Linux Kernel Is Compromised – Fixed within hours

NULL pointer dereference bug

Published reports say that the fully updated Linux Kernel can be attacked.  The attack can occur on patches to the Linux kernel that has not been implemented yet in most distros.

Linux Kernel 2.6.30 and 2.6.31 Affected Only

The null reference bug vulnerability is located in several parts of Linux, including one that implements functions known as “tun”. The bug causes the tun variable to not be able to point to a NULL value.   If that occurs,  the variable points instead to zero, and then the kernel tries to access parts of memory that are forbidden, which can then lead to a compromise on the pc running that OS.

Exploit code written by a Linux developer, Brian Spengler demonstrated the bug and the potential for attack.  Within hours, a fix was available in the community.  Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, was apparently aware of the vulnerability but did not see it as posing a major threat.

Risk going forward?

The bigger issue and question on the minds of Linux users is who new when and what did they know?  The axiom of open source has always been full disclosure.  Was the bug known to the kernel developers before the potential risk was published?  What if any is the obligation of Open Source developers to divulge to their users on potential threats?  Fortunately this time, the risk was minimal, and the fix was quickly forthcoming.

Further reading on this topic:

Clever attack exploits fully-patched Linux kernel

Root exploit for Linux kernel published

Mepis 8.0 Linux – Review and Screenshots

Mepis 8.0 Linux is a Linux distro designed for ease of use and suitable even for beginners.

Mepis is built on Debian 5.0 stable core with the 2.6.27 Linux kernel and comes in a 32bit and 64bit version.

You can download from the Mepis mirror sites here.

Their motto is “SimplyMEPIS just works!”   We decided to give it a try.

The installation disk includes a Live CD so you can try out Mepis before installing it to your hard drive.

KDE 3.5 vs. 4.1

Mepis has chosen to stay with the KDE Desktop 3.5 instead of moving up to the plasma-based 4.x that is already available on many KDE distros.  The differences between 3.5 and 4.1 are major enough in function that Linux really looks and acts differently with each of them.  I have written about my disappointment with the current KDE 4.x desktop in earlier posts, but some of our viewers have commented that the plasma desktop is a major improvement.

The makers of Mepis have probably stuck with 3.5 since it is ostensibly easier to use than the newer version, and Mepis has stated that it is dedicated to ease of use and simplicity.  I think it was a good decision.

Desktop – First Impressions

The desktop is standard KDE 3.5.  The bottom bar has a nice assortment of quick links and system tray information.  It has a clean and pleasant display of menus and easy access to most-used elements.  Nothing shouted out to differentiate Mepis from other simple distros.

Desktop
Desktop

Installed Packages

The menus show software items by function with the package name in parentheses.  For example, Ksnapshot is “Screen Capture Program (Ksnapshot)”.

Internet browsers include Firefox & Konquerer.  The KDE Kmail program is installed along with Kontakt and Korganizer.  For multimedia, Amarok is installed, as you’d expect in a KDE distro.  Mepis also includes the Open Office tools for spreadsheet, word processing, and presentation.

User Manual

As you’d expect for a beginner user-friendly distro, Mepis comes with its very own user manual.  It’s actually quite useful.  Some may consider this a gimmick since popular distros like Ubuntu have so much written documentation online and user forums, that you’re never far from an answer to any question even without a ‘manual’.

User Manual
User Manual

Gallery of Screenshots

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WattOS – A Fast Energy-Saving Linux Based on Ubuntu – Review & Screenshots

WattOS Beta 3 is a lightweight Linux Distro geared towards running on less energy and for recycled or low power computers without compromising on features or performance that you’d expect from a full power system.

Their motto “Light, Fast, Now” seeks to provide a low-energy full featured Linux distro.

Beta 3 released this week, which includes a live CD version. Download the ISO file, burn the image to a CD, and reboot your PC to try a live version of WattOS before fully installing.  The Live CD Beta 3 file was 527 MB and downloaded rather quickly.

