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Netrunner (Albedo) – A look at a brand new distro!

Netrunner - The stability and functionality you've come to expect with Ubuntu, minus the "gift to the world" of Mono!

Its been a while since I showcased a Linux distro with the last being Puppy Arcade.  Ive got Dr Schestowitz of TechRIGHTS to thank for bringing my attention to Netrunner.

During the years of running Openbytes and covering distro’s from all around the world based on a plethora of ideas/innovations/other distro’s, one thing in the main struck me, the out of the box experience of about 99.9% of them.  Linux has come a long way in that people don’t need to be as overly concerned with hardware issues that they may encounter since the “minimum standard” of a distro has had its bar raised much higher, so much so in fact that recently when looking at Windows installations, Ive appreciated just how simple Linux is to install.

Near the end of last year I had a run of reviewing quite a few distro’s and what was obvious to me was that it was mostly a case of “yep, it worked and worked very well”.   Unfortunately for the reader, it would prove very boring to highlight decent distro after decent distro so I made the decision to only cover distro’s I use on a regular basis, landmark releases or innovative releases.

And let me introduce you to one such release – Netrunner.

Code named Albedo, its an Ubuntu based distro, but before I hear groans about “another product derived from Ubuntu” let me explain some important differences.

The selling point (or uniqueness) about Netrunner is that the distro has been stripped of all Mono dependencies.  I do not intend to get in another Mono debate, but will only say that for ME, I am glad its gone.  If you really want to see my reasoning behind that (and debate the Mono issue) there are plenty of articles on this site in which to do that in.  So with that in mind, lets look at this Mono free distribution.

The first thing I would like to cover is operating speed of the LiveCD.  Speedy is all I can say, with Netrunner booting in around 40 seconds on a 1.6ghz system. The install process is initiated in answering 6 questions and even the Linux new user cannot go wrong here.  I think this is a testament to both Netrunner and its origins (Ubuntu).  Taking around 20 minutes for a complete install, the user-friendliness of Ubuntu shines through and its something I forget since I tinker with many other distro’s.  In the case of my system Nvidia GFX drivers are merely a click away and everything literally is handed to you on a plate.

I can’t really comment any further about installation except to say, expect an Ubuntu easy experience.  I’ll now move on to what included and whats not.

Packages – So where’s the space problem Canonical?

Some commenters cited space reasons for Canonicals decisions in certain area’s of its upcoming release, in relation to discussing what was to be removed.  This is strange because Netrunner managed to pack a lot of features for its ISO size.  Obviously the removal of Mono and its associated “wares” gave the Netrunner developers plenty of room to include packages that people would actually want to use, so don’t expect to find any “brain teaser” Mono game bloat here.

DE is handled by Gnome, which Ive made no secret I recently (reluctantly) started to move away from on the grounds of increasing Mono relationship.  Its nice to see Gnome present without the Mono tainting and Netrunner facilitates Kernel 2.6.31-14.

Looking at the package list we see an absence of the “play once” games, which is no bad thing, if people really want to play them then installing themselves is very easy.

Without going into detail of packages that are well covered on this blog and elsewhere, Netrunner ships with Firefox 3.5.3, Openoffice 3.1.1, Xchat 2.8.6, Brasero 2.28.1, as well as a plethora of other utils to cover just about everything you need to get you up and running/functional.

One of the unique features of this distro is that it comes pre-packaged with Wine (1.0.1) which I think is a great idea to appeal to the users who are maybe taking their first steps away from Windows.

Conclusions

The Gnome DE and no Mono in connection with its Ubuntu roots make this distro a winner in my opinion. Whilst I am going to favor any distro which excludes Mono as default it has to be remembered how rock solid Ubuntu is.  Even when booting from the LiveCD a few things struck me, first was the speed.  I cannot say if this is due to the absence of Mono or the tinkering in other area’s by the Netrunner team, but Netrunner LiveCD is noticeably faster on the same machine than Ubuntu LiveCD(from which its based).

New users should not be put off by the fact that this distro isn’t coming from Canonical since the install procedure and operation of the distro itself is just as user-friendly as its Ubuntu cousin.

One of the other things which struck me was the removal of all the silly play once games and the streamlining of apps packaged as default, when customizing Netrunner to my requirements, I found myself removing very little.

