posted by Barry Smith on Mon 1st Dec 2003 18:34 UTC
IconThis is the second in my series of reviews for debian-based commercial distros that might be appropriate for SOHO use. The first article covered my exploration of Lindows, and this one is focused on Libranet. Before I get started with Libranet I want to clarify a couple of points.

Some of the feedback from my first article took me to task for being biased and subjective. Well, this true. I am both biased and subjective. I am NOT exploring these distros in order to make a recommendation to my boss. I am not grading them on any industrial rating scale. I simply decided that I am going to settle on a debian-based commercial distro for my own SOHO use, and these articles document my misadventures along that quest.

Sometimes an expert opinion is not worth much. Remember that experts are: a) human, therefore fallible, and b) each equipped with their own personal set of blinders. So except in cases involving medical or legal advice I tend to follow my gut. I have had better results that way. But that is just my opinion, and I am not an expert.

Read these for entertainment value if you can find any. Or perhaps read them for the insight that they might provide into the mindset of a mid-range consumer. I am trying to dig past the hype and come to a supportable conclusion on the best commercial product for my personal use. I don't mean to present any distro as being better or worse. I am only looking for the one particular distro that fits me, my hardware, work style and personal preferences the best. So yes, these articles are entirely biased and unfair, if you judge them by the standards of your typical software review. But to me, the subjective points are the ones that really matter. I am not just looking for something that I can make do with. I am hoping to find something that I can actively enjoy using for the forseeable future.

I am not trying to be fair to the companies. I am trying to be fair to myself. I want to avoid knocking myself out of a possible benefit because I failed to check something out thoroughly enough. So I am digging and poking, and then reporting what I find, warts and all. These companies are each openly competing in the marketplace where fairness doesn't enter into it. Ruthless, backstabbing treachery is more likely to be the order of the day. If anyone's feelings get hurt from simply reading my honest opinion, then their competition will find them easy meat. I don't mean to be harsh, but I am not worried about being nice. Honest, yes. Careful, yes. Nice, no.

Next Victim...Libranet

(Hardware note: Main system = P3 1 gig, 384 meg RAM, 56K USR internal faxmodem, onboard i810 video disabled in BIOS, 32 meg Radeon 7200 PCI video card, noisy cooling fan and assorted dust bunnies. Secondary system = P3 450, 128 meg RAM, 4 meg ATI Rage agp, Lucent winmodem.)

Those Canadians are making us look bad again. I don't know if they do it on purpose or not, but they surely do it. Wasn't it embarrassing enough that we had to go north of the border just to get a robot arm for our own space shuttle? Now there's Libranet. At least we still have the edge on fried chicken. Maybe it all evens out.

I sent an email to Libranet explaining what I was doing and asking them for an evaluation copy. Within two days they responded with an invitation to download their current release, which is 2.8.1. I made haste to locate someone with a broadband connection and, after some truly shameless groveling, I got my two CDs.

When I get a new distro my first objective is to find something wrong with it. For is it not written that, "If nothing's wrong, you obviously missed something"? I nailed Libranet off the bat because it suffered the same difficulty that Lindows had with my main desktop. Namely, failure to recognize my video card. Unlike Lindows however, Libranet offered me the option of installing the vesa driver instead, which let me complete the installation. Once installed, I was able to cut and paste my standard one-size-fits-all version of the /etc/X11/XF86Config-4 file.

Let me inject an explanation about this, because this is the kind of workaround that we non-programmer types have to come up with when our techie cohorts get tired of messing with us. I have a standard configuration file (originally auto-generated by Knoppix) that fits my hardware perfectly. So rather than mess around with tinkering on each new distro I keep a copy of my stock file at hand. Whenever any distro has trouble with my video, wheelmouse, monitor or whatever I drag out old faithful and everything falls into place. Please note that Knoppix, a free distro, had no difficulty finding and setting up my hardware automatically on first booting. If Knoppix can do it, then I am not going to let the commercial distros off the hook.

This is how it works in the open market folks. As soon as your competition offers something, you better be prepared to offer it too, if you want to keep your market share; even if you are competing with free. Just ask Microsoft if you don't believe me.

So Libranet gets a -1 for failure to recognize my main desktop's video. (I am not trying to weight these points, I merely use them as markers. Maybe I should have used "pro" and "con" instead, but I am already started off with this approach.)

On my secondary system, Libranet refused to install at all. This was disconcerting. I had previously installed Libranet's free download edition (2.7) on this system with no problems of any kind. So I did what any reasonable, non-programmer, end user/consumer would do. I screamed bloody murder. More specifically, I emailed Libranet's technical support. This was on a Saturday evening. After sending the email I went looking on the Libranet web site for answers. I ran a brief search of the forums and found a description of my specific problem, tried it out and got the thing working. So I give Libranet a +1 for maintaining a useful database of solutions that actually fixed my problem. They get another +1 for having an excellent user forum. Just as I said about Lindows, I also say about Libranet. Any company that can inspire this kind of loyal following deserves credit for doing something right. However, the fact remains that this was a known issue that was still in place on their latest release. Give them -1 for that.

Score so far is -1 -1 +1 +1 = 0. And then the following Monday, the first business day after my Saturday email, I received a reply from a Libranet tech describing the very solution I had already found. Their reply also encouraged me to let them know if it did not work so they could come up with something else. That is about as responsive as technical support can get. Big +1 for that speedy turnaround.

Score now 0 +1 = +1.

Table of contents
  1. "Libranet Review, Page 1"
  2. "Libranet Review, Page 2"
  3. "Libranet Review, Page 3"
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