The default user for the Live CD is “guest” and the password is Blank.

Ubuntu Light With Customizations

WattOS is based on Ubuntu 8.10 with Gnome Desktop.  They claim to have remastered the OS to run quicker than standard Ubuntu and to require less memory.  Therefore, WattOS would be a good candidate for older machines that want the benefits of Ubuntu but without the bulk.

First Impressions

The Live CD boots rather quickly.  The LXDE Desktop  looks quite spartan on WattOS.  True, the download was only 527 MB, but there are some peculiar package choices, and others are missing or replaced with lesser known ones.

When running this distro, you have to keep in mind that it is still in beta.  The look and feel is fine, but there are some rough edges.

desktop

Installed Packages

They’ve clumped together browser tools and email into a Network section which includes Firefox browser and Claws Mail.  Where’s Evolution?  You’ll find Pidgin for instant messaging and Bit Torrent. There’s also a lightweight XSMBrowser.

The graphics menu includes Gimp, the Photoshop like graphics tool.  The audio and video menu includes Movie Player, Brasero, and Exaile.  The office section has Gnumeric spreadsheet and Abiword.  You can add Open Office later if you’d like, but I’ve always found Gnumeric to run faster on older machines.

Missing were some basics such as a Snapshot tool, Okular for PDF, and calculator.

WattOS vs. Xubuntu

If you are looking for a lighter Ubuntu why not try out Canonical’s official distro for lightweight machines, Xubuntu?

WattOS promises to run with lower energy requirements.  There are no tools aparent on the desktop or on the live CD that would validate the wattage output of the machine so that it could be compared with the standard Ubuntu or other Linux distros.

Gallery of Screenshots

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Google Chrome OS – Boon or Bust?

chrome
Google Chrome

Google recently announced their intentions for launching Google Chrome OS (Operating System).  According to their blog release, the Google Chrome Operating System will first be targetted at Netbook users. Google plans to release their code to Open Source later this year, and make it available commericially in 2010.

On their official blog, Google asks for help from the open source community to accomplish their vision for a lightweight and easy to use Operating System that does not ‘get in the way’ of users.

Pundits will debate the significance of this ambitious release and its timing to coincide with Microsoft’s new Windows 7 OS.  As the established Search Engine leader, Google in recent years has competed for the desktop user on many other fronts.

Google Talk was released in 2005 as an instant messenger client and was tightly integrated with their email service GMail.  According to Comscore reports, Google Talk is still in distant 4th place behind MSN Messenger, Yahoo, and AOL-AIM.

Their Gmail service, although widely regarded as a superior online email tool, is in 3rd place in usage behind Microsoft’s Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail.

Google’s internet browser, Google Chrome, sits in 4th place with a meager 1.8% market share behind the venerable Microsoft Internet Explorer (65%), Firefox (22%), and Apple’s Safari (8%).  Browser Statistics Source

Google Chrome OS – Starting on the right foot?

What we do know about the Chrome OS is that it will be based on the Linux Kernel, and that the user interface will be minimal, coinciding with the Google Chrome Browser. Google will be working with many OEM’s to integrate their netbooks with the new OS.

Google vs. Microsoft or vs. the Linux Community?

Most of the media have concentrated on the impact Google Chrome OS may have on the ever-present Microsoft Windows.  Depending on deals made between Google and major PC manufacturers, we may see new laptops in 2010 being offered with Chrome OS pre-installed instead of Windows.

In a down economy, users may be looking for ways to save money and the Google OS, to be offered free, will ostensibly save on the licensing costs for Windows.  However, as the numbers above indicate, Google does not have a great track record in wooing mass-market PC users to their non-search engine products.

I think that in the months after the first release of Chrome OS, the first users most likely to give it a try will come from the Linux community.  Microsoft is still very entrenched as the default OS.  As far as the Linux community is concerned, even with the plethora of new versions and flavors of Linux being released on a monthly-basis, the competition has served to fortify the community as a whole.

