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SEUL: Review of LST 2.2 distribution (base of Caldera)

LST is a German distribution you get in the book PowerLinux
(Springer).  Its home site is http://www.lst.de.  The Caldera
Distributions are LST based with the addition of some commercial


Installation requires only 1 floppy (none if you start from DOS).
Selection of national keyboard comes before you have typed anything.
It analyzes boot messages and shows you the block devices detected at
boot time with their characteristics.  When you are prompted into
fdisk you get a summary of fdisk commands.  Those three features
(keyboard, disk parms, summary of fdisk) will help you not blundering
when performing this dangerous task.  But I still think than SEUL
should find how much space is available and carve the partitions
itself or at least advise about sizes and mounting points.

Selection of packages allows for block (recommended, minimal), by
usage (server, development), series (X, C programming) or individual
packages.  I much liked the possibility to select packages according
to the way you will use Linux.  The LST edition I have does not use
dependencies but there is software considered vital you are not
allowed to deselect.  It asks you what X server you want to install
and the VGA16 server (needed by XF86Setup) is installed automatically.

Timezone selection showed fewer entries than RedHat so I had to guess
I was on MET.  With RedHat it was easier to figure than I had to
choose the Paris timezone..

It asked for network parameters but as usual it will not deal with
people having dial-up IP.  Then it shows you what services you can
provide with the software you installed and ask you what daemons to
start at boot.

At the end of install you are asked if you want to start XF86Setup and
configure X but it advises you it is better to complete the install
and reboot.

When shutting down Linux panicked apparently because it was trying to
free the initrd and mount the real root device but the shutdown had
already unmounted all disks.  That could confuse a beginner.  An easy
fix however.

When rebooting for the first time I noticed than LST was running
texconfig and rebuilding the apropos and locate databases.  Nice

During installation you can get help but I felt the texts were a bit
terse.  However you have a book with more complete explanations.  Also
during installation you can login as help and be dropped into the LISA
help system.  Another positive point is than LST provides help texts
in German and English with more to come.  This will be an important
asset in foreign countries specially between the youngest Linux users
who are often unable to read english.

All in all I found LST installation superior to RedHat's.


For X configuration LST provides the standard XFree tools: xconfig and
XF86Setup.  It also includes Xconfigurator the cueses based
configurator from RedHat.

The tool for administering LST is called LISA.  It is curses based so
you can use it if X does not work.  It can be distributed freely but
it requires authors authorization for commercial distribution:
"normally we allow distribution as long as you respect some rules that
shall support Free Software Projects and protect us as authors."

LISA primary menu has four entries: System analysis, Software Package
administration, System configuration and LISA help system.

LISA will allow you to do a complete system analysis: network
parameters, features supported by the kernel, hardware analysis (made
possible because LST loads the modules at startup and does not resort
to kerneld), partition analysis, network analysis.  It will also show
boot messages.  Of course all this is only a front end to the /proc
filesystem and to standard LINUX administrative commands but it is
really nice to have all this info in one place.  
LISA will also allow you to browse the two master files where LISA
stores the configuration for the box and its own.

There is also a help system in LISA with texts about the more hairy
problems in LINUX like fdisk and descriptions of software packages.

The system configuration menu entry leads to a four entry menu:
hardware configuration, system config proper, network config and
configure boot manager.

For hardware configuration LISA will allow you things like partition your
disks, choose your keyboard, select your modem, cdrom type or X server.

In the system configuration area LISA allows you to do user
administration, configure mount table or swap files, set hostname,
time zone, configure daemons starting at boot or what kernel modules
are loaded.  With the mount table configurator I was able to add a
partition, LISA found the type of it and prompted me if I wanted it
readonly but no other options like noauto were available.

I tried the network configurator and found it adequate for a LAN, not
so for PPP but that is a common weakness in present distributions.

The boot manager will prompt you for where you want LILO installed,
what kernel image select, parameters to pass and it will build the
/etc/lilo.conf for you and will run LILO after that.

When I found than there was a master file for configuring the machine
I feared than LST be one of these distributions with hacked software
taking their parameters from non-standard places.  In fact LISA uses
this file for putting the parameters where applications expect to
find it.  And if two apps are looking for the same data on two
different files (not uncommon in UNIX) LISA will report it in both
places.  But the apps are using their usual files and you can still
use your editor if you find an area where LISA fall short.

When investigating how LISA disabled the startup of daemons I found
than the script checked for parameters in
/etc/sysconfig/daemons/daemonname and then if booting and the BOOT
variable was set to "no" the daemon was not started. That makes it
possible to disable the boot starting of a daemon for all run levels
in only one operation.  Or use the runlevel editor provided by RedHat
to disable it for selected run levels.

LST uses statically loaded modules than you can activate with LISA.  I
am a kerneld partisan but I think LST makes module handling really
easy.  Easier than configuring kerneld when the manufacturer has not
done the job.  Besides in 2.0 module loading by kerneld is only 99.9%

First time I started X I noticed a GoodSTuff panel with a button
labelled Admin I pressed it and after being prompted for the root
password I got an xforms pannel with buttons for selecting all the
Redhat tools, LISA, XF86Setup and, aaaand, aaaaand a "kernel config"
button (enthousiastic cheers).  Pressing it brings the xconfig panel,
you can use it to configure kernel, but the compilation and
installation is up to you.  As an aside some RedHat tools do the same
things than LISA so to avoid confusion and conflicts I think it would
have been wiser not include them.

