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Spawn of Debian faceoff: LibraNet 2.8.1

By Joe Barr on January 28, 2004 (8:00:00 AM)

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This is the fourth in a series of reviews of Debian-based distributions. The first three have covered the best known commercial distributions. The first one looked at LindowsOS 4.5. The second examined newcomer MEPIS Linux. The third was about Xandros 2.0. All three of those are more about providing a familiar environment for those coming to Linux from Windows. This one is different. LibraNet is aimed more at existing Linux users - including Debian users - than those from the Windows world.

The buzz about LibraNet

I recently spotted a posting about LibraNet in the linux.debian.user newsgroup from late 1999. It was in response to another post asking if LibraNet were any good. The reply was "It is Debian. Its not any easier to install than Debian. It does have a lot of interesting Desktops (Window Managers)." I don't think things have changed all that much since then.

In fact, I recently spotted a posting on the Hampshire LUG Discussion list which pointed other readers to a page at LinuxMafia.com about various "Debian installers." Prominent on that list, and recommended as well, is LibraNet.

The test environment

I am using a low-cost desktop box I purchased from Fry's Electronics for $199.99 for the review. It came with an 800MHz VIA processor, 128MB DRAM, 30GB hard drive, 52X ATAPI CD-ROM drive, and mainboard with built-in AC97 Codec sound, 3D Graphics Accelerator video, SiS630E chipset, and a 10BaseT/100BaseTX NIC.

The box is connected to the Internet through my home LAN. A Belkin Wi-Fi router sits next to my office desktop, and the test machine connects to it via Cat 5 cable. Connected to my desktop box is an HP printer which is configured to allow sharing with others on the LAN.

Installation

After downloading and burning (love K3B!) the two ISO images for release 2.8.1 of LibraNet, I was ready to start the install. The first screen to appear after it had booted explained how to use the arrow, tab, and enter to key to move about and select desired options during the install. The window looked like a throwback to the old days of DOS, or perhaps to the way most Linux installs looked 3 or 4 years ago. We're talking old-school, for sure.

I asked the installer to use the whole disk and to automatically partition it as it saw fit. It happily went about doing this and created a ReiserFS partition or two. Then it installed the base system.

A series of prompts asked me if I wanted Libranet to handle the booting chores, whether or not to create a boot floppy, and what time zone I was in. That done, it told me to remove the CD because it was time to reboot. I did just that, but LibraNet did the same thing Xandros did. It reneged on its promise to restart the machine. After a minute or two of waiting, I hit the reset switch.

Then I was asked for the root password, for a user name and password, and for a hostname. Once the installer had all that, it instructed me to put CD1 back in the tray. After I had done that, and hit Enter, it started back to work. It advised me that it was pre-configuring the desktop. Then it said it was installing the kernel source.

Next came the X configuration. Did I want auto or manual config? Auto, thanks. Do you have a SIS630 video card? Yep. PS/2 mouse? Yep. Then it said it didn't recognize my monitor, and would I mind filling in all the specs for horizontal/vertical frequency and so on. It had been so long since any Linux install had asked me for that information that I didn't have it handy. I told it to use 1152x864 (the max it would offer under those conditions) and kept on going. The test worked, although it only used a little more than half the monitor screen. It told me I could adjust the configuration once the installation was completed, so rather than go back, I accepted it.

Then I was given the opportunity to add or delete package groups to be installed. I added a few, and selected Gnome instead of KDE. I was about 16 minutes into the install when it started installing the selected packages.

Twenty-five minutes later it asked me to feed it CD2. Thirty minutes after that it finally told me that the installation of packages was now complete. There were a couple of times during the install that I had been sure it was hung. Each time, however, it eventually came back to life.

With the packages finally loaded, all that was left to do was to configure the sound, network connection, and printers. Sound was easy. The installer determined that I should have the Trident driver, loaded it, and it worked. The network configuration was almost that easy. I just had to select the type of configure I wanted to do (ppp, network, or expert), specify the type of network (static, dynamic, pppoe), choose whether or not to send the hostname when signing on, and enter the IP addresses of the nameservers. That last one had me worried for a second, but it shouldn't have. All it wanted was the local address of the Belkins router (192.168.2.1). And it even prompted me to use that.

