This is my review of Libranet 2.8.1, a Debian based GNU/Linux distribution. This was my first experience with Libranet, but I was impressed with what I saw. Read on for the details of my review, which will follow the same framework as my earlier reviews.
The Luni Scoring System
A positive feature or strength will earn a plus (+1). A flaw or weakness will earn a minus (-1). A superior feature or severe weakness will earn a +2 or -2 respectively. At the end of the review I will sum the pluses and the minuses and provide the totals for each. I will then give the product an overall rating on a 1-100 scale.
Interaction With The Company/Organization
I contacted the folks at Libranet for an evaluation CD for review. They currently had no CDs but said they would ship one out as soon as they did. A very short while later it arrived in my mailbox. My interaction with the Libranet team was nothing but positive, if brief.
The installation is text based, but it is very clearly laid out and easy to use. It occurs in two stages. During the first stage you begin the install process by booting off the CD (or you can create floppies if the machine does not support CD booting), do the partitioning, set the time zone, and install the base system. The base system install is an automatic process, no package selection or any other advanced configuration was necessary. I found the entire process to be intuitive and easy. It flawlessly detected the existence of Windows on another partition and asked me if I wanted to add it to the boot menu. If you wish to see some screen shots of the process or get additional help on the install before you begin, be sure to look at the Libranet Installation Guide. In short it was a breeze to install and would have received a full +2 if it were a full GUI installer. If you are a moderate to advanced GNU/Linux user this is not an issue at all, and you can view this as a +2.
After finishing stage one, you are prompted to remove the CD and reboot to stage two. The first screen you are presented with asks you to set up your root password. Then you proceed to set up a regular user. After creating the user I got a nice prompt which said “Do you want to give the user access to the mounted Windows partitions”. Woohoo – that’s a nice addition which saves on post-install configuration time. Your regular user account will, out of the box, have access to the data you have stored under Windows. It is good to see a distribution that understands a great many GNU/Linux users, in fact I would venture to say the majority of users, have Windows on another partition, even if it is for nothing other than gaming.
I feel that this is a very nice feature – it eliminates any manual configuration that the user might have to do to get access to the Windows data from inside GNU/Linux, and it earns a +2 for making it simple for everyone.
After setting up users, you are prompted to reinsert CD #1. The install then automatically installs “Libranet core files” and runs through what is labeled “pre-configuring the desktop”, where the fonts are configured and removable storage devices are detected and /etc/fstab is updated. Next comes the configuration of X. I chose the default of “automatically detect my hardware and configure X-windows”. It detected my NVIDIA GeForce4 MX 440 card in a fraction of a second and then went on to automatically detect my Sony USB mouse, which as some of you know from previous reviews, has been a troublesome pointing device for some other GNU/Linux distros to handle. It also correctly detected my monitor and installed the proprietary NVIDIA driver with 3D acceleration (Note: It also gave me the option to simply stay with the generic nv driver). Having all my hardware detected smoothly, including X being set up with zero hassle and 3D acceleration gets another 2 points for Libranet.
After that you are presented with selecting packages. Everything that they preselected looked good – I only had to add PCMCIA even though it is not a laptop due to the wireless adapter I use. Both KDE and Gnome are selected by default. Things like EMACS and development packages are not. Overall I think they did a good job with their choices and the package installation went smoothly and quickly.
After all the packages are installed you are presented with prompts for various types of hardware for which to install modules/drivers. It detected my sound card, networking and the fact that I had an IDE CD writer installed. All were detected correctly and the CD writer was set up with SCSI emulation to permit writing. All of this was very simple and made peripheral configuration a breeze. Libranet is on a roll up to this point – and gets another 2 points for being flawless in all its hardware installation and configuration, even detecting and configuring my Orinoco Gold wireless card in its PCI to PCMCIA adapter, something nearly every other GNU/Linux distro has failed to do.
That’s it, your Libranet system is now ready to use. What a pleasure the entire installation process was. Nothing went wrong and everything was detected and configured for use with zero hassles. I am incredibly impressed with this distribution at this point.
Running Libranet 2.8.1
When you first start Libranet, you are greeted with a Window explaining how it ships with various window managers and that you can select which one you want under the session menu. This is a minor point but it shows attention to detail. While I know what the session entry is for and you probably do, a new Linux user may not.
All the major applications are here. If anything, this is the one minor gripe I have with Libranet – that there may be too many packages in the default install. This is a matter of personal preference, though. Some people like the kitchen sink with multiple versions of different types of applications installed, I happen to prefer picking the “best of breed” (in the distributor’s mind) for each class of app, and then letting users install others if they wish. Mozilla was version 1.4, OpenOffice.org was 1.0.3 and KDE was version 3.1.3 – all very recent versions of the respective applications. The shipping kernel is 2.4.21.
The default window manager was IceWM, which is fast and light. It is also configured with some useful applets running in the panel – a CPU/process monitor, a network traffic monitor and an email notification applet. As mentioned earlier, GNOME or KDE are both available to you as well, should you wish to use them. All updating is done through the “Libranet Xadminmenu” application, which is similar to SuSE’s YaST in that is a “unified container” that holds the various admin tools. There are tabs for the different sections of your system and it took only a few moments for me to be able to locate the various tools I need, since this was the first time I have used Libranet (though it won’t be the last!). Updating the system via the “security updates” button was simple and easy – launching apt-get in a terminal window to fetch the latest updates and install them.
All in all the desktop is a pleasant experience, though it is just a smidge behind the most modern of GNU/Linux distributions in the polish/appearance category and as I said, a bit too many applications/too much clutter for my tastes, but perhaps not yours. The overall desktop experience is very positive and gets Libranet another point.
What can I say…this is one great distribution. There is plenty to like about Libranet, whether you are a new or experienced GNU/Linux user, and very little to dislike. This is the first distribution I have used/reviewed that doesn’t have a glaring weakness and as you can see from the review, I haven’t taken off a point anywhere. The reason is very simple – everything, and I mean everything just worked. As it should. The first time.
In just the short amount of time that I have been using Libranet for this review, I have already been convinced – this is my new favorite Linux distribution. It is that good. Being based on Debian, it should be easy to maintain going forward, as well. The only thing I am unsure of is making copies – as they sell Libranet on the site (www.libranet.com), but I don’t see anywhere to download the most recent version for free (though you can grab 2.7 off their site if you want).
I absolutely love what I have seen so far, and will be contacting the folks at Libranet to see if I can get a copy for myself since I will be giving this one away to the members (see the For Sale/Trade/Donation forum).
And so, our final score is:
Total Pluses: 9
Total Minuses: 0