I have a disquieting thought about the kernel as shipped in LST: if
the setups I discovered when running xconfig are the ones its kernel
has been compiled then this kernel will not work on 386s (no software
checking of page protection) and 486SX (no floating point emulation).
But I no longer have a 386 to test this point.

Package management.

LST uses RPM.  The version installed supports dependencies, but the
packages do not include them.  The reason is than this version of RPM
was issued only a couple of weeks before LST so the authors deemed it
was too late to build and test an entire distribution with
dependencies enabled.  The lack of dependencies allows the user to do
stupid things like uninstalling libc.  I hoped than LISA provided some
protection against such things by having a list of "never uninstall"
software.  I didn't dare to meddle with libc but I tried with ncurses.
LISA happpily uninstalled it.  This shortcoming is a temporary one.
Next edition will have dependency checking.

User interface.

The window manager is FVWM version 1.  I noticed than if you add or
delete an application referenced in the menus and then restart FVWM,
fvwm notices than its menus have been changed and prompts you to
restart it a second time.  When you do it you notice than the FVWM
menus have been updated.  In other distributions there is a drawback
when you start a program with the WM menus or GoodStuff: messages
issued to stderr go to the virtual console and you don't see them
until you exit X.  Well this is not the case in LST: if an app issues
a message to stderr then the WM opens a window and shows it to you .
Very nice.

In addition to the FVWM menus LST allows you to start apps by pressing
one of the GoodStuff buttons.  It is good for a beginner to be
reminded he has on his box exciting or useful things like the
Administrative tools (see upper), Xemacs, Plan, the Grok Data base,
Lyx, XFmail and Wowen Goods (see below).

One of the distictive features of LST if that it looks great.  To
begin with the default installation includes the zz_3dlook package who
will make your Athena apps use Xaw3d widgets with adequate resource
settings.  And it seems than most apps come already configured with
pleasant settings.  All of this gives to the LST desktop a very
professional look and feel.  Icing in the cake it comes with a package
filled with nice backgrounds to impress friends.

LST's choice of software is quite different of what you get on your
average distribution.  You have no Emacs.  NO EMACS!!!  AAAARRRGH!!!
I was sure!  LST is a conspiracy of the VI crowd!!!  Calm down.  You
get Xemacs instead. :-) You also get the GIMP 0.54!  Are you happy?
  LINUX distributions have avoided Motif and XForms based software due
to the status of these libraries.  A pity because there is interesting
software Motif or XForms based and they certainly look better than
Athena based software.  LST includes a number of partially statically
linked Motif and XForms programs.  Now than new computers ship with 32
Megs you can afford running 3 or 4 of these Motif apps.  Of course if
you have an 8 Megs box better avoid starting more than one of them.
It does not seem than LST provides dynamically linked versions of
these programs for the people having Motif or getting XForms from the
net.  I think the reason of this is than without dependencies people
are likely to install the wrong version.
  Here is a list of these unusual things: illustrated-audio, kaffe
(for java), the gimp, lyx (WYSYWIG for LaTeX), ml (Motif mail reader),
moxfm ( the xfm file manager rewritten for Motif), promondia (JAVA
based Communication System for the WWW), plan (Motif based scheduler),
tkman, xfmail (great xforms based mail reader), xmbase-grok (database
with Motif front end),

A truly great thing is Woven Goods: a set of Internet tools and of
tightly integrated HTML doc pointing towards a wealth of resources
both online and on the Web covering not only LINUX but LINUX based
software.  With Arena Woven Goods is really great but when used with a
more capable browser then it is simply impressive.  And I have already
seen things integrated Linux docs and fancy Web pages so I am not
easily impressed.  You access all this wealth just by pressing a Good
Stuff Button.


No LINUX distribution is perfect.  LST has a couple of broken
packages.  There is one called easy-edit designed to make Emacs look
like a DOS editor but it does not work with Xemacs.  And the info
master files has pointers towards the non-existent Emacs info files
instead of the XEmacs ones.  And as usual there is no help for the
home user networking.


I installed LST on my second disk and for some weeks had not the time
to look at it.  When writing this review I have been so impressed I am
thinking in switching to it.  And I now understand why Caldera has
built COL on LST when it used RedHat for its previous product.  With
its wealth of fun software (gimp, xfractint), and the attractive plan
and xmbase-grok it makes a better workstation than RedHat 4.1.  It has
the kind of software for being interesting for non-programmers and
programmers alike.  Care has been given to also make it LOOK
professional.  There are plenty of details who show than the designers
have cared about user confort like those popping messages when an X
app writes to stderr, or the automatically updated menus.  The
administrative tool is good and the distribution has succeeded
avoiding breaking FSSTND to acomodate it.

LST would be really a good starting point for building SEUL, it is
certainly easier to use than RedHAt 4.1, Debian 1.2 or Slackware.  If
we use it for SEUL and SEUL is distributed commercially we will have
to negotiate about including LISA in it.  The partially statically
linked apps (against Motif and XForms libraries) will make LST hard on
8 Megs boxes, 16 megs is a minimum.  Another problem is than SEUL
developpers would have to acquire a copy of LST (or Caldera Light) and
you can't get LST in the Infomagic CDs or at CheapBytes.  However if
we choose one of the big three then we will have no small work into
building it to the same level of easiness of use LST already is.

			Jean Francois Martinez

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