Saturday, July 10, 2004

REVIEW: Libranet-2.8.1

Platypus Lair :: platypus lair

# Processor : AMD Athlon
# Mobo : Asus K7 V
# Graphic Card : Riva TNT 2

Platypus finally got his hands on a free copy of Libranet-2.8.1 and he got to test it over the weekend. Personally platypus has always wanted to find out what all the fuss was about the revered Adminmenu tool that comes bundled with libranet. All the reviewers before him of libranet seem to be happy with the tool and sang acodales for it. With libranet releasing a free trial of their 2.8.1 release, I finally got my chance to find out.

The Libranet distribution is for developers who are looking for a solid desktop distribution to do their daily work.

Libranet is a debian based distribution and is a progeny of Libra Computer Systems Ltd. Based in Vancouver Canada, they have been producing the great desktop targetted distribution for public consumption since 1999.

Without further ado, let's jump straight in ...

nstallation of libranet is text + ncurses affair. Let not this combo scare the faint hearted and those text-phobic among you away. The install is really easy to do . Just dump in the first cd and follow the instructions. Really. There isn't much to it. Though here I would have liked it more if the disk partition program allowed me to configure my disk partitions more via an “advanced” section something like mandrake's disk drake. The partitioning gui's logic also needs some work but aside from that I didn't have much issues with the installer. It takes roughly 20 minutes on my box to install the base system then it told me to pop out the cd and reboot into my new installation of libranet !

After the first reboot, it asked platypus some question about installing more software as well as to configure my X and others. One complaint that he had at this stage is that the installer for the software did not allow him to drill down to hand pick the software that I wanted. A little bit of flexibility at this stage would have been good as there were a few software inside the the categories which I did not care much about and would have prefered to leave them out of the box.

Gripes aside, it was at this stage that libranet earned it's first brownie point with this platypus. While configuring my X it asked him what kind of driver I wanted for his X config and it detected his video card correctly. While he know this is not a biggie ( especially after the slew of *pix distribution after knoppix ), it still made this platypus happy that he did not need to any configuration later to have NVIDIA working on his system. *Kaplunk!* That's one brownie cookie point for ya ! The configuration interface also set up my adsl connection without any fuss and visits into seg faults land. A big kudos to the libranet team is recorded here for their smart stringing together relevant applications to configure all the stuff on platypus box to work in the shortest amount of time and with the least hair pulling.

The install of the additional software took another 30 mins on platypus machine and after a while of watching the telly, his spunking new Libranet was ready for use !

The first boot was greeted platypus with a nice splash screen and he logged into the default desktop which is icewm-devel. Everything look okay and the whole system was quite responsive.He quickly got down to it and clicked on the shortcut on the desktop to check out Adminmenu. Let me just say here it's everything they said it to be and more !

Screenie on top shows the default desktop running icewm-devel that comes with the installation

The platypus has tried out all sorts of distribution before and not much surprises him, yet this little unassuming tool still managed to make him smile with satisfied surprises at regular intervals.

What is good ....

One of the thing I hate most about using linux boxes is how I have to configure my mozilla to work with plugins like flash, real player and java. While getting this stuff to work is not really rocket science, the platypus would rather not worry about this and let the distribution's engine handle the work of getting all the stuff to work for him. Playing around with the tabs of adminmenu, the platypus was pleasantly surprised to find that it had an interface to allow him to configure and install flash, real player, java plugins and moz player to work on his box.

“But hang on !!” the platypus thought aloud. These things normally just looks nice and promises more than what it can deliver he thought further. So very suspiciously clicked on the flash plugin button ... it brought up a text box and asked ... wether he wanted to install the flash plugin. After a bit of tweedling around it was the moment of truth ... The platypus brought on his flash test site ( www.mieco.com.my ) on his mozilla and lo and behold ! It worked !! Kaplunk ! More brownie points for you libranet ! You have just made this platypus's normally slow and sombre Sundays just a tad brighter. It was nearly the same with all the other plugins ( Java, Real Player ). To test out java platypus loaded trusty ole battleon.com to duke out a few rounds with unsuspecting monsters .. whoopee ! They worked just out of the uhm .. install. Damn good stuff ! Although a teensy complaint here was that real player required platypus to get a little grimy by downloading the right rpm for real player and dump it into /tmp for the installer to work. Here platypus would have preffered it if the install itself could have asked him wether he agreed to the license of real player and downloaded it straight. But don't let the little teensy complaint detract you, the plugin installer for all it's worth is really good and allowed the platypus to view all his favourite websites without getting too deep into the grime.

As far as the platypus is concerned, it has achieved it's goal of getting all of the stuff which he rather not worry about on his box to work with minimal fuss. Next in line the platypus wanted to find out wether libranet could relieve him of another PITA ( Pain in the ass ) issues he had when using linux boxes. Getting true type fornts to work. Again adminmenu came to the rescue, best of all it worked again ermm out of the install ! No seg faults no hangs. Nothing. Platypus was beginning to think that libranet might be something really special as this was the second time which he found himself having to pick his chin off the floor.

