A Review of Qomo Linux

The story so far:

In a previous blog, I attempted to review Red Flag Linux, a Linux distribution made in China. But when I found out there are no RPM repositories set up by default, so that you can’t do “yum install” to install packages, I was rather annoyed. I went on a quest using the google “site:.cn” feature to try to find some RPM repositories for Red Flag Linux.

Instead, what I found was some random FTP sites at Chinese Universities, which, just like American and European universities, have “/pub” directories filled with Linux distributions. And inside those, there was a directory called “Qomo”.

After some more googling, I found that Qomo Linux used to be Everest Linux, and there is scant mention of it on the English language web-o-sphere, other than this page at Distrowatch. But, Qomo Linux is in fact like the “open source community” distro from the Red Flag Linux company, sort of like Fedora Core is the open source community distro of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

And so. That review of Red Flag Linux came to an quick end. But now is the time for us to review Qomo Linux.

First of all, why is it called Qomo? Because, it turns out, the Tibetan word for Mount Everest is in fact Qomolangma, and some people are upset that people call it Mount Everest. Check out this Time Magazine article from 1952, right after the Chinese government invaded the country. Encyclopedia Britannica has an article as well. Of course there are other names for Everest, discussed at the Wikipedia page, for example the Nepali word  सगरमाथा, (Sagarmāthā).. But I digress.

In that previous review I falsely stated that Qomo Linux has an ‘easy to find’ download link. That simply isn’t true. The main website you get linked to when you google for Qomo Linux is named

http://www.linux-ren.org

, which apparently means “Linux People”.  Although it has many links, none of them are actual “Download” links where you can download an installable file of Qomo Linux.

I also tried another trick of non-English browsing, to use the Google Chrome “auto translation” feature. It is quite simple to use and very handy, but again, it revealed that linux-ren.org apparently has no download links.

So I was back to using searches like this one:

site:.edu.cn qomo

Which led to this site:

http://mirror.bjtu.edu.cn/qomo

Which is hosted by our friends at the Beijing Jiaotong University Computing Center

Now there is one slight bit of disappointment to address here before we talk about downloading. There are mentions on the web of Qomo Linux Version 4, but in all my googling I was not able to find any ISO or any other download for this version. The Beijing Jiaotong University site only appears to have version 3.1. Still, that is not bad – it’s from 2012 at least. And so. Let us discuss downloading.

The only .iso to download for Qomo is 1.6 Gigabytes. Like Red Flag Linux it appears to be a DVD. This is a bit annoying. Most linux distros, like SuSE and Ubuntu, provide a ‘basic’ install CD that is under the ordinary CD limit of around 700 Megabytes. But this obstacle we shall overcome.

How? Using the magical utility called wget. If you want a nice easy intro to wget, check out

Nixie Pixel’s video about wget

She is mostly discussing mass-downloading a web page, but it’s still helpful for a noob. Also if you have never seen a Nixie Pixel linux video, well, you should, just as a general life experience.

We are going to use two features here to download this big boy from China.

wget –continue

wget –limit-rate=30k

Continue allows me to start and stop the download when I wish. If I, for some reason, have to stop halfway through, I can continue later.

Limit Rate allows me to continue doing other things on the internet while still downloading. This option keeps wget from hogging my entire internet pipe. So since I am on a basic “cable modem” with a limit of about 125K/second, by limiting to 30k/s for downloading Qomo Linux, I will be able to still do things like, you know, write this blog post, watch youtube videos, use ssh to login to remote systems, etc etc etc . So the complete line is this:

wget –continue –limit-rate=30k http://mirror.bjtu.edu.cn/qomo/iso/3.1/Qomo_3.1_livecd.iso

When I want to stop, I hit ‘ctrl-c’ to stop. When I want to start it again, I hit “up” and the bash command history rememberer thingy brings up the last command I ran, so I just hit ‘enter’ and re-run it. Over a period of several hours I did this quite a few times. Finally when I went to sleep I restarted with no limiting rate, to let it run over night. When I woke up the next day, I had my file.

