LXF Website Newsletter -- #5, October 2005

Past issues of the LXF Online Newsletter

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LXF Website Newsletter -- #5, October 2005

Postby M-Saunders » Mon Nov 14, 2005 10:40 am






1. Welcome!

2. Sneak preview of LXF 73

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!

Welcome to the fifth LXF Online newsletter. Our regulars this month
include a glimpse of the next issue, a roundup of the site's news
and forum activity, and a special feature. This feature focuses on
the complicated range of software packaging options available for
Linux - RPMs, .debs, .tgzs and more. If you're a user trying to
fathom it all out, or a developer wondering which packages to make,
hopefully it'll give you a hand.

Mike Saunders
Newsletter Editor

2. Sneak preview of LXF 73

Tomorrow, issue 73 of Linux Format will be on the shop shelves,
boasting a bodybuilding penguin on the cover. Yes, Tux has been
working out to deliver all the cool new kernel features -- we show
you how to use them, and what the future holds. Your host is none
other than kernel hacking guru Greg Kroah-Hartman.

As a bonus, we have two interviews this issue. During his trek round
the USA, Paul Hudson caught up with Richard Hipp (SQLite author) and
Eben Moglen (general counsel for the Free Software Foundation). We
also have a mini-feature on Free Software vs Open Source: are the
two the same? Find out in the mag...

Reviews this month include two major distros -- SUSE 10.0 and
Mandriva 2006. Additionally, CrossOver Office, Sugar Suite CRM and
Gnome 2.12 are put through their paces. Our cover DVD proudly
includes Knoppix 4.0, one of the best live discs and jam-packed with
software. You'll also find the source code for Gnome 2.12, and
binary packages galore for WINE, to run Windows programs on Linux.

Here're a few sample questions from the Eben Moglen interview, the
answers to which will appear on our website in a few days:

# Do you see any confusion surrounding the transition from
GPL version 2 to version 3?

# When relicensing, does it become a matter of contacting
every contributor and asking their permission?

# What are your views on the Creative Commons licence set?

Grab a copy of LXF73 for the full interview. Our regular HotPicks
section, where we trawl the internet for the best new and updated
software, has a mixture of desktop, server and development apps. One
of the highlights is FreeSpeak, a translation engine front-end:

# FreeSpeak -- GUI for internet translation engines

One of the immensely useful technologies bolstered by the growth
of the net is language translation. No longer do you have to rely
on thumbing through dictionaries or faffing around with limited
electronic translators - there are web sites that translate words,
sentences and even full texts from and to a multitude of
languages. Altavista's Babelfish was one of the most popular early
translation engines; today, they abound on the net, and FreeSpeak
provides a smart Gnome front-end to them.

FreeSpeak is writen in Python, and requires the PyGTK bindings for
its GUI. You may also need the 'gnome-python-extras' bundle along
with Mechanoid if you want to exploit its full featureset. As
Python and PyGTK are provided with most popular distros, you can
typically just install by entering 'python setup.py install' (as
root), and then 'freespeak.py' from the shell prompt.

When started, FreeSpeak pops up a simple dual-paned box containing
a text-entry widget in which you enter the text to be translated,
and a section at the bottom which shows the resulting translated
text. It's appropriately to-the-point, with no pointless
gimmickry. A useful touch is the tabbed display, so you can keep
multiple translations open at the same time without turning your
taskbar or window list into an overgrown mess.

By default, FreeSpeak uses the Free Translation and Altavista
engines - Google is also available depending on settings. Due to
the immense complexities of languages, translations are typically
rough and need re-wording, but they're acceptable for reading
instructions or translating short letters. With Altavista, you can
translate between English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese,
Japanese and others. The speed of translation will vary depending
on your internet connection and how loaded the translation server
is, but in most cases it's nigh-on instantaneous.

FreeSpeak is impressively clean, straightforward and fast, having
no pointless bells and whistles. It's only as good as the
translation engines that back it up - still, these are effective
enough and make FreeSpeak a handy desktop extra if you frequently
encounter foreign text that you need to decipher in a hurry.

