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[SLUG] Libranet: first impressions


I'm a SuSE user (and a newbie one at that), but after reading a couple
of reviews of recently-released Libranet Gnu/Linux 2.7 I was quite
curious. So when reports on SuSE mailing list suggested the new release
from SuSE might be somewhat flawed, I decided to try Libranet instead of
upgrading. I just installed Libranet today and I thought I'd share a few
comments.

Installation
The installer certainly doesn't look anywhere near as slick as SuSE's -
it's just a plain, text based program. On the other hand, it gets the
job done quickly and easily. My system had SuSE double-booting with
Win98 and I wanted to use existing Linux partitions without losing my
double-boot. I was a bit concerned since it was set up with Lilo and now
I had to change to Grub, but the installer handled it all without any
drama. (I must say default Grub looks... well... grubby, compared to the
fancy SuSE splash screen I'm used to. But it works.) My one complaint
about the installer is that I couldn't see any way of selecting
individual packages, only whole groups. Nor could I find out what 
exactly was included in each group, and the descriptions offered could
certainly be more detailed. But I didn't really want to pick packages
one by one anyhow, so it's possible I just didn't look hard enough... My
hardware is pretty standard and my network, video and sound cards were
recognised correctly (Netgear, nvidia and sound blaster). Automatic
configuration of XFree also worked just fine. All in all, the
installation process was painless, if not glamorous. I didn't really
need to refer to documentation to get through it, which is just as well
because there really isn't any - a couple of stapled sheets is all you
get. The whole installation process took just under one hour, and I was
ready to go.

In use
Following window managers are available: KDE, XFce, Gnome, Fluxbox and
IceWM. Curiously missing from this list is Enlightenment, even though I
*saw* it getting installed... Oh well, it's just a minor mystery for the
moment...KDE is version 3.0.3. Gnome means Gnome 2. Kernel is 2.4.19,
Mozilla 1.0, Evolution 1.0.8, Open Office 1.0.1. Pretty current stuff,
and it looks quite good, even if Liquid and Keramik themes for KDE are
absent. It's great to finally have proper Gnome 2; it's what I've been
using most of the time today. BTW, sound works in Gnome - it's the first
time in quite a while for me!

Adminmenu
It's the one thing that I guess sets Libranet apart from pure Debian,
equivalent of SuSE's Yast 2. In other words, a GUI front end for system
administration. This is where you can configure network, screen, sound,
printers, manage users, add/remove packages from the CDs or the net, etc
etc. One unusual option under "desktop" allows one-click
download/installs of Flash plug-in and RealPlayer - and it worked, too.
Very slick! Speaking of plug-ins, installed Java is of Blackdown rather
than Sun flavour, possibly due to licensing issues(?) It is in Adminmenu
where I discover the greatest problem so far: although everything
appeared OK during installation, it now turns out I do not have any
CD-RW drives! Well guess what - I do. It's a slightly weird Ricoh
CDROM/writer/DVD player, but both SuSE 8 and (of course) Win98
recognised and configured it correctly. Not this time... this is a major
bummer, as at this point I have no idea how to go about fixing it. Yet I
remain convinced it is fixable. If SuSE 8.0 could deal with it, I'm sure
it can be done in Libranet as well. I guess it will be my opportunity to
find out how good their support is!

Value
Throughout this post, I often compare Libranet to SuSE. That's not only
because SuSE is the distribution I'm most familiar with, but also
because the price is exactly the same: at CheapBytes 49 U$ buys either
Libranet 2.7, or SuSE 8.1 Update Version. The term "update" is somewhat
misleading. It's exactly the same 7 CDs + 1 DVD as in 8.1 Pro, the only
difference is lack of printed manuals. And as I mentioned before,
Libranet also comes without any printed documentation to speak of.
However SuSE goes to great lengths to make their users feel supported,
with lots of documentation (some of it actually specific for their
distro) included on CDs. Libranet just throw in some generic Debian
stuff, often so outdated it's still refering to Debian versions 1.x.
SuSE's seven CDs + DVD as opposed to Libranet's two CDs might seem like
a big difference, but in practice I don't think I ever used any SuSE CDs
beyond the first three. The rest contain sources, maybe other language
versions? At any rate, not anything I ever needed. So the difference in
pure volume isn't that great. IF SuSE 8.1 was all it should be, I guess
I'd consider it to be a better value. But as 8.1 appears to be going
through some teething problems, the final score is not quite clear...
let's call it about even.

Conclusion
So is Libranet worth around $100 A$? Well, it depends. For a Debian
expert, comfortable with updating critical parts of the system and
blessed with bandwidth to download it all, the answer is: probably not.
The only added value is Adminmenu, and experts won't need it anyway.
But I'm not an expert and in any case I'm more interested in instant 
gratification than tinkering. I want ease of management (meaning:
utilities with GUI that works). I want current versions of software, but
I'm still stuck with 56k modem. For me, it makes sense to go with
Libranet. If it wasn't for them, I'd probably never venture into the
world of Debian. But thanks to Libranet I might get to taste Debian's
fabled stability and apt-get nirvana, while still enjoying the latest
and greatest offerings from KDE, Gnome and kernel developers. Now, if I
could only get this burner sorted out...


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"In the struggle of Good against Evil, it's always the people 
 who get killed."  -- Eduardo  Galeano
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