To check it’s integrity, I’m going to check an md5sum

wget http://mirror.bjtu.edu.cn/qomo/iso/3.1/Qomo_3.1_livecd.iso.md5sum

cat Qomo_3.1_livecd.iso.md5sum

md5sum Qomo_3.1_livecd.iso

Great. So now, after visually comparing the output of ‘cat’ with ‘md5sum’, I can see the md5sums are equal. Yay! So now I’m going to try to “burn” it to a USB stick and boot that and see if it works. First I Plug In the USB stick. Then.. I run dmesg and see this

[456326.627829] sd 13:0:0:0: [sdc] Attached SCSI removable disk

OK. And just for good measure I play around with fdisk and p on /dev/sda and /dev/sdb and /dev/sdc just to make sure I have the right device name here and am not going to accidentally wipe my hard disks. My Device is, in fact, sdc

OK. So now I’m going to do the lazy person usb burn method.

sudo dd if=Qomo_3.1_livecd.iso of=/dev/(my device)

And I get this bizarre error. “Medium not found”. Uhmmmm ok.. I guess I shouldn’t have clicked “eject” on the USB stick after I plugged it in? Anyways. I re-plug the usb-stick and try again. OK! Now it’s flashing red. It must be working.

Which is interesting – in the old days didn’t “Flashing Red” mean something bad? When did that become the symbology for “It’s working?” Because red LEDs are the cheapest? (Like the old folk legend about why Barns in the US are painted red, because red paint was cheapest?)

Anyways. It is working. Billions of bits are flying over the bus between the hard disk and the motherboard and the USB slot… a miracle of modern technology, something unthinkable only 10 years ago, something our grandparents would have never believed possible… something that governments payed billions of dollars for in just 40 years ago….  and..

ok I’m bored, time to check slashdot.

(time passes….)

Ok, we are done! The stick has been written. Now, to test it. With an emulator. The QEMU emulator. Now I am too lazy to look up the correct way to call the emulator, so I just do this (with a little help from ‘tab’ completion in ‘bash’)

sudo qemu-system-i386 /dev/sdc

Ha ha! Success! It boots! I was a bit worried – – after all, Red Flag Linux will not boot from a USB stick.

So now I reboot. I’m on a Dell,. so it tells me in nice friendly letters on startup that I can press F12 for boot options. I do so, and then am able to Boot from USB device, making sure that I don’t have any stray USB things on my machine such as an mp3 player or tiny hard-to-see USB stick.

Yay. It boots! I choose the ‘Boot (basic video)’ option because, after all, I like to keep things basic. After a few minutes we get, tada, the Qomo installer desktop. Very nice. Very slick. Very blue. Very….. all in Chinese.

That’s OK! I’m guessing the ‘installer looking’ icon (the Disc and the box) on the upper left is the one we need to click. And I’m correct.

screenshot4

It is interesting how computer icons have almost become a pictographical language of their own, but one that crosses borders and languages. So that if one uses a computer enough they will understand ‘disk + box’ is something like Install, but someone not versed in computers would be baffled by it and need to rely on the ordinary human language description.

At any rate. The installer itself is, from what I could determine with ps and top, called “qomoinstaller“. I don’t know if it is the same as Fedora’s or whatnot, but I do know that it doesn’t work very well. I tried several times to go through it’s wizard, but it simply ‘disappeared’ off the screen when it didn’t like the options I chose.

Finally, by using fdisk to delete an old partition I wasn’t using, the qomoinstaller was able to recognize it as free. After that, I selected the ‘automatic’ setup option – it detected the free partition, told me what it would do (including setting up a separate ‘root’ partition) and proceeded to do it’s work.

Hooray!

screenshot5

When you install Qomo Linux, you are presented not with the standard marketing verbiage of an OS install procedure, but instead pleasant bucolic landscapes and a few peaceful small town scenes. I have to admit that this is a welcome change – kudos to the Qomo Linux team.

You also get to enjoy the interesting use of English that one tends to find in Chinese cyberspace. In case that photo is too fuzzy for you, it says “Please wait for a while. Enjoy a cup of coffee maybe a good idea“.

Now, at first I thought this was telling me that I should “enjoy a good idea” in addition to enjoying coffee. This seemed like a remarkable thing to me. In fact, why shouldn’t I enjoy a good idea? Have I ever enjoyed one? How does one go about enjoying a good idea in the first place? Is this some sort of profound, undiscovered IT wisdom from the Qomo linux people?

On reflection, however, I think it may simply be saying “It may be a good idea to enjoy a cup of coffee”.

Now, the installation doesn’t take very long. Unfortunately they have put an inaccurate “time estimator” into the install process which one can’t help but ignore after seeing dozens of others over the years which also don’t work.

