(SCO) UnitedLinux Beta Review

First of all, why is SCO in braces, you’ll ask. The reason is, I have not seen anything in this linux distribution that sounds or smells like Caldera/SCO, even though I downloaded it through SCO’s UnitedLinux beta tester website. I will mostly focus on the installation (as I am a UNIX installation developer in “real life”), but I will also discuss more parts of the UnitedLinux distribution. For more screenshots of UnitedLinux and its installation procedure, go here.

Everybody’s first meeting with a new linux distro is the installation, which has particular meaning to me as my job is to be an installation developer.

The UL beta comes on 2 package CDs and one source CD, which I didn’t even bother to download.

The first CD is bootable, and it boots straight into SVGA graphics with mouse support. And here came my first surprise: it’s graphical but it’s not Caldera’s/SCO’s Lizard, it’s SuSE’s YAST. I have used all the Caldera Linux distributions since OpenLinux 1.1 Lite, and I really like Lizard. On the other hand, I have some prejudice against YAST and expecially the SuSE X11 configuration tool SaX, as it failed to detect the correct parameters for video cards on all the PCs I ever tried to install SuSE 6.0 or 6.1. My prejudice was unjust as we’ll see later, but I was still right to miss Lizard.

First a disclaimer appears about the Beta-ness of the product I am about to install, where I have to click on “Accept” if I want to continue the installation. Next I select the language for the installer. After investigating the system and disks, it detects my existing Linux partition and offers the options “New installation”, “update an existing system”, “boot installed system” and “abort installation”. I chose the first option.

networking problems It scans some more, and presents a screen that fools me into thinking that it already formatted the disk and started instaling packages without even asking! However, that’s not the case; the screen rather presents a list of proposed installation changes, which you can modify by clicking on various categories presented as hyperlinks. These categories are Keyboard layout, Mouse (I was a bit disappointed, as it didn’t have my PS/2 Logitech wheelmouse in the list, so I just accepted the option it detected: “IntelliWheel” on AUX port), Partitioning, Software and Booting. Partitioning deserves a paragraph all for itself: it’s really very powerful, and for brevity I will list just some of the features I found. ReiserFS is the default Linux filesystem, but you can also choose among EXt2, Ext3, JFS, XFS and .. FAT! It even recognized my BeOS partition! Woohoo! First linux distro to do so, ever! It selected my windows partitions and made really good (IMHO) mountpoints for them: /windows/C and /windows/D. The “fstab options” button allows to mount a filesystem by using the disk’s UUID or volume label instead of the device name. It is possible to edit other mount options like readonly, no access time etc. The “file system options” button allows to change the blocksize in bytes, bytes per inode and even the stride length (in blocks) and the percentage of blocks reserved for root. You’ll find an “encrypt filesystem” checkbox, too.

Other interesting buttons, rather vital for a pro application or fileserver are “LVM”, “RAID” and “Expert”. I’ll dwell only on “Expert”, where I found a very useful option “Import mountpoints from existing fstab”.

Leaving the Partitioning and entering the Software category: I was very satisfied with the few options for package selection that were presented: “minimum system”, “minimum graphical system (without KDE)” and “default system for UnitedLinux”. This last option actually includes almost all the packages, but you can, of course, add the others by “refining” the selection on a package-by-package level. The package selection style is the one from YAST, so oldtimer SuSE users will feel right at home.

Finally, the Booting category deserves a special mention for the fact that lilo is not used: GRUB is the only bootloader supported out of the box.

Ah, I almost forgot: there is the Timezone category, too. And the Languages category, where you can select the locales you want to install.

After you confirm that you are ready to install and configure your system, the package copying begins. No tetris or pacman, sorry! This is the professional, coldblooded YAST where the package installation meter is your only amusement.

After these packages have been copied to my hard drive, I was given a warning that although an Nvidia RIVA TNT2 ULTRA has been detected (nice!), it can not install 3D accelerated drivers for it due to licensing issues, so only a software OpenGL driver will be installed.

So, now a new batch of settings commences, which is a bit annoying (better would be to make all the necessary settings at the beginning and then let the system copy the packages and reboot). You are asked whether you want “text mode only” or “graphical desktop environment”. I selected the second option and thus the graphical hardware is detected and presented. My monitor, correctly detected by Caldera’s Lizard is wrongly detected by SAX2, but there is no problem to change that setting. SAX2 uses a hardware-tree kind of representation, but I don’t think this would confuse anyone.You’ll be probably interested to know that XFree86 version 4.2.0 is used, and that there seem to be a minor bug that doesn’t allow for the starting resolution to be smaller than the highest supported resolution. Once you have tweaked these settings you can click on “Finalize” and at this point you can test how it works. A nice touch is that when you click on “Test”, the XFine2 utility starts, where you can center and resize your screen.

After this you can detect any local printers, but I skipped it.

Next are the “Network interfaces”, where I have to select manually my NE2000 compatible card. I didn’t know the io port address by hart, so I decided I’ll provide the correct data later. The NE2000 driver is a kernel module called “ne”, and it gets bound to eth0 by YAST, while you configure the ethernet interface’s IP parameters (address, netmask etc.). I also set the hostname, name resolution information and routes.

You can also configure any modems and linux-supported ISDN adapters.

