BLAG – An Easy Way to Freedom?
BLAG Linux with GNU is a small one CD distribution of the GNU/Linux operating system based upon Fedora Core. The version I’m taking a look at here, BLAG-500000, is based upon Fedora Core 5, with a bunch of packages added from third party sources.
BLAG aims to create a one CD distribution with everything people need for the desktop environment. It also aims to be a 100% Free Software distribution and has been recognized by as doing this on the GNU website, along with only six other distributions of GNU/Linux (http://www.gnu.org/links/links.html#FreeGNULinuxDistributions).
So I thought I’d see if this distribution has what it takes to bring freedom to the desktop, without being a pain to install and use.
Once you boot the BLAG install CD, you are taken to a boot prompt. Here you can select the kernel and kernel options for the CD to use. It lets you use the function keys to gather more information on possible kernels and options to boot.
Since I wanted to conduct a graphical install, I just hit enter, but it is possible to conduct a text based install too.
You’re then asked if you want to test the CD media you’re booting with, you can either select or skip depending on how confident you are with your media, but be aware that the test does sometimes throw up false positives, saying that the disk was corrupt even though they install fine. Then after you’ve either gone through the testing, or skipping it, the Anaconda Installer is loaded. This is a full GUI install environment with nice buttons and mouse cursors, which is great for new users of GNU/Linux. Anaconda loads to a page which doesn’t do much more than say the name of the distribution, and have a picture of a child playing a keyboard (of the musical variety).
On the next page you get to pick what language you want for your install as well as the installed system…
…followed by a page where you select your preferred keyboard layout.
The installer now scans your system for existing installations of BLAG, and then gives you a choice to upgrade any discovered installations, or you can choose to install BLAG afresh on your system.
Next page you choose the hard drive on which you wish to install BLAG, and if you don’t want to use a default setting you can edit the partition table yourself. The dialogs were all pretty simple to understand, but I was disappointed that ReiserFS wasn’t given as a file system option, and the file system choices were poor with only ext2 and ext3 on which you could install GNU/Linux.
With your hard drive and partitions set up you select if and where you wish to install the GRUB bootloader, as well as its configuration.
Now with your partitions and bootloader sorted, you go on to setup your network.
Next you set your system’s timezone by choosing an appropriate city from a map. It’s best to choose a the nearest city in your country so that the timezone as well as things such as daylight-saving is enacted properly.
Now it’s time for you to setup your root password.
The next page to which you are brought lets you choose tasks you wish to accomplish on BLAG so that it knows to install related software, e.g. with “Office and Productivity” programs such as AbiWord and Gnumeric are installed. If you want to have more say in the programs you install you can customize the list to your tastes.
With all now set, it’s time to install BLAG!
It took about half an hour to install BLAG with the packages I’d selected, upon completion you’re prompted to remove the install CD, and hit the “Reboot” button.
During the initial bootup you setup things such as firewalls, the display and system users.
When you reboot you are welcomed with the GRUB bootloader, with a rather nice BLAG background:
Next up is the License Agreement. This isn’t the EULA most people are used to, it’s the GNU GPL. If you agree with the GPL you can go on with the setup.
Now comes the firewall configuration. It gives an option if you want it enabled or disabled, and if enabled which ports to leave open for incoming connections. There is a list of the most common protocols (SSH, HTTPS, FTP etc.), but if the port you want to open isn’t on the list there is an option so that you can open it yourself.
Next you setup the date and time for your system, which is simple enough:
With the date now set you can setup your display. With this dialog you can setup your resolution, colour depth as well as configure the detected monitor.
The last step is to configure system users, which involves filling in a few details in boxes.
Now with the installation and post install configuration done you can login:
So how is BLAG to use day to day?
On my desktop system I like to do the following:
* Surf the World Wide Web;
* Write things;
* Look at, edit and create images;
* Instant Messaging;
* Listen and watch media;
Surfing the World Wide Web
For surfing the world wide web Mozilla’s FireFox web browser is installed, which is a rather good web browser. With this install comes a range of BLAG inspired bookmarks. These bookmarks not only do the standard thing of bookmarking BLAG’s own website but also includes links to news sites, activism sites, book and reference sites, as well as project websites of software that is available in the BLAG software repositories. Not all these links may be to you taste, though a forage through them will bring up some rather interesting sites.
