Libranet 2.8.1 Flagship Edition Review

I decided to review the Libranet Distribution because there just aren’t many reviews available on it, and I am sure that there are plenty of people who would like to know what Libranet is and how it works.

Overview
Libranet is Debian based. This is good for Debian lovers. Other folks coming from Redhat based distributions or Slackware will find it merely different. Package management is where Debian shines, updating and installing applications is a snap using Synaptic, or really any .deb tool. There is a lot of community support for Libranet. There is a even a forum area dedicated to Libranet:
http://forum.libranet.com/

That is enough overview. Let’s get started on the nitty gritty. People who are used to downloading the latest version of their favorite distribution – to give it a shot, will be shocked to learn that Libranet costs, money. Not a lot, for the value it provides, but unlike some distributions, it definitely costs, period. It costs $69.95 US for the Flagship Edition – 2 CDs or $64.95 US to download. That having been said, I strongly suggest that you read on. There is definite value to be had in a distribution that costs. Libranet adds value.

Requirements

System requirements for Libranet are very modest:

  • Intel and compatible (e.g. AMD) Pentium class and higher
  • 32MB RAM ( 64MB and up recommended )
  • SuperVga 640×480 ( 800×600 recommended )
  • minimal install – 600MB HDD
  • full install – 3.0GB HDD
  • recommended – 4.0GB HDD
  • CDROM drive
  • Mouse
  • The exact requirements are available at:
    http://www.libranet.com/system_requirements.html

    Getting the Media

    When I asked Libranet for a copy of their latest distribution version 2.8.1, they were more than happy to provide it. They gave me a secure link for downloading it in the same manner that a customer who purchased it via the web would get. I downloaded it in a little over an hour. The distribution comes on 2 CDs. The source code is also available for download. I did not need or want it.

    I burned the ISOs on to two 80 Minute 700 MB CDs and rebooted the desktop.

    Installation – Stage 1

    In Libranet, the first stage of the install is a text (or console) based install. I admit that I was somewhat surprised at this. I had expected a GUI based installer. Well, all I can say is – how refreshingly simple! I will not bore you with the details. This is a review, not an installation manual. If you want to know how to install it, there is a Libranet Install Guide on the Libranet site that covers the process perfectly, with and without pictures:
    http://www.libranet.com/guide/

    The main objectives accomplished by the stage 1 installer are:

  • Keyboard Selection
  • Harddrive Partitioning and Layout
  • Base System Installation
  • Boot Loader Installation
  • Time Zone Selection
  • The stage 1 process was very simple and worked beautifully. I would have liked it if the installer had autodetected which CD had the install media, but I was not that disappointed. I chose to install Libranet with dual boot support. Once the first stage was completed, I rebooted per instructions.

    Installation – Stage 2

    The second stage of the install begins in text (or console) mode and switches to GUI for the selection of packages. I could not begin to rave enough on how clean and simple the Libranet installation is. I know, I know, this is one area that Linux distributions have been focusing on for the last couple of years. Libranet is definitely a standout here.

    The main objectives accomplished by the stage 2 installer are:

  • Root Password setup
  • Add Users
  • Set up Core Packages and the Kernel
  • Configure and Test X-Windows
  • Software Package Selection
  • Sound Card Setup
  • Network Setup
  • Printer Setup
  • CDR Setup
  • Everything went swell on this stage. The only issue that I experienced was relative to Automatic X-Windows Setup – the setup incorrectly detected the amount of RAM in my video card. I corrected and went right along.

    Package selection is via GUI. I selected all packages except:

  • PCMCIA (laptop only)
  • Laptop Software
  • KDE Languages (non English)
  • ISDN Utilities
  • WordPerfect 8 Compatibility
  • These packages were not appropriate to my configuration – a Desktop system of modest capability.

    Every hardware detection was successful – video, sound, network, scsi, usb, etc. I skipped Printer setup, I wanted to use the admin tools to do this. CDR Setup was interesting in that I was asked if I wanted all of my IDE CD Drives to appear as SCSI (scsi emulation is required for burning cdroms). I said yes, and boy am I glad that I did.

    Once the second stage was complete, I was presented with the Libranet login screen.

    First Login

    Woo hoo! The moment of truth. I logged into Libranet as the non-root user (always a smart approach) that I had created during the second stage install. Nice looking interface! NVidia popup and all, well that is the price of 3D, I suppose. So, the question that is burning in your mind has got to be – which Window Manager does Libranet default to? First, let me say that Libranet comes with lots of Window Managers – KDE, Gnome, IceWM, Flux Box, WM, TWM, etc. It defaults to IceWM. I was unfamiliar with IceWM, however, I thought that I would give it a shot. I figured that the Libranet folks must have a reason for picking it.

