulled in, resulting in a working system.
  • Due to Debian’s development model it is possible to run a pretty up to date system at any time without sacrificing stability by using the testing distribution. I am now running Debian Lenny testing different systems for more than a month, with software which is often more up to date than in Mandriva 2010.1, yet the system is much more stable in general than my systems which were running Mandriva 2010.1.
  • Debian is fast. Debian Squeeze boots up very fast without hacks like Mandriva’s speedboot, readahead or preload. Also application start up is very fast. I am not really sure why this is the case, but my guess is that this is due to Debian’s simplicity: it does not install too much daemons and boot up scripts by default. Also Debian uses dash instead of bash for /bin/sh, which also results in faster boot times. Shutdown also feels faster than what I was used to in Mandriva.
  • Debian is secure. Because stable versions are supported for about 3 years and because security updates get released very fast. Debian also plays a rather active role in fixing security problems. For example, Debian’s webkitgtk maintainer searched for all webkit security patches and ported them to the webkitgtk 1.2 branch. The fixes were included in Debian’s webkitgtk and then were also included upstream in webkitgtk 1.2.3.
  • Debian is available for lots of platforms. You have an old PowerPC based laptop, a GuruPlug or OpenRD system with ARM processor or a SUN UltraSPARC server? Debian will run on all these systems.
  • Debian values freedom. Debian allows me to use my GNOME system without PulseAudio without loosing my volume applet in the panel (like was the case in Mandriva). But of course, if you want PulseAudio it is available and you can install it. Debian is not exclusively tied to the Linux kernel: there exist versions with a FreeBSD or even HURD kernels. The choice is up to you. Debian uses the Exim MTA by default but if you do not like this, other MTA’s are available and are equally well maintained and integrated into the distribution. Debian does not include non-free software by default, so that you can safely use distribute and even modify the software in all possible situations without having to worry about the license. But if you want to use non-free software, it is available in the non-free repository.
  • Debian is very “standard“. It does not replace standard components by its own implementations like especially Ubuntu is doing. That means that Debian does not use non-standard things like Upstart, notify-osd or indicator-applet by default or does not move the window decoration buttons to the left side. Of course if you do want to use these csutomizations, they are all available (Debian values freedom!), but by default Debian prefers to use the standard upstream software. This ensures the best compatibility with upstream now and in the future, because all these non-standard Ubuntu things might cause conflicts later on with new upstream design decisions.
  • Debian is not owned by a commercial organization. The free distribution is not some kind of crippled version of a commercial product which has all features and software available. It ensures also that decisions are not taken based on commercial interests, but only in the interest of the community. If you do want commercial support, there are many companies supporting Debian all over the world.

Related to that: today is Debian’s 17th anniversary and Debian Appreciation Day. If you use Debian, let the Debian community know you appreciate their work http://thank.debian.net.

Debian on desktop systems

What I expected to happen some time ago, is finally becoming reality: Debian is now my favourite distribution for desktop systems.

First I installed Debian on my new Samsung N210 netbook and I was very pleased with the result. Shortly after that, my father experienced a bug while trying to print in Firefox on Mandriva 2010.1. It would fail to print and there were errors related to ps2ps (if I remember correctly) in the Cups log, hinting at some bug in Ghostscript. Actually it was not the first time this bug hit us, I had seen the same problem some weeks ago.

As analysing and having this bug fixed would likely take a lot of time and I needed a rather quick solution, I though it was the right time to reinstall this system with Debian Squeeze (testing). Debian has many additional bug fixes in its GhostScript package so there was a fair chance that printing would be working better. So I did the same as with my netbook last week: I set up PXE booting to start the Debian installer (easier than digging up a CD-R, downloading an ISO and burning it), and then I installed Debian on the disk, leaving the old /home logical volume intact.

Continue reading “Debian on desktop systems”

Samsung N210 netbook on Debian GNU/Linux

With the upcoming holidays in sight, I could not resist buying a netbook system to take along with me on my travel to Italy. So yesterday, I received a brand new Samsung N210.

