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DistributionWatch Review: Elfstone Linux

A Distribution Geared Toward Programmers and Network Administrators

April 19, 2000

Is the Linux pie large enough for vendors to focus on a very specific segment? Apparently so, if Elfstone Linux is any indication. Elfstone Linux is a specialized distribution designed for programmers, engineers, and network administrators. As such, Elfstone Linux succeeds--albeit with some noticeable limitations that should keep Elfstone Linux within its target audience.

Elfstone Linux is designed solely as a server operating system. That means that no unnecessary software is included in the distribution: no KDE, no GNOME, no gewgaws that could possibly impair performance or get in the way of ultimate system performance. The creators of Elfstone Linux describe it as the most UNIX-like of the commercial Linux distributions, and based on our scanning of the installed directories, we can't argue with that assessment. As Linux moves into the enterprise, there's a great virtue in a Linux distribution that closely hews to UNIX conventions (Slackware Linux is renowned for this capability), and this capability certainly distinguishes Elfstone Linux.

In fact, Elfstone Linux is so server-oriented that it's not designed to co-exist with another operating system on a machine: when you install it, you install it to take over a machine's entire hard drive. No choices for partitioning or dual booting here: your box goes straight into Elfstone Linux. The assumption is that your system will not be going down any time soon: when you boot an Elfstone Linux system, your entire hardware configuration is scanned to make sure that no new components like RAID arrays were installed. This auto-sensing wouldn't make sense for a consumer distribution that might be booted daily, but makes sense for a Linux server situation where reboots are much less frequent. (It's also not very appropriate for situations where you want a standalone, non-networked Linux box: it takes forever to boot a non-networked Elfstone Linux box, and in the end Elfstone Linux ended up repeatedly crashing on us when booted without a network connection.) The hardware support extends to USB support, and Elfstone Linux did indeed detect a USB device attached to a test system.

We reviewed the Sabre beta release of Elfstone Linux and used it both as a Web server and as a desktop system for creating applications. Elfstone Linux is based on Linux 2.2.6 and includes XFree86, the GNU gcc compiler, Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0, GIMP, Netscape Navigator 4.6, and other assorted X Window and OSF/Motif utilities not included as part of the core XFree86 release. It also includes RPM as a tool for adding new packages.

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