Linked by Eugenia Loli on Wed 19th Feb 2003 04:23 UTC, submitted by Ladislav Bodnar
Debian and its clones Mention the word "Debian" in a group of Linux users and emotions are immediately stirred up. One of the largest volunteer cooperative projects in software history continues to attract attention of media, selfless effort of some of the world's best software developers and endless end users debates. No matter what your Debian feelings and experiences are like, there is no doubt that the Debian project has made an enormous impact on the history of modern software development. Alexander Antoniades looks at the Debian's latest stable version 3.0r1 and describes his own observations in this review at DistroWatch.
Order by: Score:
User review??
by Anonymous on Wed 19th Feb 2003 04:43 UTC

I thought that debian is regarded less as a user-mollycoddling distro either? Reviewing it as a 'user review' somehow isn't exactly fair...

User review??
by gapp on Wed 19th Feb 2003 05:10 UTC

Good review of debian... Anyone that argues that a user-review is not is more than welcome to provide their own review for their favorite operating system.

by aherm on Wed 19th Feb 2003 05:30 UTC

Yup. It's agood review of the new debian. I can see there synaptic runs exactly as mine on SuSE 8.1 ;-)
Yup. No more dependency problems with me.
apt-get update
apt-get install packagename
No problemo!

Thanks, apt and synaptic developers :-)

by Darius on Wed 19th Feb 2003 05:53 UTC

Based on the article, it seems that apt is not quite as 'bulletproof' as some make it out to be. It seems that you either stick with the official repository and use software from the stone age, or else go to the unofficial ones and risk breaking one or more packages. How is this a solution for RPM's dependency problems. Compared to this, Windows 'DLL hell' (if it even exists anymore), doesn't seem to be quite so bad.
Is there not one damn distro out there that:

a) Is easy to install and configure
b) Gives you access to ALL of the latest 'stable' releases of applications, including KDE 3.1 & Gnome 2.2 (even if they are not included in the actual distro)
c) Does not castrate KDE or Gnome in favor of the other
d) Does not muck with its default desktop enviroment to the point that it is beyond recognition

by Darius on Wed 19th Feb 2003 06:09 UTC

Are the fonts in Debian as bad as they look in the screenshots (especially synaptic) ?

Re: Thoughts
by kyle on Wed 19th Feb 2003 06:11 UTC

No, DLL Hell in windows doesn't exist anymore, but when I used apt a couple years ago (the last time i used debian), I didn't have any problems with it. apt-get update always worked like a champ

Synaptic 0.32
by kon jr on Wed 19th Feb 2003 06:20 UTC

The latest version of synaptic is 0.32 and maybe the reviewer should update it as well as the dpkg version and the fonts too ... phew. The fonts look nasty. Blah.

re: Thoughts
by Anonymous on Wed 19th Feb 2003 06:31 UTC

If that's the case then it points out a flaw in the way dependant libraries/programs are created - thus it has nothing to do with apt. If a newer lib/prog isn't created to be 100% backwards compatible then programs relying on an older version are of course going to choke on the newer.

re: Thoughts
by The_deb_hurd on Wed 19th Feb 2003 06:34 UTC


>a) Is easy to install and configure <

The installation is pretty strait forward if you bother to read the documentation or at least the messages on the screne. The configuration is also pretty much strait forward as well (exception of X which seemed to be hard to configure for most non experienced users). Course I really couldn't call it easy.

>b) Gives you access to ALL of the latest 'stable' releases of applications, including KDE 3.1 & Gnome 2.2 (even if they are not included in the actual distro)<

I'm running GNOME2.2 on a Debian system (infact it's what i'm using right now to type this up). Stable? Well I'm using the Unstable repositories and it's probably as stable as any other distro will release (unless threw extensive testing).

>c) Does not castrate KDE or Gnome in favor of the other<

Debian doesn't change GNOME nor KDE in the way of 'modifying' or 'adding' to it.

>d) Does not muck with its default desktop enviroment to the point that it is beyond recognition <

No it's pretty much the plain and boring default (the default enviroment).

So I guess 3 out of 4 isn't bad.

Re: Darius
by Rayiner Hashem on Wed 19th Feb 2003 06:40 UTC

Debian stable is not for users. This guy shouldn't be trying to get the "latest anything" installed. Software configurations interact with each other in unseen ways. Debian stable provides a tested *combination* of software. You'll see this in the business world a whole lot, to the point where big apps often require a system to be certified before the company will support a program running on that system. This does not mean that Debian is not for users, however. Users can easily run the Debian testing or unstable branches, the latter of which is actually quite cutting edge. I ran unstable for quite some time, and it was actually very stable. I still wouldn't reccomend it as a newbie distro, but if you want cutting edge with the simplicity of Debian, unstable is where it's at.

As for your "is there a distro" comment, the short answer is no. The long answer is still no, but with many qualifiers. SuSE is pretty up to date, but KDE biased. Mandrake isn't as solid as Debian. RedHat is kinda GNOME only, but thanks to APT4RPM, up2date, and RedCarpet, RPM-hell is largely a thing of the past. So if you've got specific requirements, then you will probably find a fit, but if you're just being totally general, then you want.

