Conectiva Linux 4.0

Over 500 million people speak Spanish or Portuguese as a first language. Conectiva brings Linux to them.
What Exactly is Conectiva Linux?

Conectiva Linux is a company that concentrates on translating Linux into Portuguese and Spanish. Its distribution, as one might infer, is called Conectiva Linux. Translation is the primary concern, so rather than creating the universe and assembling a distribution from scratch, Conectiva based its wares on Red Hat and worked from there. It's a reasonable decision, and Conectiva went its own way right from the start—it's definitely not a hacked Red Hat. While the typical hacker might have preferred a Debian base, that's all in the past and Conectiva is what it is now. Conectiva offers a standard edition and a server edition in either Portuguese or Spanish, although many packages bundle various oddities such as mouse pads, pins, pens, shirts, stickers, books and the like. Honestly, I don't understand why distributors like to have so many different packages, one package with different installation options might be easier. Still, since Conectiva sees fit to divide Linux between server and standard, let's have a look at what each edition includes.

The standard edition is what you'd expect from a Linux distribution, translated into Portuguese and Spanish. A normal installation proceeds via the Red Hat installer, and even though during one install I got a couple of warning messages about RPMs, everything went along just fine, and on reboot, up popped the K display manager (KDM).

Conectiva chose KDE, GNOME, WindowMaker, MWM, FVWM and Icewm. Of these, FVWM, MWM and Icewm are about half translated, but the system has also been translated, so one isn't relying on the GUI for translation. These aren't just “alternatives” to KDE for those who won't conform. Every window manager actually works. KDE for all its perks does not look nearly sinister enough, and it's important to appreciate the variety of excellent window managers out there. Conectiva advertisements usually show funky WindowMaker or Enlightenment screenshots, and if one has an artistic flair, one might as well express it in all areas of life, including Linux.

Conectiva left off an entry GNOME/Enlightenment on the K display manager (accidentally, I presume). Therefore, if you want your life to look like a scene from The Matrix, you'll have to add an entry to KDM or start up GNOME by way of telinit 3; gnome & as root (oh no, not the GNOME warning message!). There is a general feeling that GNOME is the future (or at least has a very big future), especially considering Helix GNOME and even the Eazle project, so it would be nice if GNOME/Enlightenment were more highly featured. I look forward to the GNOME/Sawmill pairing, which I hope everyone including Conectiva picks up on, since it runs quite efficiently on minimal hardware. At the very least, GNOME's icons are outstanding.

Eu soy um Servidor

The server edition is a bigger installation in Portuguese and Spanish. “What's a distribution—a collection of software I can download for free on the Internet?” Caldera's Ransom Love once asked, and honestly, it's worth asking. Basically, that's exactly what a distribution is, with an installer, files placed into various directories and a bunch of configuration files all filled out. The server edition is packed with software that you can download over the Net, but it's probably most convenient for people who might not have high-bandwith connections. The documentation will walk you through complete networking server setup, configuration and administration.

Currently, the server distribution's number-one advantage comes in the form of four large manuals: Lars Wirzenius' Linux System Administrator's Guide, Olaf Kirch's Linux Network Administrators Guide, and Conectiva's Linux Server Guide and System Installation Guide. Altogether, 1708 pages of documentation, and I must say, quite a good collection of work. These manuals cover everything server-related, they're thorough, and that's probably why they're included in the Edi<\#231><\#227>o Servidor. They're not condescending, and would be nice for computer-proficient Linux newbies, but even complete neophytes should find these books make for rapid learning and valuable reference. Most normal users would probably choose the standard edition of Conectiva, so they'll miss out on these excellent texts unless Conectiva decides to include them next time around.

The Meaning of it, Mostly

The point of Conectiva is not that it's the be-all, end-all, fastest, best-configured Linux with all the software squeezed magically on a 1.44MB floppy, a sentient living HAL 2000 that will make tea and beat you at chess. The point of Conectiva is that it makes Linux more accessible for hundreds of millions of potential users, and it works just fine. I've been coding on it, networking, configuring and customizing, and everything else your typical user does, for several weeks now and everything works. RPM installations, tgz installations, everything works fine without a single glitch. The libraries are current and in the right places, ldconfig knows where to find everything, and only a couple of libraries needed to be updated specifically for what I was doing-->plug-and-program, an improvement on plug-and-play. Setting up networking meant editing the same files as on Red Hat or most anywhere else, and there is a supply of the standard commercial applications, such as Netscape and StarOffice. Conectiva is very easy to use, and I just cannot find anything particularly wrong with it. If Linux is going to be championed into new territories, it should be presented as well as possible. Conectiva in many ways does this better than many stateside distributors, from flashy ads and cool T-shirts to giving users a choice of many well-configured desktops, with easy installation and configuration, excellent manuals, support, and an enthusiastic focal point for the Portuguese and Spanish speaking Linux scene.

There are a couple of bugs to be ironed out, for example the occasional warnings during installation, the absence of GNOME from the KDM, the weird entries on the KDM login (gdm, postgress and xfs), and root's mailbox getting flooded with Radius error messages. SVGAlib needs to be updated, SDL is missing, and if you program, you'll want to get the newest versions of your favorite libraries. Since 4.0 came out a while back there is now much to update for the next release. However, with so much translation work already done, Conectiva will be more able to concentrate on polishing and maintaining the software.

There was a time when distributions had such different libraries and files in different places that certain software would work on some distributions but not on others. These days, we don't really have that problem. Distributions are kind of a fetish; we like the name Red Hat if we like Heinz ketchup, and if we instinctively avoid brand names we instinctively avoid Red Hat, but it doesn't matter half as much as it once did. Sure, there are different config files, but you can change those without suffering. And maybe some libraries are old and need to be replaced, but that's part of running Linux; you're always out of date (and perhaps without one).

The other part of running Linux is that it always works, whatever name is on the box. I suppose, then, that this isn't a review as much as an announcement of good news. Well, thank you to Conectiva and everyone who has helped in the translation process for making that possible.