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Debian drops support for the Sparc architecture, effective immediately

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July 28, 2015

After seeing several years of a constant drop in popularity, the Debian GNU/Linux Project has nixed its support for the Sparc architecture, effective immediately.

"As Sparc isn't exactly the most 'alive' architecture anymore," Debian maintainer Joerg Jaspert wrote in a mailing list last week, "not in Debian 8.x jessie and unlikely to be in Debian 9 stretch, I am going to remove it from the master archive this weekend."

To be sure, Japsert has scrubbed the Sparc code from the Debian "unstable," "experimental," and "jesse-upgrades" source code trees for some time already, in addition to a couple of other trees that are used for internal support.

"The relevant parts of the distribution tree have been cleaned out already, removing the actual files from the pool hierarchy will happen using the usual automated stuff, so starting in about 1 day and then spread out a bit over the following archive-update runs," Jaspert wrote.

Before the code's removal, Debian could be built to run on Sun-4u (UltraSparc) and Sun-4v (Niagara processor) machines, using a 64-bit kernel with most userland applications running as 32-bit.

The decision puts lovers of aging Sun Microsystems hardware in a bit of a lurch, as Debian was one of the few remaining Linux distributions to still support the older Sparc architecture.

Red Hat dropped Sparc support in version 7 of distributions in 2000 – back in the days before it was calling it Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

For its part, Suse dropped support around 2002, and while Ubuntu had a Sparc version as recently as 2010, it hasn't been actively maintained since.

The Sparc code won't be removed from already-released versions of Debian however, so those versions should continue to power aging Sun servers, even as the code gathers dust.

Jaspert added that removing the old Sparc code "does not block it coming back as Sparc64," meaning only the newer Sparc processors would be supported.

For that to happen, someone would have to step up to maintain it, and there doesn't seem to be anyone who's interested for now.

In other Linux and open source news

Suse Linux has made a version of its enterprise Linux distribution available for hardware vendors who want to deliver products to markets based on 64-bit ARM processors, in a new expansion of its reseller program.

As a whole, Suse Linux Enterprise 12 now ships for the x86-64 platform, IBM's Power 8 and IBM System z architectures, and more could be joining the bandwagon soon.

Yesterday saw the arrival of a new version of the operating system for ARM's Arch64 architecture, albeit only for development and testing, for now anyway.

Suse engineering vice president Ralf Flaxa said in a statement-- "Suse's ARM partner program will provide ARM ecosystem partners access to Arch64-supported Suse Linux Enterprise 12 software and expertise, establishing relationships that will result in supported enterprise solutions on different hardware platforms to meet a variety of customer needs."

Suse's ARM partner program originally launched with seven members, including chipmakers AMD, Applied Micro and Cavium, along with server vendors Dell, HP and Supermicro.

It's a small group, but it's not as if vendors are stampeding into the ARM server market, as it's still relatively new.

Of the chipmakers, only Applied Micro has ARM server chips in production in the form of X-Gene. Its products have popped up in low-volume server designs from HP and Mitac, albeit with limited sales success.

As for Cavium, it's been working with Gigabyte to get its ARM chips into actual servers, but it's not clear when we can expect them to hit the market.

Even Qualcomm has said it wants part of the action. Some of the problem has been that subtle differences in the various chip vendors' products have made it difficult for software developers to get their code running on everyone's hardware, something that partner programs like Suse's can help with.

Suse isn't the first to jump into the fray, though. Its rival Red Hat launched its own ARM partner program in June 2014.

In February of this year, Red Hat announced that it had signed up more than 35 participating organizations, and the list includes most of those who are working with Suse today.

In addition to making Suse Linux Enterprise available to its ARM partners, Suse said it has also integrated support for Arch 64 into its OpenSuse Build Service, which will allow the development community to build software against real 64-bit ARM hardware, even if they don't have direct access to any themselves.

But if you're anticipating big data centers switching from x86-64 to Arch64, our advice is to not hold your breath just yet. It might take more time. Stay tuned.

In other Linux and open source news

The Linux Foundation's Core Infrastructure Initiative has completed its first-pass survey of the Linux toolset, and is underscoring which OS tools are initially most at risk.

While there's still lots of attention on higher-profile packages like crypto tools, web servers and mail transfer agents, there's also quite a few packages that everyone uses and that nobody cares about such as compression and image libraries appearing high on the list of security vulnerabilities.

The foundation's Census Project has released the final version of a survey by David Wheeler and Samir Khakimov, from the Open Source Software Projects Needing Security Investments.

While Wheeler and Khakimov write that their work was somewhat constrained by time, and to this date concentrated mainly on tools associated with Debian, it's still worrying.

The list of most exposed packages is drawn from a range of metrics-– how much maintenance it actually receives, how popular it is, and how important it is: that is, can you live without it?

After their automated assessment of more than 350 projects, the pair then ran human eyeballs to identify what they believe to be the most exposed to security vulnerabilities in the Linux kernel.

While the list includes more than twenty utilities, some of which are highly exposed to internet risks (mail transfer agents, DHCP, BIND tools, SMTP and so on), the survey is measuring not the “level of bugginess” per se, but rather how much damage a bug could possibly do, and therefore how much TLC a particular tool or project needs to run smoothly.