So what didn’t I like?  Firstly I’ll start with the extremely petty, the name.  Netrunner suggests to me a distro for a Netbook and whilst Netrunner would sit very happily on one, its default packaging doesn’t suggest that this was the sole intention of the developer.  I think Netrunner sells the distro a little short since this is a fully fledged OS that would be just as happy on a desktop in the office or at home.  The Gnome taskbar is set up in a way which I didn’t personally like and if you are going to have a shortcut bar and menu bar, then instead of piling them on top of each other would have suggested one at the top and one at the bottom.  In regards to the two bars I would have also liked to have seen a more “modern” looking style.  This distro should (as could) act as one to entice users away from a Windows platform/other distro’s and the rather dated looking bars are not doing it justice.  For me they are ideal and its exactly what I like, however Im probably old/boring so no measuring stick for style.

I think Netrunner developers have shown that space does not need to be a concern, GIMP is present along with every other utility you could possible want to get functionality that you require.  Of course I would list “improvements” on the default packaging, but these are based on my own personal preferences.  Let me example some, firstly replace Brasero for the KDE app K3B, Ive been let down by Brasero of late and have switched to K3b with no further issues.  Xchat I would have replaced with Irssi or BitchX although since this distro is aimed at both new/old users then I think Xchat is the better choice.  I would have stuck with Canonical’s choice of Transmission instead of Vuse although the later is by no means inferior its merely that Transmission (for those with an Ubuntu history) will be the more familiar.

I am quite sure there are going to be some people upset by this distro, I remember when Mononono was released and the shouts of “killing the FOSS” and “blights on FOSS” were called.  Of course that isnt the case, software freedom is about just that, the freedom to choose and maybe if Mono was offered as an “Opt in” instead of “Opt out” it would be looked at with less suspicion.   Unfortunately there are some distro’s who are including it, I wouldn’t like to comment on the numbers of users who are not happy with Mono, however you can’t help but notice the amount of bad press it gets every time a Mono subject is brought up.  To me that cannot be good for any distro and when you look at the hard work that Canonical has put into Ubuntu one has to worry if its Mono association will damage it.

Don’t let this first release of Netrunner make you think its incomplete, I’ll stress this is a fully functional, damn good distro.  I expect Netrunner now only to improve on the solid first steps it has already made.

Highly recommended and Im glad that at least the developers of Netrunner have returned “the gift to the world” of Mono back to the shop.

You can visit the homepage of Netrunner here:

http://www.netrunner-os.com/

Goblin – bytes4free@googlemail.com

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Online tech writer, novelist/author of sci-fi literature and co-host of the TechBytes Show! I believe in multi-culturalism & diversity. Luton Town FC supporter.

Discussion

11 thoughts on “Netrunner (Albedo) – A look at a brand new distro!

  1. Gnome could be a good desktop. Could. You mentioned space issues, if Evolution wasn’t integrated into the Gnome desktop, that would also free up a lot of space (Evolution is a hog, and no one that I know who isn’t part of the Gnome project uses it). Anyway I prefer XFCE and E17 to Gnome. For those who want eye candy KDE is good (me I don’t care).

    Having The Gimp as part of the default install is nice, I really like having a graphics editor, even if it’s only something on the level of Microsoft Paint.

    Mono is a space hog, and C# is a failure as a language. Good to see it dumped.

    K3B is a lot nicer than Brasero, and since Gnome can run KDE apps (and vice versa) there’s no reason not to use it.

    Firefox – yes, absolute necessity. Which isn’t to say that the WebKit browsers are bad, I usually have Firefox and a webkit browser installed, and usually have both open at the same time. It’s great for copy and pasting.

    OpenOffice – Great app. Version 3.0+ is in my opinion better than Microsoft Office. This is not to say that there couldn’t be improvements, it’s still a bit slow on startup.

    Torrent Software – this is a problem. Vuze is a kludge. Azureus was pretty nice. While you can turn off the Vuze garbage, and in effect turn it back into Azureus, it’s slow. Transmission isn’t all that hot either – it works well, but it looks like it was designed by Bill Gates. Miro works pretty well, but it sticks the files in weird places. There’s got to be something better. What I want is a torrent client, not a Swiss army knife.

    You didn’t mention a video player, my personal favorite is Videolan. Miro is also decent (it’s based on Videolan), and has a video search feature that works pretty well.

    For basic recording Audacity does a decent job.

    For basic video editing I’ve been using Avidemux, however I’m looking forward to trying the new one that Videolan is working on.

    For basic video recording from your webcam, I haven’t seen anything available for Linux that I like yet.

