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BLAG Review @ TipMonkies

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 7:50 am    Post subject: BLAG Review @ TipMonkies Reply with quote


Why you should check out BLAG GNU/Linux
Submitted on July 19th, 2005 by Jason
Filed under Software and Linux and Interviews
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OK, I’ve been sitting on this article for about a month, so it’s time to write it. In my article about various Linux distro’s, I tried to mention my two personal favorite underdogs, BLAG and Arch Linux. Arch has actually had a bit of attention at mainstream sites like OSNews, but almost no one ever makes mention of BLAG, so I wanted to bring it to the spotlight. I emailed the developer of BLAG, and his response was both informative and funny. Read on for more on that, and why I love BLAG…..

So first a little backstory. For a couple of years, I worked at an ISP doing tech support, and spent most of the time waiting for the phone to ring. So I started bringing my laptop to work and tinkering with various things. For whatever reason, during that time period, I was most interested in Linux distros, and tried new ones all the time. I always liked a lot of things about Red Hat/Fedora, but I didn’t like how commercial and big it was (first 3 and then 4 CD’s) and I didn’t like that after Red Hat 7.3, MP3 support was no longer included. It was easy to add, but something about it just bothered me. So in trying all sorts of different distro’s, I found BLAG (via Distrowatch of course). Being a GNOME fan, it was really nice to see a single CD Red Hat/Fedora based distro that was GNOME centric. I was also nice that it had a focus on multimedia. For better or worse, much of the multimedia support has been dropped out because so much of it was closed source, but BLAG still makes it easy to add.

The developer, Jeff, has solid control (not unlike Pat of Slackware) and only likes to release a product when it’s good, ready, and stable. He did not find Fedora Core 2 to be solid enough to release a version of BLAG based on it, so he skipped it, and immediatly started working on one based on Core 3. The only downside to BLAG is that it tends to stay a bit behind the bleeding edge. It is a more stable product for this reason, but some people prefer new and shiny over stable. You can, of course, follow newer Fedora trees via apt-get though. In addtion, BLAG is released in a DVD edition which has many of the BLAG enhancements, but contains the entire corresponding Fedora release, as well. And to add a little spice to the mix, BLAG has had a bit of a run-in with the FBI. I’m still not really sure if it has to do with BLAG, or just Indymedia, but I certainly remember trying to go to the site one day and finding out it was down.

Now, on to the email. I sent Jeff an email and mentioned that I wanted to let the Tipmonkies readers know more about BLAG. I didn’t know if I would get a response at all, and I certainly didn’t expect the email I received. Although he gave me permission to change it, I’ve decided to post the original email with no modifications. The rest of this article is the email I received. Enjoy!

I’ve been using GNU/Linux since 1995 and used it to run a local ISP. I used it for my workstation since then

Automajick installs

# #
# #

I started writing the above crap, but someone came by the house (friend of a friend, essentially) while I was writing it. Perhaps a mini-record of our conversation will help explain blag better….

Joe (my new amigo): Hey, so you’re the BLAG guy? Calan told me about it…

Me: Ya…

Joe: I’m not really a “computer guy”. I have an older Dell. Does BLAG have something like Photoshop?

Me: Yep. /me gives GIMP tour answering his questions about layers, whether it has blur filters (”Yep! Look at ‘em all”), “it can import XYZ” etc…I then went on to show him Inkscape, since he occassionally uses Illustrator as well.

Joe: I have a Kodak camera, what about that?

Me: /me fires up photo tool and shows him the list, explaining that lots of recent cameras are now standardizing, so if it’s a recent
“decent” camera, it will likely work “automatically” via USB.

Joe: Can I use Mozilla?

Me: Yep, it comes on the CD, but the default browser is Firefox.

I then went on to show him Streamtuner and all the cool radio stations he can tune into. I went on to explain:

Me: Streamtuner is cool, but it is /consuming/ of media. I want to make it so you can /create/ media as well. Media is too damn often just sitting there passively. It needs to go BOTH ways. I include Icecast and MuSE (a streaming encoder) so you can be a producer of streams, not just a consumer…

Audio editing? Yep! Oh, I don’t have Audacity installed on my laptop though (it does come on the BLAG CD, I just didn’t have it installed)…”Here’s the cool tool Synaptic where you can just automatically download and install applications.” 30 seconds later, /me giving him an Audacity tour.

Joe: What about office applications?

Me: Well, I think OpenOffice (which he had used in ‘dows) is a bit bloated, but you can use Synaptic to install it if you want. [BLAG] does come with Abiword and Gnumeric, which satisfy most peoples’ needs”. I forgot to show him Scribus, which is also on the CD…

Joe: CD burning?