So while OpenSSL and OpenSSH are rated as critically important, those two projects are already operating under the CII's wing.

But of course, that's not true of tools like the widespread Bzip2 compression tool, which hasn't changed at all in the past five years and doesn't operate a source code repository.

Likewise, reports that BIND 9 has a huge backlog of security issues is equally worrying. Additionally, 'wget' has a fair number of hacks.

And while the vital gzip tool has many contributors, the last formal release was in 2013.

For its part, libxpat1 is also singled out-- maintenance was effectively halted in 2012, and its bug reports link produces an error page. And keyutils (used to manage security keys) has no bug tracker at all and no mailing list.

We will keep you posted on these and other Linux and open source news developments.

In other Linux community news

The United States National Security Agency's X-KEY SCORE software, revealed by Edward Snowden as capable of sniffing and analysing just about any data from anywhere, runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

This is according to NSA's Glenn Greenwald, who last week wrote that XKEYSCORE “is a piece of Linux software that is typically deployed on Red Hat servers.”

“It uses the Apache web server and stores collected data in MySQL databases. File systems in a cluster are handled by the NFS distributed file system and the autofs service, and scheduled tasks are handled by the cron scheduling service.”

The NSA is a known contributor to some specific open source projects, although there aren't that many considering the secret nature of the federal agency.

To be sure, the Xen Project admitted as much when it launched its Xen 4.5 solution in 2014. There's no reason it shouldn't also be a user as it operates under the same constraints as plenty of other organizations who feel that open source solutions best meets their specific needs.

However, news that the NSA uses open source software could dismay those who feel that such efforts promote greater openness, as the NSA promotes rather different values.

On the upside, XKEYSCORE appears to operate at enormous scale, so Linux system admins have proof of concept of open source software's impressive scalability.

Greenwald doesn't say if the NSA uses the free version of MySQL or Oracle's fee-for-licence version, however. We'll keep you posted on these and other developments.

In other Linux and open source news

The new Linux 4.2-rc1 kernel features an incredible one million lines of extra code, and Linus Torvalds rates it the biggest release candidate ever in terms of the volume of new code it contains.

Torvalds, the original Linux creator back in 1991, writes that “if you count the size in pure number of lines changed, this really seems to be the biggest release candidate we've ever had, with over a million lines added, and about a quarter million lines removed.”

Most of those new lines of code come from the new AMD GPU register description header-- new code that Torvalds says comprises “41 percent of the entire patch” and has created a “somewhat odd situation where a single driver is about half of the whole rc1 in number of lines.”

Torvalds added that the new 4.2rc1 kernel knocks off the previous champion, 3.11rc1, which grew because it added the 'Lustre' filesystem.

Also new to version 4.2 are the Renesas H8/300 architecture, “in a newly cleaned-up form” and “quite a bit of low-level x86 changes-- both source code re-organization for x86 entry code and lots of FPU handling cleanups.”

Torvalds rates the x86 injections as fairly unusual because low-level x86 code being fairly stable and seldom seeing those kinds of big changes.

“Outside of the drivers and architectures, there's a fair amount of filesystem elements, including some fundamental changes and cleanups to symlink handling,” Torvalds concludes.

“And all the usual updates to various filesystems, networking, cryptography, tools, testing, you name it,” he added.

In other Linux and open source news

It was long in the tooth, but Linux kernel 3.14.40 LTS has finally arrived, as announced by Greg Hartman on the kernel mailinglist. The new kernel brings with it a number of important new improvements to the ARM and PowerPC architectures, as well as several updated drivers.

According to the attached shortlog, Linux kernel 3.14.40, which is an LTS (Long Term Support) release, brings improvements to many hardware architectures, including ARM, Alpha, AVR32, FRV, CRIS, IA64, M32R, m68k, MicroBlaze, MIPS, mn10300, OpenRISC, PA-RISC, PowerPC, s390, SPARC, Xtensa, and of course, last but not least, the x86 platform.

"I'm announcing the release of the 3.14.40 LTS (long term support) kernel. All users of the 3.14 kernel series must upgrade," says Greg Hartman.

The updated 3.14.y git tree can be browsed at the normal site.

The new Linux kernel 3.14.40 LTS also updates various Ethernet drivers, for Broadcom, Intel, Mellanox, Freescale, Emulex and Realtek hardware manufacturers.

Some Acer Bluetooth drivers have been updated as well, along with some networking fixes for both the IPv4 and IPv6 network protocols.

Several file systems received important updates in Linux kernel 3.14.40 LTS. Among these, we can mention Amiga Fast File System (AFFS), autofs4, Ceph, CIFS, Coda (Constant Data Availability), Debugfs, Exportfs, ncpfs, OCFS2, and NFS.

Naturally, many other internal components of the Linux kernel have been improved in this release.

Users who utilize the Linux 3.14 series are urged to upgrade as soon as the new 3.14.40 LTS packages arrives in the official software repositories of their GNU/Linux operating systems.

You can also download Linux kernel 3.14.40 LTS from the website and compile it yourself, if you prefer.

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.

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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.

Source: Debian.

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