Covered Topics

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Have Fedora and Ubuntu Left You Stranded? Here's Some Guidance

I use a removable "drawer" system on my home lab computer - one drawer contains Fedora 14 and the other contains Ubuntu 11. Both are behaving badly, though in different ways. Ubuntu 11 will not allow me to install ANY software - whether it be through the graphical software manager or via the command line "apt-get" utility. This happened after another partially failed automatic update. Fedora WAS working OK, except my Kdenlive video editor got irrevocably corrupted with the recent Firefox update debacle I wrote about a while back. See my posts during July-September 2011 for more details on recent LINUX and GNOME 3 issues. Yesterday, when attempting to burn a data DVD, the Brasero DVD burning utility crashed. No amount of re-booting or cajoling will make it work. I believe this also happened due to a software update, as it DID work shortly before Fedora issued a bunch of updates a couple days ago.

Thoroughly fed up, I am shopping for a new LINUX distro. I had planned to buy a Red Hat Enterprise LINUX (RHEL) or a Novel SuSE subscription to get away from the instability of what I have been using. I figure that what is geared for the corporate user would meet higher quality standards; at least I would have a phone number to call rather than spending hours online trying to find answers. As a grad student on a very tight budget, I find the $180+ price tag for a one year subscription a bit steep right now. And so I started looking anew for a suitable free replacement.

The following two sites were very helpful for doing a quick comparison of different distributions:

After reading these sites and visiting a number of online forums, I have picked out the following three for closer evaluation and testing:
CentOS 6.0, Debian 6.0.1, LINUX Mint 11

My criteria were stability, security, availability of the applications I regularly use, AND last but not least a conservative approach to development and updates. Here's a quick rundown of the choices I narrowed the field to:

CentOS 6.0: CentOS is a clone of Red Hat Enterprise LINUX (RHEL). It is supposedly intended for "business users who don't want to pay a business price." From what the guy at Red Hat told me on the telephone a couple weeks ago, if I bought RHEL and needed software that wasn't in the RHEL repository I still could get it from the Fedora repositories. The Fedora repositories are a riskier bet, but at least they are available if needed. RHEL 6.0 still uses GNOME 2.0.x desktop - I would ASSUME CentOS does also, but I don't really know one way or the other. I'll deal with that in a future post about CentOS.

Debian 6.0.1: Debian is well known for being "tested 'till destruction", to quote a couple sources I've read. It IS more difficult for the average person to install, but from everything I read it is robust, secure, and reliable. Many different distributions are derived from it and there is a huge software library for it. Debian still uses GNOME 2.0.x desktop, according to what I've read.

LINUX Mint 11 LINUX Mint is in many ways like Ubuntu, but it is also a competitor. Like Ubuntu, it is a Debian-derived distro. Mint 11 uses GNOME 2.x, though this might change next year when Mint 12 or 13 arrives. There is discussion on their site about either using GNOME 3 or maybe forking GNOME 2.x to something called "Mate" desktop that would (hopefully) retain compatibility with GNOME 2. We shall have to wait and see. Mint 11 comes "out of the box" with Java and Flash plugins installed so you can watch you-tube videos and access Java applications online. VERY COOL. I have already started initial tests on this one - more to come in my upcoming MINT post.

All I can say about the eventual use of GNOME 3 is I hope the above-mentioned distros clean it up before foisting it upon us as did Fedora and others.

Even the US Air Force has developed its very own LINUX distribution! Called "LPS" for "Lightweight Portable Security", it is intended to be kept on a bootable USB thumb drive and uses an encrypted file system. It can also be installed to a hard drive as with any other distro. It is also designed to prevent corruption of the essential operating system and software files, even if an online session does get hacked. It comes with Open Office and some other goodies pre-installed. I'll likely check this one out, too - I rather like the rationale on which it was based. Below is the link for more info and downloads:

Air Force's Secure LINUX Distro:

Stay tuned for results of my testing of the above-mentioned distributions.

Meanwhile, here are some links to articles I thought were useful for securing your LINUX system:

Some inside scoop on security

How to secure your LINUX system:

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