PS1> I'd like to throw a Gentoo plug in here. Gentoo hits all of your points except the first one. Gentoo is probably too much for the average (or even power) user. Installation and configuration aside, though, it's nearly perfect. Everything is either vanilla, or improved in good ways (nice kernel patches, MS TT fonts, TT-bytecode interpreter). The package management system is general enough that anybody with some knowledge of shell scripts (most admins) could easily design their own packages. As a result, the software base is large and *very* (CVS-level, if you choose) up to date. Glitches in the packaging system are quite rare, even though the system is technically a RC. The user support (at is supurb, and extremely active. The best thing is that it "Just Works." After initial configuration, all I have to do is do an "emerge world" (yes, there is a very good KDE GUI for emerge ;) once a week and I'm set. With a good set of configuration tools, a GUI installer, and a more up to date reference platform (binary packages) Gentoo would make a very decent home user desktop. As it is, it makes a great "managed" (think IT support staff) desktop, because once you're in KDE, you're totally hidden from the system for any user-level configuration.

Oh wait.
by Rayiner Hashem on Wed 19th Feb 2003 06:43 UTC

I lied. You don't have to do XF86Config manually. There is a GUI configurator for X called KXConfig.

RE: Thoughts - Sigh !
by Anonymous on Wed 19th Feb 2003 06:47 UTC

People complain when you use the lastest and greatest newest beta bleeding apps in a distro. Yet when a distro like Debian decides to play it safe and use only stable software or software that has been deemed stable enough for daily use poeple complain about how out-dated it is. It's one or the other folks ! If you want to use the lastest bleeding beta version of a piece of software expect some bugs in it ! If you want to use stable software then expect not to be using all those neat features found in the bleeding beta version. You hate how Mandrake keeps putting out a new version of it's distro out every six months with the lastest and newsest apps ? Well then use Debian stable and don't complain !! It's like that old saying, "You can please half of the people half of the time but not all of the people all of the time."

He didn't dig very deep....
by IFightMIBs on Wed 19th Feb 2003 07:35 UTC

KDE 2.2 is in stable because of compiler issues, i.e. qt4 doesn't like gcc-2.95 very much. Part of the requirement for the stable distro is that it has to be able to compile with the default compiler.

It's similar with OpenOffice.Org. I believe the things holding that back in the stable distro were the compiler and the java requirements. It's in the unstable distro now, though.

I've been using Debian for awhile now, and it's quite dependable. As far as GNU/Linux goes, I wouldn't consider anything else on a server machine. On the desktop (well, I'm using an iBook running OSX right now...), I normally run Debian unstable or Gentoo. They've got the cutting-edge stuff, and I'm not concerned about having to restart apps, or *gasp* reboot every now and again.

KDE 3.1, Gnome2....all that stuff is in unstable, and it works more often than not (unlike my desktop machine, where Gentoo seriously broke KDE on the last upgrade....).

Re: thoughts
by jaldhar on Wed 19th Feb 2003 07:53 UTC

>Based on the article, it seems that apt is not quite as >'bulletproof' as some make it out to be.

Life isn't bulletproof. apt is not magic but what it can do for you is to warn you in advance when things are likely to go wrong and make it easier to recover when they do.

>It seems that you either stick with the official repository >and use software from the stone age, or else go to the >unofficial ones and risk breaking one or more packages. How >is this a solution for RPM's dependency problems.

For one thing as the reviewer noted, the official repository is much bigger so you are less likely to want to go elsewhere. Secondly, it should be mentioned that many of the unofficial repositories are created by Debian maintainers and their backports have the same high quality as their official packages. Problems like the freetype situation can occur but many people will find such hiccups quite bearable overall. In fact many users do use the unstable distribution full-time without fear of constantly breaking their systems. Third, one thing the reviewer didn't consider was building his own packages. For instance he could have avoided having to deinstall Gnome 2 by downloading the source to e.g. gtk (or whatever depended on freetype,) correcting the dependency to whatever he actually had on his system, and rebuilding the package. It's not an ideal solution. It's maybe too technical for some people but if you are the type that can deal with Gentoo and makefile-twiddling, you shouldn't have any problems with making .debs as they are essentialy just a fancy makefile with some metadata.

The real answer is for Debian to release more frequently but here's the problem. There's a lot of armchair generals ready to give advice but not that many people to actually _DO_ the work. And those that do do the work are volunteers and can only devote a certain amount of time to it. So we plod along the best we can.

Distro evolution
by mabhatter on Wed 19th Feb 2003 08:10 UTC

From reading the posts above, one would gather that it's time for Linux to make a leap ahead! There are three consistant issues people have with distros: maintaining the plethora of patches and updates generated by all those OS coders, verifying all the dependant programs and choosing compatible versions of the various packages, and configuring the system consistantly from machine to machine.

