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Reader feedback and Linux distros

By , Network World
August 27, 2008 01:54 PM ET
Gibbs

Network World - Last week I discussed the SliTaz Linux distro and the use of QEMU to launch a virtual machine on Windows in which SliTaz or pretty much any other operating system can run. As always, your feedback didn't disappoint.

Reader Art Gibbens wrote, "Thanx so much for the tip on QEMU. I also stuffed both a Knoppix and PCLinuxOS [ISO files] in the folder (separately - of course) and they both came to life. I had to tweak screen resolution in Knoppix and the login doesn't work in PCLinux, which I would think could both be rectified. Keep up the good work!"

That's one of the interesting things about the various Linux distros; many of them have terrific features but they also come with problems and flaws that require further development or workarounds.

Reader Rex Buddenberg took a longer look at SliTaz and noted that, as it uses the Linux 2.6 kernel, it is pretty remarkable that it fits on 16MB.

Rex went on to note that SliTaz "uses Xvesa, not Xorg. Xvesa is OK if you have a 1024x768 (or 600x800) screen, but if you have a larger screen [Xvesa] won't use it effectively. Xvesa is pretty old and not maintained. Puppy ships with both; user chooses."

Allow the XFree86 Project, home of Xvesa, to translate: "Xvesa is a generic [free, open source] X server for Linux on the x86 platform. Xvesa doesn't know about any particular hardware, and sets the video mode by running the video BIOS in VM86 mode. Xvesa can use both standard VGA BIOS modes and any modes advertised by a VESA BIOS if available."

XFree86 goes on to note that "Xvesa runs untrusted code with full privileges, and is therefore a fairly insecure X server. The Xvesa server should only be used in trusted environments."

On the other hand Xorg, another free open source project, implements essentially the same service as Xvesa but is more sophisticated, as it supports higher screen resolutions and is more secure.

The Puppy Rex referred to is a popular Linux distro that's been around since 2005. It seems to have recently attracted a lot of attention for its stability, features and ease of use, but given the project's commander in chief, Barry Kauler, has just announced that he will soon "retire" from running Puppy, the future of the distro is a little uncertain.

Rex also noted that in SliTaz "gFTP doesn't work ... freezes on connection and spawns multiple ssh client processes. Mystifying."

GFTP is "a free multithreaded file transfer client" and it’s nonoperation is, indeed, odd.

Rex continued: "SliTaz has no WiFi support that I could find (Puppy has a config routine that's nearly idiot-proof), no man files and the doc is en Francais. My French is ... ahem, a bit rusty."

No, man files (the *nix documentation utility) isn't a show stopper as you can find all documentation you need online, but SliTaz's focus on supporting French is indeed tricky if your French isn’t up to snuff.

Rex also said SliTaz has a bunch of annoying immature qualities but notes none of them are killers. Two examples: incomplete integration for handling PDF files (the "file manager attempts to call xpdf [a basic PDF viewer] when [you] double-click a .pdf file"; and it oddly offers "three text editors in two different places [but] no real word processor."

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