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DistributionWatch Review: SmoothWall Linux 0.9.8

A look at the upgrade

March 30, 2001

The need for security in an increasingly insecure world is growing ever greater. Linux, often touted as one of the more secure platforms, still has its security flaws. SmoothWall Linux is a solution that has systematically removed many of these flaws by shipping a solid, cohesive distribution that has only one thing on its list of things to do: protect your network.

When I first looked at SmoothWall 0.9.4 last September, I explained that SmoothWall Linux is a creation of Richard Morrell and Lawrence Manning, two British programmers who wanted to "extend Linux via a device that they can build that isn't a cobbled together solution but a fully fledged device with management facilities, into the houses with Mac and Windows clients," according to Morrell. Neither the mission or the functionality of SmoothWall has been changed with today's release of SmoothWall 0.9.8.

One thing that has not changed and should clearly stated that SmoothWall is not meant to be shared with other partitions. If you install SmoothWall, you should do it on a machine that can act solely as a firewall, because all of your other partitions will be blown away. This is spelled out in the Installation Guide available on SourceForge, but it cannot be stressed enough if you decide to use this for firewalling your network. SmoothWall's development team has indicated that you can install this on a 486 machine and still get effective performance.

Administering SmoothWall can be accomplished using a standard Web browser (Netscape, Opera, IE) from any platform. The ease of use in this Web-based setup is still very good. I was able to put things together very quickly.

SmoothWall's developers, spurred by the enormous interest in this project, have added quite a few new features to this version of the distribution. One of the biggest changes is the addition of full auto-probing ISDN support, which Morrell explains, "we're the only Linux distro that probes for this stuff."

One very welcome addition is that of DHCP server functionality, which makes keeping my single Internet connection and multi-platform network so much easier. Since there is now ASDL/cable support that works in conjunction with the DHCP clients, things were purring along on my network indeed in a really short amount of time.

Other new features include:

  • Easy VPN setup with enclosed FreeSWAN binaries
  • Support for v90 and all supported modems
  • Multiple Ethernet card support with port forwarding
  • Full firewall logging and management
  • Graphical charting of Internet activity
  • Embedded Java SSH client

This is still a very admin-oriented tool, mind you. There no X running about that you will contend with: just the console and the Web-based tools.

As I said in my last review of this distro, I like the things that SmoothWall offers for users: a fast, stable platform that takes care of just what it has to do.

SmoothWall, a derivation of VA Linux, can be obtained as a tarball or an ISO file from the SmoothWall Web site.

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