Open Source dosen't have the luxury of lock-down like Apple, or the bossiness of Microsoft. What I would propose is a database of known-good-installs tied to distros like Debian and Gentoo. There would need to be some predictive software as well to help with error prediction and isolation--the results of such software would be revolutionary! This would help reduce the time that a package goes from "unstable" to "stable" while also providing creators with solid feedback and users with well-tested packages.

Debian is hard to install?
by Ulrich Hobelmann on Wed 19th Feb 2003 09:59 UTC

OK, it's been a while, since I'm using BSD for almost a year now. But why does everyone say Debian is hard to install???

After having been a stupid Win98 user Debian 2.1 was my first Linux and it *was* easy to install! I think the manual even said you could teach a chicken to install Debian, you only need to hack the return key anyway!
In fact Debian was the *only* Linux I tried that didn't totally blow (I tried quite a few), and I liked it very much. If I'll ever install a Linux again it will have to be Debian (well, maybe I'll try gentoo)...

by anonymous on Wed 19th Feb 2003 10:03 UTC

trying Debian Woody for a week was the biggest dissapointment for a long time. I always thought debian was cool untill I tried it. Bad ass installer. Have to do just about everything from scratch(configuration, installing software et.c.). Not consistent in any way. Not to mention all those small annoying bugs. Always something the goes poof or didn't work like its supposed to. If I want a simple, basic, do-it-yourself OS, I'd rather go for one of the BSD's.

by Mike Hearn on Wed 19th Feb 2003 10:42 UTC

Is it just me, or is that comment in the article about glibc a bit off base? Firstly, I can't see anything in the DWN about it. Secondly, what on earth do Sun have anything to do with it?

selfless effort
by Daelin on Wed 19th Feb 2003 11:11 UTC

selfless effort... no. Debian attracts the selfish effort of some of the world's best software developers.

I mean that in the purest Ayn Randian sense.

This is almost off topic, but I put forward that Debian is renowned and respected for the selfish efforts it enables.

by Moth on Wed 19th Feb 2003 12:04 UTC


In my opinion - Debian NEEDS a new installer! My only real gripe :o)

apt/synaptic works like a dream on my Red Hat 8.0 too ;o)

configure X
by IncaKilla on Wed 19th Feb 2003 13:08 UTC

> I lied. You don't have to do XF86Config manually. There
> is a GUI configurator for X called KXConfig

this one might be a little off, i havent used debian in a while, and never with x. But it's just got to be something like this
step 1: type "dpkg-reconfigure xserver"
step 2: answer a few questions, when in doubt pick default
step 3: type startx

configuration in debian is really easy through dpkg, even without a gui interface

Just some notes
by anopenscroll on Wed 19th Feb 2003 13:15 UTC

If you're thinking about really using Debian as a desktop (somewhat) distro :
1. Save yourself a lot of trouble if your XConfig does not work, and copy your working XF86Config file from RH/whatever to XF86Config-4 in Debian, as a last resort.
2. If you don't want to be stuck in the stone ages, add the following servers to your /etc/apt/sources.list :
deb woody/updates main contrib non-free
deb unstable/non-US main contrib non-free
deb unstable main contrib non-free
If you're worried about instability, change 'unstable' above to 'stable'. But stable has really, really old packages sometimes. It's upto you...
3. Do a apt-get upgrade immediately. Save yourself a lot of trouble with packages, and make a directory to store all the debs you get from the net/you have in /home/bear/debs (for example). In addition, add this line to sources.list at the top:
deb file:/home/bear debs/
Then to install any deb you download, goto /home/bear and type :
dpkg-scanpages debs /dev/null | gzip > debs/Packages.gz (which will take a while)
followed by: apt-get update (as root).
Then, start synaptic/whatever to select and install your package with apt-get.

Hope this makes life easier for you!

re: aherm
by samb on Wed 19th Feb 2003 13:20 UTC

Yup. It's agood review of the new debian. I can see there synaptic runs exactly as mine on SuSE 8.1 ;-)
Yup. No more dependency problems with me.

I have my doubts about that. Read the following to understand why things, particularly upgrading, works so smoothly in Debian as opposed to most other unix distributions:

The first link is shorter and to the point, while the second link is a fairly thorough explanation.

re: mabhatter
by samb on Wed 19th Feb 2003 13:24 UTC

Open Source dosen't have the luxury of lock-down like Apple, or the bossiness of Microsoft. What I would propose is a database of known-good-installs tied to distros like Debian and Gentoo.

That's exactly what Debian Stable is. Most desktop-users should stick to Unstable though, which is in fact quite stable.

People who want a Debian install
by marm on Wed 19th Feb 2003 13:31 UTC

are probably better off not using the standard Debian installer to do it, unless they are happy answering a lot of technical questions from a not very friendly interface. I found it rather bewildering the first time I used it: dumped into dselect to select packages without a clue how to use it, the only way out I could find was to use Ctrl-C. Fortunately this left me with a very minimal, but working system that I then figured out how to apt-get stuff to. Work is ongoing to write a friendlier replacement installer, but I guess we won't see it until Debian 3.1 at the earliest. The current installer is great if you know what you're doing with it though, it does exactly what you tell it to and I've never seen it fail.

