PowerPC distributions

Finnix has had PowerPC support for over 5 years now, and is frequently mentioned by PowerPC Linux enthusiasts. Part of the reason is while PowerPC is well supported in the Linux kernel, sadly very few distributions support PowerPC any more. Finnix is one of only two PowerPC LiveCDs, and IMHO the most popular (the other is GeeXboX, a graphical multimedia LiveCD). As for installable distributions, very few support more architectures than 32/64-bit x86 these days.

So I decided to make a list of Linux distributions with PowerPC support. I took the list at DistroWatch.com and weeded out errors, distros that are no longer active, distros that are active but no longer have PowerPC support, etc.

Vine Linux (a Japanese language distro) was on this list when I compiled it a few weeks ago. But since then Vine 6.0 was released with no PowerPC support, and the release notes make no mention of its removal.

Finnix at DEFCON 19

I was at DEFCON 19 in Las Vegas, Nevada last week, with Finnix stickers and CDs in tow. And I gave away a lot of stickers, approximately 150. Enough that when I got back, I heard from multiple people who had been at the conference and saw other people who had Finnix stickers on their bag, laptop, etc.

Of course, you can also receive free Finnix stickers through a variety of methods. The self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) method has been pretty successful since I launched it earlier this year, and I send out SASE stickers a few times per month. Monetary donations help support Finnix and will also receive free stickers as a thank you.

Host Virtual sponsors Finnix, uses Finnix

Host Virtual, a Virtual Private Server (VPS) provider with 10 datacenter locations around the world and native IPv6 support, is now sponsoring Finnix, providing colocation and bandwidth for primary Finnix services. Finnix's services have been hosted at Host Virtual's San Jose facility for over 5 years, and all Finnix sites have had native IPv6 since early 2010.

Equally important, Host Virtual is now the latest VPS provider to provide Finnix as part of its core platform. Users can easily boot Finnix on their VMs as a rescue image for rescue, repair and maintenance of their OS installations.

Finnix is perfectly suited for VPS providers, and we are committed to working with all VPS providers to implement Finnix as a deployable option for their users.

Printed Finnix CDs are back!

Finnix 102 disc preview.png

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.

Finnix 102 released

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.

Linux 3.0

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.

Smaller size

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.

Xen pvops guest support

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.

486 support

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.

G5 support reaffirmed

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.

New compression for Finnix 102

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.

Finnix 102 development status

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):

* dist-upgrade
* 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.

Finnix in social networks

Finnix now has a page on Facebook, for all your Finnix-related facing and/or booking needs! Please visit facebook.com/FinnixCD today.

There is also a Finnix group on Identi.ca, simply join the group and post with the !Finnix grouptag.

As a reminder, the best place for technical discussions (problems, suggestions, etc) is the Finnix mailing list. Be sure to check the latest release notes first for errata and known problems.

Finnix -- perfect for VPS providers

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 ryan@finnie.org 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.