Beyond Systemd – Part Deux

During the last days I continued to build my GNU/Linux box with CRUX. I managed to get through some of the minor problems I had before, to the point that I fixed larger problems with wireless drivers for the Mediatek mt7630e NIC. I also had to set up a link to additional repositories outside of core, xorg and opt to get the Liberation font set and some shiny, shiny GTK themes. Despite many footprint errors I managed to pull through and now Adwaita powers my new openbox-ish look (not from Maybelline, unfortunately). Following a minimal and modular approach to GNU/Linux is fully viable, and allows for extremely efficient and responsive setups. The Unix way full speed ahead!

Unfortunately, yet more alarming news regarding systemd recently, as I read on DistroWatch.com. Being a rather curious person by design, I followed the bad news with an interview with Lennart Poettering. How appropriate. My favorite paragraph was about how Lennart truly understands Unix and somehow all of the anti-systemd people don’t. It’s actually hilarious, because a quick look at relevant Wikipedia articles and their references clears things up rather quickly. Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie would surely not approve. Shame on Lennart, though. He’s definitely a skilled programmer, albeit confused. I guess being young is neither a crime, nor a sin, however…

what to do with the systemd conundrum? How to get over/around/under it? I tested several GNU/Linux and BSD distributions to seek a solution (salvation?) and come clean like Gandalf the White after his duel with the vile Balrog (sort of). There are ways and means, though the general problem is that almost all user-friendly distributions already drank gallons of the systemd Kool-Aid and the average Joe has barely anything to choose from. Fret not, though!  There are options and here they come:

  • FreeBSD/PC-BSD – general-purpose BSD distributions targeted at servers (FreeBSD) and casual/home desktop systems (PC-BSD); FreeBSD is somewhat old-fashioned compared to GNU/Linux distributions, though almost everything works. We can stream music, browse the web, play CDs and DVDs, etc. Flash (for anyone that still cares) works, Skype sort of works, though no luck with Google Hangouts and Chromium/Chrome is still quite unstable. Probably the biggest problem is poor interoperability with GNU/Linux and MacOS X file systems. The standard ext4 has a FUSE module in FreeBSD, though no luck with Apple’s HFS+. Finally, games work on BSDs mostly as GNU/Linux ports or through WINE. Should anyone have questions, issues, etc. the forums and the divine Handbook are always there for reference. Read, and you shall comprehend!
  • Manjaro Linux – general-purpose GNU/Linux distribution, originally based on Arch Linux. The concept was to make Arch more accessible to less computer-savvy users. It worked and an almost-official OpenRC flavor is available now. Any systemd-reliant tools were swapped for non-systemd-dependent and usually more lightweight alternatives. Despite minor issues, Manjaro Linux OpenRC works as advertised and as good as any other user-friendly distro.
  • Devuan – Debian, the father of all and naught went senile. Despite shouts and pleads, the majority vote was cast – ‘yes’ to systemd. Many (a ‘vocal minority’ as some say) were not happy and Devuan was born. The concept was to refresh Debian and return it to its Unix-like origins. ‘Yes’ to init freedom, huge ‘no’ to systemd. Since then, Devuan put systemd animosities aside and focused on making Devuan’s Debian the general-purpose distribution for young and old it once was.
  • AntiX/MX – a Debian-based distribution not many know, though those who know greatly value it. AntiX and the collaboration product between AntiX and Mepis termed MX are targeted at legacy hardware. Thanks to that they run great not only on old computers, but also on low-powered ultrabooks and netbooks. The AntiX magic is strong and one may easily succumb to its glow. It doesn’t ship with systemd, because there is no need to do so, in all honesty. One can have Debian without the additional d tied to a needless system.

Should we feel comfortable with Bash, the Unix command-line and basic methods of Unix system management, there are some GNU/Linux distributions worth looking into:

  • CRUX – I wrote about this little, blue penguin already. Everything is KISS to the point of absolution. The install is quite manual, though not as manual as that of Arch Linux, oddly enough. Probably the only tricky bit is system and software configuration. Never count on the upstream writing the configs for the user. For people seeking ultimate simplicity…This Is It!
  • Gentoo Linux – similar to CRUX, though more full featured and less KISS. Officially powered by OpenRC, Gentoo makes for a developers’ paradise. Default terminal coloring, tight Python integration, flexible software feature selection during build time, easy software version control – you name it. It’s not as light as CRUX, though makes up for it with intrinsic flexibility. The installation may be a huge pain the first time, though per every iteration it gets easier. Not to mention the added bonus of getting to know Tux better!
  • Arch Linux – to avoid systemd, one has to find courage, commitment and perseverance. Unix wisdom would come useful, too. Systemd has to be uprooted and  replaced with the Git-derived OpenRC infrastructure and scripts. Not to worry, everything is well-documented and can be installed from AUR (Arch User Repository). Other than that, one needs to avoid software with strict dependencies on systemd. Keep It Simple Stupid and enjoy the Arch way.
  • OpenBSD – ‘free, functional, and secure’. Enough said. It greatly prides its focus on software hardening, patching and system-level security measures. OpenBSD requires similar skills as FreeBSD, however setting it up might be a tad more tricky. If you value stability over cutting and bleeding edges, it will probably give your Thinkpad that added flair.

For a more complete list of systemd-free Unix-like operating systems refer to this link.

Thus, I close my brief round-up. I hope it’s useful to some at least. My personal choice (flag, medal, etc.) goes to CRUX and Gentoo Linux for being what GNU/Linux is all about. In other words, a Unix-like operating system. Not to forget FreeBSD, of course. This red beastie just rocks my Unix socks!

 

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12 thoughts on “Beyond Systemd – Part Deux

  1. i know youve covered devuan before, and i know youre forever shy of debian-based distros, but for good news in distrowatch: devuan is now in the rankings and moving up: http://distrowatch.com/dwres.php?resource=popularity

    it already has two unofficial derviatives: gnuinos (devuan with linux-libre) and refracta (with tools for respins.) all apt-based, so i know youre not going to switch; though perhaps its good to know the names.

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    • At some point I was considering building a minimalistic RPM-based distribution, using Puppy Linux utilities. Unfortunately, systemd has hard dependencies in so many Fedora/RHEL/CentOS packages that I concluded it’s not worth it for now. Maybe in the future a ‘libre’ Fedora spin without systemd will be born :). The innovators from Fedora can put up with Red Hat’s agenda only for so long…

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  2. I don’t think that the systemd debacle is Poettering’s fault as much as it is the fault of the GNU/Linux distros (and software) that decided to adopt it.

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    • I think it’s Poettering’s fault only to the extent that he thought it’s good enough to push it upstream to Red Hat and then to other distros. I agree that from there it’s the fault of individual distros to actually adopt it. At some point I read claims that the major reason for systemd adoption was the lack of alternatives. Far from truth, as OpenRC (the biggest contender) was already there and Red Hat could simply support its development. Not sure how a pet project of a single developer + a small core team can instantly compete with something that has been running for years. This and many other things still puzzle me…

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    • I used Crunchbang when it was still Crunchbang and some months ago BunsenLabs also. Both are very solid distributions. However, now as part of my career prep I’m using openSUSE Leap 42.1 and Tumbleweed. When openSUSE linked up with SUSE Enterprise, there was a huge boost in quality :). Though GNOME and KDE are the main desktops, Openbox can also be set up quite easily, I think.

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