    I went ahead and set up my Samsung ML-1450 network laser printer, this required that I select ML-6000, no big. The last little bit of configuration was raising the IGain on my soundcard, for some reason all Linuxes have low volume on my soundcard.

    I then updated the AdminMenu, Libranet’s incredibly well organized administration interface.

    I clicked the Security Updates button in the AdminMenu and got all the latest security hotfixes – 8MB, about a minute.

    The last 2 things that I did on my initial login? I added my True Type Fonts (AdminMenu again) and selected a pkde2 theme, so I would know what those button thingies on the toolbars did.

    Normal Use

    Well I have spent the time since downloading the distribution, banging on my Libranet system. I have been unable to crash the system, no shock there. I have been unable to crash X, this is a little more impressive. One test that I like to perform on every new system that I setup, is to start every application in the main menus at once and observe the performance, or in the case of my other OS, non-performance of the system. Libranet maintained responsiveness during this test, quite a feat.

    I used wine to run X-News:
    http://xnews.newsguy.com

    Wow, Windows apps on Linux! and I did not crash X with this one either.

    I ran the applications and then I ran them some more and there were plenty to choose from. I played games, I ran compiles, and I ran every Internet application in the distribution (well, I think I did, like I said PLENTY to choose from).

    Libranet comes with a slew of fine applications, my favorites are:

  • Adminmenu
  • Mozilla 1.4 (I really like the mail client)
  • OpenOffice 1.0.3
  • Tux Racer ๐Ÿ™‚
  • IceWM (my new favorite Window Manager, really quick)
  • GCC 3.3.1rc2
  • Perl 5.8.1 (thank you Larry Wall!)
  • For a more complete list of applications, goto:
    http://www.distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=Libranet

    Screenshots are available here:
    http://www.libranet.com/screenshots.html

    I had a couple of questions that I could not answer myself, so I wrote to tech support and they were quick and courteous. Not only that, they answered the questions! See below for the Questions, with Answers.

    The look of Libranet is comparable to Red Hat or Mandrake, True Type fonts and clean Anti-Aliasing give the interface a polished look that many distributions lack, out of the box. I was required to install the fonts (some licensing issue, surely), however, Adminmenu centralized the process and made it painless.

    Libranet has something for everyone. Over the past few weeks my usage profile has morphed several times and Libranet has been there every step of the way. I started as a reviewer, bells and whistles galore… Next, I played Joe User, could I open that Microsoft PowerPoint presentation? Sure enough, OpenOffice to the rescue (ditto on Word and Excel), word to the wise, get OpenOffice 1.1 for even better interoperability. Next, critical developer – vi (or emacs) and gcc will take you a long way, but I sure wish there were some Visual Studio competitors freely available, KDevelop not withstanding. Komodo 2.5 from ActiveState works beautifully on Libranet, but Komodo is not that inexpensive. Finally, after all the work – I took on the game player role, rock on! I loaded up Quake III Arena, wow! Was I ever glad that my NVidia card was supported well. The responsiveness of the game was impressive. I tried 30 or so of the games that came with Libranet and although I liked them and they worked well, none were as polished as Arena. My windows version of Unreal worked quite well under wine, though, and it is as polished. Every game that I played worked as I expected, well. All in all, you can wile away as many hours playing games on Libranet as you like. It comes with a very large number of games, games for X, for Gnome and games for KDE.

    In terms of overall user experience, Libranet is a blast – from start to finish. The one thing that I would change, if it was up to me, are the menus. The menus can be somewhat confusing. There appears to be some redundancy and overlap, for instance, the Games sub menu can be found in the main menu as well as several other sub menus. I would like to see the menus redone in such a way as to eliminate that redundancy.

    Conclusion

    Libranet 2.8.1 is a breath of fresh air. Amazingly easy to install, stable as a rock and easy to update. Their customer support was fast, knowledgeable and helpful. I would recommend this Debian based Linux distribution to anyone, novice or expert.


    Questions with Answers

    Q. IceWM is the default, how do I accelerate the mouse?
    A. There is currently no graphical method of setting mouse acceleration in
    IceWM, but you could add the command:
    xset m 2 4 To: ~/.libranet/startup_programs
    Where in the example above 2 is the acceleration, and 4 the threshold.

    Q. How do I troubleshoot and or configure the time server client? Using adminmenu, I try to sync the time with the noaa server and get the error:
    Fail: connect: Connection refused
    A. The NOAA time server that Adminmenu used for time synchronization became inaccessible recently. We resolved this with an update to the Libranet Adminmenu.

    46 Comments

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