Debian on Steroids: Libranet 2.7

by Leon A. Goldstein

“Debian on Steroids” is how a member of a Linux mail list I frequent responded to my description of the Libranet 2.7 beta. With the 2.4.19 kernel, KDE 3.0.3, Gnome 2.0.1, Open Office 1.0.1 and a well groomed selection of Debian applications, Libranet 2.7 is an easy-to-install, muscular distribution that should tempt anyone curious about Debian.

While classic Debian can be downloaded or obtained on inexpensive CDs, a commercial release like Libranet 2.7 justifies its cost by streamlining the installation and configuration of Debian, a process with an intimidating reputation. Libranet offers a straightforward installer, simplified partitioning, automatic detection and configuration of video and sound, system administration tools and a well organized selection of applications, all of which get a generously endowed Debian installation up and running in short order. And since Libranet is fully compatible with Debian, it offers fast and reliable system updates and upgrades.

On a system with an 850MHz Celeron processor, installation using the two provided CDs takes less than an hour. Partitioning can be either fully automatic, i.e. taking over the entire HD, or specified to available free space. Libranet 2.7 boasts a new partitioning tool that reminds me of the old SuSE YAST, but greatly simplified. The ReiserFS is the default, but ext2 or ext3 filesystems also may be selected. In addition, you can run GNU/parted from within the partitioning utility to resize a VFAT or ext2 partition to make room.

Figure 1. Screenshot of Partitioning Tool

The installer then makes the necessary initial installation, inquires if you want Libranet to handle booting duties with its GRUB, offers to make a boot floppy and then reboots.

Users of the previous Libranet release will be pleased to know that the CD swapping exercise is no more. After inserting CD #1 and selecting from a menu of package groups, Libranet now asks to have CD #2 inserted only one time, and that's it.

Sound and video set up follow. Libranet differs from classic Debian by autodetecting and configuring the sound card, mouse, video card and monitor. The Libranet installer had no problem with the onboard sound on my Celeron and Athlon systems. Not surprisingly, it could not detect the ancient ISA Sound Blaster 16 card on my P233 box, but after manually selecting the card from the list, the module loaded without complaint.

Next up is networking or dial-up configuration. You can set up a firewall after installation using Adminmenu, Libranet's system administration utility that further distinguishes it from classic Debian.

Figure 2. Screenshot of Adminmenu, the Firewall Tool

Libranet then offers to configure your IDE CD burner to emulate SCSI, essential if you intend to use one of the various burning applications provided. I happen to like XCDRoast, and for CD-to-CD copying, both CD drives need to be configured for SCSI emulation. Luckily, the installer provides an option to do this for you.

Next comes configuring X. Libranet now advises not to move the mouse while detecting. It had no problem correctly identifying and configuring the wheel rodents on my systems. Video card detection also is reliable for the cards currently supported by Xfree86 4.2. If you change your video card after installing Libranet 2.7, it will autodetect the new hardware and reconfigure X.

I found the generic monitor settings worked well. I have a label with scan frequencies on all of my monitors and usually enter the values manually, but I actually found the canned settings worked better. My manual settings sometimes resulted in off-center displays, while the generic settings were dead on at my preferred 800 x 600 resolution. YMMV, of course, so you can tinker and test settings either during the installation or by using the elegant Libranet Adminmenu utility after the installation has completed.

Libranet provides the desktop user with a multitude of word processing packages. Koffice is there, of course, as is OpenOffice, replacing Star Office 5.2 from the previous release. Libranet also includes the latest release of Abiword, 1.0.2, an endearing word processor that keeps getting better.

My favorite word processor is WordPerfect 8. Libranet thinks installing WP should not be a hassle, so, like SuSE, Libranet 2.7 includes a compatibility package group to support Linux WordPerfect. It's listed at the bottom of the package group menu, but it's not a problem if you overlooked it. Simply run Adminmenu and add it later. I installed all versions of WordPerfect 8 and 8.1 (the version included on my Corel Linux deluxe CD) without any difficulty. Instructions for doing this, as well as other useful tips, are listed in the Support Solutions Database on the Libranet web site.

For fans of Applix Office, installation is not a problem either. No, you don't have to convert every Applix RPM to Debian. Libranet provides onboard support for RPMs. All you need to do is create the directory /var/lib/rpm and run the command rpm -initdb. Libranet is then ready to install RPM packages, although converting them with Joey Hess' Alien utility is preferable.

On the down side, there are a few bugs to deal with. Libranet can detect a Windows partition and write the appropriate line in /etc/fstab. A mountpoint, /windows, also is listed, but unfortunately, Libranet did not actually create it. But that's easy enough to fix: simply create /windows. And while you're at it, you might as well create /burn or the like for XCDROAST to store its image files. You should check the CD-ROM lines in /etc/fstab. I typically set up both drives for SCSI emulation. With this configuration, Libranet had my CD-ROM mounted to /cdrom1 and the second drive, a CD burner, mounted to /cdrom. This will have no effect other than confusing the CUPS installer in Adminmenu. Either edit /etc/fstab or put the CD in the second drive when the CUPS installer asks for CD2. The Adminmenu utility also can rescan your CD drives and assign the default.

I found a very noticeable speed-up running Libranet 2.7 on my 900MHz Athlon system. Applications load noticeably faster than with Libranet 2 on my Athlon. One mail group correspondent reports that Libranet “blows the socks off” Red Hat 7.3.

Along with a collection of up-to-date applications, the latest kernel, video support, a choice of window managers (KDE, GNOME, Xfce, IceWM, etc.) and Adminmenu's comprehensive system tools, Libranet 2.7 provides a smooth ride to high-power Debian Linux for both the neophyte and the experienced user.

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