One tiny wishlisty gripe here is that platypus wished that the plugins would work cross browsers and not just with galeon and mozilla. The plugins did not work with the other browser the was intalled that is opera. Note that this miniscule gripe was not enough to take away one brownie point away from libranet. It's more of a wishlist thingy in the land of perfect linux distros.

One word of advice plat wishes to share with the webmasters of libranet is ... the adminmenu is really a great addition to the libranet arsenal of application. With adminmenu libranet can distinguish itself from other distributions and should be it's main selling point, but does it reflect on the libranet site ? Nope, nada .. there is nary a mention of the nice little application not even on the feature page. Not even one screenshot featuring it. Platypus knows the saying of not blowing your own trumpet too often, but in the competitive world of selling linux distributions to the public a little ego stroking is a good thing.

Installing new software and updates
The adminmenu also allows the user to update existing software as well as install new ones or to get new software from the internet via the list of repositories listed in /etc/apt/sources.list. Here platypus found that everything was quite up to mark and it performed the task as it should, although a few minor issues if solved would have elevated the app in the greatness level in the platypus's opinion. First issue that the platypus had with the packages interface in the adminmenu was the select packages to install from the internet button. This button brings up a text based interface which asks for the name of the software that he wanted to install. This was okay for normal packages but what if the package has some strange names ? The platypus also felt that although synaptic was a good include into the package's repretoire, it would have been better if a native package management gui was developed which combines the functions of all the button under the package tab. Something along lines like urpmi's gui pops up in the platypus's head for a better improvement for the packages tab. It feels as though the developers of libranet just stuck together a few package manager front ends for debs rather than developed their own package manager here. Although everything works fine, platypus still feels it would have been better for libranet to have their own package manager gui. At the time of writing a dist-upgrade, the most feared operation when using apt is done on the box. Let's see if libranet lives up to it's reputation of working smoothly through dist-upgrades.

Here too, libranet suffers from one pain normally associated with debian based distribution. The slow updates of deb packages. While it would be okay for applications like web browses and such, the real test comes when using stuff like gaim which needs to have the latest version to work with yahoo's frequent protocol changes. Here the platypus suggests that libranet comes out with their own packages in their repositories to counter the slowness in the debian packages ( opening up the box to unstable is not really an acceptable compromise as it would throw the whole box into the land of unstableness. With least pain as possible remember ? )

The greatness of adminmenu stops not just here. There are tons of other stuff you can do with this powerful little app. Another such activity is to configure your firewall through the network tab. Clicking on the firewall button here brings up a text box which allows the user to allow or disallow applications going in and out of the firewall. Again, here it gets the job fine but a little more would have elevated it to greatness. The interface didn't have an advanced setting to allow platypus to further finetune his iptables rules. Well guess this brownie cookie will just have to go into the feed-the-poor-platypus fund ... Munch !

Libranet will also install mplayer, noatun and some other applications for multimedia if selected during the first reboot configuration stage. Using the adminmenu also easily enabled the platypus to configure sound via the sound tab. Here something of a bug surfaced though. While trying to play a mpg in full screen with mplayer, only one quarter of the movie appeared on the screen. Probably this could be solved by digging through the libranet forums via the link conviniently located on the desktop, but plat will leave this for another time ...

Kernels and modules
The libranet adminmenu also comes with it's own tab to reconfigure the kernel,install modules as well as a button to configure a list of automatically detected modules on the box. Here one brownie cookie point is awarded for a well thought out kernel interface via the adminmenu which simpliefies the process of reconfiguring the kernel as well as the modules. Kaplunk !!


All in all the platypus really enjoyed using this distribution. It was quick and responsive for all the stuff he wanted to do. The main thing that he liked about it was that it did all the dirty work that he didn't want to be bothered about. Lots of points for that.

The sixty five dollar question here must be “Is libranet really worth it's USD 65 price tag” or put another way would you be willing to shell out USD 65 around RM 300 over here for it ? The answer platypus is glad to say is a resounding yes ! He found the libranet distribution to be really worth it's salt, while not without it's tiny little warts here and there ( all distributions have their short comings ) but they do little to take away the shine and gleam from a distribution this good he thinks.

Would paying the USD 65 to libranet make the platypus feel like his donating his cash to libranet to help them out or does he really feel like he is paying for a great linux distribution that will help him with his work ? While the platypus believes that some work still has to be done to help this distribution to nudge it on it's way to greatness, he has no doubt that he likes it enough to pay for it and he feels that he is shelling out his cash to buy a damn good linux distribution that works with him and not just as a donation for them to survive.

Would he be exited or waiting for the next offering from libranet which is 3.0 ? Hell YES ! Bravo people !! Plat will be keeping your pages bookmarked !

Jon from libranet wrote in to inform me that there is a drill down function for selecting individual software for installation via the "Details" button. My mistake. I guess in my zest of testing everything out the button escaped my attention. Thousand apologies. So here's 2X*Kaplunk !!* of brownie cookies fer ya ! One for good support ( The email was prompt ) and one given back for the the ability to drill down ...

Added: Monday, July 05, 2004
Reviewer: Low Kian Seong
hits: 4963
Language: eng


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