Article posted on Jul 24
With the release of Finnix 102, I have once again begun printing high-quality, glossy CDs. These are not your typical inkjet CD-Rs you find at the local computer store. They are Taiyo Yuden WaterShield CDs, have a high-gloss finish, are highly resistant to smudging, and are more durable than a typical CD-R. And they look beautiful.
And as an exclusive, these CDs are hybrid bootable x86/PowerPC CDs. Simply insert it in any x86 or PowerPC computer and boot. This version is not available for download, so the only way to receive one of these hybrid CDs is by donation.
You can get a printed Finnix CD with any donation of $20 or more. You will also receive some stickers with your donation. And if you are not interested in CDs and/or stickers, but still want to help out, there are other ways you can help support Finnix.
Article posted on Jul 23
Finnix is a small, self-contained, bootable Linux CD distribution for system administrators, based on Debian testing. Today marks the release of Finnix 102, the eighteenth release of Finnix since its beginnings over ten years ago. Finnix 102 includes Linux kernel 3.0, a smaller distribution size, new Xen pvops and 486 support, and minor bug fixes.
Finnix 102 includes the recently-released Linux 3.0 kernel, and is a slight departure from usual Finnix method of closely following Debian kernel development. Config management was based on Debian pre-release kernels, but patch management was handled internally, basing only partly on Debian. Linux 3.0 support was tested heavily throughout the Linux 3.0-rc process.
Finnix 102 includes XZ (LZMA2) compression of the compressed root and initrd, resulting in distribution savings of more than 20% over previous Gzip compression, and no measurable reduction of boot times.
While Finnix has included Xen guest recognition since Finnix 86.1, Finnix 102's AMD64 kernel now includes built-in Xen pvops guest support. Therefore, Finnix may now be booted in a Xen environment with no extra building or configuration. Simply use the included linux64 kernel file, the initrd.xz initial ramdisk, and the Finnix 102 ISO as a virtual block device.
Finnix 102 is the first Finnix release, including Finnix 0.03 way back in 2000, to include 486 support, though it has not been tested. This is done by not including PAE support in the x86 kernel. The downside is x86 computers with more than 4GB of RAM can only use 4GB with the x86 kernel. However, nearly all computers with over 4GB RAM are also 64-bit capable, so the AMD64 kernel (default on capable platforms) may be used.
Anyone sending photographic proof of Finnix being booted on a 486 (showing Finnix boot plus the output of /proc/cpuinfo on the screen) will be given a free Finnix full-color CD and free Finnix stickers.
While the PowerPC G5 platform has remained a supported platform since PowerPC support was introduced in Finnix 88.0, it was never tested before release, due to lack of hardware. Now a Power Mac G5 DP/DC model is available for testing. The full list of platforms tested include: 586, 686, AMD64, G3 NewWorld, G4, G5, Xen.
Article posted on Jun 30
In my previous post, I mentioned switching to xz compression without much explanation.
Software tends to get larger over time. Finnix deals with this in two ways: looking for things to cut while still retaining as much functionality as possible, and just accepting that the size will continue to grow over time. Larger kernels, larger software, etc. The smallest release of Finnix was Finnix 86.2, at 92 MiB (x86). The last release, Finnix 101, was the largest so far at 128 MiB (x86).
During development of Finnix 102, the simple act of adding upgraded kernels and upgrading existing Debian packages to the latest versions was seriously adding to the size of Finnix, nearly 150 MiB at one point. And I had done all I could to reduce the size; there was just nothing left to cut out. Then I found out about xz compression. Xz is based on LZMA2, offers 10-20% more compression than Gzip, and in particular has optimizations for architecture-specific bytecode (program binaries, etc). Xz support was added to Linux 2.6.39, and could be used for kernel, initrd and SquashFS compression (previously, all three used Gzip compression).
So I tried it out, using Linux 3.0-rc (as of right now, if 3.0 comes out soon, it will be included with Finnix 102). I used xz compression for the kernel, initrd and SquashFS root filesystem, and was seeing 20% space savings versus using Gzip.
