Forking Debian, Celebrating Ubuntu, and Best Desktops

ubuntuDebian and Ubuntu dominated the headlines today with various topics. The community is is celebrating Ubuntu’s 10 years and Mark Shuttleworth announced the next codename. Debian lost a contributor and released 7.7 over the weekend while the threat of a fork is pushing a freedom choice. In other news we have Gentoo and 4MLinux reviews as well as the chance to vote for the best Linux desktop environment.

Debian has been the topic of discussion quite a bit lately. Last week the project announced a new home for the Debian OS Snapshot Archive. A couple of days later Lucus Nussbaum announced a revival of sorts of the old Debian Package of the Day. He retrieved the database and put up a static version for those wishing to look back.

Over the weekend Debian 7.7 was announced. "This update mainly adds corrections for security problems to the stable release, along with a few adjustments for serious problems." The changelog has a complete list of updated packages. Downloads for a fresh install are at Then today the project posted the news that contributor Peter Miller lost his battle with leukemia over the summer.

Oh, but that’s not even the biggest news. The systemd issue is still causing problems. Debian’s adoption of systemd has many Open Source advocates worried. Despite earlier reports that users could choose to use SysVinit if they wanted, folks were still none too happy. Ian Jackson proposed a resolution to reconsider making systemd default. Nevertheless, too much software now "depends" on systemd, including popular desktops GNOME and Xfce and now "feature-creep" is real issue. So, some folks are calling for a fork of Debian if Jackson’s resolution isn’t passed saying, "If systemd will be substituting SystemV in Debian, we will fork the project and create a new distro: Pure Debian by Veteran Unix Admins."

Ubuntu had much happier headlines with most related to Ubuntu tenth birthday. Lost of folks looked back with their own thoughts. posted a short history with a slideshow, OMG!Ubuntu! has a birthday quiz, and Jono Bacon joins in. In related news, Unsolicited But Offered says Ubuntu 14.04 didn’t work so well on his Lenovo Ideapad. And, the latest news today is that Ubuntu 15.04 will be codenamed Vivid Vervet Also, Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter Issue 388 is out.


In other news:

* Five Best Linux Desktop Environments

* An Everyday Linux User Review Of 4MLinux

* For Gentoo Linux Initiates, Iron Penguin May Be Too Heavy

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New Group Threatens To Fork Debian


Yet another team of self described “veteran unix admins” and developers are planning to fork Debian if the project goes ahead with plans to replace sysvinit with systemd. Debian introduced systemd as a technical preview in Wheezy in May of last year, following Fedora and several other distributions. The threat to fork Debian reflects the increasingly heated debate surrounding a fundamental shift in system philosophy. Do one thing and do it well? Or, one daemon to rule them all?

The Wikipedia page contains a succinct explanation of systemd:

The developers of systemd aimed to replace the Linux init system inherited from UNIX System V and Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) operating systems. Like init, systemd is a daemon that manages other daemons. All daemons, including systemd, are background processes. Systemd is the first daemon to start (during booting) and the last daemon to terminate (during shutdown).

Lennart Poettering and Kay Sievers, software engineers that initially developed systemd,1 sought to surpass the efficiency of the init daemon in several ways. They wanted to improve the software framework for expressing dependencies, to allow more processing to be done concurrently or in parallel during system booting, and to reduce the computational overhead of the shell.

Traditionally, the init daemon, process id (pid) 1, is the first daemon started by the kernel and is responsible for starting and being the parent pid for, all other daemons. This is a special responsibility, and the init code has been refined over many years. During the boot process, the init daemon reads a config file, and runs a defined series of shell scripts. The process is fairly transparent, and allows fine-grained user control. It is the loss of this control, and the potential for code bloat in systemd, that has many sysadmins concerned about the future of their favorite distribution.

To paraphrase Eric S. Raymond on the issue, we see systemd being very prone to mission creep and bloat and likely to turn into a nasty hairball over the longer term.

We like controlling the startup of the system with shell scripts that are readable, because readability grants a certain level of power and consciousness for those among us who are literate, and we believe that centralizing control services, sockets, devices, mounts, etc., all within one daemon is a slap in the face of the UNIX philosophy.

On one side, systemd allows for faster boot time, and centralized control of system level services. On the other hand, it is far more in line with the Unix philosophy to split responsibilities between several distinct services that interoperate through a standard method. If the future of systems administration is for the majority of us to grow into automation expert roles, especially when the majority of our interaction with systems in the future may very well be light-weight containers, it makes sense to keep as low level, fine grained control over the system as possible.