I chose this system because it is not too expensive and it appeared about the best netbook in this price class according to many reviews. Especially the battery time, keyboard and matte screen are praised a lot. It also seemed to work nice in Linux, which was of course also an important requirement.

I have removed the Windows 7 Starter edition which was installed on this system and installed Debian GNU/Linux Squeeze (currently testing) on it. I decided to go for Debian because it is quickly becoming my favourite distribution, now that Mandriva has all kind of difficulties keeping up with innovation and I fear that its future does not seem too bright.

I booted the Debian installer using PXE. So on my DHCP server, I added this in dhcpd.conf:

group {
  allow bootp;
  next-server 192.168.100.1;
    filename "/pxelinux.0";
    host samsung-n210 {
        hardware ethernet xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx;
        fixed-address 192.168.100.10;
    }
}

With 192.168.100.1 being the address of the TFTP server (the same host as the dhcpd in my case).

I installed tftpd-hpa and xinetd, and created this tftpd file in /etc/xinetd.d:

service tftp
{
   socket_type   = dgram
   protocol   = udp
   wait      = yes
   user      = root
   server      = /usr/sbin/in.tftpd
   server_args   = -p -v -v -v -s /var/lib/tftpboot
   disable      = no
   flags        = IPv4
}

Then I dumped the contents of netboot.tar.gz of the Debian installer daily builds for AMD64 in /var/lib/tftpboot. Then set up the N210’s BIOS to enable PXE booting and set the network card as first boot device and you should get into the Debian installer.

I had some trouble with the network connection bailing out after some time, but after a few attempts at least I succeeded in installing the Debian base system without X and the system booted correctly. Maybe I was just using a bad network cable.

I installed the gnome-desktop-environment package with apt, which also pulled in X. The graphical environment was working perfectly fine out of the box without any manual configuration needed. Also the webcam was working fine out of the box with Cheese.

The wireless network card works fine once you install the firmware-linux-nonfree package from the non-free repository and to get a nice GUI to connect to wireless networks, I installed network-manager-gnome. Then connecting to my wifi AP protected by WPA2 was a piece of cake and the wireless connection works perfectly stable too.

Actually the only minor problem I met is that the brightness keys are not working. There is a documented solution available to change the brightness (execute # setpci -s 00:02.0 f4.b=ff for maximum brightness).

All in all, I am very happy with this system. Even though it has a 5400 RPM hard drive, which feels a bit slowish during the installation, and has only 1 GB RAM, the system is very fast during normal use in GNOME, especially if you use some more lightweight applications (for example Epiphany or Chromium as web browser). Also with a few adaptations to the desktop and application settings, the small resolution is not really a problem. But maybe I will write some more details about this in a later post.

Improving battery life time in Linux

Today I received a new battery for my Dell Latitude E6400 laptop. The old battery (a 6 cell one) only lasted for about 15 minutes any more, 1,5 year after I acquired this system. The new battery is a 9 cell version. gnome-power-manager estimates I should be able to run 6 hours now without a charge, which corresponds with what I expected.

Now that I have a new battery, it is time to take a look again at trying to lower power consumption as much as possible. On my system I am using Mandriva 2010.1 Cooker with GNOME 2.30 and laptop-mode-tools 1.54, but this howto should apply (sometimes with slight modifications) to other distributions too.

Continue reading “Improving battery life time in Linux”

Server and blog update

Tonight, I updated the server on which this blog is running from Mandriva 2010.0 to Mandriva 2010.1 Cooker. The update went very smooth. The only problem I discovered is that the bacula-fd init script seems pretty broken so I made some bug reports about that.

At the same time, I updated WordPress to the latest version 2.9.2 and installed a new theme, the Arjuna X which looked nice at first sight. All visitors using Internet Explorer will get a banner with a recommendation to update to a better browser thanks to the No IE Welcome plug-in. I hope more people will put up such a banner on their website in order to help spreading the word about better browsers. Especially in light of the current Theora vs. H264 video codec in HTML 5 discussion, I think we really need to promote those browsers that favour a really open codec. Firefox, Chrome and also Opera (from version 10.50, not yet available for Linux) are the good guys supporting Theora.

