Category Archives: Stiri iT & C

OSGeoLive Distro Opens Doors to Geospatial Worlds | Reviews


By Jack M. Germain

Nov 29, 2019 10:00 AM PT

OSGeoLive Distro Opens Doors to Geospatial Worlds

If you ever have considered investigating or working with elements of the geospatial world, check out the latest edition of
OSGeoLive.

OSGeoLive is a Linux distribution that runs directly from a bootable DVD or USB thumb drive. You also can load a pre-made virtual machine disk file (vmdk) that runs in a VMware Workstation or VirtualBox environment. Or you can install it the old-fashioned way as a dual-boot or sole operating system on a hard drive.


OSGeoLive 13.0 offers a prelease peek into the latest distro update.

Version 13.0 of the OSGeoLive GIS software collection was just released at the International Conference for Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) in Bucharest, Romania.


Whichever approach you take, OSGeoLive gives you a complete Linux OS. If your work or hobby requires steady hands-on access to geospatial tools, you could use it as your primary OS.

This review was originally published on Sept. 6, 2019, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

Aside from the basic system tools and a few standard graphic and accessory applications, you would have to add from general software repositories applications such as office suites, audio and video tools. Adding your own to top off the specialized geospatial software that is included would give you a bloat-free computing platform.

This distro can serve your side interests, such as boating or traveling, by giving you portable and convenient access to navigational maps and other geospatial technologies, including storing, publishing, viewing, analyzing and manipulating data. It includes sample datasets, documentation and free world maps.

OSGeoLive is based on Lubuntu Linux and runs the LXDE desktop (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment). It is interesting to note that the latest Lubuntu release earlier this year switched to the LXQt desktop (the Lightweight Qt Desktop Environment). LXQt was formed from the merger of the LXDE and Razor-qt projects.


OSGeoLive LXDE desktop

OSGeoLive is based on Lubuntu Linux and runs the LXDE desktop.


When I downloaded the virtual machine disk edition last week I got OSGeoLive 13.0, which the
Open Source Geospatial Foundation officially released today, Sept. 6, for DVD and USB as well.

Release highlights:

  • New applications MapCache, GeoExt, t-rex, actinia;
  • Additional Python modules like Fiona, rasterio, cartopy, pandas, geopandas, mappyfile;
  • Improved documentation and four new translations, now supporting: English | Deutsch | Espaol | Suomi | Franais | Italiano | 日本語 | Hungarian; and
  • Version updates to many of the included packages.

Geographic Information Management

This distro, sponsored by the OSGeo Foundation, is a specialty Linux offering with a following comprised of data specialists and science researchers as well as mapping enthusiasts. Geospatial technology refers to all of the technology used to acquire, manipulate and store geographic information.

The foundation is a not-for-profit organization supporting geospatial open source software development, promotion and education. The current versions of this distro reflect a refining of the number and types of included software. The focus seems to be packaging only leading geospatial and standard Linux system tools and applications. The emphasis pushes quality over quantity.

The software selections include some 50 high-quality geospatial open source applications installed and preconfigured with sample datasets. You also get free world maps and various project overviews with step-by-step quickstart guides for each geospatial application.

System requirements are fairly forgiving, thanks to the lightweight desktop environment the distro uses. OSGeoLive runs on a broad collection of legacy hardware.

Minimum suggested system resources are 1 GB RAM, although it’s better to have 2 GB if you plan on trying the Java-based applications). You need a 1-GHz i386 or AMD64 compatible CPU. No hard drive is required, but a hard drive is needed if you want to have an installation that lets you save system settings and personal data.

Note that you can run this distro from the bootable DVD or USB installation. However, no persistent memory is available. You could get around that limitation by burning the ISO to a writable DVD or running the virtual machine disk version within your existing operating system installed on the hard drive.

OSGeoLive has an impressive inventory of geospatial software. Many of these titles are foundation projects. Some are standalone installed applications. Others are Web app connections that launch in the default Firefox Web browser from menus and desktop icons.


OSGeoLive library of four specialty apps

OSGeoLive has a library of specialty apps not found in other Linux scientific distros.


Spatial Toolbox

The Jupyter Notebook is a Web application to create and share documents that contain live code, equations, visualizations and explanatory text. Uses include data cleaning and transformation, numerical simulation, statistical modeling and machine learning.

Mapnik is a toolkit for rendering maps with clean, soft feature edges provided by quality anti-aliasing graphics, intelligent label placement and scalable, SVG symbolization. Mapnik is used to render the OpenStreetMap main map layers. It often is embedded in Python applications that deliver their maps over the Internet.

MapSlicer is a graphical application for online map publishing. You can use it to create overlays of standard maps like OpenStreetMap, Google Maps, Yahoo Maps or Bing Maps. Maps it creates can be visualized in 3D by Google Earth. Publishing your maps only requires uploading the automatically generated directory with tiles into your Web server.

The OTB/Monteverdi-based open source visualization tool handles your compression needs. This package is based on the Orfeo ToolBox (OTB). This is a CNES (French Spatial Agency) open source image processing library and the derived software Monteverdi. Monteverdi-Compression takes advantage of the visualization and image processing tools available in OTB and Monteverdi.

R Statistics uses the
R Project for Statistical Computing. It is a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics.

Plotting Your Course

Tools for navigating and course planning are an integral part ofr the geospatial toolset this distro handles. For instance,
GpsPrune is a tool for viewing, editing and converting coordinate data from GPS systems.

