June 9, 2006

Libranet's last goodbye

Author: Bruce Byfield

After six months, the Libranet community has learned that its wait for the revival of the distribution was futile. Tal Danzig, Libranet's owner and chief developer, has announced that he is discontinuing the development of Libranet.

Libranet was one of the oldest surviving Debian-derived distributions. First released in 1999, it developed a loyal following because of its easy installation and comprehensive set of packages. The distribution reached its peak in April 2005 with the release of version 3.0, but suffered a major setback when its founder, Jon Danzig, died of cancer a few weeks later. Tal Danzig, his son and partner, continued the distribution, but announced in November 2005 that the company was "restructuring" -- continuing support and keeping its forum open, but discontinuing development and sales while he considered what to do with the business and took a two-month trip to Israel.

Despite this announcement, many members of the Libranet community retained their interest in the distribution, hoping that it would be revived. Some expressed hopes that the distribution could make the transition from a business to a community project. An informal poll in April showed that 37% of those who responded were continuing to use Libranet 3.0 as their main distribution, and another 9% were using an older version. Another 26% had migrated to another distribution, but said they would consider returning to Libranet if a new version was released. Although 16% said that they would not return to a revived Libranet, the fact that they answered the poll shows that they continued to be involved with the community.

Tal Danzig began with an apology to the community. "I realize it's been a long while since I've posted here," he said. "My life has changed a lot since I last posted here." He then explained that his decision "is not to continue with Libranet. I'm not in the position in my life or career where running Libranet would make sense." He ended by hoping that the community "can understand and respect this decision."

Danzig did not elaborate on how his life had changed, referring his audience to his blog. From that source, it is evident that, during his trip to Israel, Danzig began a relationship with another traveler. He is moving from Vancouver, Canada, to Edmonton to be with her, and currently looking for work as a programmer.

Nor did Danzig explain why he finally broke his prolonged silence. However, the announcement may have been sparked by the announcement a few days earlier by Daniel de Kok, a former Libranet employee, that he would no longer moderate the Libranet forums. In his announcement, de Kok cited lack of communication from Danzig as one of his reasons for stepping down.

For the time being, Danzig promised to keep the Libranet forums going. However, he expressed concern over the lack of moderators and the cost of keeping the servers running.

A few forum members reacted angrily to the announcement. One said that Libranet's recent difficulties "taught me never, never rely on proprietary (non-free) software." However, the vast majority of responses were supportive and nostalgic. Typical responses referred to Libranet as "the best distribution that I have used" and "the finest GNU/Linux distribution ever created." Others alluded to the days when Debian had a reputation for being difficult to install, with one of them calling Libranet "the first Linux distro I was able to install." Almost all responses, even a few of the angry ones, praised the friendliness and helpfulness of the Libranet community.

Some responses focused on more practical concerns. A thread with the title "Which distro is most like Libranet?" has been running for several months, and a Libranet section has been set up on Debian Questions. Others offered to donate money to keep the original forum open, asking where they could send money. Several asked that Libranet's installer and control center-like Adminmenu, and possibly even the entire Libranet 3.0 code base, be released.

Danzig has yet to reply to any of these requests. Meanwhile, the Libranet home page continues to show the message from six months ago that the distribution is restructuring.

All in all, it was a quiet, if long-expected, ending for a distribution that once received widespread coverage from the free software media.

Bruce Byfield is a course designer and instructor, and a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge, Linux.com and IT Manager's Journal.


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