Debian on Steroids III: Libranet 3.0

Libranet Debian Linux is back in the ring, this time as a heavyweight desktop contender.

Libranet 3.0 started beta testing at the end of December 2004 and emerged early in April 2005. Why the long wait? For one thing, Libranet 3.0 is the first release from the Vancouver, BC, company to be based on the 2.6 kernel. The beta started with kernel 2.6.9 and finished with 2.6.11. This was done because the developers wanted to field an up-to-date distribution that carries on the Libranet record of easy to install, configure and use desktop operating systems.

The heavyweight classification I give this latest Libranet comes from its distribution size--five CDs or one DVD--and its comprehensive list of included applications. Although a number of Debian-based distributions are available at less or no cost, none include as many programs as Libranet 3.0 does. This is of primary interest to me and other Linux users who lack broadband or simply don't want to spend their time downloading packages in order to get the functionality we want.

Libranet 3.0 does not move like a heavyweight once installed, however. Compared to another 2.6 distro (SuSE) I tried, things happen much more snappily with Libranet 3.0. Performance on a 500MHz K6-III+ system was impressively good. On a 1GHz Celeron machine, applications started about as quickly as they did under SuSE 9.1 running on my 2.2GHz P4. Even my P1 233 ran tolerably, although installation and KDE startup can wear a bit on one's patience.

This review is from the perspective of a desktop user. I am interested in a desktop that gets my work done. I am not a sysadmin, I do not network and I do not update my system every day. I also make do with hardware that is not bleeding edge. From my first encounter with Libranet 1.9.0 to this latest release, I have found that the Libranet system, support and community fit my needs as well as grow to provide new capabilities.

Round One: Installation

Libranet 3.0 starts either as a download of one DVD or five CD ISOs. Upon booting, Libranet offers to test the integrity of the media. I highly recommend taking the time to do so; most problems relating to installation failure have been traced to bad burns. For people like me who don't have high-speed download capability, Libranet can mail a five-CD package. No decision has been made yet to provide a DVD.

After testing the disc(s), the installer offers the option to switch CD drives for the rest of the installation. If your system is configured with the CD or DVD burner as master, I would suggest switching to the slave. Later on you are presented with the option to burn a bootable CD, so it is convenient to keep the burner free for that job.

Setting up X is the next step. If the hardware is amenable, the installer switches to graphical mode. On my test systems, using ATI Mach 64, Radeon 7000 and NVIDIA TNT2 M64 graphics cards, I was greeted by an impressive test screen. NVIDIA users are offered the accelerated driver; it worked perfectly with my old card. At this point, even though X appears to be correct, I recommend clicking the Adjust Configuration button on the test screen to make sure the monitor sync frequencies match those of your monitor. You also can change the display resolution to suit your taste.

My old Panasonic S70 monitor does not report its specs, and the default settings the installer chose were extremely conservative. This resulted in very ugly display fonts and distortion when scrolling. Manually setting the frequencies in Adminmenu, Libranet's system administration tool, fixed this immediately. I since have placed little gummed labels on my monitors that list the sync frequencies.

With the display set up, the graphic Install Manager appears. First up is keyboard selection, followed by hard drive set up. If space must be made available by shrinking other partitions, Libranet provides GParted and QTParted, which are accessed by clicking on Partitioning Tools under the Menu button. Both tools are provided to deal with all of the filesystems a user may want to adjust. In addition, these tools now are graphical as of this release, making them easier for a beginner to use than the previous text-mode utility.

Once free space has been made, the partition tool provides the options of overwriting the entire drive, using all available free space or custom partitioning. Some nice touches have gone into the design of this critical tool; for example, in custom partitioning a slider can be used to set partition size.

With the drive layout completed, selecting boot options follows. Libranet always installs GRUB data in / or /boot, regardless of the selection, so starting Libranet if the MBR accidentally is erased or overwritten is not a problem.

New in Libranet 3.0 is the option to include other OSes in its boot menu list. It detects and displays Windows and other Linuxes. The tool automatically writes the appropriate chainloader stanza for each one, and it also lets you edit the titles.