However, there are now lots of alternative ways to get a Debian system on your machine - my favourite is Knoppix. Boot Knoppix from a CD, run knx-hdinstall to install Knoppix on your hard drive, then add a Debian mirror to your apt sources.list. And that's it, you can then fetch the latest Debian packages list and upgrade to all the most recent software in the Debian archives. I'm sure someone will write a graphical wizard to do the whole lot soon enough - I might have a go myself actually, sounds like a fun and worthwhile project.

With most DEB based distros you can do the same - use their funky installer, then add a Debian mirror to apt's sources.list and fetch all the latest Debian packages.

That said, once Debian is installed it's pretty easy to manage. Apt isn't absolutely bulletproof but in 3 years of using Debian it's never got itself into a situation that it couldn't get itself out of with a little coaxing. One of my machines hasn't been reinstalled since my first Debian install, and in the process it's been upgraded from kernel 2.0->2.4 and everything in between, Glibc 2.0->2.3, XFree86 3.3->4.2, KDE 1.1->3.1 and so on. At each major upgrade it's performed more or less flawlessly, it's asked me a few questions if a major configuration file has changed over the upgrade, then got on and done it.

I haven't even had a build-up of cruft on the system thanks to a couple of nice commands called debfoster and cruft - debfoster asks a series of questions about the current set of packages and then uninstalls the ones that are not needed any more, cruft produces a list of files that are not known to the package system but exist in the package-managed directories (e.g. by packages not uninstalling correctly) which you can then delete.

I'd love to see how many original Red Hat 6.0 installs have been upgraded to 8.0 automatically and are still running smoothly. Heck, I'd like to see some Windows 2000 installs that are still working as smoothly as the day they were installed after 3 years, upgraded or not...

by Chris on Wed 19th Feb 2003 15:00 UTC

Use Libranet, which is based on Debian, which has an easier installer and graphical configuration tools once you have installed the distro. Pretty nice.

If you know your hardware, then the Debian installer is fine. Its not for people who buy their PCs at Wal-Mart. It was never intended to be.

"Compounding this problem is that Woody will never officially get significant upgrades of ANY of its packages, unless they're found to have memory leaks or major security flaws. That means that Woody will never officially see a version of Mozilla newer than 1.0, or any version of This system seems to sometimes run against the actual software projects by ignoring the fixes they make, in favor of the original code the developers themselves sometimes regard as broken. What's surprising is that Debian doesn't even update to the bug fix releases like Mozilla 1.0.2"

This issue has come up before. The thing is that while a new version of the software is usually not made available, the actual bug fixes made in the new version are backported, so the software in question might not be as buggy as the reviewer thinks.

Bleeding edge
by Darius on Wed 19th Feb 2003 16:03 UTC

People complain when you use the lastest and greatest newest beta bleeding apps in a distro.

Dude, I don't think anybody in this thread mentioned bleeding edge beta anything. I myself don't normally run anything that is beta, unless a particular program is always in perpetual beta, but still widely used. Why is it that in the open source world, anything newer than 2 months old is considered bleeding edge?

As far as new software, what I'm talking about is this -
Let's say we're in the future and Gnome 2.4 final has just been released. On the day that the FINAL version comes out, I should be able to download (server resources withstanding) & install it on my distro of choice without having to compile the whole damn thing. That, in my opinion is a requirement for any 'user friendly' OS - not having to wait 2-3 weeks or longer for my distro vendor (or somebody else) to make binaires for me to use. Whatever happened to apps being released with setup.exe?

by Strike on Wed 19th Feb 2003 16:23 UTC

You assume that the upstream developers are creating packages for their software. In some cases it is true, but it is hardly something that can be taken for granted. This is often a good thing as it means you get your immediate release of packages that you want, but it can be a bad thing if the upstream person doing the packaging ... well, isn't very good at doing the packaging. A lot of projects do RPMs (which, sadly, is not only the de facto packaging standard, but also the LSB standard) for each release as well.

fonts in debian
by Joeri on Wed 19th Feb 2003 17:29 UTC

I've been running debian for over two years now, and I don't want any other distro anymore. Debian sucks less.

As for fonts (truetype, anti-aliased), in unstable it's pretty simple:
- apt-get install defoma
installs the debian font management system
- apt-get install dfontmgr
installs a handy defoma frontend for installing custom fonts into every app and font system in the whole of debian
- apt-get install msttcorefonts
installs the ms web core fonts, and registers them with defoma (and by extension gnome, kde, openoffice, and so on...)

I'm running Debian unstable by accident : )
by MattyG on Wed 19th Feb 2003 17:31 UTC

I got confused between testing and unstable. Debian unstable has not broken,locked up on me, or slowed down yet and I have no knowledge of fixing packages or fixing bugs. So the names of the debian branches really don't mean what they are supposed to. Basically Debian developers are doing a wonderful
job and should be complimented for thier excellent work. Because of them clueless bastards like me can run "Unstable"
software without a problem.