Since I had no local printer to configure, I was done. The installer said I was ready to use the new system, and that all I had to do was hit enter to start it. Sure enough, that's what happened. I had expected to see a Gnome desktop after logging in, but instead I got iceWM. But no matter, after only an hour and twenty minutes, the install was completed.

Post-install landscape

Libranet 2.8.1 desktop The first thing I had to do was to regain the monitor real-estate I had lost during the install because I didn't know the correct specs for my monitor. I started LibraAdmin and selected X configuration, then told it my monitor could do 1240x1024 at 60hz, and that it was a 17 inch model. Sure enough, after logging out and back in again, this time after setting the session parameter to Gnome, all was well on the monitor.

The LibraNet desktop under Gnome had the familiar Gnome paw-print icon on the task bar across the top of the screen. Clicking it brings up the applications menu. There were also icons on the desktop for your Home directory, the Admin Menu, PPP, a link to the LibraNet forum, a trash basket, and Start Here.

I cannot fault LibraNet for their selection of default applications. I could choose between several Window managers in addition to Gnome. The iceWM desktop, part of the LibraNet default, offered me a choice of Netscape, Mozilla, Galeon, or Opera for my browser. For email I could pick from Mutt, Balsa, Sylpheed, and Evolution. Since both categories include my faves, I think they made good choices.

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on Spawn of Debian faceoff: LibraNet 2.8.1

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Libranet was my first successful Debian system

Posted by: Administrator on January 30, 2004 10:09 AM
Joe, I resemble your comments about the more advanced user, I suppose. Debian style distros were among the last for me to conquer as I gained experience, actually starting with Slackware, but using mainly RPM based distros as I started to use systems with broadband access. But it was that broadband access in the first place that make me want to get into Debian.

The first time I tried a Debian system, I had a rather old set of CDs and I had a lot of trouble setting up my X server. I was about to get it right, anyway by noting my settings in another distro and sneaker netting them over, when a friend gave me a copy of Libranet 1.9.1. It installed right off the bat and got me up and on the air.

It took a few miscues with apt-get upgrade to get the hang of things, but once I did, I've been a converted Debian fan ever since.

At this point, any Debian distro, including the raw Debian stuff, can get the job done for me. I do, however, find Libranet to be about the most complete system, out of the box. Since I evaluate a lot of software, Libranet makes an easier starting point for me than anything else. Perhaps the other alternative I'd go with would be Mepis. It has a better hard disk installer than the other Live CD distros. Even so, it has less software than Libranet. Knoppix is great, and even Mepis benefits greatly from Knoppix, but Knoppix itself doesn't have a very good hard disk installation program compared to the well polished Mepis. But these three, Libranet, Mepis, and Knoppix work best for a guy with my interests.

I do, however, also give high marks to Xandros and LindowsOS. Each of them has really matured over the past year and meet their respective target markets well. I'd definitely consider Xandros if I wanted software that interoperates well with Windows yet has the Debian flexibility. You can't go wrong with LindowsOS if you want a really simple, fast, easy to install and use consumer grade Linux OS - one you can even order preinstalled.

So I think there are at least five really good Debian OS commercial choices, and which one to choose really depends on who you are and what you like to do. I still like Libranet best for my personal interests, but I have no hesitation in recommeding any of the five distros I've just mentioned.

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Re:It's Very Subjective...

Posted by: Joe Barr on January 29, 2004 09:24 AM

Hey, mrpierce. Thanks for your comments. Please be sure to weigh with them when the series finale appears next week. Among other things, we ask for ways to improve the criteria for ranking distributions. As you point out, the score doesn't tell the whole story.

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Re:It's Very Subjective...

Posted by: Administrator on January 29, 2004 10:20 AM
I'll read the final installment with interest as I've read all of them todate especially the one on Xandros as I tried it along with Lindows (first versions). Felt that these packages were two confining as they gave no choice, i.e., partitioning, etc. ala a MS install (I'm not slamming MS). For instance, few experienced users would ever allow the install to take over a whole disk carte blanche. Experience teaches all we have to do is learned. I learned in the early days of DOS before Windows and I continue to learn with Linux. It's part of the challenge and fun. The early and later adopters realise this and have started the wave. Others will come - I only wonder if they really want to be cuddled so warmly or do they think we are pandering to them?