Beyond philosophical debates, the boycott systemd page has a list of issues that are concerning, to say the least. Binary logs and tight coupling with kernel versions are red flags to me. On the other hand, the 0pointer blog has a lengthly explanation of the how’s and why’s behind the project. Personally, I’m still undecided, but lean towards keeping with what I know in init. I also recognize how that tendency can be a handicap, and am trying to keep an open mind. Regardless of which side of the fence you come down on, the outcome of this debate is sure to have long-lasting effects on the community and the sysadmin field.

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Is Oracle’s Cloud Strategy Really Open, Or Are Doors Locking?

Oracle recently made its Oracle OpenStack for Oracle Linux distribution generally available, and has been loudly beating the war drums on the OpenStack front. As I recently noted, It seems inevitable that there will soon be an OpenStack market shakeout soon, and big players like Oracle and HP may remain standing as that happens, especially in light of their experience supporting enterprise customers.

According to an interview with new co-CEO Mark Hurd, Oracle’s IP and SaaS applications may be the pieces of the company’s cloud computing portfolio that many analysts are undervaluing.  The comments, though, raise issues about the true openness of Oracle’s cloud strategy.

In an interview with Computerworld U.K. Hurd said:

"We’re the only company with a full suite of SaaS applications. In addition to the suite, each application is best of breed…I think it’s about the [intellectual property]. We bring to market what [Oracle customers] actually use in production [on-premises]. I think it’s difficult for a customer to say, I’m going to build something in the cloud and then convert that to another set of technologies. There are no conversions to do after you’ve built it. For PaaS, the real attractive part of the market is in [development and testing]."

If you examine these comments closely, they raise questions about how committed to an open strategy Oracle really is. True, deploying applications in the cloud is a big challenge for many enterprises, and proven SaaS applications can make that job easier.

However, many enterprises are deploying OpenStack precisely because they want an open platform and don’t want to be locked into proprietary technologies and any one vendor’s IP strategy. 

Oracle, of course, has a history of fiercely defending its patented technologies. For example, it filed a complaint for patent and copyright infringement against Google, regarding parts of the Java code found in Google’s Android mobile OS. That suit drew many interpretations, but one thing that seemed very clear about it was that Oracle was doing exactly what developers were hoping it wouldn’t do as it swallowed up Sun Microsystems. The move made clear that Oracle’s strategy wasn’t entirely open.

In fact, some writers, such as Dana Blankenhorn, argued that the suit "challenged the whole open source establishment."

Smaller companies like Mirantis and Red Hat are pursuing very open strategies in the cloud, and that could have a lot of meaning to enterprises in the long run, especially the ones deploying OpenStack. 

I’ve noted that support will be the big differentiator in the OpenStack arena, but openness can be a big factor as well.  

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Samsung and Intel Stay Committed to Chromebooks

Samsung has announced its new Chromebook 2, a good looking model that joins a slew of new Chromebooks arriving in the market. With the holiday season approaching, it’s looking like portable computers running Chrome OS and featuring very low price points will be very big sellers.

Meanwhile, Intel is still committing to chips for Chromebooks, which could help them get boosted performance and more.

Many Samsung Chromebooks have been deployed in schools, where low price points are a major attraction, and the new Chromebook 2 is ruggedized for use in schools.

The Chromebook 2 has a USB 2.0 and a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port, a headphone jack, and a micro SD slot, along with a 720p camera.

An Intel 2.58GHZ N2840 processor–a member of the Celeron family of CPUs– is onboard, but, like many Chromebooks this one comes with only 2GB of RAM. 

One of the real attractions to the new Chromebook 2 is its price, which is a very low $250. 

As ZDNet notes, Intel chips are showing up in many new Chromebooks:

"With many of these dirt-cheap Chrome OS notebooks being powered by ARM-based processors, there’s been thought that this new niche could threaten Intel’s bottom line.  Just yesterday, two major manufacturers dropped new Chromebook configurations featuring Intel inside. Samsung shouted the news far and wide that its Chromebook 2 will include a Celeron processor, though Dell was more discrete about adding a Core i3 version of the Chromebook 11 to its lineup."

It seems clear that Intel wants to participate in the Chromebook trend.

It’s not yet clear if Samsung will focus exclusively on Chromebooks, but it is making bigger and bigger bets on them.  Look for these systems to sell well during the holidays, and introduce many young people to the basics of working with data and applications in the cloud.

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Six Licks of Google’s Android Lollipop

It’s not shipping yet, but you can run a pre-release of Android Lollipop, and it’s already looking pretty tasty.

via ZDNet | Linux And Open Source Blog RSS

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