by December 5, 2002 0 comments

The latest effort by the four Linux majors is being positioned as a high-end server for business needs

When one talks of Linux, one of the issues that crops up is the choice between the umpteen distributions (distros). It can be quite a task understanding how these distros differ from one another. One way is to look at the types of programs each distro carries and then figure out its intended usage–whether a desktop or a server. Of course, when a distro offers a balance between the two, you’re back to square one. Thankfully, one thing that remains common between all of them is the core kernel.

With so many distros floating around, many have also argued that there is bound to be fragmentation in the community. But this is not really the case. Most big players involved in Linux development follow a standard, known as LSB (Linux Standards Base). Then, recently, there has been another effort by four major companies–Caldera, Connectiva, SuSE and TurboLinux–to bring out a new distro, which is termed (rightfully) as UnitedLinux. In this distro, they have tried to bring in the best of the four worlds. Not only does UnitedLinux follow the LSB, but it also follows the LiN18ux standards. These define the standards for localization and internationalization. This is becoming a key area for Linux and the distros that support it are very popular, especially with several government agencies around the world, which have been considering Linux more seriously.

We got a beta version of UnitedLinux for testing, and at the time of going to press, its final release was released. The beta was quite useable, although we would not recommend it for a production environment. So here’s what we found about the new

Our verdict
First things first. UnitedLinux is not meant for the desktop. It is a server distro, having a lot of server software. This becomes quite apparent once the installation is complete. So, issues like file directory conventions, command options, installation routines and high-end options, like clustering and SMP (Shared Memory Multiprocessing), are addressed.

UnitedLinux is a server distribution

Despite the fact that UnitedLinux is a server distro, the installation seems rather user friendly. Immediately on booting from the CD the screen goes into an SVGA graphic install. Instead of the extra friendly Caldera install with Tetris to play while the installation goes on in the background, there is the SuSE graphical installation. Fairly no nonsense and quite useable.

There aren’t too many installation options, though. You can choose to install a minimum with no graphics, minimal with graphics but no KDE, and default UnitedLinux installation with KDE. We chose the default. The complete installation occupied about 1.4 GB on the disk and the system rebooted into X with KDE as the default window manager.

The partition by default was ReiserFS, but other partition type options are also available, which include ext2, ext3, XFS and even FAT. An interesting issue here is how it dealt with an existing Windows partition. We had Win 98 on the hard drive, and it got picked and mounted as /windows/C, which was quite smart. We’ve heard that even a BeOS partition gets detected and mounted! The Bootloader in UnitedLinux is no longer LiLo, but GrUB, which is now becoming more or less standard with most

Network and printers, etc, were next as part of the install and that seemed to work just fine. Installation was done on two machines and neither had problems with the network card. They did have problems with the sound card, though. KDE complained of being unable to detect the sound card upon start up. The issue had to be resolved by manually doing a modprobe and then editing the modules.conf file. This is probably because it’s a server distribution, so multimedia support is not that important. This is apparent only when your system is up and running and you don’t find too many programs on its menus. The multimedia section is bare with just about a CD player.

The default kernel shows a strange number like 2.4.19-4GB. The 4 GB in this might be indicating support for up to 4 GB of RAM. Some of the applications it installed included Apache with Jakarta-Tomcat for Web applications, Postfix for e-mail with AVMailgate anti-virus for the e-mail, MySQL and PostgreSQL as databases, and a large number of network analysis and security tools. A full-fledged firewall, Ethereal, Saint, Snort Bastille scripts, Nagios, NTOP, etc were also there. Running some of these network-scanning tools against itself showed good results. It hardly left any open ports by
default and showed no vulnerabilities.

Areas for concern 
While it seems to be a good platform overall, there are a few questions that arise. The first being its compliance with the GPL. The distro seems to be free for non-commercial use but whether or not it is re-distributable and modifiable is not very clear. The Linux community at large would certainly be worried about that, although the business community for whom this product is intended may not really care. Another issue is what happens to the companies that have joined in so far? Do they continue to compete with each other, and if so, how? One assumes that the ‘Powered by UnitedLinux’ is what will be common to all and the differences will show up in the packaging and services, but only
time will tell what really happens here.

An interesting point to note here is that UnitedLinux does not want to compete in the Web-hosting and file- and print-servers areas. They want to compete in the application-server area and treat the big names, such as AIX, HP-UX and Solaris, as their main competitors. So, the likes of Debian, Mandrake and RedHat may not really have to worry. The only Linux offer that seems to be closest to UnitedLinux is the RedHat Advanced Server. 

Now that the final release is out, it would be interesting to see what happens in the Linux market. 

Kishore Bhargava is with LinkAxis Technologiess

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.