    One thing that I miss is a basic flat file database app, something a bit more powerful than the old Windows Card File, that doesn’t require installing MySQL or another database engine.

    As to Netrunner, I’ll have to give it a try. It sounds like they’ve fixed some of the major issues that Ubuntu has.

    Posted by The Mad Hatter | April 11, 2010, 10:47 pm
    • Quote “As to Netrunner, I’ll have to give it a try. It sounds like they’ve fixed some of the major issues that Ubuntu has.”

      It’s certainly worth a look and for anyone considering an Ubuntu install can’t go wrong as it has all of the plus’s of Ubuntu w/o Mono.

      In respect of Avidemux, Ive been using it for a while and on the whole am very happy, Ive noticed issues in regards to converting appending sometimes, but nothing more than I have on any other similar software on any platform.

      In respect of FF, I left that a long while ago for Chromium (of which I have been very happy with).

      Yes its great stuff and loads packed into the 700mb or so ISO.

      Posted by openbytes | April 11, 2010, 11:17 pm
    • On your comment about Torrent software…
      I am a huge fan of Deluge for when I want more of a “swiss army knife” as you called it. It is really nice to use Deluge when seeding ~30 Linux ISO’s.

      When I just want a torrent client, I use Bittornado.

      I don’t like Azureus and I loathe transmission.

      Hope these help in your search to find a good client!

      Posted by ~S~ | April 16, 2010, 3:45 am
  2. “The Gnome DE and no Mono in connection with its Ubuntu roots make this distro a winner in my opinion.”

    Having tried to build (unsuccesfully 3 times now) Gnome from scratch it’s fairly easy get rid of the “M0n0″ dependency using JhBuild which is basically Tomboy and some gnome-sharp stuff.

    Posted by Mr. X | April 12, 2010, 3:44 am
  3. Quote “Having tried to build (unsuccesfully 3 times now) Gnome from scratch it’s fairly easy get rid of the “M0n0″ dependency using JhBuild which is basically Tomboy and some gnome-sharp stuff.”

    Well yes it is but then not everybody will have used Linux before and know either about it or its inclusion into the Ubuntu default packaging.

    Ive often said that the first thing I do out of any distro which has it is to remove Mono dependency but then if I don’t look at a distro from a default packaging point of view, there would rarely be any point in reviewing a distro derived from another (since we can all remove/delete whatever we want after install)

    You make a valid point about the amount of Mono present however since Netrunner takes this out as default, a new user would not have to be concerned (or to blindly tinker) if they have read about Mono and don’t want it.

    The reason it makes it a winner in my book would additionally be that there may be many users who will never have any need for Mono (or have the knowledge to remove it fully)

    Posted by openbytes | April 12, 2010, 6:47 am
  4. Hi, the iso size is 774MB, not sure if it will fit in a CD-R.
    Anyway, i’m downloading now.
    Thanks for the information.

    Posted by Heri | April 12, 2010, 2:47 pm
  5. Nice review Goblin! While I am mostly a KDE 3x user, really have no problem with Gnome. Its just when a windows user asks me anymore what is the best distro, I cannot recommend any with Mono installed. Not so much a religious thing, but its one more thing to do, remove mono. Simple is good for new users. Completeness is good for new users.

    Netrunner is a cousin of Ubuntu, you say? Thinking it might be more a 2nd cousin, as I think its really based on Mint which is based on Ubuntu. If thats the case (and I not sure about that) then most stuff and disks will play out of the box. That is also good for new users.

    Brasero, yes, its ok, but K3B is awesome, agreed. Gnomebaker is not too bad either. Having Wine installed is also good for some new users. Kanotix recently (December 27th) came out with a preview release based on KDE3.5 with Wine included. Its very good and I hope Kano continues with the project. Also, never have like that default brown wallpaper for some reason. Yes I know its easy to change.

    I was impressed with your review, and the product Netrunner. So much so, that I intend to download and try it. Keep up the good work Goblin!

    Posted by Chips B Malroy | April 13, 2010, 3:24 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Links 12/4/2010: Awn 0.4.0, VP8 Becoming Free Software | Techrights - April 12, 2010

  2. Pingback: Netrunner 2 – Blacklight – A new release! « OpenBytes - July 4, 2010

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Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Writer/Novelist of many facets both in the world of technology and fantasy/sci-fi. Co-host of the TechBytes audiocast and writer for both OpenBytes and Goblin's Domain. Supporter of free and open source software.

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