As usual, there're five and a half more pages of HotPicks in 73,
including a close look at the excellent Cascading Style Sheet
editor CSSED, and wacky action game Gillo.

3. In the news...

Major distro releases took up most of the headlines this month,
but there were plenty of smaller newsbits too...

# Ubuntu 5.10 arrives
http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/modules.ph ... le&sid=113

Right on schedule, Ubuntu Linux 5.10 has arrived and is spreading
out to the mirrors. The single-CD Debian-based distro sports GNOME
2.12.1, OpenOffice.org 2.0 beta 2 and X.org 6.8.2. KDE and thousands
of other packages are available through the Universe repositories.
Ubuntu has seen an explosive growth in popularity over the last 18
months, so if you want to give it a spin, check out the release
notes and download from http://www.ubuntulinux.com

# Mandriva 2006 is here
http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/modules.ph ... le&sid=112

Mandriva Linux 2006 ISOs are now available to Club members. With a
desktop search tool, interactive firewall, new package manager, KDE
3.4 and GNOME 2.10, this release continues Mandriva's focus on
stability -- by including recent software that's not too bleeding
edge. Head over to http://www.mandriva.com for all the details.

# Gnome startup speed tackled
http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/modules.ph ... le&sid=109

One of the most common complaints levelled against Gnome is its slow
startup time. Although it's never going to be as swift as IceWM and
other lightweight window managers, there's still a lot of wastage.
Lorenzo Colitti has posted some interesting findings -- it's pretty
technical reading, but shows what can be done to speed things up.
See http://www.gnome.org/~lcolitti/gnome-startup/analysis/

4. This month on the forum

Skype, a rapidly growing internet phone system, has a Linux client
available. Various forum regulars discussed how usable the software
is, and solved a few problems that came up. Skype is exploding in
popularity, so this thread is worth a read if you're having problems
installing it or just want to find out more. [1]

The LinuxWorld 2005 show, held in London, was a chance for some
forum regulars to meet one another in person. Linuxgirlie, who was
there with a stand for her Karoshi project, wrote about the good and
bad aspects, while Nigel and Marrea joined in with their own
experiences. On the whole, most people had a good time, although the
lack of big announcements at the show resulted in few talking
points. [2]

What's the dumbest thing you've ever done with a computer?
Linuxgirlie asked the question, offering her own embarrassing tale
of motherboard malarkey. Gordon recounted an alarming story of an
end-user cramming multiple floppies into a single drive, and
'overflow' told of a soup spillage incident that provided him with a
second hand notebook! The winner, though, has to be A-Wing for
nearly causing himself serious injury or death on multiple
occasions. Yipes. [3]

[1] http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/index.php? ... pic&t=1166

[2] http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/index.php? ... pic&t=1314

[3] http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/index.php? ... pic&t=1177

5. Special newsletter feature


Most major distros include hundreds of open source programs, all
packaged up and ready to install. Chances are, most of what you
need can be found on the discs or in repositories. But what
happens if a new app comes out? How do you get it? Why won't a
package for one distro work on another? How did the multitude of
packaging formats emerge (no pun intended)?

Debian was one of the first distros to adopt a specialised binary
packaging system. Instead of just supplying software as compressed
tarballs (similar to .zip files), the Debian developers chose to
make programs available in a special .deb format which contained
the software and extra information (such as a list of other apps
on which it depended, and scripts to run).

Shortly after, Red Hat created the RPM system which did the same
thing -- but it wasn't compatible. So, users could compile from
source, find a .deb if they were running Debian, or find a .rpm if
they used Red Hat. Even in the mid 90s, it was hard to find a
single binary that would install cleanly on most distros. Today,
RPM itself doesn't even mean compatibility; a .rpm package for
Mandriva may not install on SUSE, for instance.


