Why did I decide to give Smoothwall a chance ? well quite simply, my dlink firewall/nat/simple router couldnt handle large traffic, and when confronted with that, would die, stone dead and the only way to fix it was to disconnect the power from it and restart. That's just about ok if you are beside it, but if you are in Ireland (which I was) and it is in Sweden, then whatever you are hosting is down for as long as you are away.
Smoothwall was recommended to me by a friend who used it to secure his machines on his home lan, some running game servers, some ftp server and web. He said it worked great and I should try it, so I did, and dove right in and used it for approximately 5 months without any problem except for the afore mentioned SNORT (intrusion detection system) which never ever restarted itself after I updated smoothwall. I then moved house in September of last year and brought my smoothwall computer with me, I couldnt get it to pick up an ip address from my new broadband provider (ADSL based) so I gave up and re-installed the dlink hardware firewall.
Many months have since past and my interest in smoothwall has re-emerged with the release of Smoothwall Express 2.0 Final. The software is available for download right now here, just download the ISO that suits you (I chose the one with inbuilt manuals and it was only 45.5 MB in size) and burn the iso to a CD.
Once you have burned the cd, the next thing you need is a suitable computer to install it on, I'd suggest something old as the computer itself will only serve one purpose, running smoothwall. The computer will not need a keyboard/mouse or monitor once you have it all installed and setup correctly, but it does require at least two network cards, or one network card and one modem (who uses modems these days ?). You can remotly manage Smoothwall from your local network via a web browser interface or via the internet/ssh.
To install Smoothwall, just insert the CD and boot from the CD itself, immediatly you are presented with a nice Smoothwall splash screen announcing the coming installation, let it boot up and choose CD (obviously) as your installation media method. The Smoothwall quickstart PDF is available here.
Answer yes or no to the questions that pop up (they are so simple that there is no point in explaining) and off it goes. The only thing the first time Smoothwall users may find hard to understand is the 'naming' convention of the lan connections, red, green and orange. To simplify things, if you have two nics (network cards) and one is connected to the internet (wan - wide area network) and the other is connected to your local network (lan - local area network) then you can safely assume that green is your lan, and red is the wan. Stop and go I guess ;-).
Once you have configured Smoothwall (it was quick, wasn't it !), you are prompted if you want to restore previously saved configuration changes, if you have them, insert your floppy disc and it will restore them, I have not tested this yet, but I did see that within the web based management interface you can also backup to floppy or make a floppy img file and back that up to your local hard disc for later retrieval. After that click ok to reboot, once it reboots you can configure whether you want to enable the DHCP server (works great for a home network) and whether or not your RED (wan) interface has a static or dynamic IP address from your internet provider. You can also specify what the DHCP server ip range is very easily, which is nice, you dont have to stick with the default 192.168.0.x range if you don't want to.
You will be prompted if you are using an ISDN modem (if not cancel it) and an ADSL modem (if not cancel it) however, and this is a big however, Smoothwall's selection of ADSL modems are all USB based, and both ADSL modems I have at home are not. There is also no option to manually specify your ADSL modem, which is a pity, and I hope that the next release of this software has that ability, not everyone who uses ADSL is using usb based models I'm sure.
So, to get around that, I had to choose 'disable ADSL' and my next step was to manually assign the IP from my ISP to my RED network card. That worked for all of approximately 5 minutes. I could surf fine and I thought 'hey this is truly cool' but then my internet went bottoms up. By entering my ISP's login IP address in my browser (on a machine connected via the green network to the Smoothwall server via DHCP) I got up an error message from my ISP. They didn't like me manually specifing my IP address, so I digressed and chose DHCP for my RED interface. To my amazement, this worked, and I could login to my isp on the 'normal' pc and was once again connected to the internet. This was more like it !
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