Missing in Libranet 3.0's installer, however, is the option to mount a Windows partition and make it user accessible. Libranet 2.8.x included this option but lacked the boot menu configuration tool. It's a trade-off. I find the OS boot tool to be more useful myself. Adding a line to /etc/fstab and creating a mount point for Windows is not difficult, but newcomers may find this step bothersome.

After installing the base system, kernel, modules and, finally, the boot loader, the user creates a root password and sets up user accounts. Next, come hostname selection, the default is Libranet; time zone selection; and network configuration.

Although I don't network, some of my systems have NICs; Libranet identified all of them except for one in a vintage Compaq Presario. Dial-up users now can set up their accounts. I would suggest, however, skipping this part until after the installation is completed, because there is a bug that results in the dial-up password being saved incorrectly. Setting up the dial-up in Adminmenu later is easy and works correctly. One thing I do not like is that the password is masked, that is, displayed as asterisks, even with root access. I had a hard time troubleshooting my connection because I could not verify that my password was correctly entered--I am a terrible typist.

The next step is making a boot floppy or CD. This is optional and can be done later in Adminmenu. Laptop users take heed: if you are installing from your burner, make sure you remove the installer CD or DVD and replace it with a blank disc before proceeding to burn a CD. There is no warning to do so, and the system hangs and is unrecoverable after trying unsuccessfully to burn a boot CD with the installation CD #1 or DVD in the drive.

The last stage of installation is package selection. Here Libranet's design team has come up with a elegant tool. You can select from several installation profiles: standard desktop, standard laptop, server system, minimal and custom. Each of the profiles can be customized by clicking Edit Package Selection. The package manager lists and describes all of the available programs and indicates which are default.

If you forgot to reinsert your install disc after burning a boot CD, you are reminded to insert it. During package installation, a bar graph reports progress as a percentage of completion.

A matter of particular importance to me is that Libranet 3.0 retains support for my favorite word processor, WordPerfect 8.1. The compatibility package group is at the bottom of the list and can be added either during installation or anytime later by using the Adminmenu package tool.



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Old hardware support has some gaps

Jack Carroll's picture

As good as LN 3.0 is on up-to-date hardware, as well-chosen as its mixed tree of packages is, and as strong a tool as Adminmenu is, the Libranet team's finite resources do show up in some areas. I concentrated on testing it with older hardware, and found some problems that I hope will be cleaned up in a later update.
First of all, there are no boot floppies, not even supplied as images on the CDs. Nor is there a network installation or cross-installation procedure. This makes 3.0 impossible to install on any computer that can't boot from a CD. Second, the new installer is totally dependent on getting X Windows working early in the process. This excludes another large category of older hardware, where the graphics hardware may be difficult to get working without the resources of an installed system, or where there isn't enough disk space to support X.
The good news with X is, the problems with setting up Nvidia and Radeon cards got pretty well ironed out during the last part of the beta period. The menu screens can be a little tricky to figure out, but all the necessary hooks are there.
I also hit some problems with older network boards. I had to do considerable hacking to get a couple of ISA boards recognized and configured.
For newcomers with machines built in the last 3 years or so, and no unusual hardware combinations (in other words, stock desktop PCs), Libranet 3.0 makes solid sense as a primary choice. For others, Debian Sarge is a good candidate to consider. Because LN is built on top of Debian, skills learned on one are mostly applicable to the other. Debian can install on just about anything, and its new installer is much easier to use than the fearsome utility of a few years ago. Still, there's no equivalent to Adminmenu, so you'll spend more time with the reference manual and the text editor setting up your configuration files. Libranet and stock Debian can complement each other well in a site with a wide assortment of equipment.


Derek's picture


I recently paid for 3.0 after trying a number of distros and not finding the "perfect one" (if one even exists).

While I agree with much said here I have to say that the first looks impression of Libranet were not good at all. The menues look terrible and have duplication all over the place. The default screen looks even worse.

Technically I think you have gotten it quite right, but what about the look of the system when it is sitting there in front of you? I really hoped after spending the money that I would have a system that looked professional out of the box. I didn't expect that I would have to make numerous changes to get things looking as they should from a commercial product.