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Re:Firewall

Posted by: Joe Barr on January 29, 2004 09:10 PM
None taken, but I don't understand your comment about firewalls. I noted that LibraNet does not install a firewall by default during installation, but that you can easily add one by using AdminMenu.


How is that wrong?

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Re:Firewall

Posted by: Administrator on January 30, 2004 01:38 AM
OK, like that it sounds better. Your firewall is actualy already installed. You activate it from AdminMenu. Suse does exactly the same. It installs a firewall and then you activate it with Yast.

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Re:Disappointed with your lukewarm review

Posted by: Joe Barr on January 29, 2004 11:37 PM

And there are many others who like LibraNet at least as much as you do. Stay tuned for the conclusion next week. Maybe you can help establish different criteria for reviews than I used in this series.

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Agree

Posted by: Administrator on January 29, 2004 01:31 AM
I am a user of Libranet 2.8.1. I agree with your general assessment that Libranet is not for the total newbie. But, that is because it means, according to your comments, I am no longer a linux newbie. Thanks for the upgrade in rank.

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I've been using Libranet for over a year now

Posted by: Administrator on January 29, 2004 02:19 AM
It's been great. It's my favourite distro, and there hasn't been a release of any other that would give me a reason to try anything else.


Well, except FreeBSD, which I'm thinking of putting on a spare I managed to piece together.

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Libranet is great but....

Posted by: Administrator on January 29, 2004 05:09 AM

...it also costs $75.It's just not worth *that* much. Sure, the Pro versions of SuSE and Mandrake cost more, as well the deluxe version of XandrOS. But SuSE and Mandrake Pro include much more software than Libranet, and the deluxe version of XandrOS includes Crossover. I'd be more charitable if it included anything original besides the adminmenu, which I agree is a wonderful tool, and I agree they did a great job putting it together. But it's no better than some other desktop Linux distros, many of which are free. Perhaps they still think APT is a great advantage? Many other distros have it now, or something similar.



I almost hate to trash them like this, because Libranet really is a great distro, but it's simply too expensive in comparison to others that are just as good. And yes, I know from experience. I was expecting it to be better than SuSE or Mandrake for that price, but it wasn't

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Re:Libranet is great but....

Posted by: Administrator on January 29, 2004 01:32 PM
It might sound like a lot, but if you are: an existing customer; a senior; a student; a disabled person you pay $50.
Besides you get a tremendous value for money and service. We have been offered a very easy kernel upgrade and a fantastic dist-upgrade. Now I have a bleeding edge system. If I did that on my own from the Debian archives I'd almost certainly fail. In fact they have created a script which has improved apt!
I also like Suse, but I don't agree that it has more software. Apt4rpm (unofficial) tells me that there are about 3800 packages available.
If I remember correctly Libranet's synaptic was telling me that I had 18000 packages available!
And with Suse you don't get a free upgrade, that is for sure!

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Re:Libranet is great but....

Posted by: Administrator on February 01, 2004 05:59 PM
And if you're not being a student, senior or disabled person, you don't get such a discount, so that doesn't matter much for other people. I personally don't feel it's a big charitable gesture as $50 is still rather expensive. You have to remember that it's the OS they're really selling, not the software with it, as the same programs are freely available to all Linux-users except on Lindows (if not included, then possible to download later).

18000 packages? That's Debian you're talking about there. Debian is well-known for having a huge variety of packages in their repositories. I'm running Mepis right now and I'm seeing the same thing that you are with synaptic. That includes an improved verion of apt, although it might not be the same improved version, I don't know.

2.8.1 costs $10 more than 2.8. How much will 3.0 cost? SuSE's prices are going down since Novell bought them. And SuSE Pro includes more bundled, non-free software for about $5 more.

I'm not saying Libranet is bad. On the contrary. But they need to take a look at the market out there and compare their products and prices objectively before they start alienating potential new customers with their prices rising after being fairly high to start with. Then I'll sing their praises along with the others, and I'm sure many new customers will too. I don't want to see Libranet go down like Corel Linux did until XandrOS bought them. But I'm afraid that's what will happen if they stay out of touch with the market like they seem to be now. When there are products of comparable quality, most people (especially on many Linux forums) just consider them overpriced no matter how good Libranet is.