It is interesting – computers have been able to time the rockets that human send to outer space and back, they can time trains and superconducting supercolliders, and piston timings in car engines, but they can’t time things like software installation. This leads me to the conclusion that installing software must be vastly more complex than sending a rocket to the moon and back, and that this, perhaps, explains why it must be much harder to estimate accurately the time the latter takes while we can calculate the former down to mere seconds. Perhaps installing software is inherently “non-linear“ and the old methods of Calculus and Differential Equations do not suffice?

Anyways, the installation finished nice and quickly, even on my aging Dell Dimension desktop PC that is about 7 years old. Here is what you get when you are done.

screenshot7

“Wish you have an easy experience.”. Now, again, I am confused. Are they saying that I should wish that I have an easy experience? (as though they said “pray you have an easy experience”). Or are they saying that they, personally, wish for me that I might have an easy experience? Let’s give the Qomo Linux team the benefit of the doubt,and assume it is the latter.

————————

Reboot

A reboot revealed that Qomo had installed Grub 1.99, and had played happily with my other distros (Ubuntu 12.04) without destroying them. This is nice – I have seen some recent linux distros that get this horribly wrong and leave one to use clever tricks to even get the machine to boot again.

So we boot. And there is the logon screen. It asks for your username, and password. Funny – I don’t remember setting a user password. Only a root password. On a hunch I type in the root password – and it works. Huh?

After a few minutes of pondering this and wandering around /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow, I think I have discovered the problem. It turns out that, by default, the users in Qomo Linux don’t have passwords. Interesting.

And they have ‘sudo’ working. Out of the box. Automatically.

And a telnet service is set up. Automatically.

LoL.

Actually OMG.

Not sure what the Qomo folks were thinking here. I don’t remember the last time Ubuntu even shipped with a telnet client binary enabled by default, let alone a telnet server.

Maybe I’m missing something, but a default Qomo install seems like a massive security hole. Of course I could be wrong. I’m no expert. But this worked just fine for me

 ifconfig

(look at ipv4 address in ifconfig output)

 telnet [IPv4-addres]

This probable Shouldn’t Work, with a capital SW.

At any rate, I did a little duck-tape fix for this problem (i.e. didn’t really fix it) by running passwd under my username at the console, and creating a new password. I suppose if I were inclined and knowledgable about these things, I would do a full security audit with tools like nmap and whatnot. Certainly I would figure out where the internet services are starting and disable telnet. Lol. Telnet.

———————-

Anyways. On with the fun stuff.

Let’s do Firefox!

screenshot8

OK. I guess I should say

火狐

Which I would, except for the fact that I can’t speak Chinese. But I can use copy/paste, google translate, and Wikipedia’s “Alternate Language” links at the bottom of the page. So I can at least look up that “Fire” is  火 and Fox is 狐. Qomo Chinese Firefox, complete with Red Flag theme and Chinese search giant Baidu as the default in the upper-right searchbox,  is interesting. However I can’t use any of the menus. I know the system says it is in English but I want to make sure, so I try system settings, and I even reboot. This does nothing. We are still stuck with 火狐。

OK, then, well, let’s have a look around. Interestingly, Firefox pops up two tabs, one is on http://i.firefoxchina.cn/redflag/ which appears to be closely associated with the Chinese search giant Baidu and several other Chinese portals. Like this one, which is apparently selling Roast Duck over the internet, right under the portal that is informing us about the latest James Bond and Tom Cruise films.

screenshot12

I would be remiss if I did not note that Qomo’s Firefox also has a cute little Mascot, that perhaps the Western Barbarians should also adopt for their versions.

screenshot18

(Yes, that is a GAP ad on the right there).

The second tab that Qomo Firefox pops up automatically is the Red Flag Linux company’s website itself, which, surpisingly, looks a lot better in Qomo Linux than I remember it looking in Red Flag linux.

screenshot19

My favorite part is the golden man with the..unknown object that I sincerely hope is a guitar, who is “rocking” the Distant Purple City with an ephemral triple striped red and white target rondel. If this is what Red Flag linux can do for me, then of course I must have it! I, too, want to Rock the Distant Purple City.