Libranet has much to be congratulated for. Admin is wonderful. But they need to make an effort to centralize on perhaps two or three windows managers and make each look as they should...professional.

Just my two cents.



Anonymous's picture

Just get used on Debian. It really makes everything and once used to it it's wonderfull and perfect, nothing is missing ...

New to me

Baz's picture

I must admit i never heard of this distro before. It sounds really good. I was considering upgrading my SuSE 9.1 box to 9.3 but now I'm going to try Libranet first.

Thanks for the heads-up!

Second that of MEPIS

devnet's picture

I'll have to agree. SimplyMEPIS 3.3 has my vote as best and easiest to use distro available. It's far to simple to use and detects everything you throw at it. Good luck with that Libranet thing.

Truth, Justice and the Secure way!

Consultant's picture

You know, I don't see anything that would pull me away from Mepis, pros and cons accepted but I just have to say this review is done so well, and even so nice looking, I hope more are to come.

Have you done Mepis lately? I'll search.

Oh, and don't bother so much with things that are easy user preference changes. No offence, but like single click. I prefer KDE but enjoy my found "MacOSX" gtk2 theme for those Gnome apps that I run in KDE. See "Switcher2" I think it's called.

Oh and you poor Windows users out there, STOP running to the store to buy anti-virus and anti-spyware. They're free(Zonealarm non-pro, AVG anit-virus, Ad-aware SE) but Windows still eats your time updating it all; unlike new easy open software. Things have indeed changed.

And another thing! The bigest advantage of open software is the easy package managment. You may never run old software (and for free) again. THIS is why Bill wants to "talk."

I'm glad to say, if you have a computer bone in your body; even the tip of your little finger, then it's time.

It may have more programs, bu

Anonymous's picture

It may have more programs, but everything Debian is just an apt-get away. If you check their forums, a lot of long time users have had problems with the new install (written from scratch, instead of basing it on Sarge's install, like Ubuntu did, or basing it on their old installer that was so good). This was rushed out the door, costs a LOT, and uses the same packages as Ubuntu.

Let's face it: They included a ton of packages to cover up that they charge $90 for a copy, but really don't give much more than Ubuntu or Mepis.

I think you are being a littl

Anonymous's picture

I think you are being a little dishonest. I am on the forums and I have seen very few problems with the installer (there have been a notable few). It does cost $90 for new users (discounts for students, seniors, and disabled in addition for existing users), of course, this covers all the installs you might make (including one user on the forums who administers 100s of computers).

Also, I can't stress enough, it does give you something different than sarge, etc. XAdminmenu is awesome, yes there are other tools out there that 1 by 1 does some of those things, but nothing even comes close to XAdminmenu's completelness, and you don't have to hunt for the utilities to boot!

As a last note, 3.0 was not "rushed out the door" as you would know if you'd been around the forums at all. It's been in beta testing since late last year! The team took their time and it shows.

This was a libranet article

synacl_god's picture

so why the post about mepis? mepis sucks, even knoppix uit better than mepis and *it* doth not suffer from the makers, 'we'll give it to u but the extra apps are ours' mentality

Mepis sucks big time my

Anonymous's picture

Mepis sucks big time my friends :)

linux is too hard compared

Anonymous's picture

linux is too hard compared to ms

re:This was a libranet article

Humphrey Jiller's picture

As you mention Knoppix - hey this was the only Linux-Distri. that ever worked fine without ANY changes from me 8-))))

You obviously have not tried

Anonymous's picture

You obviously have not tried mepis 3.3. it is the most user friendly distro that I've come across... period. Everything just works, and all of the debian packages work with it also.

Are you joking?

Anonymous's picture

This is debian on steroids? If you say so, but steroids aren't regarded so kindly these days. The author may like the product but that doesn't mean it's universally great. How does it compare to Xandros, Linspire or Ubuntu?

I don't know what warrants Libranet getting a review on LJ.

Libranet GNU/Linux 3.0 Screenshots by

Anonymous's picture

here ->