Regular readers to Openbytes may remember the coverage we gave to Netrunner. The first release “Albedo” impressed with its speed and its removal of Mono, which for some is not seen as the “gift to the world” its touted as being. If you want a recap you can read that review here. The tradition and ethos continues with this latest release “Backlight” so it was only due to me being away from home that I didn’t manage to download a copy on its official release day (26th June 2010)
The first major change for Backlight is it’s switch from Gnome to KDE. However it still does come packaged with a few Gnome apps, including Nautilus and Synaptic. I will discuss this change later in the review as we first look at some of the packages you can expect to see packaged as default with Backlight. What also now stands out is that the .iso comes in at just over 1gb, where previously it was 774mb.
I hate using the term “out of the box” for two reasons, firstly because I cannot assume everyone will have the same experience as me (good or bad) and also with the diversity of specs on users rigs, there will bound to be issues for some, this is true regardless if you use Windows, BSD or Linux. The other reason for not liking the term “out of the box” is because Linux is at a position now where that is expected as standard. There are a few distro’s that cater for the “fiddler” but I think its fair to say that most distro’s (both established and new) have the primary goal to get you up and running with as little fuss as possible.
Ive been using Linux for many years and can count on my left hand the amount of distro’s where after much persistance, the distro simply failed. With so many distro’s being derived from established and mature brands, a “bad release” is certainly not common and from experience of years installing Windows and Linux systems for a variety of reasons, I can say Ive had less trouble with Linux than Windows.
Hardware proprietary drivers were identified and installed without issue.
Netrunner uses ext4 and at the present that is my file system of choice. Netrunner also has Gnome compatibility so all my favorite Gnome apps should run without flaw.
Perhaps the unique point of Netrunner is KDE 4.4.2 and I expect there will be many people who want to get their hands on this. KDE is though currently in 4.4.5 which was released on 30th June.
Firefox 3.6.3 is the default browser here and you also have Java and Flash also installed as default. Other packages include (taken from Website)
- OpenOffice Software Suite 3.2
- VLC (with codecs)
- WINE 1.42
Theres the standard selection of play once games which don’t particularly need a mention and Im personally of the opinion that they need not be there at all. Quassel 0.6.1 (in addition to Pigeon) provides IRC, not my personal choice, however Quassel is a solid enough IRC client.
The switch to KDE (4.4) came as a surprise to me. I was very happy with the Gnome offering of Netrunner and thought it was an excellent grounding for future versions. I’ve never been a fan of KDE, whilst many users rave about the DE, Ive often said that I don’t feel in control with it, it feels plastic and is far too Vistaesque for my liking. Maybe I subconsciously yearn for an XP type DE or maybe it goes back further to Workbench 1.3, but my DE of choice has always been Gnome with a top+bottom taskbar and the more traditional menus. It’s worth noting that whilst the taskbar and desktop are obviously KDE, the menu systems have a very Gnome look to them. Is this an intention by the devs to please both KDE and Gnome users? Maybe, although I don’t keep ontop of the latest KDE releases so I’ll stand corrected if its the default setting for the new version.
With that in mind though the distro is excellent, speedy and simple to install (thanks to its Ubuntu origins) with very little fuss “out of the box”. As I remarked previously, theres very little to find fault in Netrunner, although I still stand by the original comment that the name of this distro undersells its true potential. When I was informed of this new release by email, I instantly thought of a net kiosk distro (since Ive looked at many distro’s since the original review) Of course Netrunner is far from being a net kiosk package (although it will play very nicely on a netbook or limited spec machine) and also think the title since “Netrunner” implies something more net/cloud orientated, which compared to say Peppermint, its not. Netrunner has menu links to Twitter and other online services, but instead of providing these services through Prism, they merely open up a new instance of Firefox (if one is not open, or simply open in a tab). One has to ask the question, are they really needed? and if so could these shortcuts not simply be in a favorites menu within Firefox, rather than taking a desktop submenu up? – Only you can be the judge of that.
The choice of Firefox is not my preferred package although FF is great. I would have liked to have seen Netrunner “thinking outside the box” and default packaging Chromium (or another alternative). When you have so many Ubuntu based distro’s, its my opinion that you need something to set it aside from the rest so as it give it an identity. – Please don’t take that as a negative comment, as its a solid release and certainly worthy of a recommendation.
Netrunner prides itself on the complete removal of Mono and Blacklight is no exception in that continued ethos. Despite implication (by some) to the contrary, Mono is not an essential package and I would expect many people who don’t have an interest in either Mono or the debate about it would ever notice it’s absence from Netrunner – unless of course they were fans of Gbrainy!???! in which case they will be devastated! What the removal of the Mono packages does do is free up space to include more popular products and that can only be a good thing.
Ive mixed views about the increased iso size, although for most people 1gb is not a large download, although it does push it over that 1gb psychological threshold, which may make some consider it large.
Has Netrunner changed my view of KDE? No. Whilst I had absolutely no issues with the KDE implementation in Netrunner, I just don’t like it. As for a distro Netrunner Blacklight does impress, users should find the “out of the box compat” of Ubuntu (and Netrunner is based off Kubuntu 10.04 I believe) and should enjoy the wealth of software that is available through the software manager.
I would recommend Netrunner to any user whose preference is KDE and I hope that as Netrunner matures we get to see an even more unique distro emerge so that nobody can suggest it’s “just another Ubuntu derived distro” – as I say its not and its a great piece of work by people dedicated to bringing you a user-friendly, out of the box, Mono free distro.
Netrunner homepage: http://www.netrunner-os.com/
TechRights article: http://techrights.org/2010/06/29/netrunner-2-excludes-mono/
Goblin – firstname.lastname@example.org
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