Review of ALT Linux Junior v2.2

Product reviews have been done to death on the Net. But I just had to share with you my opinion regarding the ALT Linux distribution, Junior v2.2. Not a very famous Linux distribution -at least in North America- but well worth your attention, especially if you’re a newcomer to the world of Linux. Or, if you’re curious about the Linux OS but just waiting for that one Linux OS that will make your experience the most enjoyable, this may be what you’re waiting for.

(Additional information to the original review posting in blue.)

Introduction:

ALT LinuxFirst, a little bit about ALT Linux Junior. Junior is based on the Mandrake Linux distribution, produced by MandrakeSoft. From what I can figure, it’s building blocks are taken from Mandrake 9.0, released last fall.
“In fact, The installer and (to large extent) configuration software is still the heavily patched versions of older Mdk ones, but the whole distribution isn’t based on (and isn’t „parallel“ to) some particular Linux-Mandrake release.“ – I stand corrected
From the installation screen, you can plainly see the remnants of Mandrake. Also, Junior relies on many of the Drak interfaces for setting up hardware and OS services. This is good, however, since Mandrake is one of the most user friendly Linux distributions available on the market today.
The similarities to Mandrake pretty much ends here. The Junior development team have put a great deal of effort in making this distribution even easier for the Linux “newbie“, which makes this a very good place to enter the world of the Linux OS for many people, home and office users alike.

Samba and LinNeighborhood -which are used to interface with MS-Windows PC via a network connection- are installed and configured by default (as well as Flash and Java web browser support). This makes it very easy for Microsoft users to maintain access to their files already existing on their other PCs running MS-Windows. Before this, Linux users had to install and configure these kinds of services themselves, after installing the OS. This is something that I found, as a new Linux user, somewhat confusing.

Mandrake -and Red Hat for that matter- use the RPM software package handler to assist in the installation of new software. Junior does too, but does not rely on the hit-and-miss RPM interface that the former distributions use. Instead, Junior utilizes the Synaptic front end application; a huge advancement in Linux package handling in my opinion (more on this later). As an extra bonus, Junior also has the capability of installing softare using the Debian based apt-get package handling system. This use of both systems makes thousands of software titles available for downloading and installation. A big step forward in simplifying the Linux experience.

Linux Network Webpages
Linux Initiative Project
eBook Publishing Library
Web Services
Linux On CDs
Bountiful Beads
Dave’s Desktop
David’s Cycling Journal
info (at) virtualsky.net
Installation:

We have three, somewhat different PCs within our home network that I used to test ALT Linux.
The first PC (1) is an AMD Athalon 1.2 GHz PC with 256 MB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 2 graphics card, iomega Zip CD-RW and Zip 100 drive, Sound Blaster audio card and Epson C40UX USB printer.

The second PC (2) is an Intel Celeron 300 MHz PC with 196 MB of RAM, a Diamond Stealth II video card, generic 12x CD-R (I can’t recall the brand), and Opti 16 bit sound card.

The third PC (3) is an Intel Pentium 200 MHz PC, with 96 MB of RAM, Matrox Millennium graphics card, generic 1x CD-R (I really can’t recall that one!), Sound Blaster sound card. This PC has our old W98 OS on a partition of its hard drive.

Each of the PCs has network cards, of course. Switching and swapping components has left me wondering which cards are in what PCs, but the brand names that I have are 3Com and Kingston.

What impressed me the most about Junior is that, in each instance, it installed and configured itself to the setting on each PC (1, 2 and 3) almost perfectly. Everything was detected and worked. I cannot say the same for Mandrake 9.0 or 9.1, even though Junior is built from the same foundation. Mandrake could not properly detect the sound card on PC #2. Nor could it properly configure the settings for my Nvidia graphics card on PC #1.

Although Junior seemed to find my Epson printer without any difficulty, later I had to remove and re-install my printer settings through HardDrak to get everything running properly. There is probably a better way of getting around this, but it was the easiest for me personally. This was not un-expected, since I had to do the same with Mandrake 9.0 and 9.1, as well as 8.2.

