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Debian touts new ports for ARM and POWER architectures

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April 27, 2015

The Debian project is touting new ports for ARM and POWER architectures, a new list of software updates, an upgraded Gnome desktop and improved security in its just-released Jessie newest version.

But we expect that the switch to System D as the default init system will divert at least some attention from the new release. Time will tell anyway.

Promising that System D provides “advanced monitoring, logging, and service management capabilities”, Jessie – the upgrade to Wheezy – still lets old timers' favourites, sysvinit and co-exist with the new init system.

After a brief trial with Xfce, Jessie sees Debian return to the Gnome fold, using version 3.14 of the venerable desktop as its default.

The MATE and Cinnamon desktops are also available, or users can opt for Xcfe (version 4.10) if they prefer.

As well as abandoning SSLv3 in Jessie, Debian's system admins have put hardened compiler flags in more packages, and switched the stack protector flag to stack-protector-strong.

However, there's a new package-- needrestart, also to help security along. “If any services running on the system require a restart to take advantage of some changes in the upgraded packages, then it offers to perform these restarts”, the release notes say.

Overall, the Gnome desktop has been made workmate-friendly-- if someone leaves music playing when they leave the machine, workmates can press pause without knowing the password.

The new release announcement simply points to upgraded versions of everything from Apache and Asterisk to Tomcat and Xen, adding that a full install includes “43,000 other ready-to-use software packages built from nearly 20,100 source packages.”

As could be expected, all package versions shipping with Jessie are of the latest release.

Additional supporting services include a browsable view of all source code, and a new code search to make browsing less daunting, Debian Code Search (since there's 130 GB of source code, it's no surprise that it uses up 616 pages of results).

Linux OS creator Linus Torvalds has decided it's time for version 4.0 of the Linux kernel. The news didn't come as a surprise to most in the IT community, however.

To be sure, Torvalds has been wondering about Linux kernel release numbering for a while, notably in a Google+ post last week.

He now seems to have taken the plunge in the direction, by declaring that the version of the kernel he's working in is “Linux 4.0-rc1”. In a recent poll, about 56 percent of Linux users say they felt the time is right to go for version 4.0 of the kernel.

Torvalds writes “People preferred 4.0, and 4.0 it shall be. Unless somebody can come up with a good argument against it, that's what it will be.”

Over on Git, Torvalds is even more blasé about the numbering change, offering the following analysis:

“After extensive statistical analysis of my G+ polling, I've come to the inescapable conclusion that internet polls are bad.”

He goes on to deride responses to the poll before saying “But hey, I asked, so I'll honor the votes.”

Torvalds says the new release is small, but the full list of additions to version 4.0 look to be pretty substantial-- on top of non-disruptive patching, the new version will support IBM's new Z-13 mainframe, Intel's Quark system-on-a-chip, support for the the OASIS Virt-IO 1.0 specification and lots of graphics enhancements over and above what would reasonably be expected.

In other Linux and open source news

For the past two to three years, Ubuntu on mobile phones has been an ongoing project for the Ubuntu team and quite an ambitious one at that.

Much like Microsoft and its new One Windows ideology, Team Canonical hatched the scheme for a unified cross-device application ecosystem long ago, but progress has been rather slow in and of itself.

To be sure, Meizu has been a critical part of the new OS development program at Canonical with various demo builds and a rumor of a Ubuntu-powered Meizu mobile handset arriving soon, ever since the MX 3 was the company's flagship offer.

Today, Meizu posted a rather interesting teaser on Facebook. The image of the new smartphone seems to suggest a new OS, which will join the ranks of Flyme and YunOS and probably be unveiled at this year's MWC.

We can instinctively point a finger towards Ubuntu Touch, which we will hopefully see in mass-production devices soon.

This tidbit is further backed up by some rumors of an Ubuntu MX4 hitting the market, possibly in March or April.

The current flagship device has been a long-standing candidate for the Ubuntu experience, but we can definitely expect some surprises here and there.

Last week, Canonical threw a curve ball by announcing that the BQ Aquaris E4.5 will be the pioneer of Ubuntu on a Smartphone.