So if you want to avoid .0 angst from your favorite GNU/Linux
company give Debian a whirl.

Author responds
by Alexander Antoniades on Wed 19th Feb 2003 17:58 UTC

I just thought I'd address a couple of the comments, and clarify some questions:

Darius (among others) asked:
Are the fonts in Debian as bad as they look in the screenshots (especially synaptic) ?

Sigh, my fonts in QT applications usually look pretty good, but Synaptic is GTK, and isn't anti-aliased. For some reason about half the time, my fonts look like crap, and the rest of the time they look awesome, I haven't got to the bottom of this. In a couple of weeks I'll see if X 4.3 solves the problem.

Rayiner Hashem said:
Debian stable is not for users. This guy shouldn't be trying to get the "latest anything" installed.

Well, I don't know what version people should try if stable isn't for users. And I think the term latest needs to be qualified when stable is so old. My desire to try the "latest anything" is usually limited to released versions, so I don't see anything wrong with that. I'm not running a server in an ICU, this is a laptop I'm using to try and learn more about Linux on.

Lastly as per Gentoo, I've heard a lot of good things about it, but I'm adamently against the idea of source based distributions. IMHO it just seems like a waste of bandwidth, disk space and processor time on an x86 based systems where the user is not a developer. That's why I chose Debian.

Mike Hearn:
Is it just me, or is that comment in the article about glibc a bit off base? Firstly, I can't see anything in the DWN about it. Secondly, what on earth do Sun have anything to do with it?

Read the two emails under the "Freeze Plans?" head in the latest weekly news and follow some of the links back into the archives for more information on this.

The solution for many people running Debian seems to be run unstable, and while unstable is by many accounts anything but, this seems like such a stop gap measure in an organization that prides itself on stablity and security. I hope Debian can find a way around this problem.

And for all the defenders of KDE 2.2x being the latest "stable" version of KDE is there some proof that 2.2.x is more stable/secure than 3.x? I'm trying not to be accusatory, but as far as I can see the only distros that use 2.2.x are either a) based on Debian stable or b)have made a number of customizations to KDE 2.2.x (Lycoris). Is there a smoking gun problem with KDE 3.x that I haven't been able to find? Just curious.

Thank you for taking the time to read my review.

re :Author responds
by gabou on Wed 19th Feb 2003 18:14 UTC

The problem with kde 3.* is more a gcc problem than a stability one, I think. Gcc-3.2 is in testing, whereas the 2.95.* is in woody, and kde3 cannot be compiled with gcc before 3.* versions.

most tests concern these compiling issues.

More about Debian
by DebianFanatic on Wed 19th Feb 2003 19:33 UTC

One thing not mentioned is that Debian runs on almost everything (11 different architectures at last count, I believe). This means that if you've got a mix of arches in your organization, you can have the same look & feel & software & maintenance procedures on your i386 boxes and your OldWorld Macs and your new Macs and your Sparcs and your Alphas and etc etc.

Debian Stable excels in a server environment, where you want a machine that is reliable and stable and just works. For a user desktop, Stable is indeed out of date, and most users, not minding an occassionaly hiccup, would want to run Unstable.

Unstable remains code-named Sid, as Sid was the boy next door in Toy Story who was always breaking things.

Another thing give short mention is the Debian User email list. Excellent community. Usually polite, very bright, helpful, quick. Beats a 1-800 number anyday (well, 99 out of 100 days).

The "Free"-ness of Debian was mentioned, but it wasn't made clear of the advantage of that. Suppose you're a non-profit who just installed Joe's Linux Distro, which has a 3-month demo of Fred's Fantastic Feature. Three months and one day later, the BSA knocks on your door, finds you running an expired demo, and fines your non-profit $10K. Now imagine that same scenario with Debian, only you can't, because there is no 3-month demo of non-free software in the distro. Hence, you've just saved ten grand, not to mention that for those users who care about ethics, running properly licensed software is just the right thing to do.

It was hinted at but not stated expressly that Debian can be difficult to install, "but you only have to do it once". After that, it's just a two-command upgrade everytime a new version is released.

The time between releases is because a new version isn't released because the marketing guys say it's time. It's released only when it's ready.

If you want to be sure you're running properly licensed software, or you want an easy-to-maintain system, or you want a rock-solid release, or you want consistency across multiple platforms, and you don't mind older software, then Debian Stable is for you. If you want bleeding edge, you either want Unstable, or if you don't care about the philosophy of Free Software, perhaps a different distro.

Wish Debian Had A GUI Installer...!
by Michael Lauzon on Wed 19th Feb 2003 20:58 UTC

I wish Debian had a GUI installer, because when I tried to install Debian last year it was to advanced because of the text only installer...and because I couldn't get Debian installed the CDs went flying out the window; I'll try Debian -- and not one of the offshoots that use the Debian codebase and have a GUI installer -- again when it gets its own GUI installer.

