The Silent Heroes of Unix

Since FreeBSD 11-RELEASE is almost out, I decided to try the ALPHA and BETA versions to see whether my Intel Haswell bearing ASUS ultrabook is finally supported in the graphics department. As always, I was refreshed by the quality and smoothness of the ncurses CLI installer. Certain positive surprises happened to me, too. Apparently the urtwn kernel module for Realtek wireless adapters no longer requires signing a license agreement with Realtek. Hence, for the first time in Unix history I could do a CLI install of an operating system with a wireless USB dongle out-of-the-box. How amazing is that, eh? GNU/Linux can suck it with its myriad of hackish and confusing networking tools that need additional configuration.

That in turn brought to my attention the fact that in terms of manpower, the BSDs are almost unmanned when compared to GNU/Linux operating systems. The disproportions are simply huge! Sometimes, I think of BSDs as this antiquated Soviet submarine with a crew full of diehard veterans. What they lack in numbers, they compensate with experience and cunning. Projects such as OpenSSH or LibreSSL don’t have as many programmers as leading GNU/Linux projects, yet they received Microsoft’s recognition. Surprisingly enough, the BSD world is largely a community of doers not talkers. We don’t hear or read about any of the BSDs even in magazines devoted to building server infrastructures or GNU/Linux. The word is not there…

…hence, I think we should seriously start spreading it. We should show the world that BSDs are worth investing (time, effort, money, etc.) in. Do you like FreeBSD, NetBSD or OpenBSD? Do you see opportunities where a BSD operating system would be more suited than other offerings? Do you see resources going to waste? Get the word out!

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The LTS Conundrum

During my time with openSUSE Tumbleweed I noticed that this specific ecosystem moves faster than Fedora, Arch Linux and sometimes even light itself. It stands to reason, as Tumbleweed (TW) is the testing ground for future Leap 42.x service packs and openSUSE software in general. Despite this, TW is surprisingly stable and reliable. Alas, the same cannot be said about the most recent Ubuntu LTS (Long Term Support) releases. I believe the below cartoon is more than appropriate.

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‘LTS’ is a bit of a magical term in software development. It marks an operating system or piece of software as inherently stable and meant to be supported for years. For instance, all Windows releases thus far were LTS, because their support cycle extended for years. Yet, they would get regular and security updates nevertheless. In the Linux-verse LTS means ‘more stable, less updates’ and in the case of Debian’s regular releases, only security updates are pushed to the audience. I’ve used Ubuntu since version 12.04 LTS and all of the XX.04 releases were rather solid. Of course, minor bugs happened from time to time, though nothing game-breaking. Until 16.04 LTS hit…

Ubuntu 16.04 LTS is a bug-fest across all main flavors – Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, etc. Recently, when setting up a Dell Latitude D820 for a colleague I chose Lubuntu 16.04 LTS, believing that it’s going to work out-of-the-box and that all I need to do is just install the additional software. First, in stark contrast to previous Lubuntu releases, the installer in this one did not do the standard Internet connection/power supply/disk space check. Huge minus already. Then, it suggested I install extra proprietary software, yet failed to provide the firmware for the Broadcom BCM4311 chip. When I somehow managed to complete the install, booting stopped on the ext4 fsck (file system check), because the Intel driver package xserver-xorg-video-intel was missing entirely and X11 could not load. What sort of shoddy work is this? I am amazed that this sort of bug was not caught prior to the release.

To me LTS means that I can safely rely on the software. I can install it, configure and Get The Job Done. Imagine a company that is in the process of transiting to 16.04 LTS. Absolute nightmare! All Hell breaking loose! That’s part of the reason I moved to openSUSE for good. If I want breakage, I choose Tumbleweed. Should I feel the need for a stable environment, Leap 42.1 is within hands reach. As a teaser, Leap 42.2 Alpha 3 is already there for the taking. Guess what – thanks to the SUSE base it’s solid even before release!

openSUSE Leap/Tumbleweed – A New Look

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I ran Fedora Workstation on one of my legacy MacBooks for several days. I was quite satisfied with it, however some things proved troublesome, like the GRUB2 config. At the end of the day, one realizes Fedora is best suited for Fedora developers and GNU/Linux novelty enthusiasts. Should one require a stable development platform, Fedora is probably not the top pick. On the other side of the Red Hat spectrum is CentOS, though its conservative approach to software updates makes it more suited to hardened enterprise
environments…What else do we have then?

In the realm of the Red Hat Package Manager (RPM), the European equivalent of Fedora is openSUSE. Few people now know that its predecessor, SUSE Linux was born slightly earlier than Red Hat proper and gained considerable acclaim in the enterprise sector. Along Red Hat, it was one of the options available for HP/CompaQ business desktop workstations. Quite obviously then, the openSUSE daughter project instantly garnered appeal. With its recent changes and closer ties to SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE), it’s an interesting competitor to Fedora Linux.

openSUSE is available in two flavors – Leap 42.x (currently at point release 42.1) and Tumbleweed. The former is built from SLE packages, hence enterprise-level stability is a given. However, neither the kernel, nor the applications are as stale as in the case of CentOS. This is a great choice for people who want to Get Their Job Done and get on with their lives. The other flavor, Tumbleweed is a rolling-release spin with more bleeding-edge packages, geared rather towards software developers. It lacks some of the features of Leap 42.x and is surely not as ‘hardened’, though I consider it stable enough for day-to-day use. I am currently using it on my almost-OSS-friendly ASUS S301A ultrabook. Apart from the slightly too long boot process, everything is just swell.

Due to the fact that openSUSE relies heavily on GUI applications and systemd, I had strong negative feelings towards it in the past. It used to feel like a less locked-in alternative to MS Windows. However, openSUSE has gone a long way since the dusk of the 13.x line and improved in many regards. Also, I am no longer interested in init wars, since it’s quite clear what the enterprise standard is. I can either live with that or return to my batcave and resume my endeavors to save Linux City. In a moral sense it actually IS a dilemma, mind you!

I tested both Leap 42.1 and Tumbleweed on vastly different hardware and my impression is highly positive thus far. A single word to describe it would be ‘polished’. Something that was not so apparent in the 13.x line, but is all too obvious in Leap 42.1. Of course, one  cannot escape the impression that openSUSE resembles MS Windows. On second thought though, I consider this an advantage. The YaST2 Control Panel does a much better job than the well-known Windows Control Panel. Microsoft should take note of how minor incremental improvements, built on a graphically consistent foundation, can produce a more lasting effect, than a ‘Because 7 ate/8 9’ PR stunt. On the other hand, with the Ubuntu 16.04 LTS compat layer and virtual workspaces/desktops in Windows 10 it seems Microsoft is slowly catching up.