Google’s Chrome OS may finally bring Linux to the forefront as a mainstream viable alternative to Microsoft.  It may not cut away at Microsoft’s stranglehold, but the Linux community will thrive.  If that happens, the biggest winners in this effort will be Linux users.

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/introducing-google-chrome-os.html

Vector Linux 6.0 Gold – Review and Screenshots

Vector Linux is a popular Linux Distro whose motto is “speed, performance, stability”.

Version 6.0 was released in February 2009.  Their stated goal is to “Keep it simple, keep it small and let the end user decide.”  Having said that, this end user decided to see what was cooking at Vector.

Xfce Desktop – GNOME packages

The modest but pleasant Xfce Desktop is complemented with a nice array of GNOME packages.

Download

The 700 MB ISO download directly from their website http://vectorlinux.com/downloads was fast and without incident.

Vector also offers a deluxe version, which includes installation support and costs $22.99, available for purchase online at their website  (Note: We are not associated with Vector in any way).

Vector also comes in a KDE version.  The Xfce version reviewed here is targeted at the power user and at users with older hardware looking for a fast Linux that will work without bells and whistles.

Tricky Installation

There is no live CD, so you’ll have to install Vector Linux to begin testing its capabilities.  The installation screens are pretty straight forward for active linux users.  First-timers and users new to Linux may find the installation a bit daunting.  Vector has been around for about 10 years, and the process is polished, however, it’s roots are in Slackware (A Linux distro for advanced users), and it sometimes shows.

Install 3

Most of the questions should be familiar to users who have installed Windows, such as configuring your time zone and language.  You will have to configure a Linux partition on which to install the OS.  There is an automatic configuration option for those who find it too confusing to configure it manually.

Pleasant Desktop, Nice Selection of Installed Apps

Desktop
Desktop

Installed internet browsers include Sea Monkey, Opera, and Firefox.

Open Office is not installed on the basic version (it is included in the Deluxe edition). Instead you’ll have Gnumeric Spreadsheet, Abiword, and Calendar.

Multimedia includes the great VLC player, Mplayer, Xine, XMMS, and others.

Configure your system with the VASM Control Center.

Gallery of Screenshots

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MontaVista – Boot Linux in 1 Second!

Embedded Linux vendor, MontaVista demonstrated booting Linux in one second.

This 1 second feat is for the kernel only, e.g. without drivers and peripherals.  Most linux desktop distros take between 20-25 seconds to fully load with all peripheral systems.  Still, this is a nice achievement, and shows that faster boot times are ahead.

Related articles:

Linux Achieves One Second Boot

Sabayon 4.2 Gnome Linux – Review and Screenshots

Sabayon 4.2 Gnome Linux is the newest release (June 30) from the popular Gentoo-based Linux distro.

Sabayon aims to be a beginner-friendly distribution.   Their motto -“as easy as an abacus, as fast as a segway” offers a lot of promise.    Sabayon is also available in a KDE 4.1 version.

The 1.8 GB file can be downloaded from their website or from approved mirrors, and a fast torrent.  I chose the 64 bit torrent and had completed the download in just over 1 hour.

What’s with the Rock Concert?

We booted the Live DVD and had Sabayon up and running in a couple minutes (the DVD drive did spin endlessly for another few minutes).  The desktop launched, and a rock song started playing.  I can assume the name was “Hall of Fame”, since that refrain was repeated over and over again.  I don’t mind rock music, in fact, I’m a big fan, but I don’t understand why a OS should start with a full song?  I’m assuming this is only for the Live DVD – maybe regular users can comment here with specifics.

The desktop is beautiful.  They employ user-friendly Entropy graphical interface.  You almost forget that you are in Gnome.  Put differently, this is not the Gnome that your father used to drive.

Desktop
Desktop

Sabayon is one of the most popular Linux distros, in 9th place at  http://distrowatch.com. Their 117,000 Alexa rating shows that they have decent traffic to their website.  You can see why when  you pop open the hood.  The website is gorgeous.