Enjoy life!

If you have been following this blog for some time, you will have noticed that lately I have been posting a lot less than in the past and that I also reduced my Mandriva packaging activity. There are many reasons for this, which all come down to this: I have the feeling I can spend my time in a more useful and pleasant way than by creating bunches of Mandriva packages every day and being active on the Cooker mailing list, like I used to.

I expect I will not be able to resist to updating a package now and then, but because I am considering switching to another distribution (which would likely be Debian testing), this might also end in the future. In any case, also don’t expect “Cooker noteworthy updates” posts any more on this blog.

Now it is time to enjoy life! :-)

Blue sky

Blue sky
Blue sky

Just an ordinary sky on a nice spring week-end? No. Notice the lack of any airplane trails. Because of the ash cloud caused by Iceland’s volcano, all of northern Europe’s airspace is closed. I guess I will never see this again in my lifetime, such a nice blue sky…

Noteworthy Mandriva Cooker changes 1 March – 14 March 2010

  • GNOME’s development release has reached version 2.29.92, bringing mostly bug fixes.
  • Also KDE got many bug fixes thanks to the new 4.4.1 version.
  • The OpenShot movie editor reached version 1.1 final., bringing improved performance, undo/redo support and many new features.
  • The Zarafa groupware solution is now included in Mandriva.
  • reKonq 0.4.0, a Webkit based KDE web browser, now uses KWallet for password saving. It supports cookies, proxy and disk cache and has an AdBlock function.

Noteworthy Mandriva Cooker changes 15 February – 28 February 2010

  • The kernel is now updated to 2.6.33 final. As usual, KernelNewbies has a complete overview of the changes in this new kernel. Some noteworthy changes include: the new Nouveau driver for NVidia graphics cards is now included in the kernel and is now used by default on Mandriva instead of the NV driver. DRBD, the Distributed Replicated Block Device driver, which is useful on High Availabality clusters is now included in the kernel. There is a new experimental Compcache driver, which compresses part of the memory, effectively increasing the amount of memory you can use. Note that Mandriva does not yet include the user space tools to effectively use this. The Anticipatory I/O scheduler was removed and there were the usual improvements to the default CFQ I/O scheduler. Of course there are also many improvements to hardware support, such as a new driver for WIFI devices with the Ralink RT2800 and Realtek RTL8192U chipsets.
  • The TMB kernel in Contrib uses the BFS process scheduler now, bringing improved responsiveness.
  • GNOME reached version 2.29.91. Empathy now lets you easily configure a Facebook account using the standard XMPP protocol and File Roller will now use PackageKit to install any missing (de)compression utilities.
  • On the KDE front, the KDE 4 port of KmyMoney now reached beta status. Amarok 2.3 beta 1 brings improved podcast support, a newly designed toolbar and the possiblity of automatically using a USB mass storage device for the collection when it’s connected.
  • Postfix 2.7.0 is now available, bringing improved performance in content filttering and address verification.
  • The MySQL packages were reorganized a bit. The mysql-max package was dropped and its features were merged in the standard mysql packages. The clustered storage engine NDB was removed from the mysql package and is now available in the mysql-cluster package.
  • There were some updates to various video editors: Lives 1.2.1 brings PulseAudio support, many improvements to multitrack mode, a startup wizard for new users, some new real-time transitions and improved performance. Kdenlive 0.7.7.1 now includes colour themes, an improved titler and a few other new features. The OpenShot video editor was imported in Mandriva last month. The package is now at version 1.1 alpha 2.
  • There was a a major new version 2.0.0 of the Bluefish web editor. It adds autocompletion for HTML, CSS and PHP, inline help, inline spell checking, a character map, upload/download synchronization with remote web sites, automatic document recovery and more.