Once you have done all this, the system reboots, and at that point it asks for the second packages CD.

One thing that will worry some network admins is that the system gets configured without the root password being set. And so, you can login into your system with no password for root. As for logging into the graphical desktop, you can choose among the following session types: KDE, Gnome, WindowMaker, TWM and failsafe.

As I logged into KDE, I was presented with an unpleasant warning: “Error initializing sound driver”. I knew what is the vi-way of configuring sound in such cases, but I wondered if there is a graphical tool that would do the trick for me. I remember that Lizard always detected my soundcard – a SB PCI128 – without any problem, but I also could use COAS (Caldera Open Administration System) to configure my soundcard. Well, after looking around, I could neither find COAS nor any KDE or Gnome utility that would configure or load the sound driver. Let me say, as a side note, that I started the KDE Control Center, and chose “Help: Find” and typed “sound” and hoped I’ll find something. Well, I found exactly 0 occurances in the KDE’s Control Panel’s help system! Doesn’t that suck, expecially for a novice?

I tried YAST2, went to the “Hardware” section, but no sound options. So, I gave up and just ran “modprobe es1370” to enable my soundcard, and edited “/etc/modules.conf” to have the kernel module loaded at startup. I wonder how many beginners would be able to figure this out. Not many, I am afraid.

Now, you’ll remember that I have selected the wrong io port setting for my network adapter, and wanted to correct that setting. So, I start YAST2 again, and in the “Network card configuration” I discover that … my card is not there! There is no card displayed in the list of interfaces. So, I click on “configure” to set up the NE2000 again, but now I can only attach it to the eth1 interface, eth0 is not available anymore! Really stupid. Since I don’t have two NE2000 interfaces, neither I want to run two IP networks on the same card, I realize that my only option is to, again, edit /etc/modules.conf. No biggy, but it will be a hell for a new Windows convert. Or BeOS convert, for that matter. Just out of curiosity, I did configure NE2000 through YAST2 again which I had to attach to eth1, and after accepting the changes and restarting YAST2, I noticed that my card is still not in the list. This must be a bug, which I have to accept since I’m actually reviewing a beta.

After briefly navigating through the available desktop applications, I concluded that there is precious little multimedia-related stuff. Almost nothing, in fact: one CD player, Kpaint, KSnapshot and that’s about it, really. Not even GIMP or mpg123 or cdrecord or mkisofs were included. I played around in Gnome, too, but very soon I was greeted by a crash: while loading Gnome, I would get “Application battstat-applet-2 has crashed due to a fatal error (segmentation fault)”. Looks like Gnome and me have a problematic relationship.

uname -a reveals that the kernel is 2.4.19-4GB. What that 4GB exactly means, I know not, but perhaps it hints at some memory management optimization.

I hope to see soon a more Caldera-like UnitedLinux. Not that this one was bad. In fact, apart from the occasional Gnome (and the one YAST2) bug, it’s rather good already, in spite the fact that it’s a beta release.

UnitedLinux for your network

I confess I didn’t know that UnitedLinux was a server-centric linux, until Eugenia (the EID of this site) told me. But as I was installing it, some things reminded me of that, like for example the powerful storage management options. However, once I started looking around the system, the server and network centric characteristic of this distro became very apparent.

First of all, you will not be able to telnet or ftp to your freshly installed UnitedLinux host. In fact, very little services are even active. One of the first utilities I have found in this distro was “saint”, which is a successor of the famous SANTA (sometimes called SATAN) network security scanner. I used saint against the newly installed box, and even with the heaviest scanning I have found no vulnerabilities! And only 2 services were running: ssh and XDM (the X login thingy). This was rather impressive. But wait, for all of you security-conscious folks there, you will find tcpdump, ethereal and a set of utilities based around traffic-collector, which will all work with your interfaces in promiscuous mode and capture the traffic in the most atomic way. This impressive lineup of network scanning tools makes your UL workstation both a bastion of security and a dangerous cracking tool – depending on which hat you wear that day.

Naturally, you will find ftp, http (Apache) and authentication servers, plus samba and NCP (NetWare network storage protocol) servers. UL implements iSCSI support that provides access to a maximum of 16 remote targets and up to 256 LUNs per target. For name resolution you can chose between a full BIND 9 DNS server or lwresd, which is a lightweight name server. Or, you can implement NIS. Which brings me to the authentication options: NIS, LDAP, kerberos, Radius and of course all the PAM modules are there. The Apache webserver is provided with the Jakarta-Tomcat and the Jserv servlet engines, plus the ubiquitous mod_perl and mod_php4. I am not able to list all the options that come with Apache in this distro, but ther really are many.

And I didn’t even mention all the disk management utilities that implement LVM and software RAID on the various filesystems that support them.

When I installed UL, I noticed that it took more than 2 GB of diskspace. As I said previously, it came with almost no multimedia applications, and even stuff like mkisofs and cdrecord are missing. I was wondering where did all that 2 GB space go? Well, now I know.

About the Author:
Gianmario Scotti Gianmario Scotti holds a masters in electronic engineering, currently living in Finland and working for Nokia as a UNIX installation developer – developing installation scripts and procedures for Nokia and 3rd party software on Unix. Loves classical music, his wife and fruit. Other interests include history, electronics, computer music, movies and strategy games.


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