Use GPSPrune for planning trips or analyzing the tracks recorded by GPS receivers. It uses OpenStreetMap imagery to show recorded tracks and waypoints. It provides a variety of tools to let you edit, crop and prune the data points. It also has functions for correlating photos and audio files to the coordinates using the file timestamps.

GpsPrune uses Gpsbabel, if available, to read data directly from a GPS receiver and can send the edited data back to the receiver too.

JOSM or Jaffa OpenStreetMap Editor, is a desktop editing tool for OpenStreetMap geodata created in Java.

Marble is a virtual globe and world atlas. It is similar to a desktop globe. You can pan around and measure distances with it.

OpenCPN Chart Plotter Navigation is used by thousands of boaters as their main navigational tool for use under way or as a planning tool.

OpenStreetMap is the free wiki world map. Together you have land and sea routes completely covered.

Weather is another element critical to geospatial awareness.
zyGrib is a program to download and visualize weather forecast data in the standard GRIB distribution format.

Default GIS Tools

Geographic Information System (GIS) tools are essential for handling geospatial surroundings on a computer. OSGeoLive gives you several options by default.

GRASS GIS, commonly referred to as GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System), is a free and open source Geographic Information System (GIS) software suite used for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, graphics and maps production, spatial modeling and visualization.

gvSIG Desktop is a powerful, user-friendly, interoperable GIS used by thousands worldwide. It provides vector and raster file support, databases and remote services. This desktop offering provides a variety of tools to analyze and manage your geographic information.

OpenJUMP GIS is a Java-based vector and raster GIS and programming framework that enables users to display, edit, analyze and conflate geographic data. A similar tool is
Open Source Desktop GIS for creating, editing, visualizing, analyzing and publishing geospatial information.

The
SAGA GIS, or System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses, is a GIS computer program used to edit spatial data.

Another similar tool is
uDig. It provides a complete Java solution for desktop GIS data access, editing and viewing.

More Geospatial Essentials

Databases and browser clients are the backbone of the geospatial toolset included in OSGeoLive platform.

pgAdmin III is a tool for working with the PostgreSQL Tools. It adds heightened functionality and convenience in handling PostgreSQL content.

Rasdaman (Raster Data Manager) is an Array Database Management System. In this distro Rasdaman is coupled with EarthLook to showcase standards-based services on Big Earth Data — in particular, spatial-temporal coverage.

SHP2pgsql is a tool that generates an SQL script from ESRI shape and DBF files suitable for loading into a PostGIS enabled database. Spatialite GUI is an open source graphical user interface (GUI) tool supporting SpatiaLite, a spatial extension to SQLite that provides vector geodatabase functionality.

The Browser Clients menu is perhaps the largest collection of specialized geospatial tools in this distro. It is a collection of standalone tools you otherwise would have to track down and install on your own.

  • GeoNode is a Web-based application and platform for developing geospatial information systems (GIS) and for deploying spatial data infrastructures (SDI);
  • Cesium is a geospatial app with a simple workflow to create 3D maps of geospatial data for visualization, analysis and sharing;
  • GeoExt is a JavaScript Toolkit for Rich Web Mapping Applications based on ExtJS and OpenLayers;
  • GeoMoose 3 is a Web Client JavaScript Framework for displaying distributed cartographic data;
  • Leaflet is a JavaScript library for mobile-friendly interactive maps;
  • Mapbender is a Web-based geoportal framework to publish, register, view, navigate, monitor and grant secure access to spatial data infrastructure services;
  • OpenLayers is a high-performance, feature-packed library for creating interactive maps on the Web;
  • Geomajas is a collection of free and open source GIS libraries, tools and APIs for a complete end-to-end Web mapping solution.

In a Nutshell

OSGeoLive is a unique Linux distro. It pulls together a large library of Linux tools and applications that support geospatial workloads. It is not designed to be a general usability Linux operating system, but if you add the software it’s missing, you can happily use it for other computing tasks.

I was particularly intrigued by some of its standalone applications and Web app offerings. Browsing through this distro’s feature tools was a fun-filled discovery experience.

Nothing needed to be set up or configured. One click led to another. With each new screen came interesting information that teased my inquisitive mind. The experience actually sparked an interest in the world of geospatial elements.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please
email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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You’ve Come a Long Way, Linux-Baby | Community


When Linux first emerged from its cocoon in a frenzied Usenet thread, it is doubtful that almost anyone imagined the project would ascend to global prominence.

Even more astonishingly, its dominance was driven as much, if not more, by its adoption by the private sector — although it posed an antithesis to its business model — as by any of its other notable traits.

It is precisely because its road from obscure curiosity to corporate mainstay was so unlikely that it pays to appreciate how Linux got to where it is today. Here’s a look at how far Linux has come over its 28-plus years — and at the tech titans that helped it get there.

In the Beginning Was the Kernel

On the off chance that anyone reading an in-depth column on Linux doesn’t know much about its genesis, following is a brief review.

In the early 1990s, Finnish university student Linus Torvalds set out
to create a clone of a pedagogical Unix-like system called “MINIX.”

What started out as a modest effort to pursue his educational goals quickly attracted the attention of the denizens of Usenet, an early Internet forum. They were not only excited to get their hands on Torvalds’ creation, but also were eager to pitch in and make it work for the widest community of users possible.

