Review: The rPath-based OS boasts flexibility and control.
It seems as if a new Linux-based operating system is born every day, each facing the challenge of justifying its existence in a field thats already rather crowded with mature Linux distributions. But one relatively young Linux distribution worth keeping an eye on is Foresight Linux, a desktop-oriented platform that hit its Version 1.0 release milestone at the end of January.
What sets Foresight apart from the rest of the fledgling distro pack is the software management framework on which its built. Foresight is one of the most active projects based on rPaths Conary software management system, which offers administrators a great balance of flexibility and control in deploying and maintaining applications on Linux. (A longer version of this review is online at www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,2090294,00.asp.)
rPath builds and maintains a reference distribution, called rPath Linux, along with a set of tools for packaging software applications with rPath Linux to create software appliances. ISVs can then concentrate on their own code, while rPath maintains the operating system components on which the ISVs applications rely.
This also means that Foresight developers have been able to focus on offering up-to-date and thoughtfully integrated versions of the GNOME-based applications around which Foresight revolves. Whats more, Foresights rPath platform underpinnings make it fairly easy to fold new applications into the Conary management schemeand very easy to update already-packaged applications to include newer code from an upstream project.
During tests, eWeek Labs set up a repository at rpath.org for hosting our own packages. After spending a while getting the hang of Conary, we were able to update and modify several packages with fairly little hassle. For example, we rolled ourselves updated versions of the htop process manager application and the OpenOffice.org 2.1 productivity suite, as well as a line of kernel packages containing our custom modifications.
Also noteworthy is the excellent support we received through Foresights IRC (Internet Relay Chat) chat room, a link to which lives in Foresights applications menu under the label Get Live Help. Whats more, Foresights lead developer, Ken Van Dine, is an rPath employee, and several other rPath developers are directly involved in the project, which is helpful when tracking down under-the-hood issues.
However, Foresight Linux is not without its drawbacks. For starters, Conary is much younger and less well-known than the packaging frameworks that underlie Red Hat Fedora Core and Debian or even the Portage software system on which Gentoo Linux is based. As a result, most newcomers to Conary will be starting from scratch, and since Conary introduces some concepts that are new to Linux distribution software management, the learning curve is a bit steeper than with other distributions.
Also, while we found it fairly easy to package applications into Foresights Conary-based format, there are many fewer prepackaged applications currently available for Foresight and rPath Linux than there are for more established distributions.
Whats more, the Foresight and rPath software repositories from which we fetched updates and new applications arent currently mirrored outside the project hosting space that rPath freely offers to projects built on its platform, meaning slower download speeds than were accustomed to from more popular, heavily mirrored distributions.
Foresight Linux 1.0 is freely downloadable from Foresightlinux.com/downloads. Foresight Linux uses Red Hats Anaconda installer application, as well as Red Hats firstboot facility for performing setup tasks after installation. Foresight Linux 1.0 runs on x86 processor platforms. ´
Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks is at email@example.com.