Debian is widely considered the Linux distribution with the best package management tool, APT and one of the largest software bases (>13,000). However, the installation horror stories kept me away. Nevertheless, eager to try it out, I failed to install various other Debian GNU/Linux based distributions. Some failed to boot even after I tried to reinstall for the fourth time, and others just couldn’t detect my hardware. While Knoppix is highly recommended, I decided to stick with hard-drive based distros (Although it is the distribution of choice for LiveCDs). Then came Libranet.
Libranet allows the great flexibility and easy package management of Debian with a smooth, painless installation. But, oh woe, it does not have a free downloadable version! I’m a proponent of free speech and free beer, so I decided to stay away from Libranet for a while.
My yearning for a trouble-free installation coupled with rock-solid Debian was finally fulfilled when the gentle folks at Libranet decided to release Libranet 2.7 Classic, essentially Libranet 2.8 with an older kernel (2.4.19 instead of 2.4.21 in Libranet 2.8.1) and a smaller selection of packages; but with APT the system can easily be extended and upgraded.
The ISO was downloaded, burned, and ready to go in no time thanks to a speedy broadband connection. I proceeded to my test machine; running Windows XP sprawled over the full capacity of the 80 GB drive.
As Libranet does not support NTFS partitioning, Partition Magic quickly and painlessly created a 256 MB Swap partition, using the good ol’ RAM x 2 rule of thumb, and a 25 GB ext3 partition.
* AMD K7-2 750 MHz
* Asus K7-2 Mainboard
* IBM DeskStar 120 80GB HD
* SiS 6326 4MB AGP Video Card
* Creative Ensoniq Vibra 128 Sound Card
* AOpen 52x CD-ROM
* Linksys LEN100XT
* Gateway EV700 Monitor
Libranet booted off the CD without a hitch. I was greeted by a classic text-based (CURSES, not console) installation, which might scare some people, but the menus are very simple, and the explanations are excellent. I then proceeded to select my partitions, set the time zone, language and install the base system. Everything went smoothly and with the least amount of user intervention possible without throwing configurability to the wind. No choice of partition type is provided, ReiserFS is always used. It set up GRUB (There is no option to install LILO) flawlessly, detecting Windows, and asking me whether to add it to the boot menu. There was the option of putting GRUB in the Master Boot Record (overwriting any other boot managers I might have), in the first sector of the partition, or on a boot diskette. I chose to put it in the MBR and crossed my fingers that everything would work fine.
For stage two, I remove the CD and rebooted. It loaded smooth as butter. I set up the root account and any other users (only one in my case). Unlike 2.8.1 this Classic version of Libranet does not give automatic access to the Windows partitions (Later, you can mount FAT partitions manually).
Next I was prompted to insert the CD back into the drive, and proceeded with package selection. There were several categories such as Windows Managers, Samba, Internet, etc. I decided to choose everything except the PCMCIA drivers.
The scroll-fest began, displayed no warning messages for most packages, and even those that didn’t install it just skipped and went on, as they were of no import. I suggest getting up, having a stretch and drinking a cup or six of your beverage of choice.
After the packages were installed it launched the sound configuration utility, which correctly detected my sound card, but failed to load the correct module, loading ‘disabled’ instead. I decided to fix that later so I continued to the network configuration which I chose to skip as well. I painlessly set up the X-Windows system the script having detected my video card, my monitor, and loaded the correct modules.
This is where the installation ended so I turned the machine off and went to sleep.
Libranet 2.7 At Work
The computer booted into a familiar GRUB screen. Three options: The regular install, a “failsafe” option, and windows (indicated by nothing more than /dev/hda1). I waited out the allotted 3 seconds and GRUB went on to boot my Linux partition.
It went through the usual kernel messages and loaded X, displaying the Gnome login screen. I logged in using the user name and password I created during installation.
The default desktop is IceWM. Although it is fast and compact, I wanted the greater functionality of KDE, so I used the KDE 3.0.3 which comes with the distribution.
I played around with Libranet for a little while, and found it to be a solid distribution, indeed doing justice to the Debian name.
The major difference I found is the “Xadminmenu” (there’s also a text-based alternative creatively named “adminmenu”) application supplied with the distribution. A link to it sits on the desktop, and it allows you to access various important configuration options. However, it not only let’s access scripts such as a simplified XFree86 configuration, or sound card set up, but also automated installation of Microsoft TrueType fonts (anti-aliased), Flash Player, and PCMCIA cards. Although I have not tested that function out, a tab dedicated to recompiling the kernel is also available.
As mentioned previously, I left the sound and network set up for later, and this is where “adminmenu” came in to play. Through it, I accessed the simple sound card module selection script, which detected my card by did load the correct module, so I chose on manually. After putting in the internal and external IP addresses (I use a router to share my cable connection), DHCP server addresses, DNS server, and WINS server address, the network worked flawlessly. It is worth to mention that these scripts are the same ones used during installation.
I fired up Konqueror, Mozilla, and Galeon, and all three performed without a hitch.
Libranet and APT
Now, the moment truth has arrived. I now intended to commence using APT for the first time under Libranet.
I did an
apt-get update and got the latest package listings. To test things out, I tried
apt-get install bittorrent, which failed miserably. I girded my loins and sallied forth to find a solution; RTFM is my motto, I prefer not to contact support, especially since it isn’t included with the free Libranet 2.7. Meanwhile, an
apt-get upgrade updated all my packages. After a little running around the Debian site I decided to use the US mirrors of the Testing package tree, so I added those to /etc/apt/sources.list. Next, came the
apt-get dist-upgrade. I left that running for a while. When it was done, I had a new distribution, the Debian Testing tree (“sarge”) running!
At this point I restarted.
After the distribution upgrade, I was deposited at the console, but not losing my cool, I logged in, and used
startx, to make everything work. In fact, I appreciate being able to arrive at a pure text prompt before loading the GUI.
Everything worked. Frozen-Bubble, which refused to run, even after being installed before, now worked flawlessly.
Libranet comes with a plethora of packages, from graphic editors, to games. It includes several Window and Desktop managers, including IceWM, KDE, Gnome, Blackbox, Fluxbox, Window Maker, Enlightenment, and others. And any package required can easily be located in the enormous (13,000+) Debian package repository. To find the package name for SCHEME, for example, all one needs is to
apt-cache search scheme and a list of packages whose description contains the word scheme is displayed. A list of shooting games is just as easily located using
apt-cache search shooter.
This, in fact, is the essence of Libranet. This one CD is nothing but a door to the vast world of Debian GNU/Linux. I highly recommend Libranet 2.7 to anyone who wants a great Debian-based distribution that makes it easy, but still has the power tools a true Linux power-user might require.
Ease of use 6/10
Fun factor 8/10
Completeness (Refers to the comprehensiveness of software provided)
With APT 10/10
Without APT 6.5/10
Geek factor 6/10
Final Verdict 8/10
Conclusion: This is a superb distribution. Libranet 2.7 puts the power, flexibility, and versatility of Debian in everyone’s hands. One to try for both experienced users (whose job will be made easier) and newbies (who will be spared a harsh introduction, but will not be spoon-fed). This, however, is a desktop Linux distribution, those looking for servers, routers, etc. are better off with another more lean flavor.
About the Author:
Michael Katsevman resides most comfortably in the Metro-Boston area of Massachusetts, and intends to stay there for a little while. He enjoys long walks on the beach and an extra dose of computers, preferably intravenously. Network Security to 3D Modeling, all is within his reach, but his future is yet to come. Soon in a college or university near you.