That’s when Torvalds threw open the doors — with trusted lieutenants standing in front of them as bouncers — to community code contributions. When the GNU project,
which was woefully behind in its work on the Hurd kernel, saw Linux burst onto the scene, the two projects soon entered a symbiotic relationship.

As anyone who has had any amount of experience with Linux knows, the Linux kernel development team (across all of its continuity) doesn’t produce installation-ready operating systems.

Rather, these systems spring up from the pluralistic ecosystem of Linux distributions. This ecosystem did not materialize overnight, but although the maturation and proliferation of distributions took time, Linux uptake by the private sector kept pace as the ecosystem became more dynamic.

Business as Unusual

Though the birth of Torvalds’ brainchild certainly marked a milestone in software development, players in the commercial tech sector were no strangers to advances and knew what sort of development models suited their objectives. If the established tech companies had their preferences, why did they even pay Linux any mind in the first place?

There were a couple of architectural and logistical points in Linux’s favor that eventually piqued the interest of the more daring tech companies.

To start with, the fact that Linux had a devoted community of users constantly writing new kernel modules for whatever hardware they wanted it to run on meant that Linux held the potential to embrace a wide spectrum of devices.

This rapid expansion of compatibility was even further catalyzed by the kernel’s open development model: If a company’s developers wrote a kernel module for their preferred hardware, they could submit it to the Linux kernel project itself and, if accepted, count on further assistance from the community and the lead developers.

In other words, the open source nature of Linux meant that components that otherwise would languish in a small development team could tap into the dedicated work of the crowd for further refinement.

Another crucial factor for Linux’s ultimate success was the debut of what arguably was its first killer app, the Apache Web server. From the beginning, Linux could bring solid Unix-style tools to bear in the form of the constellation of GNU Project tools — from the GNU C Compiler (GCC) to the GRUB bootloader to even the Bash shell, to name only a (very) few.

To be sure, these could get Linux users with a sufficient degree of aplomb pretty far on their own, but Linux could not yet boast many specialized applications.

That all changed when the
Apache Web server came out. Released under a license similarly liberal as the one governing Linux and GNU, Apache could be downloaded easily, configured, and run on Linux to host dependable sites on the burgeoning World Wide Web.

Users who formerly had to consider purchasing costly Web server software had a free, high-quality alternative, dramatically lowering the barriers for them to prop up a website and unleash their creativity. This definitely benefited hobbyists greatly, but it also provided private tech companies with a viable avenue to avoid licensing products from competitors.

In fact, it was the desire to outflank competing companies that paved the way for Linux’s most profitable gambit. IBM, shrewdly, did not want to miss out on the chance to provide services on the ebullient Web of the late 90s. However, there initially was no easy route to the Web that did not go through its entrenched competition — namely Netscape.

Apache’s arrival was
an incomparable stroke of luck for IBM, as it let the company establish a presence on the Web for next to no cost.

As a thank you, IBM invested a portion of the savings into open source software development. The company’s embrace of open source did not stop there, though: When IBM sought an operating system to showcase its hardware, it once again declined to license expensive software from a competitor and turned to the Linux distribution we now know as “Red Hat.”

IBM
has supported the growth of Linux ever since, investing substantial sums into Linux development and even going so far as to outright acquire Red Hat earlier this year.

It’s hard to say whether IBM would have maintained its lofty perch as a powerhouse of technological innovation had it not placed its faith in Linux and open source software generally, but its purchase of Red Hat undoubtedly is a sign of IBM’s enduring confidence in Linux.

Open Source Closes Deals

One can make a convincing case that IBM vindicated Linux’s commercial viability, but it was by no means the last company to make Linux a key part of its business. Quite to the contrary, Linux has enjoyed even more and deeper integration into the work of private companies that previously produced proprietary software exclusively.

There is probably no more illustrative example of this than Android. Free or open source software purists sometimes take issue with how “open” Google’s end product actually is, but Android is still an incredible boon to Linux on the whole.

It ensures that Linux receives continued monetary support from Google, and it has been indispensable in extending Linux’s global reach. Today Android is the most prevalent mobile OS in the world.

It also proved to consumers, who may not appreciate how pervasive Linux servers are on the Internet, that Linux stands on equal footing with any other operating system, whether server, desktop or mobile in nature.

Linux also looms large in the realm of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the bevy of networked appliances that have erupted onto both the enterprise and consumer markets. The vast majority of IoT devices are not manufactured by tech sector stalwarts, and manufacturers looking to break into the IoT market generally don’t have the capital to license a commercial OS at scale.

Here, too, Linux made for a snug fit between its unbeatable price point and its versatile hardware support. Truly, few other kernels or OSes could run on devices that run the gamut from thermostats to smart home assistants to industrial sensors without breaking a sweat.

Granted, IoT doesn’t have a great reputation for security, as this class of devices has an outsized tendency to make up botnets like Mirai. I know as well as anyone that
IoT security has a long way to go, but Linux’s dedicated community, ample support from large tech companies, and mammoth presence afford the industry the tools to meet the challenges IoT faces.

The trending of information security and cloud computing practices toward virtualized containers has driven businesses into Linux’s open arms, too.

To briefly explain the use of virtual containers (often referred to as “containerization”): Instead of running one OS per piece of hardware, users can configure one instance of a container management program, such as Kubernetes, and run dozens or hundreds of individual containers concurrently on one set of hardware. Each container, which is a barebones OS with limited access rights to the system running the container manager, thinks it is the only OS on the system, reducing the risks that one container’s compromise propagates to others.