Clicking on the “English” button at the top right shows an apparent “lack of attention” compared to the Chinese red flag site. I alluded to this in my non-review of Red Flag linux. The English version features an article from 2008 about Asianux, a sort of Asian linux consortium involving Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, and China. But this article is from 2008! That’s 5 years ago. Asianux is apparently still going strong (from the Wiki, page) but you wouldn’t know if from looking at the English website at Red Flag. . . in fact I feel a little bit like I’m looking at something on the old Ghost Sites website created by Steve Baldwin . . . which has, itself, appropriately, obviously, tragically, also not been updated since 2008, with it’s author apparently vanished from cyber digital existence. But I digress.

So I attempt to use Firefox in Chinese mode. I cannot figure out how to make it go English. That’s OK, I don’t need most of the menus most of the time anyways, and can kind of figure out from the Shortcut keys what does what.

The fonts are a similar matter. The English fonts are horrible. Qomo apparently comes with a nice Unicode font with a lot of coverage, as one can tell by visiting a popular Wikipedia page (like Fox) and looking at the Available Language list at the bottom left. Most of those alternate languages render just fine. Even Cherokee(ᏣᎳᎩ)。

There is however one incredibly annoying feature for the English Firefox user attempting to use Qomo Linux. There is a bizarre ‘input method’ popup that prevents you from typing in anything resembling a normal fashion. If you hit ‘space’ in just the wrong sort of way, a box will pop up offering to help you transliterate what you “really meant” in Chinese characters. A screenshot follows:

screenshot17

This will insert, automatically, whatever Chinese characters it thinks you want to be typing. The only way to ‘get out’ of this mode is to hit the ‘shift’ key (or in some situations, ‘enter’), to get it to ‘pop back’ into English typing mode.

(update! You can disabled this by going to the ‘input method’ – go to Q / Applications / Settings / Ibus / Input Methods, and completely remove Chinese )

This feature cannot be turned off easily. I checked the Firefox Addons and Plugins, and disabled all of them. I couldn’t read most of them but I was able to de-install by right-clicking and guessing that “R” stands for ‘remove’, and watching them disappear. It didn’t work.

Sadly, all of the incredibly cute add-on buttons on my list have also disappeared, including the incomprehensible Octopus (reproduced below) whose functionality is almost incidental to his glasses, the fact tht he is dancing, and the fact that he is a Smiling Octopus.

screenshot10

I restarted Firefox. This did not work. The addons were all gone, the Input Method was still there. I tried removing the plugins too. Like Flash and Java. That also did not work. I tried random menus I didn’t even understand. Again, nothing.

Anyways. I continued to struggle on, with Qomo Firefox, trying to get used to the ‘input method’ popup box without losing my cool. It takes a while, but I have managed to type over half of this blog post with it.

Did I mention that I also tried the alternate web browser named Konqueror, just to see if it would be better? It’s not. It is dog slow, but on top of that, it simply crashed when I tried to edit this blog in WordPress. Firefox it is. Firefox it shall be.

—————-

Now. That’s Firefox. But what about the stuff I really want to test? Namely, yum. I know that Qomo comes with interesting programs like Libre Office and Firefox, but what about really useful tools, like GNU nano?

yum install nano

don@zhao ~ pts3 $ sudo yum install nano
Password:
Loaded plugins: refresh-packagekit
ftp://www.linux-ren.org/pub/qomo/yum_bluesheep/RPMS/repodata/repomd.xml: [Errno 14] FTP Error 550 : ftp://www.linux-ren.org/pub/qomo/yum_bluesheep/RPMS/repodata/repomd.xml
Trying other mirror.
Error: Cannot retrieve repository metadata (repomd.xml) for repository: core. Please verify its path and try again
don@zhao ~ pts3 $

Que? I don’t know much about the Redhat/Fedora/RPM stuff. But I do know how to use Google. So I take “Cannot retrieve repository metadata (repomd.xml)” and stick it into Google. After a while of farting around, I want to look at

/etc/yum.repos.d/qomo.repo

OK, as above, it wants to go to this site:

ftp://www.linux-ren.org/pub/qomo/yum_bluesheep/RPMS

Bluesheep being a nickname for version 3.1, apparently. This gives me a ‘550, cannot change directory’ error when I go there in Firefox. Now what can I do?

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.

ftp://www.linux-ren.org/pub

Oh wait. It’s empty. There ain’t nothin’ there!

screenshot23

Again, the whole ‘redflag-linux.com‘ site fails to deliver. Time to go back to the Universities again.