I liked the fact that Junior uses the older Mandrake installation interface, rather than something like the new one found in 9.1. Although the new Mandrake interface has less to confuse the Linux “newbie“, I prefer the options that the older interface offered.

Overall, installing Junior was simple and strait forward. In less than twenty minutes (using PC #1), I had a functional GUI operating system with everything I needed to get productive with GNU/Linux.

Post Installation:

First thing I did after installation, which I suggest everyone does no matter what distro. they decide to go with, is I updated my system files with the latest patches and upgrades. I’ve experienced several ways of doing this with the many distributions I’ve tried. With Libranet, it was with the use of apt-get, with Mandrake it was using their RPMDrak and with ALT Linux it’s with the use of the Synaptic package handler.
Synaptic WindowThis was a first for me. Synaptic comes across much like Mandrake’s earlier RPMDrak system, but has the simplicity of Apt-Get. To update and upgrade the system files, I simply had to click on four icon buttons in sequence… Update List – Upgrade All – Dist. Upgrade- Proceed. Update Icons Junior proceeds to access the ALT Linux package repository and updates all pertenant packages on the system, including their dependencies with other required software.

Installing new software packages is just as easy. First, search for the package you want in the repository list, then click on Install and Proceed. Everything is handled by Synaptic and all you have to do is start enjoying the software.

If the software you want is not in the Synaptic list, you can always go to a terminal window and use Apt-Get. Or, download your favorite RPM package and install it using RPM in text mode. I’ve never used a Linux distribution more robust in this area as Junior is. The ALT Linux team really provides a flexible OS in this regard.
From what I’m told Synaptic uses apt-get, so apt-get at the command prompt shouldn’t be necessary. However, from my experience, if you want to use apt-get you can.

The only hiccup I have found in post-installation is the configuring of Internet sharing. In this instance, I could not simply use HardDrak to set up the system to share Internet access over the network. Some manual configuration of iptables was necessary. Hopefully the ALT team will have this bug ironed out in the next release.

One thing I like to do after setup is head over to www.grc.com to test my system’s vulnerability to Net-attack. Right „out of the box“, Junior provided better security to this kind of test than Mandrake or Libranet did. Both Mandrake and Libranet either left certain ports “open“ or allowed my NetBIOS to divulge certain OS information. Junior prevented all of this. Some good peace of mind for those concerned about their on-line security.

Window Maker under ALT Junior

The Packages:

Junior comes with the very best “staples“ to get you up and running fast. Those new to the Linux world will surely like the looks of KDE 3.1 and GNOME 2.2. For those of you who prefer non-Windows look-alikes, Junior also gracefully supports Window Maker 0.80.2. Actually, the version of Window Maker that comes installed with Junior is 0.81.0, which seems to be a version of WM 0.80.2 with some extra features added by the ALT development team.
All of your major web browsers are present (Mozilla, Galeon, Konqueror), e-mail as well (Kmail, Evolution, Mutt, Messenger).

Open Office is also present, along with the KOffice suite and the GNumeric spread sheet application.

Multimedia packages include XMMS and XINE (the only distribution I’ve tried that successfully installs XINE from the get-go), G.I.M.P., RipperX, and XSane to name a few.

Summation:

For the PC owner who’s contemplating the adoption of the Linux operating system, you’ll be hard pressed to find a distribution easier and better packaged than ALT Linux Junior 2.2. Even for the more experienced Linux user, Junior will handle many of the mundane tasks efficiently for you, as well as provide a flexible environment for further tweaking to your personal preferences and uses.
The ALT Linux team has also proven to be a very helpful bunch of people. They have been very fast in responding to my inquiries, and the community newsletter readers are just as helpful. Signing-up to the ALT Linux Security newsletter will also ensure that you’re system is always up-to-date with the latest system patches for optimum performace and security.

For ease of use and for a system that will get you up-and-running fast, ALT Linux Junior 2.2 is sure to please.

David.