Once again, companies favor free Linux-based OSes over paying to utilize alternatives, especially when containerization demands such a dizzying scale of system deployment. Considering that Linux can beat Windows and other competing options on size (as its image is way smaller than that of server-grade Windows) and on cost, Linux easily makes the top pick for containers.

Finally, and most astoundingly, there’s Microsoft. The history of Microsoft’s tumultuous relationship with Linux deserves its own article, but suffice it to say that initially, Microsoft was not a fan of the fledgling open source project. Yet in 2014, the company made the now infamous declaration that
Microsoft hearts Linux, and the connection between the two has been growing rosier ever since.

At first, many in the open source community were skeptical of Microsoft’s ultimate level of commitment to reinforcing the continued maturation of Linux, not to mention suspicious of the purity of its motives in doing so. Since then, Microsoft has given its earnest support to Linux at every turn.

The software giant started by releasing the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), an instance of Linux that can live inside any edition of Windows 10, and that soon will be virtualized fully, once WSL 2.0 leaves the Windows Insider program sometime next year.

Microsoft didn’t stop there, though. The company created a modified version of the Linux kernel as part of its Azure Sphere enterprise solution. Though not as widely available as WSL, it constitutes a huge first for a company that once eschewed open source software entirely. Considering that few people predicted the partnership in the first place, there’s no telling what fruits it will produce in the future.

All of these developments taken together paint an encouraging financial picture for Linux. As IBM, Google and Microsoft all have a stake in Linux’s continuing ability to thrive, they all have become major backers of the project, contributing generous sums to its coffers annually. Strangely enough, as this trio of tech titans all compete in one arena or another, Linux is the only sacred cow they all agree to look after.

The Kernel That Keeps on Blossoming

When viewed in the scope of its entire life cycle, Linux has reached a commanding height that most homegrown projects can only dream of. Far from assimilating into the old guard that invited it into their midst, Linux is still as dynamic as ever.

As artificial intelligence has given rise to ambitious new applications like self-driving cars, Linux-based initiatives have stepped up to supply the base system to meet these applications’ unique needs.

For instance, the Ubuntu distribution’s parent company Canonical has been especially active in
supplying the OS for
self-driving cars, and rumors continue to swirl that Canonical eventually
will become a publicly traded company.

Red Hat also is driving innovation from its newly insulated financial position as an IBM company. It recently
signed on with Mozilla to optimize WebAssembly to run compiled code in the browser more efficiently and
open-sourced the code for the Quay containerization management software.

Between the assuredness of its position and the enduring quality of its work, Red Hat truly has become the gold standard of open source profitability in the eyes of many.

It’s a common jeer that Linux enthusiasts refuse to admit that the “Year of the Linux Desktop” will never come. Regardless, Linux has accomplished the more impressive feat of securing its place as a power player in a fast-paced tech industry that has shed so many others.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.


Jonathan Terrasi has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2017. His main interests are computer security (particularly with the Linux desktop), encryption, and analysis of politics and current affairs. He is a full-time freelance writer and musician. His background includes providing technical commentaries and analyses in articles published by the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights.





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Cleverly Reimagined Slax Distro Pushes Portable Linux’s Limits | Reviews


By Jack M. Germain

Nov 22, 2019 10:44 AM PT

Slax Linux is a handy portable operating system that can be a useful alternative to bulky, more complicated Linux options that install to a hard drive.

However, if you are looking for a quick and simple starting point for using the Linux OS, Slax is far from a complete out-of-the-box solution. That is not a bad thing, though. Slax works.

Copying just one folder from the downloaded ISO directly to a USB drive gives you a fully functional Linux OS. Without any tinkering, you can add applications and change configurations with all changes permanently stored on the USB drive. That includes storing all of your must-have documents on the USB stick as well.

You can bypass all changes and rerun a vanilla version of Slax whenever you want. You also can copy the OS to any computer’s memory for faster performance.

Slax has a minimal design that comes with a small inventory of installed software. The rest you add to build your system your way.

Slax LinuxFluxbox window manager

Slax is a modular, minimal-design portable Linux distro that runs the Fluxbox window manager as a desktop environment. It comes with very few basic applications but there is potential to build upon its functionality.

– click image to enlarge –


What Is Slax?

Slax is a modern, portable, small and fast Linux operating system. It uses a modular approach with a clever redesign from its earlier roots.

Slax used to be a Slackware-based distro — hence its name — running the KDE desktop, which came with a wide collection of preinstalled software. Around 2012, the developer put that distribution on hiatus for several years before re-emerging with a new design.

Slax’s Czech Republic-based development community, headed by Slax creator Tom Matějček, changed the direction for new Slax development when he released version 9 in 2017.

The latest version release of the new Slax design became available on Nov. 11. That ISO file is version 9.11.0.

Since then, new releases have been based on Debian Linux. Gone is the KDE desktop environment. Instead, the new Slax runs the Fluxbox window manager as its desktop environment.

The change in development is all good for Slax. The Debian base makes the new Slax much easier to use. Plus, access to Debian repositories provides a much larger selection of software.

You can run Slax from a DVD, but that method blocks you from saving system changes and your data files. A better approach is to run Slax from a USB drive. That gives you the option to enable persistent storage.

