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 Feature: Review of Linux by Libranet

In this article I review Linux by Libranet 1.8. Linux by Libranet is a Debian 2.2 potato based Linux distribution aimed at the desktop user and enhanced by Libranet with the aim of making things easier on the new user or allowing someone to install a comprehensive desktop quickly.

 (Submitted by Noel Mon Sep 4, 2000 )


Review of Linux by Libranet


In this article I review Linux by Libranet 1.8. Linux by Libranet is a Debian 2.2 potato based Linux distribution aimed at the desktop user and enhanced by Libranet with the aim of making things easier on the new user or allowing someone to install a comprehensive desktop quickly.

Linux by Libranet can be purchased from Libranet's Website for $25 US including shipping. For your $25 you get support, a CD and some printed documentation.

So why Debian? Jon Danzig, president of Libranet, answered this question in an interview on Linux.com:

"The first thing I liked about it was the enormity of the distribution. There are a large number of packages, packages coming from all over the place, without any kind of direction or supervision. It's kind of a spontaneous distribution, built by all these diverse people without having anybody specifically sit there and say "this is what we want." So, the choices when we put a distribution together are just enormous with Debian."

He also explained the differences between Debian and the Libranet distribution.

"The biggest difference is the packaging approach, that is, the selection of these packages. Out of the more than 3000 Debian packages that are available, we're ignoring the majority, and we've selected just the pieces that we think will work nicely. We also do something called "pre-purchase," where somebody will ask us whether their hardware will work."

The install documentation was clear and understandable but was a bare bones description of the install procedure. The documentation would be improved by expansion.

I installed Libranet on the following two test machines:

HP Vectra
133 MHZ Pentium
2.5 GB IDE Harddrive
SMC 509 Ethernet Card

Generic PC
166MMX Pentium
17GB IDE Drive
Sound Blaster 16 Sound Card
NE2000 Ethernet Card

On the HP I used the entire hard drive for the install. On the Generic PC I used a 2GB partition and an existing swap partition. The install worked well both installing on the entire drive and when installing on a existing partition. There were options for doing the install under both situations.

The installation went smoothly on both machines. The tool provided to partition the drives was cfdisk and was very easy to use. The package selection was also very easy to use.

After installing Libranet I looked at what ports were open to the world, edited inetd.conf to remove the services that I did not need and then looked to see what was still running.

This is something that I always do. I have very little or no need to have chargen, echo, discard, daytime etc running. So I turn them off. I only want the minimal things I need running.

If you have configured X windows it sets up the system to start gdm (the Gnome display manager) automatically. While having gdm running would be good for a new user I prefer to not run X by default. I expected to find gdm in inittab but instead found it in the SysV init files. To turn it off I removed the startup and shutdown files from /etc/rc*.d/.

Libranet has a admin tool called adminmenu. This is a very nice tool for anyone without a lot of Unix or Linux experience. It allows them to add and delete packages, compile a new kernel. configure X, set up printers and more.

This is what the starting menu of adminmenu looks like:

                          Libranet Administration Menu                    

    [1]   Package management
    [2]   Kernel configuration
    [3]   Install third party drivers
    [4]   X-windows and mouse configuration
    [5]   Printer configuration
    [6]   Date / time configuration
    [7]   Disk utilities
    [8]   (Re)Configure dial-up Internet connection

    [r]   Reboot
    [h]   Halt

    [q]   Quit

        Enter a menu number:  

Compiling the kernel with the adminmenu is as simple as selecting the kernel drivers from a menu. When you finish selecting your drivers it compiles the new kernel and then prompts you to reboot the machine. There is no make mrproper, make config, make dep, make zImage stuff to scare away the timid or the new.

Like all of the Linux Distributions I have ever installed it leaves a lot of ports open even after you go through inetd.conf. Examples include lpd and portmap. However Libranet does come with ipchains setup, so you can firewall these ports off from the bad guys.

I would not want any unneeded ports exposed on the Internet while I was dialed in with PPP. Not because there is any known exploit for any of them that I am aware of, but just as the general principal that if you do not need something turn it off. As an example I was not going to have anyone on the Internet send me print jobs, so I should firewall it. I set up a simple list of rules with ipchains and the machine rejected all the packets coming from the ppp connection for the selected ports while still working for packets coming across my Ethernet.

There is a lot to like about this distribution.

There is an impressive selection of desktops available. All of them well integrated and set up. As far as I could tell all of the applications and other window managers set up in each one of their menus.

There is also an impressive array of themes configured for the window managers. In the default window manager (IceWM) there were over thirty themes available.

They packed a lot of games into Libranet the list includes: lxDoom, lincity, xkoules, mahjongg, gnomehack, and many more (122 executables in /usr/games).

The list of applications is also impressive. It includes The StarOffice suit, Abiword, html editors, GIMP, gPhoto, dia, the tools that come with KDE and Gnome, Netscape, Mozilla, Gnapster, bitchx, xmms, FreeAMP, cdrtoaster, X CD Roast, gv, Electric Eyes, acrobat reader, xpcd and many, many more.

For a multi CD or dvd installation this would not be a big deal. This however packs a lot of punch into a one CD distribution.

When I finished the install I did not find Star Office installed. I ended up manually installing it from the Libranet CD. Not a big deal for me but it could have been a big deal for a new user.

With all of the window managers available you would think that my favorite would be there but alas it was not. I have been using fvwm for years and have not had a good reason to switch. I have a set of menus that I have been using for a long time and have on all of my machines. Alas, no fvwm. They had fvwm2 and a copy of fvwm2 named fvwm. They did however have a script called fvwmrc_convert that did a good job of converting my .fvwmrc into the proper syntax for fvwm2. So perhaps I will switch to fvwm2 after all.

The one trait that stood out in my mind about Libranet was the care they took with integrating everything. This really stood out compared to other distributions that I have installed. For example, I have installed other distributions that only set the menus up for their default window manager and don't set up the other window managers at all. Not that the other distributions have been that bad but this was just that good.

In my opinion Linux by Libranet is a solid enhancement to Debian. It provides an easy install with lots of applications. I would recommend it to anyone who is a new user or just wanted a fast way to set up a very usable desktop machine. I am sure that almost anyone could successfully install Libranet regardless of their experience with Linux.

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