Me: Yep, it has Graveman, which has a nice interface. Also, if you have MP3s, it will convert them to CD audio files so you can play them in your car. There’s also a few peer-to-peer applications…

I didn’t get a chance to show him the movie players and explain why BLAG /no longer includes codecs/. See this thread.

I then burned him a copy of the CD and gave him a bit of an explanation of what “Free Software” really means. I also explained, “Hey, all this stuff is here and it works, but not 100% and not all the time. It’s certainly not perfect. But /most/ of it will work /most/ of the time on /most/ computers.” “Good enough” is what Linus calls it.

Anyway, perhaps the above will shed light on why BLAG exists. Being “the [GNU/]Linux guy” people would frequently ask me to install GNU/Linux on their boxes. I found that there is that base of applications that pretty much your “typical” user wants. There are other distros that have some of these applications, but they come on a zillion CDs. Joe didn’t have to sit around while I burned 3,4,5 or even 9 CDs for him. ONE CD! Nor does he have to be connected to the ‘net for an install (i.e. a small
install where you then apt-get everything). He didn’t need compilers (if I said the word, I would have certainly heard “what’s a compiler?”). It includes things most people want and doesn’t have the corporate crap that some distros have (i.e. you have to buy the CD, the downloadable version is a generation back, you have to pay for the repository, it’s not 100% Free, it simply looks like corporate spam [expletive removed], etc.).

Another angle that I didn’t cover with Joe is the “automajick” kickstart installs. As nice as it is, some people can’t grok Anaconda (for
instance, I’ve set up BLAG for people /who have never even used a mouse/ let alone Windows). So I tell newbies, “if you don’t mind ERASING EVERYTHING on your computer, and you can figure out how to get a CD to boot, put in the disk and type blagblagblag at the boot prompt. It will go through and automatically format and erase your disk, install everything, and at the end give you a Reboot button; that’s it. So nearly /anyone/ can get this installed and get up and running. I should note that you can also type miniblag (smallest possible install, text only), serverblag (only server apps, no GUI), or deskblag (GUI, but not every application). Ah, but then Jake comes by (ok, this didn’t really happen, but lets say it did).

Jake: What kind of Unix doesn’t come with a compiler??? Bah! BLAG is schwag.

Me: Ah, you power user you. Since you’re so damn hardcore, you want the BLAG Developer’s DVD. It has all BLAG [packages], all Fedora [packages] (including compilers and all that jazz), and some extra bits here and there (distcc, ccache, etc), and in the future, I’ll be packaging up the tools I use to build BLAG so you can easily roll a distro fitting your needs…and you don’t have to run around taking all the Fedora trademarks out, as I’ve already done that hassle. BLAG isn’t trademarked, and we won’t seek trademarks because we find them tacky. See this wiki entry for more.

Jake: Ah, ok. Nice.

Me: Plus, since I use Fedora as a base, there’s tons of applications already. I try to use other repositories’ builds whenever possible, to eliminate conflicts (such as fedora-extras, dag, freshrpms…). If BLAG disappears or you just get sick of it, you basically have Fedora, so in your next upgrade you can just install Fedora instead (though I don’t know of anyone that has left BLAG for Fedora yet!).

Jake: Source code?

Me: You can download any of the SRPMS from the BLAG site, or download a couple CD images of what’s on the binary CD, or download the source DVD, which has the source code to everything.


So, perhaps that will shed light on why there is yet another distro. I’ve used BLAG on lots of workstations and servers (web, ftp, NFS, etc). Some of the servers serve up a million+ pages a day, happily. That said, in my server farm, I also run OpenBSD, Debian, and Gentoo. OpenBSD is the most rockin’ firewall on earth, IMHO, but it’s damn slow as a webserver, though. I like Debian politically and it makes a very nice server (I run the AMD64 port for MySQL, for example). The one web server install I’ve done of Gentoo has been running very nicely and easily outpaces the Debian box on identical hardware.

It’s pretty fun to maintain a distro and it makes maintaining all my friend’s boxes a lot easier since everyone is on the same page.

We’ve also got a nice mini-community going, with forums, a wiki, Bugzilla, an rsync server, and a BLAG IRC channel at irc.indymedia.org/#blag. We don’t have a mailing list right now as I didn’t set it back up after the FBI stole our hard drives last fall (the reason the drives were taken is still under wraps as a “secret court order” in the land of the free…). I haven’t felt a pressing need to set it back up yet (You can read more right here).


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