As a last note, I'd like to add that I don't see how Libranet isn't for newbies. I thought it was quite easy to install, about as easy as Mandrake, which is usally recommended for newbies.

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Re:Libranet is great but....

Posted by: Administrator on February 02, 2004 01:38 AM
Fair enogh.
But as I already said, you'll have to pay the full price only once, because existing customers pay only $50.
And if you are 'cheap' you can downoad 2.7 for free.
That is what many people do and they are still very welcome in the Libranet community.
People will pay for their favourite distro anyway.
If anything Libranet's sales have gone up, not down.

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It's Very Subjective...

Posted by: Administrator on January 29, 2004 08:58 AM
I've tried all the major distros starting back with Redhat5.0. Fell in love with Mandrake7.0 by 9.0, I had become disillusioned with rpm dependencies (especially while trying to get multimedia tools/editors to work). Tried Debian - disaster couldn't get it to install and I tried. Read a review on Libranet2.7 as I truly wanted to try apt. Ordered for my son who is in school. Tried it and was smitten, love at first install. Upgrading my system became the easiest thing to do; the pool of software is undoubtedly the largest available and Suse comes with a lot, no more dependency problems. I now use Libranet2.8 which has been modified to 2.8.1 using their new Libranet archive. Have I experienced the Joe Barr problems (and btw, I like his approach to writing articles as it is reflective of how the average person will approach using Linux) - NO! I run L2.8.1 (upgraded from 2.8) on my desktop server (AMD Athlon 1.3/512Mb ram, 80Gbx2 HD, Nividia GeForce2, Kyocera FS1000 printer), Hansol 710D 17" monitor, Alcatel Speedtouch modem using a dsl connection. Did Libranet on install detect everything correctly out of the box - YES! On my Dell Inspiron 8100 Notebook using flat panel display (nvidia drivers req'd) and Maestro3 sound, once again, Libranet detected everything perfectly including networking for both when it is docked and uses a 3Com ethernet adapter and when using its Xircom PCMCIA card. Last but not least, my mailserver, a four year old 486 box with 32Mb Ram, 4Gb HD, 1Mb Trident video card (connected Hansol monitor to box for the install). I was blown away when Libranet2.8 installed on this thing without a single problem. Is it worth the money. You bet for it is more than the sum of its parts, its the people behind it and the community that supports it. I find myself helping others in the forum as I check in often; I learned the names of some of the people that use the mail forum, Ken Moffet, Katsu, Doug Riddle and others. They have questions and they are always there to help you. Would I recommend Libranet to newbies and others? You bet I would. Joe, you've done a balance job in writing your experience but, you're out on this one. It's so subjective - I love my Libranet!

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Disappointed with your lukewarm review

Posted by: Administrator on January 29, 2004 10:21 PM
I have used all versions of Libranet from v1.9.1 through 2.8. It was admittedly the third Linux distro that I tried. I continue to use it; I have, however, set up complete newbies on SUSE download.

The install is *much* easier than the Debian woody. I think there is an editing problem at the beginning of the article.

The install has never failed to reboot my machine automatically. It has equally never failed to bring up the Internet as soon as the install finished.

Since at least v2.7, it has consistently recognized my four year-old high-end monitor by name and by precise specs. The install CD (which, I believe, uses RedHat kudzu) clearly has access to an extensive database.

Your negative comments about security overlook the point that Libranet, as installed, is among the most secure out-of-the-box distros around. Others have tested it with, for example, nessus and have found it solid.

Another major plus of Libranet is the user mailing list. It has a wide range of users, young, old, newbies, Linux gurus<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... etc. The tone is friendly and the signal-to-noise ratio is high.

I am disappointed with your overall lukewarm conclusions<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... but I am an unabashed fan of the distribution.

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Firewall

Posted by: Administrator on January 29, 2004 01:48 PM
Sorry, no offence meant, but I found a couple of factual mistakes in your review, the most obious one being that Libranet HAS a firewall, and a good one at that.

More generally speaking I'd agree that Libranet is not exactly ideal for absolute newbies, but it took me only a couple of months of linux practice to deal with Libranet rather easily.
It is WAYS easier than 'pure Debian'.
In fact I have found it even easier than Knoppix once installed, because Knoppix doesn't have many tools to make your life easy.

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