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