Look and Feel

Slax gives you a simple, clean-looking desktop. You can position the toolbar or panel bar on any edge of the screen. The default location is at the bottom.

Slax Linux virtual workspaces

Slax’s desktop has the ability to resize open windows, move applications among virtual workspaces, and apply minimal changes to system configurations.

– click image to enlarge –


The menu button at the left end of the panel shows a GNOME-like icon display across the full screen. Open application windows dock on the toolbar. A shutdown button, digital clock and sound control icon are visible on the right end.

Fluxbox does not provide desktop icons applets. Nor are there additional applets and application launchers for the screen or panel. There is no virtual workspace switcher applet.

There are virtual workspaces conveniently tucked out of view. You access them directly through keyboard shortcuts. For example, press the CTRL + Function keys to navigate to any number of virtual workspaces: FTRL + Fn1, CTRL + Fn 2, etc.

Right-click on the panel, desktop, top border of an open window, or the docked icon in the panel to send a running application to any virtual workspace.

Right-clicking on the screen or the panel also presents access to a few system adjustments. These include changing screen resolution, keyboard layout, setting connectivity in the network manager and launching several applications.

Minimal System Control

The Fluxbox window manager is a barely-there lightweight window manager. It comes preconfigured for the most common tasks. It makes using Slax a lot less complicated than using the full-fledged K desktop found in the older version 8 and prior Slax releases.

Integrating Fluxbox into the new Slax is a shortcut I wish Matějček hadn’t taken. Granted, Fluxbox is one of the best ultra-lightweight window managers in Linux land, but that ultra lightness imposes user interface limitations.

I would find something with a bit less “ultra” in the lightweight window manager category — perhaps Openbox or Xfce.

Not being a “real” desktop environment poses a few limitations over how much control you have making Slax’s system adjustments. The great benefit is the convenience of having system changes and your data stored on a USB drive.

Other Linux-on-a-stick options, such as Puppy Linux or Quirky Linux, require considerably more configuration steps and frugal installation processes to enable persistent memory. Slax gets the job done with a simple folder drag. Installation per se is eliminated.

Yes, you can get added performance speed from Slax when loading applications from the hard drive and performing other computing tasks, but that tends to be overkill. You can not run Slax from a hard drive installation on a dual boot system, which presents other issues.

Flexible Booting

That said, I had no trouble booting Slax from a USB drive plugged into a computer with six other operating systems installed. The difference is not placing Slax on the hard drive.

I also was able to run Slax by booting from a USB plugged into a laptop computer that dual boots into Windows 10 and three other Linux OSes. Pressing the appropriate key when the computer powers up displays the Slax booting option along with the various hard-drive installations.

Slax runs directly from your USB flash drive without installing. This gives you a Linux system that you can carry in your pocket and run on any computer you use.

Slax has a small footprint on USB file storage. It also has very little need for RAM. I had no trouble using it on several very old laptops with minimal RAM.

Simple Installation

The website has detailed directions for getting Slax up and running. That process does not involve much preparation at all. If you are a first-time Linux inquisitor, you can purchase a mini DVD (US$19.95 or microSD with USB reader ($29.95) with all that you need preinstalled.

As is typical for purchasing preinstalled Linux OSes, you are paying for the storage medium, not the free open source operating system. Otherwise, you can download the 277.7MB Slax ISO file in just a few minutes.

You do not have to burn the ISO to a DVD to try out Slax. Nor do you have to use a special program to install the ISO to the USB device. All you have to do is open the ISO file and drag the Slax folder directly to the USB device.

Oh, you do have to make the USB storage bootable, but that is a simple one-click process with Slax — or, as it was in my case, two clicks. Do this after you drag the Slax folder from the ISO file you downloaded to the USB drive.

Do the same thing if you are “installing” on a hard drive. To run Slax from a hard drive, you need to copy the contents of the ISO file directly to its hard disk’s root.

Glitches Happen

Navigate to the /slax/boot/ directory on the intended installation drive. If you are using a Windows computer, double-click on the bootinst.bat file. If you are using a computer running Linux, double click on the bootinst.sh file.

The executable files will make all the necessary changes to the device’s master boot record. The changes tell the computer’s BIOS how to boot Slax from the disk.

I first tried this procedure on a Linux computer. An error message reported a software dependency issue. Rather than spend time resolving that problem, I put the USB drive into a Windows computer.

That solved the problem. As a follow-up, I set up a second USB drive and inserted it into another Linux computer running a different distribution.

Problem solved. No dependency issues.

Functionality vs. Usability

Slax Linux has a minimal design that requires several workarounds. It comes with a few basic applications and a lot of missing necessities. You have to add what you need.

Slax comes with the Chromium Web browser, the Xterm terminal emulator, the simple Leafpad text editor, the VLC media player, and the Galculate calculator.

Also included are a few system tools such as a network manager, task manager and file manager. You also get the X file archiver.

What you do not get is an installed package manager to add/remove system components and applications. Slax also lacks a preinstalled word processor and spreadsheet program. Also missing is a system tool for personalizing or modifying the distro’s configuration.

Whatever your favorite computer games and other utilities are, they are not bundled in the Slax Linux ISO. So, despite the hassle-free pseudo installation, Slax Linux require a significant setup to make it useful for doing much of anything.

