After four years of using systemd, the Debian derivative Knoppix has removed the controversial Linux init system.
Version 8.6 of the popular Debian-derived Linux distribution Knoppix was released on Sunday, rebasing the distribution on Debian 10 (Buster)—released on July 9—with select packages from Debian’s testing and unstable branches to enable support for newer graphics hardware. Knoppix is among the first Linux distributions that can be run live from a DVD, and continues to enjoy a great deal of popularity among Linux enthusiasts.
Knoppix 8.6 is notable for being the first publicly-released version of the distribution to abandon systemd, an init system built by Red Hat’s Lennart Poettering intended to replace sysvinit. While adoption of systemd was the subject of considerable controversy and criticism, it is the mainstream default, used by Knoppix’s upstream Debian, as well as other Debian forks such as Ubuntu and Mint; RHEL, CentOS, and Fedora; openSUSE and SLES, as well as Mageia, and by default in Arch.
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Complaints about systemd primarily focus on feature creep, as the project does not conform to the “do one thing and do it well” philosophy of Unix systems in general. Other aspects, such as its use of binary logs (as opposed to human-readable, text logs) have likewise drawn criticism.
The first version of Knoppix to remove systemd is 8.5; though this version was distributed exclusively with copies of Linux Magazine Germany earlier this year, it was not made generally available for download. Knoppix creator Klaus Knopper wrote briefly about the decision to remove systemd in that edition (translated from German, links added for context):
The still controversial startup systemd, which has been a little outrageous due to security vulnerabilities just recently, has been integrated in Debian since Jessie [8.0], and has been removed since Knoppix 8.5. I bypass hard dependencies on the boot system with my own packages.
To still get a systemd-like session management, and thus retain the ability to shut down and restart the system as a normal user, I run the session manager “elogind” instead. This bypasses systemd’s interference with many system components and reduces the complexity of the overall system. If you want to start your own services at startup, you do not need to create any systemd units, but simply enter them in the text file /etc/rc.local, which contains explanatory examples.
Knoppix used systemd from 2014 to 2019, making it one of a very short list of distributions to adopt and subsequently abandoned systemd—Void Linux being another. Relatedly, the Debian fork Devuan was founded in 2016 around a systemd-free philosophy.
Knoppix also ships an accessibility-targeted variant, ADRIANE (Audio Desktop Reference Implementation And Networking Environment), which provides “a talking menu system, which is supposed to make work and internet access easier for computer beginners, even if they have no sight contact to the computers monitor,” optionally including a Compiz-powered graphical environment supporting magnification.
For more, check out “Modern OS/2 distribution ArcaOS adds support for booting via UEFI” and “Windows 10, three years later: Why this is as good as it gets” on TechRepublic.
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