Michael Lauzon
Founder & Lead Project Manager
InceptionOS Project

pee pee pee
by johnG on Wed 19th Feb 2003 21:29 UTC

I tried installing Woody a while back on a machine with a PCI network adapter *and* an external modem on serial port one. The install had a problem (the details of which I can't recall) and even after repeated attempts failed to install some vital ppp package. At the time, `twas my only computer and I had no other connectivity to get the req'd ppp pkg off the net.

Those CD's were created by downloading/creating the iso's using the handy jigdo tool. ;)

I never did know of a simple way to check the integrity of my install CD's. Redhat 8 has that nice mediacheck (or something like that) option at boot-time which seems to me to be essential.

Does Debian provide a similar built-in iso-image check type of thing?

PS. -- With renewed interest (and a 2nd intel box on my desk) I went ahead and blew the wad on a set of Debian CD's from Abexia. I'm hoping things go better this time. ;)

Thanks for the article Alex!

User creates ?dependancy hell? not Debian
by grolschie on Wed 19th Feb 2003 22:34 UTC

> I ran into this problem when I tried the get the latest version of
> AirSnort to run on my system. I was having trouble running it, so I
> wanted to get the latest version of wireless-tools package. Apt-get
> only got me an older version from the stable repository, but I saw
> there was an up-to-date version in Debian unstable, so I downloaded
> the .deb file from the Debian web site. Trying to install that
> brought up the complaint that libc6 was out of date, so I grabbed
> an updated libc6 and crammed it in there. Needless to say this
> broke quite a lot, and my old friend apt-get was of little help in
> this situation since it could only pull from a large database of
> programs that relied on the original libc6, and the default
> settings are such that broken packages aren't automatically
> downgraded.

This is just plain stupid. Simply adding unstable to /etc/apt/sources.list and doing an apt-get update would allow installation of this.

> In one case I was trying to update KDE from multiple sources and
> somehow, while trying to get it to work, I ended up with
> conflicting KDE packages.

Use unoffical packages at own risk. The problem is with these packages, and not Debian.

> Meta packages, like the group of packages that make up KDE, will
> only allow themselves to be managed all at once, so you can't just
> remove one game in the kdegames package - you have to remove them
> all, and then reinstall all the games individually.

hhmmm....if you remove one kde game specifically, then only that game and the metapackage will be removed. Not the whole kdegames collection.

> Also removing core components of the operating system (such as X
> Windows) via the usual Debian methods will, by default, remove all
> programs that rely on them.

Well of course. What use it koffice without X?

> Compounding this problem is that Woody will never officially get
> significant upgrades of ANY of its packages, unless they're found
> to have memory leaks or major security flaws.

Seems to have missed the point of what the "stable" stream's intention is.

> My experiences and opinions about Debian tend to mirror my
> experiences and opinions about desktop Linux as a whole.

Sheeshhh.... this says it all.

Unfortunately there's a fair number of trolls out there in Debianland, who's only answer is everyone should run unstable and ignore the fact that there are any problems at all.
I still say Debian is worth checking out if you're interested in learning more about Linux, and a fair number of the developers are working towards making it more accessible.
Actions will always speak louder than flames.

in reply
by grolschie on Thu 20th Feb 2003 03:00 UTC

I do not represent Debian, but am just an end user. My comments in the above post are quite straight forward really.

I never implied that you (or anyone) had to run unstable. That is an option however, but not always a good one. Once installed, you can have stable, testing, and unstable in your apt sources, and choose from which dist you want to install a package from. Just don't apt-get dist-upgrade until you've commented unstable/testing out of the sources and have re-run apt-get update.

You might consider my post a troll, but I find your review unfair. Perhaps learning a little about Debian before installing it might be a prudent idea. There are plenty of docs/HOWTOs/install-guides to download from debian.

To be fair, please understand that installing individual debs from various locations by hand is not the debian way of doing things. Hence you would have not used apt-get to install these ('dpkg -i' or similar instead). Neither is it recommended using unofficial debs that can break your system. It is little wonder why you had these problems.

My last comment merely implied that perhaps more research before installation of a Linux OS might be beneficial to the reviewer.

stable may be boring, but more than enough
by TrisMcC on Thu 20th Feb 2003 03:43 UTC

I run stable - on my desktop. I have been using Linux for 7 years now, and have run just about every distribution out there from redhat to gentoo. Debian 3.0r1 is a NICE desktop. Gnome 1.4, while old, is nice when all sorts of powerful programs (evolution, galeon, gaim, sodipodi, gimp) all run gtk 1.2. I run stable source.list lines as well as a mono C# line because I program in it and because woody doesn't have that yet. Besides that, I don't stray from the stable packages.

People may think that is boring, but it is VERY productive. I don't have to mess around with updating packages very often (aptitude for new-to-me apps is great, and security updates are nice to have) but I know that security updates will not break my configuration, and I don't need to be worried with the next version of Debian to come out for a while. Evolution 1.0.5 (or whatever) is a great email app, galeon with mozilla 1.0.woody-patches or whatever is a stable browser, gaim is nice for keeping in touch with friends, gnucash is a godsend for my finances, and vim and xemacs are nice for programming in haskell, c, and c#.

