Linux Format Newsletter -- #47, April 2009

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Linux Format Newsletter -- #47, April 2009

Postby M-Saunders » Tue May 05, 2009 10:40 am





1. Welcome

2. LXF 118 on sale

3. In the news...

4. This month on the forum

5. Special Newsletter feature

6. Coming up next issue

7. Receiving this Newsletter

8. Contact details

1. Welcome

As those of you who tuned into the latest TuxRadar podcast
( know, we met up with Ubuntu founder
Mark Shuttleworth recently to discuss KDE vs Gnome, the future of
Linux on the desktop, and many other topics important to the
community. We'll have a full interview with the Benevolent Dictator
For Life in an upcoming issue of Linux Format.

What struck me about Canonical's offices, though, was the level of
activity: when we last visited a few years ago, there was just Mark
and a couple of hackers beavering away. Today there are rows of
desks with people working on press releases, schedules, planning and
more. Whether you're an Ubuntu fan or not, it's great to see so many
people working to get free software out to the masses.

Anyway, read on for the lowdown on Linux Format issue 118, a roundup
of the hottest news stories and forum threads, and a special feature
on the shiny new ext4 filesystem that's heading to a distro near you.

Oh, and if you haven't seen it yet, we've got a new special edition
of the magazine on sale called Compose, Design, Create! This bumper
130-page guide shows you how to compose music, make websites and
edit graphics like a pro - grab a copy today from

Mike Saunders
Newsletter Editor

2. LXF 118 on sale

Distros, distros and more distros... Sometimes it's easy to get lost
in the bewildering range of Linux flavours available. And even for
long-term users who have a rough idea of what each distro does,
there's rarely time to try them all out in depth. So this month our
cover feature pinpoints the perfect distro for you, whether you're a
power user, newbie, programmer or gamer.

Talking of games, World of Goo is taking the world by storm and
is arguably the best entertainment title ever to appear on Linux.
Don't miss our full review to find out why this taxing puzzler is
so addictive.

On the tutorials front we show you how to remodel your dwelling
in Sweet Home 3D, install a new distro on your Aspire One netbook,
hack web pages with GreaseMonkey and back up your partitions using
the mighty power of CloneZilla. On the 4GB DVD you'll find a special
version of Debian 5 (aka Lenny) as prepared by Steve McIntyre, the
Debian Project Leader. Rock on!

Here's a sample from our regular great-software-discovering
HotPicks section:

# Deluge 1.1.3 --

Nowadays, BitTorrent is pushed heavily by most of the major Linux
distributions and quite a few of the smaller ones too, so it
should be no surprise that BitTorrent clients abound in the Linux
ecosystem. Deluge is one such client, vying for space among the
more firmly established BT clients such as Azureus and
Transmission; the question is, should you take a look or should
you stick to what you already know? If you're reading HotPicks
then you should know by now that the correct answer is the former
one, and it was with great enthusiasm that we downloaded Deluge
and set about seeing just what is so special about it.

For starters, Deluge offers a plugin-based architecture giving
you the opportunity to extend its functionality should you need
to, although at the time of writing extra plugins were being
worked on. Equally at home in either Gnome or KDE, Deluge only
really requires Python and PyGTK to be installed before compiling
from source using 'python build' followed by 'python install'.

Alternatively, packages are maintained for Ubuntu derivatives for
those of you who prefer to avoid compiling from source. When this
is completed, you'll find Deluge under your internet menu and
ready to go; all you have to do is find some torrents to feed it

Deluge's user interface is relatively simple. The usual options to
control bandwidth, number of peers and share ratios are present,
as well as informative tabs to give you more details on what's
going on with each torrent download. You're even able to set
individual controls for each torrent, allowing you to prioritise
the download of one torrent over another to give you granular
control of your downloading.

The primary goal of Deluge is to provide a torrent client that's
not going to hog your system while it's working behind the scenes;
we'd say that it's pretty spot on and is a worthy competitor to
the other clients currently out there. Its minimal dependencies
and low resource usage mean it scores high marks with us.

Head over to the LXF website and click on the right-hand issue cover
picture for more information on Linux Format 118.

3. In the news

The biggest developments around the net...

# Red Hat: No money in desktop Linux ... ktop-linux

No mincing of words here. Ever since Red Hat dropped its Linux boxed
set in favour of Fedora, the company has demonstrated a lack of
interest in the mainstream desktop. Now, at the InfoWorld Open
Source Business Conference in San Francisco, Red Hat CEO Jim
Whitehurst has reaffirmed his company's position on Linux for the

# Kernel 2.6.29 released, with new logo ... d-new-logo

We love a new kernel release as much as anybody. Especially when it
includes a shedload of new features such as the Btrfs file system,
video mode setting (to simplify interaction between X and the
kernel) and a new 'no journal' mode for ext4. Oh, and full support
for 4,096 CPUs -- we'll get round to building that rig later. But
best of all, to highlight the plight of Tasmanian Devils in
Australia, Linus has rolled in a change to the boot-up logo.

# SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 is here ... se-11-here

Novell's epic-length press release for SLE11 just landed in our
inboxes, and there are a few interesting points worth picking out.
It reveals Novell's corporate latest takes on the recession,
Microsoft .NET, virtualisation and cloud computing.