World of Goo Fiasco

I tried to run the Goo demo and evidently my graphics card didn’t support it.  After a minute of wobbly screens, I managed to ctrl-alt-bksp  and get to a prompt to return to the X desktop.   Of course, I had to do some sleuth work to figure out the the username was sabayonuser and the password is the same (small letters).    Meanwhile, the music of the Goo demo, reminiscent of the Spiderman movies, was still playing in the background.  I pulled up a status monitor and saw that the Goo demo was still taking over 50% cpu.  After killing that item, everything went back to normal.

Fabulous XBMC Media Center

The Sabayon folks really hit it on the nail with this one.  The media center, which figures prominently on your desktop, is simply wonderful.  XBMC Media Center gets a full thumbs up and reminds me a bit of the new Windows 7 Media Player.  Essentially, it puts all your media needs in one place.  It organizes and plays videos, music, pictures, and also displays weather for your location, and more.

XBMC Media Center Screen
XBMC Media Center Screen

Package Selection

The installed pacakges are more or less what you’d expect.  Open office, graphics, email, Firefox, etc…  They’ve included Bluefish in the programming section, and I think that’s a great selection.

Desktop Features

I clicked on the lock user button on the bottom toolbar and after a few tries, figured out that the password is the same as the user  (sabayonuser).

Lock Screen
Lock Screen

Gnome Do – this nifty tool helps you to select and open your installed apps very quickly.  I’ve noticed that most of the newer distros are including this app.  Strange that Ubuntu omitted it from 9.x.

Mounting a drive was never easier with the helpful drive mount buttons on the bottom of the screen.

Mount Drive
Mount Drive

Sabayon Shines on Graphics and Themes

One of the nice diffrentiating factors that Sabayon has Compix Fusion Icon integrated nicely to the desktop, which offers a whole boatload of screen and theme effects.

Compiz Fusion Icon
Compiz Fusion Icon

Screenshot Gallery

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Puppy Linux 4.2 – Super Fast Linux – Quick Review and Screenshots

The Fastest Linux Ever?

Puppy Linux is a popular Linux distribution that runs on less than 128MB of Ram.

We reviewed the June 2009 release v.4.2 of Puppy Linux, which comes in a 110 MB file download from their website, or from accepted mirrors.   The iso file is then burnt to CD and runs as a Live CD.  After installing the Live CD into RAM, I experienced my HP Laptop (2GB RAM) run faster than I’ve ever seen with any other OS or Linux Distro.

Bootup is fast and intelligent

The bootup sequence asks a few questions, such as if it has detected your mouse and keyboard correctly. It also gives you a chance to select, and preview, a suitable display for your monitor.  Lastly, you are given the choice of which X Server to load – bare-bones,Xvesa (Standard Graphics), or the recommended default Xorg (Advanced Graphics). The desktop environment is JWM, which is intuitive and well-organized.

Feel the Speed of RAM

Once you have reached the desktop screen, your entire session has been loaded into less than 128MB of RAM on your computer.  Your hard drive and CD ROM drives are not touched (unless you save files to them).  If you haven’t experienced it yet, you must feel the power of a computer running on RAM.  There’s no delays.  No skipped beats.  The nerve center of your computer asks almost human-like, action – response –  Scary!

Desktop Layout

Everything is very nicely placed on your desktop.  A lot of thought must have gone into where to put what elements.  The left top side of the screen has quick link icons, with a gadget that makes it easy to drag additional icons to the desktop.  The right side of the screen is for widgets, and has a gadget to choose and add from dozens of available widgets.

Puppy Linux Initial Desktop
Puppy Linux Initial Desktop

Wireless Network Support

I ran Puppy Linux on my HP Laptop and was able to connect, after several minutes of tinkering, to a secure wireless network.  This was one of the few kinks in the Puppy Distro.  I clicked on the Connect icon on the desktop and had to repeat the steps of scanning for and connecting to a wireless network several times until I got it to work.  The average user may have given up after a couple tries.