Keeping that element in mind, it's not certain if the MX-4 or MX-4 Pro version will offer a higher-end hardware for the new OS or if Meizu will bring in an entirely new phone to the scene. Time will tell.

At any rate, and no matter how you look at this, the news is exciting. The Ubuntu Touch platform itself is an interesting concept from Canonical.

The main idea behind it is a uniform Linux kernel and a set of base technologies that form a cross-device application platform.

What this implies is an improved level of uniformity and compatibility, allowing users to share pretty much the same set of applications, both on mobile and desktop devices.

To further add to the excitement, Ubuntu Touch also promises a full desktop experience and perhaps even in the near future, a full desktop Ubuntu session running straight from the phone or tablet once hooked up to a larger screen.

The latter, also known as "Full Desktop Convergence" is kind of experimental at this time, so it might be a little while until we are actually able to dock our phones and use them as an everyday work PC replacement for example.

There are also some hardware requirements for the feature to work correctly, but they are definitely not out of reach for current generation mobile devices so let's hope we finally see a full-featured Ubuntu experience on a Meizu device soon.

It's now confirmed today that version 3.19 of the Linux kernel has been released today by Linux OS inventor Linus Torvalds. News of the release emerged in a typically economical Sunday evening post to the Linux Kernel Mailing List, in which Torvalds noted that there are still a couple of bugs in the release but they were pretty obscure so “while I was tempted a couple of times to do an rc8, there really wasn't any reason for it,” he was quoted as saying.

New in this release is improved product support for Intel and AMD graphics, plus support for LZ4 compression in the SquasFS which should make for better Linux performance on Live CDs. (Do people still run Linux off of live CDs?)

Owners of Lenovo, Dell, Acer and Toshiba hardware will now find Linux plays better with some of their unique hardware features, especially keyboard backlights. And there's been a few more changes.

For example, the KVM Hypervisor has dropped support for the IA-64 chip, a milestone in that architecture's demise.

To be sure, Torvalds' post says that the next version of the Linux kernel will be known as 3.20. That's not something he was keen on saying in late 2013, when he said “I would actually prefer to not go into the twenties, so I can see it happening in a year or so, and we'll have 4.0 follow 3.19 or something like that.”

Torvalds' musings at the time imagined release 4.0 might be dedicated to “just stability and bug-fixes”. Little or nothing's been heard of that idea in the months since, so release 3.20 looks like more of the same.

In other Linux news

Linux OS code originator Linus Torvalds has publicly given some of his views on internet security at the linux.conf.au held last week and seems to be closer to Google's way of thinking than Microsoft's. Then again, he's been like that for a while now.

Torvalds, along with Debian representatives Bdale Garbee, Samba man Andrew Tridgell, and kernel coder Rusty Russell spent an hour answering conference attendees' questions last week.

During a discussion about Linux security, Torvalds said-- “I'm an avid believer in just disclosing responsibly. Security issues need to be made public. And there are people that will argue me on this and have argued for decades, that you never want to talk about security problems because that only helps the bad guys. The fact is that I think you absolutely need to report them and and you need to report them in a reasonable time frame.”

Torvalds says on the kernel security mailing list that the disclosure time is five working days, “which for some people is a bit extreme.”

“In other projects, it might be a month or a couple of months,” he continues. “But that's so much better than the years and years of silence which we used to have in the past, he added.”

Might Torvalds have been aware of Google's twin disclosures of as-yet-unpatched Windows flaws last week? Torvalds did seem to be more sympathetic to Google's approach of giving vendors 90 days to disclose a security bug than other approaches that see vendors sit on flaws until they are ready to release a fix.

Microsoft's regular Patch Tuesdays is one such example of that thinking at work and, we now know, can see the company hold back fixes for bugs it knows about if it can't prepare a remedy in time for a release.

For its part, Oracle releases security patches every ninety days or so. Torvalds' speech has also attracted much attention for his remarks on his infamous intemperance.

“I'm an unpleasant person and you probably know that about me. Some people think I am nice and some people are then shocked when they learn different. I'm not a nice person and I don't care about you,” he told the conference.