Looking back at the previous stable release, potato, I don't think I could have stayed with that because the desktop packages were almost ALL pre-releases...what a difference two years makes!

I also find that using this distribution makes me utilize the software I have more, as I know I won't be reinstalling for a while so I can configure just as I want it.

If I didn't have something like aptitude installed, though, my time would not be as comfortable - aptitude is really a killer apt front-end - it's just as powerful as dselect, but better.

debian is really nice.
by pnghd on Thu 20th Feb 2003 04:50 UTC

The first thing you should do after installing debian
is "apt-get aptitude synapic'

check out the debian user mailing list. It is archived at or you can get it thru google.
KDE users should check out the debian-kde list archived at
debian site. and are also two good sites.

Debian _is_ a user distro too.
If you are on older hardware, try icewm as your window
manager. I run it with a nice aqua theme.
I never worry about menus, I roll my own. It is easy.

There are some 13 Debian based Distros if you include
Debian itself.
Debian is da bomb.

flawed review
by some debian user on Thu 20th Feb 2003 05:04 UTC

There are a few places that debian has weaknesses which should be pointed out and criticised in any decent review...but the complaints in this review are not really valid.

This might qualify as a review of trouble that a newbie might have in the first 3 days of using debian or something, but as a review of the total os in real use as either a desktop or server it is not accurate at all.

re: Alexander Antoniades
by samb on Thu 20th Feb 2003 09:43 UTC

The solution for many people running Debian seems to be run unstable, and while unstable is by many accounts anything but, this seems like such a stop gap measure in an organization that prides itself on stablity and security. I hope Debian can find a way around this problem.

To achieve truly trustworthy stability and security, extensive testing and bugfixing against a body of software that doesn't keep changing underneath you (ie you need to freeze the branch you're working with) is required. There is no magical shortcut. What you're asking for here simply isn't possible. By your measure, everything _but_ Debian Stable are stop gap measures.

However, Debian's mandatory packaging/distribution policy makes Debian Unstable probably the best stop gap measure out there. The importance of a extensive mandatory distribution wide policy simply can not be emphasized enough:

Particularly the second link should be read by everybody.

The Debian Policy Manual can be read here:

I wrote about my experiences using Debian, what I experienced, and what I saw. While I understand Debian's policies, I'm not an apologist for them. The software comes with no warrantee, so to the same extent it can be used in any context, and those using it are free to write about their experiences using it.

I wrote this review because I see a lot of people trying Linux and practically everyone I meet chooses Red Hat or Mandrake, and I think Debian had a lot to offer, but not as many people know about it.

On the face of it (i.e. the list of packages on distrowatch, word of mouth, comments on message boards) Debian seems out of date. Regardless for the reason that's the perception I've seen.

I wanted to write a review about how I was using Debian and how I saw others were using Debian (friends, people on IRC and the newsgroups). There may be a whole silent majority out there who run stable with no unofficial packages, but this wasn't what I saw, and I can't write about what I didn't see or experience.

If you think I'm doing a disservice to the Debian project or I am too inexperienced to write a competent review, then by all means write a better one. Distrowatch, OSNews, or any number of sites would be happy to run it I'm sure.

Now, on to Debian policy. From the Debian web page:
The ``stable'' distribution contains the latest officially released distribution of Debian.
This is the production release of Debian, the one which we primarily recommend using."

I take it this to mean that me, a lowly end user wanting to learn more about Linux, should use Stable.

The ``testing'' distribution contains packages that haven't been accepted into a ``stable'' release yet, but they are in the queue for that. The main advantage of using this distribution is that it has more recent versions of software, and the main disadvantage is that it's not completely tested and has no official support from Debian security team."

OK, I can live with this, but looking at the packages they are only marginally newer than stable, and none of the biggies. No KDE3, no, etc. This repository hasn't been updated in 5 months (more on this later).

The ``unstable'' distribution is where active development of Debian occurs. Generally, this distribution is run by developers and those who like to live on the edge."

Hmm, I'm not a developer and while I like recently released software I don't consider myself "living on the edge", to me this statement says "don't call us if X doesn't start, we're working on it". Even then "living on the edge" meant KDE 2.2 until two weeks ago, and still doesn't include all of KDE 3.1, due to legal concerns. Granted KDE 3.1 is the latest and greatest, but it has to be judged in the context that it is the first iteration of the almost a year old KDE3 to make it into Debian.

I said it before and I'll say it again. I LIKE DEBIAN! I CURRENTLY USE IT EXCLUSIVELY AND PLAN TO CONTINUE DOING SO. That said it's clear to me and what I've seen that Debian is hitting a rough spot in terms of keeping its software up to date and to ignore this is doing a great disservice to the future of the project.