Terminal to the Rescue – or Not

If you are totally new to Linux, this is where the procedures get a bit dicey. You CAN install new software titles without having a package manager with a graphical interface. The command line becomes your salvation — but the developer does not provide information on how to use the commands.

If you are going to use Slax Linux seriously, the first thing you need to do is use the terminal window to install the Synaptic Package Manager, a Debian Linux staple.

Normally, Linux distros require the use of sudo to authorize system commands. I did the installation without using sudo or superuser. However, there is no installation process for Slax Linux, so you do not have to use login and password credentials when you load the OS. If you use the sudo preface, you will need the authorization password.

For the record, the default username (not needed, however) is the word “root” without the quotation marks. The password (if needed) is “root” without the quotation marks.

  • Open the terminal program by pressing CTRL + Alt +_ T keys; or click the terminal icon after clicking on the menu button at the far left of the panel or toolbar.
  • Enter this command: apt-get install synaptic

The installation is complete when no new lines of text scroll down the terminal window. Be sure to wait.

Now you have a graphical interface to handle all of your ongoing software needs. You will see a new icon listed on the screen, labeled “Synaptic,” when you click on the menu button.

If you are unfamiliar with using the Synaptic Package Manager, you will find lots of directions on the Internet. You can search for terminal commands to install and remove other programs as well.

Hint: Before you do anything else in Synaptic, be sure to click on the Reload button in the toolbar of the Synaptic window to update the content cache.

Other Observations

I have two primary concerns with Slax Linux.

One is its bloated behavior. the more software I add to its inventory, the more sluggish it performs, so I may have to settle for feeding it a smaller collection of utilities.

The second is that a number of packages I tried installing were replete with error messages about missing dependencies.

A handy feature is the ability to activate modules on the fly. Modules are special changes you save with a module name ending with an .sb extension. They are alternatives to loading all of your persistent storage at boot.

You can activate a module while running Slax without rebooting, using the Slax activate command. You can deactivate any module with the slax deactivate command, also without rebooting. Using this feature may help relieve the “bloated” characteristics I mentioned above.

Using Cheat Codes

When you boot Slax Linux, a cloverleaf image appears as part of the splash screen. If you press the Escape key within four seconds, you get a three-line menu to fine-tune how Slax finishes booting. Arrow down to your preference and press the ENTER key. The choices:

Run Slax (Keep changes persistent)
Run Slax (Fresh start)
Run Slax (Copy to RAM)

You also can enter special boot parameters called “cheat codes.” They affect the boot process of Slax. You can use them to disable hardware detection or to start Slax from a hard drive, for example.

To use cheat codes, press the Esc key to activate boot menu during Slax startup as usual, and when you see the boot menu, press the Tab key. A command line will appear at the bottom of the screen. You can find a list of cheat codes on the developer’s website.

Bottom Line

Slax runs on a wide range of different file systems, including EXT (ext2,ext3,ext4), btrfs, and even FAT and NTFS.

It took me about one hour to download the must-have computing applications and accessory tools that fit my needs. The installation of each program takes longer than a distro installed to a hard drive. USB drives are much slower than an internal hard drive.

Once I had all of my needed software up and running, I generally was pleased with how Slax Linux performed.

Slax is not a perfect Linux platform, at least not yet — but for me its convenience and flexibility outweigh its current shortcomings.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please
email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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Latest ExTix: Lots of Flexibility and a Few Flaws | Reviews


By Jack M. Germain

Nov 1, 2019 9:38 AM PT

ExTiX 19.10, released with the LXQt desktop on Oct. 23, is a customized Linux distro that leaves you wanting more but settling for less.

ExTix is a lightweight modular Linux operating system that is part of the Exton Linux/Live Systems family of distributions hosted by The Swedish Linux Society. The Society hosts 16 Exton distributions.

The ExTix distro line, developed by Arne Exton, is perhaps the best known of Exton’s Linux platforms. However, the Exton Linux inventory of distributions is a fertile repository of custom distros you will not find elsewhere.

Exton Linux releases contain an assortment of customized Linux distros based on a wide family of options including Arch, Debian, Ubuntu, Puppy and Slackware. Multiple versions of these distros have an even wider range of desktops.

I have focused only on the LXQt edition of ExTix so far. At differing intervals in the developmental cycle, the developer releases three other ExTix customized desktop choices for ExTix: Budgie, Deepin and KDE.

Within the four ExTix options, you have an unusual lineup. The ExTix line is not a retread of other distros you may have tried running any of these desktops. The Exton Linux family offers many approaches to providing Linux workstations.

Each of these customized platforms is unique. No server platforms are in the mix. You will not find clones of other Linux distributions.

Approach your introduction to ExTix Linux with an open mind. ExTiX has several shortcomings that can make it a bit troublesome to use, but the releases are stable beyond a doubt.

This distro, built around the LXQt desktop, is definitely quirky in spots. The quirkiness is more due to the developer’s design than the result of instability. Still, the shortcomings in this distro can give new users a less-than-satisfying experience.

ExTix Family History

Developer Arne Exton created ExTiX and dubbed it “the ultimate Linux system.” It is an offshoot of his other Exton Linux/Live Systems.

Both the Exton and ExTiX OSes are linked to download ports on SourceForge.net. You can also
” target=”_blank”>download a variety of ExTix releases from The Swedish Linux Society’s server. This might be your best option as the ISO files are listed all in one place.