“I care about the technology and I care about the kernel,” he said, going on to say that disagreements will always erupt once discussions go beyond those topics.

Torvalds went on to make remarks about what he called “diversity in open source” in the Linux community, saying it is “not about gender, not about skin color” and that the Linux community is already very diverse as it comprises abrasive grumps like himself and others whose skills and personality types enable different types of contributions that advance the cause.

He then went on to say that his attitude comes from the fact that he likes arguing and that “I'm just not a huge believer in politeness and sensitivity being preferable over bluntly letting people know your feelings,” he told the audience.

Linux OS originator Linus Torvalds has released version 3.18 of his popular 32 and 64-bit kernel. It was released last night, after what Torvalds wrote was a tiny patch to get release candidate 7 done.

The new version's headline features for business users are better resumption for Linux servers, more support for the The Flash-Friendly File-System (FFFS) and some RAID-friendly tweaks to BTRFS.

There's also a lot more of support for graphics devices from NVIDIA and AMD, as well as a few other improvements.

Torvalds' announcement also says “I'd love to say that we've figured out the issue that plagues 3.17 for a couple of people, but we haven't.”

The problem Torvalds is referring to appears to be an occasional lockup in Linux 3.17, perhaps when running Xen.

Some testers of the Linux 3.18 release reported similar issues and the problem appears also to manifest itself in the last Linux release.

Whatever the source of the problem, it's not of sufficient magnitude to have stopped the release of the 3.18 kernel in the first place.

To be sure, Torvalds has now opened the merge window for Linux 3.19. Lately, new releases of the Linux kernel seem to appear about every six to eight weeks or so.

Torvalds is making his usual pilgrimage to Linux.conf.au, which this year takes place in Auckland, New Zealand in mid-January.

Between the festive season and that particular trip, the smart money would be on 3.19 landing sometime in mid-March or early April 2015.

In other Linux and open source news

The marked differences and the strong variations in opinion over Debian's future direction has prompted the group to launch a new fork of its Linux distribution over the weekend.

The disagreements centred on various plans to replace the sysvinit system management toolkit with systemd, a similar but less-Linux-specific set of tools.

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The “No” camp complained that systemd is not well-aligned with Unix philosophies, reflects the rise of a “do-ocracy” whereby effort trumps quality and steers Debian in the direction of the desktop.

The “Yes” camp are said to largely come from the ranks of Gnome developers. Negotiations have considered making systemd optional, but those talks appear not to have gone well if this post are anything to go by-- it announces a fork called Devuan.

Devuan's backers call themselves the “Veteran Unix Admin Collective” and, on their new site offer the following rationale:

“Devuan aims to be a base distribution whose mission is protect the freedom of its community of users and developers. Its priority is to enable diversity, interoperability and backward compatibility for existing Debian users and downstream distributions willing to preserve Init's freedom.

The webpage goes on to explain that “Devuan will derive its own installer and package repositories from Debian, modifying them where necessary, with the first goal of removing systemd, still inheriting the Debian development workflow while continuing it on a different path-- free from bloat as a minimalist base distro should be.”

A target “spring of 2015” release will see users “be able to switch from Debian 7 to Devuan 1 smoothly, as if they would dist-upgrade to Jessie, and start using our package repositories.”

The group's intention to develop a distribution “free from bloat as a minimalist base distro should be” may also set some teeth grinding.

Whatever your position is on this issue, Devuan is now a real thing. A GitHub page is being populated, and it's possible to make donations.

Jeff Waugh, a former member of the Gnome Foundation board says he feels “The 'no systemd' stuff is a stupid premise, for an audience of a tiny, unpleasantly vocal minority.”

“There’s no way it will attract the kind of sustained maintenance that Debian has achieved for over 10 years,” he said. “For a fork or child distribution to work, it has to solve a real problem. Doesn’t include systemd is not a real problem,” he added.

Waugh also feels “it’s very early in the lifetime of systemd, so it would be wiser to see how it goes before throwing additional tools around as some folks have done already.”

Source: The Debian Project.

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