Now there are hundreds of distros, and it's increasingly hard
to find a single binary package that will work on more than a few
of them (derivative distros aside). Some of the major projects,
such as OpenOffice.org and Mozilla, put a lot of effort into
making binary sets that should install on most distros -- but even
then it doesn't always work.

One of the problems is dependencies. Almost every piece of
software depends on another program. The tiniest command-line
utility depends on a version of glibc -- and a fully-fledged Gnome
app depends on a gigantic stack of libraries (Gnome, GTK, Glib,
Pango, etc). Frustratingly, there's a high amount of breakage in
the compatibility of these libraries, so a program designed for
randomlib-1.1 may not work properly with randomlib-1.2. And doubly
frustratingly, the GCC and glibc developers (who make the compiler
and C library -- critical system components) often break binary
compatibility too, causing further complications.

Hence a binary for Mandriva 2006 assumes certain libraries, a GCC
version and glibc symbols that may not be in SUSE 10.0. When a
new piece of software comes out, users typically have to wait for
it to be packaged for their specific distro before they can use
it, or compile it (and all its dependencies) from source. Most
stable distros only supply security-fixed packages, so getting the
latest app often entails adding an 'unstable' repository (has its
own problems) or waiting months for the next distro release.


For long time Linuxers, the battle to get the latest software
running is half the fun -- we enjoy experimenting with the system
and hacking stuff up. But understandably, it's an increasingly
large problem for Linux newcomers. Forums around the net are full
of new users struggling to get a new program installed, because it
requires libfoo.so.0.4 and their distro only has 0.3 and they
don't want to download 300 megs of -devel dependencies to compile
from source and and and... well, you get the idea.

So thankfully, a couple of projects have started analysing this
problem and are working towards a solution. Autopackage
(http://www.autopackage.org) aims to make Linux software
installation as simple as a double-click -- any program, no matter
how new, from any site. No need to find dependencies, no need to
upgrade your distro, no need to add 'unstable' repos or compile
by hand. Just download an app from a project's website and go.
Autopackage achieves this by encouraging developers to include
rarely-used libraries inside the package, rather than forcing
users to get them elsewhere. They also have scripts to get round
the GCC and glibc ABI breakage.

Klik (http://klik.atekon.de) is the main alternative at present.
This has a similar goal to Autopackage, but is based on an
existing archive (Debian) whereas Autopackages are being created
individually. Pleasingly, more and more projects are starting to
offer their work in Autopackage format, so hopefully we'll see the
day when we can say 'double-click the program' to a newcomer,
rather than 'download a, b, c and d, then add this repository,
then build this from source' ad repulsium.

Fingers crossed...

6. Coming up next issue

Linux Format 74 -- on sale Monday 14th November

# Roll your own distro -- Sick of SUSE? Fed up with Fedora?
Miffed by Mandriva? We show you how to take matters into
your own hands, and make the distro that YOU want!

# The LXF Interview: Andrew Morton -- Kernel hacking guru
who also writes royal family exposes. Although that may
be a different Andrew Morton...

# Ubuntu 5.10: Breezy Badger -- Latest Gnome? Check! Brownish
colours? Check! Silly name? Yup! What other distro offers
all this and more?

# Back to school -- Linux gets top grades in education, and
saves money too. Find out the state of play, and how you
can get involved.

(Exact contents of future issues are subject to change.)

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 easier than the first
level of Kirby's Dream Land.

1. Go to the website forums and log in (or sign up first):
http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/modules.ph ... e=PNphpBB2

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 website sad) you can opt-out by removing yourself
from the Newsletter group as above.

8. Contact details

Any questions or suggestions, please send them to me (Mike) at the
address below:

Newsletter Editor: Mike Saunders -- mike.saunders@futurenet.co.uk

Letters for the magazine: lxf.letters@futurenet.co.uk

LXF website: http://www.linuxformat.co.uk

Subscriptions: 0870 837 4722 (overseas +44 1858 438794)
Website subs page: http://tinyurl.com/dv295

(C) 2005 Future
LXF regular
Posts: 2893
Joined: Mon Apr 11, 2005 12:14 pm

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