4. This month on the forum

That old chestnut of distro-independent packages came up again,
spurred on by the discussion in TuxRadar podcast episode 4. Jolharg
suggested that we all team together to make a "universal package
manager", which Rhakios countered by saying that Autopackage already
did a good enough job - if ony more people used it. Various
technical aspects were discussed with lots of good ideas, but the
biggest question still remains: how can all distros put aside their
own efforts and work together on a single package format? [1], and XFree86 before it, has always been a pain when it doesn't
work correctly. Marrea bemoaned the default settings on her Debian 5
box which limited her to a paltry 800x600, and Roseway concurred.
The thread quickly shifted to the problem of distro updates trashing
xorg.conf and leaving stumped users scratching their chins and
staring at a command line... [2]

[1] ... pic&t=9852

[2] ... pic&t=9914

5. Special Newsletter feature


Filesystems - hardly the most glamorous topic in the world, right?
But we all use them, and they're of absolute critical importance to
the workings of our machines. One tiny bug or poorly-programmed
feature can cause your box to grind to a halt, or even worse,
destroy your precious data. So it's worth knowing a bit about the
fundamental technology and what lies ahead.

Filesystems coordinate the data on your hard drive partitions,
making sure that filenames point to the appropriate chunks of data
and have the correct access permissions etc. There's a gigantic
range of filesystems in use, from the simple FAT12 on MS-DOS floppy
disks to monsters like SGI's XFS which can store files of up to 8
exabytes in size (8 quintillion bytes, fact fans).

Originally, Linux used the same filesystem as Minix, the Unix-like
OS that originally inspired its development. Then ext (the extended
filesystem) was used as the default, quickly being replaced by ext2
which allowed for longer filenames and larger files. ext3 added
journalling - that is, writing file change notes to a 'journal'
before writing the file itself, to make your filesystem more
resilient in the event of a kernel crash or power-cut.

Now ext4 is here and looks set to be the default filesystem for many
future distro releases. Here are some of the new features and why
they'll make Linux even cooler:

1) Bigger everything

ext4 will support 1 exabyte volumes, 16 terabyte files and 64,000
subdirectories (breaking the already whopping 32,000 limit in ext3).
This isn't going to change the world for home desktop users (unless
you like to keep several versions of on your machine
at once), but it'll further push Linux into the realms of big iron.

2) Delayed allocation

Normally, when you save a file, the filesystem allocates a number of
blocks (chunks of the disk) in advance to save the file. It then
waits around until there's lots of data to save - ie from other
programs - before writing the whole lot at once. This adds a
performance boost because as the disk isn't doing lots of little
scattered writes, but writing one whole lump at once.

With ext4, the filesystem doesn't allocate space until it's actually
ready for the writing job. This reduces fragmentation (files being
spread across separate chunks of the disk instead of being together
in one lump). The upside to this is that for hard drives, the
reading head part of the machinery doesn't have to scuttle around as
much, thereby improving performance further.

3) Faster file system checking

A normal 'fsck' filesystem check operation scans every block of data
on the drive, whether it's in use or not. ext4 has the ability to
only check blocks that are actually in use, thereby making
filesystem checks much quicker.

4) Extents

A great feature for high-end machines: in anticipation of a large
file write, ext4 can pre-allocate a section of the disk to a file,
thereby reducing fragmentation. As with the second feature here,
this will also give a valuable boost to performance.

5) Life beyond 2038

ext2 and ext3 store dates as the number of seconds passed since
00:00, January 1 1970. These are stored in 32-bit integer numbers,
which means that come 03:14:08 on 19 January 2038, the numbers will
overflow and revert back to 1970. Gulp. It's a bit like the
much-hyped millennium bug, and while it may seem a long time away,
Unix-like systems are often planned to last for decades.

ext4 improves this by adding more data space (two extra bits) to the
time field, thereby deferring the problem for 500 extra years. We'll
all probably be using The HURD by then, anyway.

6) ext3 compatible!

To top it off: unless you're using the extents functionality, you
can mount an ext4 partition on an older machine that only supports

So those are some of the top features of ext4, leading to better
performance on everyone's boxes, and more scope for ultra high-end
servers. Keep an eye out on your favourite distro - it may well be
included very soon...

6. Coming up next issue

Linux Format 119, on sale Thursday 30 April...

# Work smarter! Linux has heaps of tools to make you more
productive, and we show you how to find them

# Time to switch to Slack? The world's longest-running
distro still has plenty of fans, and you may just
fall in love with it too...

# Control your bandwidth with Trickle, and ensure that
no single program hogs your network connection

Contents are subject to change, and may settle in transit.

7. Receiving this Newsletter

If you've been forwarded this Newsletter from someone else, and want
to sign up for future issues, just follow the steps below. Each
month you'll receive a sparkling new LXF Newsletter straight in your
Inbox, and the 30-second sign-up process is even easier than reading
a Meg and Mog book:

1. Go to the website forums and log in (or sign up first):
2. At the top of the main forum page, click on 'Usergroups'
3. Join the 'Newsletter' group, and you're done!

If for some reason you no longer wish to receive this newsletter
(which'll make the internet sad) you can opt-out like this:

1. Log into the LXF site and go to the forums
2. Click Usergroups at the top of the page
3. Select Newsletter and then View information
4. Click Unsubscribe next to 'You are a member...'

8. Contact details

If you have any questions or suggestions, please send them to the
Newsletter Editor at the address below:

Newsletter Editor: Mike Saunders --

Letters for the magazine:

LXF website:

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