No compression: Root FS: 385,187,840 initrd: 7,534,080 Final ISO: 400,162,816 Gzip compression: Root FS: 136,921,088 (64.45%) initrd: 2,495,967 (66.87%) Final ISO: 146,857,984 (63.30%) Xz (LZMA2) compression: Root FS: 109,469,696 (71.58% none, 20.05% gzip) initrd: 1,733,032 (77.00% none, 30.57% gzip) Final ISO: 118,644,736 (70.35% none, 19.21% gzip)
Overall, it looks great. Though one consideration is performance. LZMA is known for being very processor intensive. LZMA2 is more processor efficient than LZMA (and BZ2), but still slower than Gzip. Compression times are roughly 5 times slower than with Gzip. But the real question is how well decompression would work in the real world (that is, when booting Finnix). I don't have any hard numbers on that, but I did put dev builds through the gauntlet of everything from an i586 AMD K6 to a Power Mac G3 to a Core 2 Quad Q9450, and could not perceive any slowdowns.
So barring any major problems, Finnix 102 will actually be smaller than its predecessor, for the first time in over 3 years.
As a reminder, the standing goal of Finnix is to keep the distribution CD below the size of a Mini CD (185 MiB). While I doubt many people actually use Mini CDs, it's a good round goal, and while Finnix would still be within the 185 MiB limit without xz compression today, a proactive approach to keeping the distribution size low helps it from becoming a crisis too quickly.
By the way, the build scripts have been updated to allow a builder to choose which method of compression (xz, Gzip, or even none), and scripts within Finnix that rely on reading/modifying the initrd (finnix-netboot-server, for example) have been updated to detect which compression method is being used, and will use that method when rebuilding the initrd.
Article posted on Jun 28
Finnix 102 is coming along well. At this point, everything on my list is done, and I'm just waiting for Linux 3.0 to be finalized (I've been testing against 3.0-rc builds for awhile, with good success). A changelog so far (subject to change before final release):
* Upgraded kernels to 3.0 (Debian 3.0.0-xxx)
* Added xen-blkfront to the initrd (AMD64 kernel)
* Added initrd loading attempt of xen-blkfront and xen-netfront
* Added ability to set manual IPv4 addresses and basic resolv.conf info via boot parameters
* Changed kernel, SquashFS compressed root, and initrd to xz compression
* Changed finnix-netboot-server and finnix-netboot-biginit to detect gzip/xz/uncompressed initrd, and build initrd_net accordingly
* Fixed console boot flag
* Fixed automatic update of /etc/fstab during hotplug device update
* Upgraded Memtest86+ to 4.20
The current x86 dev build is 2520, which gave me the idea to go back and look at what builds corresponded to what releases.
* 86.1: 1435
* 86.2: 1504 (+69)
* 87.0: 1617 (+113)
* 88.0: 1776 (+159)
* 89.0: 1961 (+185)
* 89.1: 1969 (+8)
* 89.2: 2011 (+42)
* 90.0: 2084 (+73)
* 91.0: 2154 (+70)
* 91.1: 2185 (+31)
* 92.0: 2270 (+85)
* 92.1: 2296 (+26)
* 93.0: 2318 (+22)
* 100: 2359 (+41)
* 101: 2473 (+114)
Prior to the 86.0 release, I picked build #500 as a rough guess as to how many builds I had made since then. 86.0 itself didn't have the build number shown publicly, so I don't have that data. Most testing is done on a VM (formerly VMware, today VirtualBox), so comparatively few builds are actually burned to CD (I would estimate about 200, which is still a lot). But nearly every build has at least been booted.
PowerPC builds use a different build number which is much smaller, 226 as of today. This is because the primary dev machine is an older G4 Mac Mini, which takes much longer to build compressed roots (formerly about 5 minutes, now over 20 minutes due to the switch to xz compression as mentioned in the changelog), compared to a minute or so on x86, a Core 2 Duo E7200. So most development and architecture-agnostic testing is done on x86 in a VM, then the changes are transferred over in bulk to the PPC environment and built.
Article posted on Jun 27
Finnix now has a page on Facebook, for all your Finnix-related facing and/or booking needs! Please visit facebook.com/FinnixCD today.
Article posted on Mar 2
That's a souvenir (replica) license plate; the text is red rather than blue (sadly, blue would have been better in this case).
(My actual car's license plate is VMLINUZ.)
