Libranet Linux 2.7

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Want the power of Debian without the hassle? Here's a distro that gives you cake and lets you eat it too.

Many have tried to make a desktop distro out of Debian, but most have met with little commercial success. Corel, Progeny and Storm are all no more (although Corel has been resurrected as the basis for the new Xandros Linux). Despite such high-profile failures, one vendor has been quietly developing and releasing a Debian-based desktop for some time: Libranet.

Libranet Linux's strength is that it doesn't stray too far from its Debian core. Libranet 2.7 takes Debian 3.0 and adds a straightforward menu-based installer, desktop-oriented configuration tools and updated software. It doesn't go for the glitz and the Windows veneer of Corel and Xandros, but, by sticking close to Debian, it is better able to leverage the power, stability and flexibility that are Debian's forte.

Libranet 2.7 is shipped as a two-CD set. It can be purchased as physical discs or downloaded for $5 less, and both come with unlimited email support.

Install by numbers

One common criticism of Debian is that it is difficult and long-winded to install. Thankfully, Libranet simplifies the whole procedure. It offers a similar text dialog-based install, but leads you through it by the hand. It features a menu-based partitioning system based on GNU Parted which will automatically take over a disc, use existing partitions or let you manually partition. Ext2, Ext3 and Reiser filesystems are all supported. GRUB is installed as a boot loader and a Windows partition will be detected and set-up for dual-booting if present. The base system is then installed and booted to carry on the rest of the installation.

Next you select the software to install by picking package sets. This is much simpler and quicker than using Debian's under-developed task system or than choosing packages manually with dselect. After your chosen software has installed, the installer detects and configures your sound hardware, network interfaces and the X server. Red Hat's well-proven kudzu provides the foundation for hardware-detection, and this worked flawlessly during testing. The X configuration tools are particularly well implemented and coped with monitor configuration and setting up 3D hardware. A neat part of the installer is that it is also able to detect and configure CD writers, so that you are able to burn CDs with your system without any further mucking about.

Finally, you must set up your user accounts and passwords, and then you are ready to log into your new Libranet desktop.

Doing the desktop

Libranet provides a wealth of desktop software, with much of it shipping in more up-to-date versions than offered by Debian 3.0. Thus you get a choice of desktop environment, including KDE 3.0.3, GNOME 2, Xfce and IceWM. You get a plethora of browsers, including Mozilla 1.0, Galeon and, of course, Nautilus and Konqueror. Office needs are well catered for with KOffice 1.2 (albeit a release candidate), 1.0.1 and AbiWord.

You don't just get newer and shinier software, however. Libranet offers an integrated configuration system, called Adminmenu, which should satisfy the administration needs of most desktop users. This allows you to reconfigure your X server, tweak your network settings, add or remove users, mount drives, set up a printer - and a whole lot more. In addition, it provides a simple front-end to package management. With Adminmenu you can install extra software either from the install discs or from the web, automatically fetch and install security updates or launch aptitude for full control over package installation (Libranet is set up by default to use both the Debian and Libranet apt repositories). Adminmenu won't win any awards for aesthetics. In fact, most of the options simply launch a console or menu-based script to do their jobs; but they do their jobs with a minimum of fuss and intervention from the user.

The no-nonsense approach of Adminmenu really sums up the philosophy of Libranet. If you expect the prettiness or point-and-click friendliness of distros such as Mandrake or Xandros, you'll be disappointed; Libranet probably won't appeal to Windows users. However, for those that need a powerful, well-featured Unix desktop, stocked to the gills with useful, up-to-date software, Libranet is a good choice. It is especially attractive as a simple means of getting started with Debian.


Ease of use: 9/10
Performance: 8/10
Features: 8/10
Value for money: 8/10
All the power and flexibility of Debian, but much easier and quicker for beginners to install and manage.
Rating: 8/10