I reviewed ExTiX in 2015 after the developer yanked out GNOME and replaced it with the then-brand-new LXQt desktop. I again reviewed the ExTix LXQt desktop release last summer.

Different Under the Hood

ExTiX 19.10 LXQt DVD 64-bit is based on Debian and Ubuntu 19.10. This relatively new desktop environment is the product of merging the LXDE-Qt and the Razor-qt projects.

LXQt is actually the technical replacement of LXDE, the Lightweight X Desktop Environment. The difference between LXDE and LXQt is rooted in their separate toolkits. These are developer tools to draw app interfaces in a consistent way.

Toolkits provide a standardized way for developers to design and program toolbar buttons, dropdown menus and such, without starting from scratch for each app. Two Linux toolkits dominate that landscape: GTK+ and Qt.

LXDE uses GTK3 code that was revised in 2011. The LXDE maintainer released a port based on Qt code in 2013. Then other developers merged the Qt version of LXDE and the Razor-qt desktop interface to create LXQt.

More recent ExTix editions used the Calamares installer. That followed Exton’s decision to replace Ubuntu Linux’s Ubiquity installer with Calamares.

Key Usefulness

Developer Exton designed the ExTix distro to expand the temporary nature of Live Session environments. His approach brings more flexibility to the bootable CD/DVD/USB concept. ExTiX 19.10 improves on previous installation options.

The live session all-the-time feature is an inviting approach. Usually, Linux distros are distributed via downloaded ISO files that are used to sample a distro by running directly from a bootable DVD or USB storage medium. Most distros’ live session environments allow you to install a Linux system to a host computer’s hard drive.

ExTix Linux retains a live session environment after installation.

ExTix Linux is a customized Linux OS that retains a live session environment after installation.


Other live session installation features let you create a portable Linux system that boots a computer from a USB drive. This approach stores all configuration and file updates to the same storage medium using a feature called “persistent memory.”

ExTix builds on those methods. It provides an option to install the live session with configuration changes intact onto the hard drive. Plus, you can run ExTix from a USB thumb drive with persistent memory active.

ExTix is a lightweight distro in terms of how little it drains system resources. Running the live session from a hard drive is faster than running it from a DVD session. A USB-launched live session is somewhat speedier than a DVD launch.

Yet ExTix offers an even better running option. You can launch it via an option to transfer the system to the computer’s memory. Your system needs at least 2 GB of RAM for this to work.

Wait, There’s More

This run-in-memory option, whether launched from hard drive or USB drive installation, gives you lightning-fast performance. If you use the USB installation, you also get the advantage of having a portable Linux OS that you can carry around in your pocket and run on any computer.

Sort of, that is. ExTix has some built-in design limitations to that portability. You can run the bootable DVD with any computer that is capable of booting from an optical drive — but not all new laptops come with built-in DVD drives these days. See more on this booting limitation below.

Obviously, if you use the persistent memory feature, all of your settings and data files will be included. Or you could carry your essential data files on a second USB drive or access them from your cloud storage service. If you bypassed the persistent memory installation, you would run the default version of ExTix.

The ExTix Approach

ExTix makes it somewhat easier to combine options without fussing with the awkward setup process to create persistent memory or having to settle for the plain vanilla default ISO contents.

Use the Refracta Snapshot tool found in the System Tools category of the main menu. First, launch the live session.

Then make all the configuration adjustments via the various system tools in the Preferences panel of the main menu. Next, add and configure applications not included in the default ISO.

Finally, run the Refracta Snapshot tool to create a bootable live session system. This gives you the best of both worlds.

Multiple Deployment Aid

You also can use the USB installation to deploy your personalized ExTix Linux to whatever computers you want. This same approach is available with the other three ExTix editions.

The only difference is the look and feel options of the separate desktops and the default applications. Remember, each of these editions is built around some customization.

Another plus that comes with running ExTix 19.10 is access by default to Nvidia’s proprietary graphics driver 430.50, which is preinstalled. It will be used automatically if your computer has support for it.

ExTix 19.10 provides automatic access by default to Nvidia's graphics driver.

A bonus with ExTix 19.10 is automatic access by default to Nvidia’s proprietary graphics driver.


Here is a secret about ExTix: Unlike many Linux ISOs, this one runs flawlessly in a VirtualBox environment. You do not have to burn the ISO to test it. You do not have to fiddle with virtual machine settings to tweak its performance.

The Bearable Downside

I said early on in this review that ExTix leaves you wanting more but settling for less. Take my assessment as a description, not a harsh criticism.

Out-of-the-box, you might find Extix Linux to be a bit lacking in default applications. The bundled application do not include any office packages such as LibreOffice. Games and multimedia players are sorely absent.

So are most of the typical applications you would expect to find in Linux distros running any of the offered desktops. The LXQt release from last summer had noticeably more bundled applications, including an office suite.

You have to make up for these omissions by downloading and installing what you need. ExTix does not maintain its own software store. Synaptic Package Manager is available, however, as the go-to tool for adding and removing applications.

More Downsides

You will find some strangeness in the installation procedures and the added steps to creating persistence for the only real running option — live session environments. Just follow the installation tweaking instructions posted on the ExTix website.

I much prefer the Calamares installer that was previously available in ExTix. The Refracta Installation tool is not as forgiving or as flexible with installation options.

You can pop in the bootable DVD to run the plain vanilla live session that is ExTix 19.10, but the limitations in this current release dampen your ability to use ExTix as a personalized pocket Linux.