Article posted on Jan 7
Finnix is a popular console Linux-based utility LiveCD, and is used by system administrators every day for tasks such as system maintenance and recovery, network testing, security auditing, and more. Many people and organizations rely on Finnix to help with their jobs (and their hobbies).
Finnix has had a long history of virtualization support as well. It recognizes if it is being booted in a Xen or User Mode Linux (UML) environment, and will make the necessary modifications on the fly to run correctly. Early releases of Finnix even included a package called Finnix-on-Finnix, a proof of concept system that could boot itself as a guest of itself using a UML container.
Today, Finnix is used by several Virtual Private Server (VPS) providers, such as Linode and Panix, to provide their customers with the ability to quickly and easily boot Finnix in their virtual guest environments. Once booted, customers can recover lost passwords or unbootable systems, install custom Linux distributions, and much more. Finnix is well suited for this task, and customers love having this ability.
To that end, I have created a guide specifically for VPS providers, explaining how to integrate Finnix with your VPS management platform. If you are a VPS provider, please visit this guide and consider offering Finnix as a service for your customers. If you would like assistance with deploying Finnix as a recovery distribution, please email email@example.com and I will be happy to help. If you are a VPS customer who would like your VPS provider to offer Finnix as a system administration convenience, please let them know, and direct them to this post for more information.
Article posted on Dec 25
Finnix is used a lot for remastering for administrators' specific projects, so if you're a remasterer, you're going to both love and hate Finnix 101 -- love because Finnix 101 ultimately makes it a lot easier to remaster in the long run, and hate because a lot of things have changed in incompatible ways, hopefully for the better. This post should help give you a rundown on what's changed.
The following wiki guides have been updated for Finnix 101:
Article posted on Dec 25
Finnix is a small, self-contained, bootable Linux CD distribution for system administrators, based on Debian testing. Today marks the eggnog-induced release of Finnix 101, the seventeenth release of Finnix since its beginnings over ten years ago. Finnix 101 includes major behind-the-scenes architectural changes, the re-introduction of PowerPC support, new features, and minor bug fixes.
After a show of public support, Finnix is once again producing PowerPC releases. Finnix is one of the only dedicated Linux LiveCDs with PowerPC support, and we are happy to continue serving the PowerPC community. Note that PowerPC releases are still not considered release goals, but in the future a lack of a PowerPC release will only happen under extraordinary circumstances.
While using Finnix still has its same familiar look, much of the core infrastructure which comprises Finnix has been re-engineered. Many of the changes are intended to make development and re-development (remastering) easier and more powerful, and to help with deployment by Virtual Private Server (VPS) providers. Changes include a new CD filesystem layout, an enclosed remastering environment, a Finnix-specific SysV-compatible RC system, and componentized Finnix RC scripts.
Due to Debian testing being in deep freeze, the most recent kernel in either "testing" or "unstable" is 2.6.32. Therefore, a set of 2.6.36 kernels have been compiled based on 2.6.36-1~experimental.1 from Debian "experimental". Despite the "experimental" name, these kernels have been tested more heavily than the average Finnix release, and have proven to be very stable.
On the X86 CD, Hardware Detection Tool has been added to the boot menu. This allows users to view system information (processor, memory, PCI devices, etc) quickly, without booting into a full operating system.
Article posted on Dec 20
I'll be honest, Finnix 100 was a rush job. Not a bad rush job per se; I have found no major problems with it and continue to use it on a daily basis. But there's nothing particularly great about it. The entire development cycle was about 2 weeks, to get a release out the door to reverse a one-year hiatus. Just enough to bring the software up to date, compile a new kernel, and run through regression testing.
Finnix 101 will be different. I've been working non-stop since October, and behind the scenes, Finnix has basically been completely re-engineered. To a casual eye, nothing will look different. Same boot menus, same minimalist boot, same quick boot times, same overall look. That's fine -- that's what gives Finnix its appeal. But the underlying architectural changes have been a long time coming, and will be useful for development and re-development (that is to say, remastering).
The current dev changelog is quite long by now, but here are a few highlights:
The release is feature complete, and I was hoping for a Christmas launch, but at this point I don't think I can go through the required testing and get the ISOs to the mirrors in time. 3 months since Finnix 100 will be late January, though I hope to have a release before then.