Repository

Like every great Linux Distro, Puppy Linux has its own repository PET. When you want to add new packages, you can do so through the package manager, or just GET PET  – what an infectious phrase.  The thin-client targeted default installation comes with hundreds of very useful apps.  The repository gives you access to much of everything else.  Tough decisions on which packages to include (or exclude) in order to keep away from product bloat are discussed on the Puppy Linux website.  For example, Sea Monkey is the default browser, and the Sea Monkey email package comes installed.   The website FAQ explains the difference between Sea Monkey (by Mozilla) and Firefox means a savings of over 40 MB, which is required to get everything in to the target RAM budget.

Great for Network Clients

Puppy Linux is suitable for thin-clients, and can be booted from a network, USB Flash key or hard drive (buy why?).  There’s a nifty setup menu that gives you step by step instructions on how to install Puppy Linux on to your USB Flash drive.

Save configuration to your CD

One of the nice features of Puppy Linux is that you never have to touch a hard drive, and can even keep all your settings and added files to the original live CD.  The program writes the changes since your last session to a file that contains an EXT2 file format onto another session of your Multi-Session CD.

Or you can simply write your files to a USB or Hard Drive, and keep files the “old-fashioned” way.  As strange as it sounds, your Multi-Session CD is still probably the best archival system out of the three choices.

Look and Feel

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Ultimate Edition Linux 2.2 vs. Ubuntu – Quick Review and Screenshots

Ultimate Edition 2.2 was released on June 17. It’s the latest salvo from TheeMahn, creator of this popular distro of Linux. Ultimate Edition was originally released in late 2007 to be Ubuntu with a “better user experience and with improved usability.” In the releases since, they have broken from Ubuntu and actually have created their own repository .

Like Ubuntu, Ultimate Edition is Gnome based. TheeMahn also built Ubuntu Gamers Edition, and it shows in Ultimate Edition (UE). Ultimate Edition has software pre-installed and ready for use on a live DVD environment.

Slow to load, Gamer appearance
We reviewed the live DVD x64 version. The file was 1.1 GB and downloaded  quickly from one of their mirror sites.  They do recommend you seed this file as a torrent afterwards to help distribution and to enable UE to continue to be offered  for free.

The DVD loaded to the desltop environment after a couple minutes of considerable churning.
Here’s the default desktop

Ultimate Edition 2.2 Desktop
Ultimate Edition 2.2 Desktop

First impressions are that it’s a gamers distro.  I can’t imagine business users embracing a mouse cursor of a rotating fighter jet (at least that’s what I think it was).

Here’s a gallery of screenshots for all the menus and installed software

There is a healthy helping of installed programs.  There aren’t 2,500 programs as we saw in the “uber” linux version of ArtistX, but there is definitely a good mix, with emphasis on sound and video, and graphics.  UE also comes packaged with some non-licensed video tools,  such as Handbrake.  Although Ubuntu doesn’t offer some of these tools out of the box, and sometimes not in their official repositories, there is such a large Ubuntu user-community, that often you’re only a few clicks away from adding anything that you can’t find at first try.

UE comes with a large assortment of backgrounds and Gnome themes.  That may account for the bloat in the size of the file download, as the installed base of programs is not too different that what is available out of the box for Ubuntu.

UE backgrounds ultimate edition linux

Conclusion

Ultimate Edition has done a good job with deskop design, and offers a great number of themes and background to further tailor to your individual needs.  The initial default setup looks childish and is geared more towards a young adult gamer group.  The product set of installed programs was very good, but we didn’t see an amazing jump over what’s available out of the box from its mentor, Ubuntu.   The usability was good, but not a great diffrentiator to give up the comfort of the solid Ubuntu distro with the large installed user base.

For users looking for a “different distro”  than Ubuntu/Kubuntu, we recommend trying out Mandriva Dream Linux, ArtistX, and MintLinux (click for reviews).