There are other mirrors listed in qomo.repo. Presumably yum should have tried them, but it didn’t. So let’s try them by hand.  Lets use our old friends at Beijing Jiaotong University Computing Center

http://mirror.bjtu.edu.cn/qomo/yum_bluesheep/RPMS/

Hot dog! That works’ great! And it even has repodata/repomd.xml like yum seems to want. So let’s try modifying /etc/yum.repos.d/qomo.repo to default to the Beijing Jiaotong University.

Just one problem. Unfortunately I don’t know vi or emacs or any of that stuff, only nano. And I don’t have nano. How do I edit the file?

sudo kate /etc/yum.repos.d/qomo.repo

permission denied, can’t connect to host zhao

Ok. Interesting. Apparently by default the X stuff is not set up to work properly from the Command Line.  Perhaps because the name I chose for the computer is not linked properly to ‘localhost’. A little kludge to fix it so that at least X11 works:

export DISPLAY=:0

And a test:

glxgears

Hooray! It works. OpenGL even works. Nice. Ok. Now to edit the file.

sudo kate /etc/yum.repos.d/qomo.repo

permission denied

xhost localhost

sudo kate /etc/yum.repos.d/qomo.repo

Ok. Like they say. Sometimes Linux ain’t as simple as it sounds. Anyways. Here we go.

Unfortunately I have no idea what I’m doing with these repo files and redhat / fedora RPM stuff. So my first few attempts don’t work. Finally, though, after googling around for people’s message board questions about repomd.xml, I think I might have it. Comment out everything that is not bjtu and retry yum.

This is what it looks like. The # are ‘comment’ signs, and so I ‘uncomment’ our Beijing Jiaotong University (BJTU) site and ‘comment’ the others.

screenshot24

don@zhao ~ pts3 $ sudo yum install nano
Loaded plugins: refresh-packagekit
bjtu                                                     |  951 B     00:00
bjtu-sources                                             |  951 B     00:00
bjtu-sources/primary                                     | 611 kB     00:18
bjtu-sources                                                          2400/2400
Setting up Install Process
No package nano available.
Error: Nothing to do

Hrmph. Well at least we got farther that time.

What about yum list | grep nano?

That’s good.. we update the package list… ok cool. Ok it’s not there. Yikes. What about joe, another simple editor that I can use?

yum list | grep joe

Again, no hits. Clearly the Qomo Linux people have missed out on some of the best stuff when choosing their packages. Perhaps joe and nano don’t have a good Chinese translations? Nevermind. We can overcome this. Let us compile and install nano ourselves. This shall be Interesting.

————————-

yum search gcc reveals that Qomo does, in fact, have build tools. And just for fun, let’s check yum search clang. Wow. In fact, Qomo even has packages for the Clang compiler.

This by itself puts Qomo ahead of some other recent distros of Linux and BSD, which fail to include clang packages. It will be important in the future because Apple will no longer even use GCC on Mac, and the BSDs (NetBSD, FreeBSD) have talked about moving to Clang as well.

Anyways. nano is a GNU product so let’s try to use it.

sudo yum install gcc

Ok, so we already have it. And make. And wget. These are all installed by default on Qomo linux. Great! Let’s try just building nano then. A quick google for ‘nano source code’ and we have

wget http://www.nano-editor.org/dist/v2.3/nano-2.3.1.tar.gz

cd nano-2.3.1

./configure

make

Ok. It bombs out at curses.h. Isn’t this the sort of thing that ‘autoconf’ is supposed to catch? Ah well.

yum search curses

sudo yum install ncurses-devel

./configure

make

sudo make install

Allright! Now we are cooking with gas. I have an editor that I can use nano and I can with confidence say that, under the hood, Qomo Linux is just plain good old linux like any other. Same tools, same methods to Get Stuff Done. Really, quite awesome.

————–

So in conclusion.

Qomo is cool, but it’s a little tricky to download. You have to use a University mirror and then tweak your Yum repositories to point to one of those universities. Firefox is in Chinese with no apparent way to get it in English and it has awful English fonts.

Other than that, it is a very nice distro. It actually comes with source code for some of it’s RPMs. If you understand Chinese, it may in fact be perfect for you.

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About donbright

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One Response to A Review of Qomo Linux

  1. John Bower says:

    The good news is that China is now trying to make a Linux OS (Ubuntu specifically) the reference OS for the whole country. That’s a step in the right direction, and it will surely boost Linux’s market share in general.

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