posted by Barry Smith on Mon 1st Dec 2003 18:34 UTC

"Libranet Review, Page 2"
Regarding my infamous modems, Libranet was the mirror image of Lindows. Whereas Lindows missed my USR modem but setup my Lucent winmodem, Libranet spotted my USR modem but missed my winmodem. It was enough to make me sigh. Libranet does provide a convenient link on their website for downloading the Lucent drivers and step by step instruction for installing them, which worked flawlessly. But still.....all right. They did make it a no brainer to fix, and I did let Lindows slide on the modem issue. I guess I just have atypical and difficult modems.

After all, how many people out there on the net are using such weird hardware as a USR internal faxmodem and a Lucent winmodem? Rare and peculiar items no doubt, given the trouble I have had with finding a distro that can recognize both of them. Give Libranet a +1 for recognizing one of my modems, just the same as I gave Lindows. Score is now +1 +1 = +2.

Lets talk about using this thing now. In practical terms Libranet = debian + adminmenu. That's about it. Except...first of all the software that comes with Libranet actually works as soon as you install it. I also love the way they integrated Xscreensaver into the KDE screensaver utility. Little touches like that make the difference between sloppy and professional. Give them a +1 for thorough integration of the bundled packages.

Score now at +2 +1 = +3.

The adminmenu is a problem for me. How do I rate this thing? Do I give them a single plus point for having it? Or should I break it out into the individual utilities that are included with it? Decisions, decisions.

I am not a geek. Let this be known to all. But to give a clear picture of just how much joy this adminmenu can bring, let me tell you something. One of the first things I (the non-geek technical writer) did after installing Libranet was to jump onto the adminmenu and recompile my kernel. Not because I needed to. Because it was fun. Libranet has taken one of the most hair ripping experiences that an end user can possibly endure and turned it into a playful pass-time. I would have needed to recompile the kernel on my secondary system anyway in order to install the Lucent drivers. But I did it just for the fun of it. On both systems. Because I enjoyed it.

No doubt because of licensing issues, Libranet does not come equipped with RealPlayer, Flash, True-Type fonts, etc. The adminmenu takes care of that. One click, go get some coffee, and they are installed. No pain.

Networking wizard? Flawless. Internet dialer? Flawless. Mozilla? Office software? Games? All flawless. I could not get wine to work right, but I never have been able to get wine to work right anyway.

I will split the difference. Give them a +1 for the kernel utility, a -1 for not including some standard plugins and packages, but then a +1 for making it easy for me to do that part myself.

Confused? Don't worry, I got used to it, so can you. Current score now is +3 +1 -1 +1 = +4. Not half bad so far.

Speaking of games, I noticed something else. Although Libranet did not initially recognize my video on the main system, once I got it configured using my stock configuration file I was blown away. Glxgears reported an approximate 20% increase in fps over any other distro I have tried on that system. This includes non-debian systems I have tried in the past. I have no idea why Libranet is 20% faster. I really don't care why, to tell the truth. I just smile, give them another +1, and go on with my life. Score now +4 +1 = +5.

If I don't find something else wrong pretty soon, people are going to accuse me of being a stealth employee of Libranet. And I really ain't. But I have to mention the window managers. Libranet, as all know, defaults to IceWM. I had never tried this one before and was pleasantly surprised. Since the GDM login presents you with a selection to choose from, I started going down the list and trying them all, one at a time. I eventually defaulted back to KDE as my favorite, but I feel compelled to give Libranet a +1 for expanding my horizons. If they had not made the default something other than KDE or Gnome, I probably would never have bothered to check them out.

Fact is, from my point of view as an end user it looks to me like each new incarnation of KDE or Gnome results in a 0.05% increase in usability at the price of a 50% increase in RAM requirements. That's an exageration, but not a huge one. I have encountered many Linux advocates who sneer at the legendary Microsoft "upgrade treadmill" but the truth is that Linux is not far behind. In terms of practical benefit I could get my real work done on my 7 year old's PII-266. But then I couldn't play Tuxracer, or Q3. I like the way Libranet defaults to a less RAM hungy desktop. I use KDE, but I know that I *could* use Libranet with IceWM on that PII-266 if I had to.

Score now +5 +1 = +6. Obviously, I am missing something. This is too high.

Fortunately my secondary system was kind enough to rescue me from potential accusations of favoritism. Somehow, for no particular reason, I stopped being able to boot up. I used it as normal for several days, and then catastrophe and mayhem struck. Everything began booting as normal until it started to load Grub. At this point it just sat there grinding my hard drive with no further progess. Not good at all. It had never done this before and I feared for my hard drive. I shut down and tried again, and again. Same thing every time. So why didn't I yell for Libranet Technical Support this time? Because I am an idiot. Because it did not occur to me at first. The installation issues on the secondary box were no big deal, so that did not upset me. However THIS problem with my secondary system got me rattled, and I acted by reflex. For so many years I have gotten used to fixing things myself that I am conditioned not to ask for help until all other options are exhausted. By the time it came to me that Libranet might have a solution, I had already taken direct action. Besides, my ignorance of the nuts and bolts of boot managers is profound. Even if someone had tried to walk me through a cure, odds are that I would have done more damage than good.

I am not biased against Libranet. Quite the contrary, up until this point I was absolutely delighted. To make my disappointment even worse, I had previously used the free download edition of Libranet (2.7) on this system with no problems of any kind. For Libranet 2.8.1 to do this made me feel betrayed, however illogical that sounds. I felt rather like a puppy whose favorite chew toy had been snatched away. I was woefully chagrined. The only changes I had made to the stock installation was using adminmenu to recompile my kernel optimized for a P3, and then installing the Lucent winmodem drivers in strict accordance with instructions. I had been a good little user and did what they told me to do. Everything had appeared to be working fine for several days. Then WHAM!

I checked out the system using Knoppix as a rescue disk, then checked it out again using LindowsCD as a rescue disk. I was nervous about digging too deeply into the guts of the Master Boot Record, and too ignorant to really adjust Grub manually anyway. I could find nothing else wrong. My files were still intact and no data was lost. Plainly Grub had somehow become corrupted, but I had never seen it happen before on any of the other distros I had installed on this machine. I could have tried booting with a floppy, but I no longer trusted that installation and I wiped it off. Sorry folks, but I am an ignorant non-geek. What else could I do?

I shrugged and reinstalled Lindows 4.0 on my secondary system, where it is now happily chugging along like a brand new computer. I have no idea what happened. It has never occurred before with any distro. Clueless. Give Libranet a -1 for trying to eat my hard drive. IF I were weighting these points, which I am not, this would be one heavy duty demerit. I DON'T LIKE it when operating systems try to eat my hard drive. It upsets me. It threatens to disturb my usually saintly disposition.

But I am not weighting the points, so the score is +6 -1 = +5.

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