I like to write small text files with ideas and unimportant system related things, for this the graphical GEdit is provided. GEdit seems a capable text editor which includes tabs and integration with the Aspell spell-checking software. If command line editors are more your thing, then the Vim text editor is provided, Emacs is also available to download from BLAG’s software repositories.
From time to time I like to write fuller texts in a word processor. BLAG comes with AbiWord for this need. AbiWord seems a good choice for a word processor, it is quite light and doesn’t have too many features to distract you from your work. It may not be as fully featured as OpenOffice, but if you want those features it’s available from BLAG’s software repository.
Looking at, editing and creating images
Usually one has quite a few images on ones hard drive, one also usually wants to have a look at them. For this BLAG has provided two image viewers, namely GQview and gThumb, these are both capable applications for the task of doing this.
For image editing and creation BLAG has included The Gimp, Inkscape and Skencil. These are all apt programs for the task, between them allowing photo editing, logo and banner creation, UI design and colour editing.
Instant messaging support is given via Gaim, which allows users to connect to a variety of instant messaging protocols, including Aim, MSN and Jabber.
Sometimes I like to program a few things. No programming libraries seem to be installed off the CD (though I have not checked this thoroughly), so when I wanted to do some PHP programming I had to download PHP from the Blag repository. I wrote a PHP script, I tried to run it, but since it used readline support I needed to download php-readline âˆ’ I find this splitting up of packages annoying, I understand that some people may just want the core package, but I like to install one package and have all the options available for that program. If you intend to program C, you’ll have to download and install such things as gcc, glibc and make beforehand as these are not installed.
Listening and watching media
For listening and watching media BLAG comes with Mplayer and Xine. I prefer Mplayer for playing media, but which player you use is down to personal preference. If you want to just listen to music BLAG also comes with XMMS and a CD player.
BLAG comes with many other programs that you may wish to use on your desktop, including a spreadsheet (gnumeric), a podcast catcher (gpodder), a desktop publishing program (scribus), as well as many, many other Free applications.
BLAG setup all my hardware which was attached at boot fine, and I have had no problems using this hardware. I did however have problems when I attached my printer to the system and expected it to work. I could not find any GUI frontend for adding a printer, thus I had to use the CUPS interface at localhost:631 in the web browser. I’ve managed to get the printer to print with this method, but specific drivers were lacking and printing results have been patchy. I would have expected some kind of frontend for adding such basic hardware as a printer, since the CUPS web interface can be rather daunting and you need to know it’s there for you to use it.
Package Installation and System Maintenance
The default package manager used in BLAG is Yum. RPM and Apt-Get are also included in the install.
If you wish to install any more applications post-install you can go to Programs -> Add/Remove Software, where you’ll be prompted for the root password and given Pirut, the GUI frontend to Yum. Here you can browse and search for programs to install and uninstall.
If you are inclined to install your software via the command line you can use:
yum install program
apt-get install program
where ‘program’ is the name of the program you wish to install.
Now that one has their packages, how do you keep them up to date?
The GUI the application ‘pup’ allows you to update any out of date programs which reside on your system, which have been installed with Yum, yum can also do this from the command line if you wish to do it this way. You can also use apt-get via the command line to update the programs you have installed via apt-get.
These methods are entirely adequate to keep a systems programs in order. There is no tray-icon notification to tell you that there are upgrades which you can install, this may lead to out of date systems, and unpatched vulnerabilities on our systems for the more forgetful among us.
- A usable operating system on one CD;
- A totally Free distribution of GNU/Linux;
- Easy to maintain;
- Simple and easy install;
- Comes with a decent set of packages.
- Some larger packages (like php) are separated into many smaller packages (some may see this as a pro since it can reduce the number of unwanted packages on your system);
- No notification of updates;
- No ReiserFS option for file systems at install;
- Trouble setting up a printer.
All in all I think Blag Linux and Gnu is a good distribution. It works well out of the box, it comes with a decent set of packages and it makes having a Free system ever so much easier. Some may not think the last point is important, but for some, like me, who value their freedom and are too lazy to check each and every license of software the package manager wishes to install, it makes life a hell of a lot easier. If you don’t care about your freedom you may consider Blag as ‘Yet Another Linux Distro’, but for me the simple freedom it brings to the desktop along with the one CD install makes this distribution stand out.
Indeed there are problems with the system, but from over a month of day to day use I still have not had any major problems. The problems that stand should be fixed over time as Fedora Core and BLAG mature.
So is BLAG an easy way to freedom?