Keep in mind that for the Refracta installation tools to work, you either must install Grub or edit the existing Grub configuration file on the host computer into which you will insert the live USB stick. This eliminates the ability to have an updated pocket distro that you can plug into any computer.

Loose Security

Another oddity is the live session login. It is automatic. That can pose a security risk.

You do not have to supply a password. It is easy to run the live session in system RAM without having to type special commands in an edit window when the DVD initially loads. Just select boot alternative four (Load to RAM).

You can remove the DVD or USB stick once the system loads. This makes it convenient to access your documents while running in Live session without creating persistence.

Connectivity Barriers

One of my major disappointments with ExTix is its inability to have an always-on Internet connection. I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the ISO live session does not automatically connect to the host computer’s LAN connection.

I would expect that result on laptops without a compatible WiFi driver, and I almost never fail to have a connection when I run a VM session, which almost always piggybacks the host computer’s connectivity.

My experience with ExTix is the reverse of that scenario. My desktop computers universally had no automatic LAN connection, but even my finicky laptops registered available WiFi connections.

My efforts to manually add a LAN connection failed. Editing and creating LAN connections usually is fairly routine. Not so, it appears, when using ExTix 19.10.

Extix Linux 19.10 menu

Extix Linux 19.10 is missing some standard applications and an easy Internet connection.


Bottom Line

ExTix Linux is an unusual distro. One of its most compelling attractions is also one of its unusual design traits. It is a fully functional Linux platform that runs in a live session state.

ExTix has much flexibility to offer, but it takes some setup and tinkering to get it working to full potential.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please
email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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Samsung’s Support for Linux on DeX Fizzles | Developers


By Jack M. Germain

Oct 22, 2019 9:45 AM PT

Samsung has called quits on its effort to provide a full Linux desktop platform for Android.

In an email to beta testers last week, Samsung said it would not support its Linux on DeX beta program for future operating system and device releases.

Samsung’s announcement coincides with Google’s release of the Android 10 OS update and its rollout on Samsung phones. Neither company will provide Linux on DeX support.

Linux on DeX allows users to connect smartphones or tablets to monitors to simulate a full Linux desktop computing experience. Samsung initially offered DeX as a docking station for phones. It then allowed users to connect their Android phones to monitors via a USB-C cable.

Samsung did not provide details on what led to the decision to dump DeX support but an advisory informed users that DeX will not be supported in Android 10 beta. Samsung phone users will not be able to perform a version rollback to Android Pie.

“Given the company’s reported money woes related to problems in its memory division, I expect the decision to drop Linux on DeX was motivated by financial concerns,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Short-Lived Beta

The name “DeX” is a contraction of “Desktop eXperience.” The Linux on DeX beta program was functional, but it apparently did not progress as Samsung hoped. The company never released a stable software version before pulling the plug on DeX’s development.

Only select Samsung phones were part of the beta program. First included were Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ devices. DeX later became available for Galaxy S9 and S10 phones, as well as Galaxy Note phones.

A device running DeX functioned as a docking station. Users placed the phone in the docking cradle to connect a keyboard, mouse and monitor. The DeX docking station allowed users to run their phone’s operating system as an Android personal computer.

Samsung and Canonical last year partnered on an app that allowed select Galaxy phones to run a full Linux desktop on top of Android. The company started a private beta for the Linux on DeX project last November. The private beta allowed Linux to open in select Galaxy devices in DeX mode.

“While Linux on DeX was an intriguing solution, the number of customers affected by the project’s cancellation is likely fairly modest,” King told LinuxInsider.

A Goal Beyond Reach?

Of greater importance is why Samsung retreated from its goal, according to Thomas Hatch, CTO of
SaltStack.

“The idea of having a single device to use as a laptop and as a phone is not new. It has been touted as a Holy Grail by many in the phone and laptop communities. It also promises that phone manufacturers could dip into the laptop market,” he told LinuxInsider.

The problems developers need to overcome to achieve this, though, are not trivial, Hatch said. Being able to merge uses across these chasms has long been a challenge.

“Look at how difficult it was to make desktop environments that span desktops and tablets,” he pointed out. “It also forces the question, hasn’t Google already solved this with cloud services?”

What we need to remember about technology is that good tech satisfies real human needs and alleviates real human pain. That leads to two different paths, Hatch suggested.

Is the real solution to not have to carry around a laptop? Or is it to have all data unified across devices?

“I think that Samsung stepping back here means that they see the problem that DeX is trying to solve as the unification of assets rather than not having to carry a laptop,” Hatch observed.

Alternatives to Ponder

Samsung phone users and owners of other phone models interested in running Linux on their Android phones can explore several options, Pund-IT’s King suggested.

Maru is a context-aware, lightweight open operating system that unites mobile and desktop computing. Maru is based on Debian Linux but is not compatible with all Android phone models. Maru automatically detects when an external display is available and connects keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth.

Termux is an Android terminal emulator and Linux environment application that works directly with no rooting or setup required. The Android app installs a minimal Linux base system automatically. You can add more packages using the APT package manager. A terminal emulator is a program that provides a text-based interface to the shell.

UserLand is an open source Android app that allows you to run several Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Debian and Kali without rooting your device.

Linux Deploy is an Android app that provides relatively quick and easy installation of the GNU/Linux operating system on an Android device. The application requires a rooted phone.


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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