But don't take Joe Newbie's word for it, let's go to the source:
Last Week's Debian News:
"Freeze Plans? Barak Pearlmutter asked for a distribution freeze soon. Anthony Towns explains that there are a bit over 1700 source packages that are nominally ready for testing right now. They are being held back by various libraries and such (glibc, Perl, Python, C++, GTK, KDE, etc). That is about a quarter of Debian. For the past five months or so, testing has been working "correctly" but only in so far as unstable hasn't been. Testing has no value if Debian can't provide functional software in unstable on a fairly regular basis."

I think that last sentence, quoted from a Debian developer list and posted on the Debian news page, says it all. It's also clear from this story that the underlying problems with updating testing (and subsequently stable) have less to do with stability and security, and more to do with a lack of resources and complex legal issues. I can live with that explanation, but don't flame me and tell me I'm living in a fool's paradise if I want to run software less than a year old.

In my opinion part of the underlying goal in a volunteer project like Debian is not just to quote policy but to help shape it as well. And part of that process is having an open discourse on what the problems are, and understanding different people's experiences.

Its a philosophy/paradigm not driven by marketing.
by Anonymous on Thu 20th Feb 2003 20:46 UTC

If you are a business and want rock solid security and stablility, install Debian "stable".

If you are an end-user and want the bleeding-edge, but occasionally a few problems may arise (ie just like RH / Mandrake), then use Debian "unstable" Sid.

"testing" is just what is being planned as the next stable release, so in it's very nature - will not be brand new. How can it be, it needs to be thoroughly tested, tried and proven reliable. This takes time, and bug reports.

The Debian policy on this is not driven by marketing, but by the strong demand in the business world for reliable, rock-solid, useable, secure, etc, OS. Something that many others cannot do, esp MS. For this reason, Debian is the best GNU/Linux choice for the business model.

As an end-user, I am loving running "Sid". No problems whatsoever for me. I get a system on-par with other bleeding edge dists, but with the luxuary or apt-get, free software (in it's truest sense) and non-mutilation of the desktop.

by Anonymous on Thu 20th Feb 2003 20:51 UTC

I concede that the wording on the Debian site could be a little more clear. However, understandably, Debian currently only have the resources to officially support "stable", so for new users, stable is the best choice. Kinda like training wheels. You can rely that stable is extactly that (stable), and most problems (in my experience) are created by the user. Once you've got the ropes, apt-get dist-upgrade to something more adventurous.

Debian newby
by Racoon51 on Fri 21st Feb 2003 19:04 UTC

My first succesfull introduction to Linux was through Debian 3.0 since all other distributions could not install on my "not so vanilla" machine. I agree the installer could be better but nothing that even a newby as myself could not handle. I had to do the installation twice but the second was much better and correct to me...

What I like with Debian is that, even if not the most "bleeding edge" distribution, it work flawlessly. I was satisfied with Mozilla 1.0 until a friend showed me how to upgrade to 1.2.1 through a foreign repository. I did the same with his help again to install 1.0.1 and then I cleaned my machine of all the tools I was not going to use in years. All went perfectly.

In conclusion, it all depend on what you want to do with your machine. I want to surf the Net to read my mail, connect with newsgroups, check the weather and some Internet sites and mostly work on documents (I am a professional translator for the governement in Canada). Mozilla, and a few games are all I need and want and Debian is very very stable, something I could not get with the other bloatware that tryes to do everything instead of being only an OS.

Now, if only Debian could have a nice desktop to automatically access my CD-ROM, floppy drive and all my other partitions on my HD, I would be in paradise...

I use Checkinstall with Debian
by Terry on Sat 22nd Feb 2003 09:49 UTC

I run stable only, but if I want the latest and greatest, I do a ./configure, make, and then run checkinstall. Checkinstall is a program that will build an on-the-fly dpkg for you to install and uninstall at your discretion. I have not had any problems using it. I have overwritten my checkinstall packages with the "Offical" packages when they caught up with the version I was using.

The problem with the Capitalist Thinking
by fabio on Sat 22nd Feb 2003 20:14 UTC

The thing that strikes me most is the discussion about time. IN capitalism, there is a need to constantly update your software. Microsft does this, because if they don't "inovate" every 6 months, they'll stop making money. And that is just generally bad for any capitalist venture.

I consider Debian a socialist project. Now, in socialism, there is not a constant need to grow. Thus, one can take their time to make sure things work right. Really, why use the bleeding edge, if its only going to give you problems? Really! The best way to go, is definately the way that the Free Software development model is going. Its good to have people ahead of you, making real inovations, and other people behind, making sure it all works perfectly for what everyone needs.

Go Debian! Go GNU! Go Linux!!!
Cheers for the debian review!

building kernel packages
by ed on Tue 25th Feb 2003 22:37 UTC

make-kpkg is a really neat tool.

# apt-get install kernel-source-foo
# tar jxf kernel-source-foo.tbz
# cd kernel-source-foo
# make-kpkg kernel_image --config menu

retrives the source package from the archive, expands the archive to the required location, and then configures and builds a binary .deb containing your kernel, ready to go. If you want to use a kernel that isn't included in the archive, you can grab a tarball straight from and configure it using the same commands.