Home > Debian > The Well-Tempered Debian Desktop The Well-Tempered Debian Desktop Eugenia Loli 2006-12-24 Debian 30 Comments Fresh from a positive experience installing Sarge on an old home server, the author of this review attempts to install a Debian Etch desktop on an old Thinkpad. How does it turn out? Surprisingly well. About The Author Eugenia Loli Ex-programmer, ex-editor in chief at OSNews.com, now a visual artist/filmmaker. Follow me on Twitter @EugeniaLoli 30 Comments 2006-12-24 10:00 pm jango long live debian 2006-12-24 10:13 pm leech I do love Debian, as the previous poster put. I did an attempt to dump Ubuntu and try Debian unstable over the weekend. Firstly, the artwork for Etch is superb. Unfortunately I am loving Gnome 2.16. So I tried to install it from the Experimental repositories. Well that didn’t fly too well, so I’m back to running Ubuntu’s Feisty Fawn (though it’s scary unstable right now, for the most part it works.) About the wireless. I know the last time I tried putting Etch on my laptop, it detected my Intel wireless card, but it did not install the firmware for it. So basically it was useless until I connected it up with the ethernet jack and downloaded the firmware and put it in the right place. Debian is not Ubuntu. It tries to be as ‘free’ as possible, though you can install these things usually from the non-free repository. Also Acroread, Mplayer, Skype, realplayer etc can all be set up with various repositories. http://www.apt-get.org is your friend. 2006-12-24 10:34 pm da_Chicken Unfortunately I am loving Gnome 2.16. Just out of curiosity, what’s so great about Gnome 2.16? I thought it was a minor update from 2.14 with very few feature changes. Then again, I don’t use Gnome so what do I know… 2006-12-25 9:41 am leech It’s the little things that count. http://www.gnome.org/start/2.16/notes/en/rnfeatures.html Minor, but useful. Also the question is, why run 2.14 when you can run 2.16? Leech 2006-12-25 2:00 pm gpierce There are apparently problems with gtk that haven’t been resolved to the satisfaction of the Debian developers: “After speaking to some people upstream, we got the impression that the GTK situation was way too risky to do a GTK 2.10 migration, with no hints on when the file selector problems would be solved. As of today, and two GTK 2.10 releases later, not all of the issues appear to have been resolved in this branch, so we may have chosen the right path. So, with this information in our hands, we described the whole situation to the release managers, explaining what the options were, and they, of course, had no doubt on what was better for etch.” http://oskuro.net/blog/freesoftware/gnome-2.16-etch-2006-10-06-21-4… 2006-12-24 10:24 pm DoctorPepper I still run Sarge on my file server, but I gave up trying to run vanilla Debian on my desktop machines. Unstable (Sid) is well, unstable. Unless you are a Debian developer, you should not run that on a desktop. Testing (Etch, for now) is a bit more stable than Sid, but you can still get burned. I know, it happened to me. I did an “apt-get update && apt-get upgrade” when I shouldn’t have, and my desktop was rendered useless. I’ve finally settled on using Ubuntu for my desktop Linux. Not that Ubuntu is better or worse than any of the other Debian derivatives, just that it appeals to me. When Etch gets released, I will probably back up my server, then install (or upgrade) my Sarge installation. As for the desktop, I’m probably going to stick with Ubuntu. 2006-12-25 12:49 pm lord_rob I’ve been using Debian Sid for 4 years, never experienced any unrecoverable error. That said, if you want to use Sid, you have to be careful. Most of the time, this distro is stable, but sometimes it can break very badly. Actually you *can* use sid on a desktop, but *only if* you know what you are doing. Also, there’s apt-listbugs (apt-get install apt-listbugs). This programs checks the bug tracking system for every bug related to packages you are about to install/upgrade. If there’s an important bug related to this package, apt-listbugs displays this bug and asks you if you really want to continue. Very useful. 2006-12-24 10:26 pm jaylaa I don’t know why people say things like it’s better for servers or lame jokes like “Ubuntu means ‘I can’t install Debian'”. I tried it for a while. The install was easy and it made a fine desktop. The only reason I stopped using it was because I got impatient for Gnome 2.16. And I’ve been assured by longtime Debian users that it usually doesn’t take this long to get a new Gnome release into Sid, it’s just that the imminent release of Etch is a priority over getting huge packages like Gnome into unstable. 2006-12-25 12:01 am da_Chicken This reviewer used the minimal net-install CD but it might be even easier to download the first CD image of the whole set from the weekly builds. (http://cdimage.debian.org/cdimage/weekly-builds/ ) This first CD should be enough for installing a desktop system with some of the most often used applications, and there’s no need to download more stuff just to get the desktop up and going. The default desktop in Debian Etch is Gnome, but just a couple of days ago there was an announcement that there are also alternative versions of this first CD image — one for KDE and another for those of us who prefer XFCE. So now Debian basically offers the same functionality as Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Xubuntu: just download one CD image and you’re ready to go. http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel-announce/2006/12/msg00006.html And, yeah, the reviewer forgot to type “installgui” in the first screen of the installer. That would have given him the new pretty GTK2+ GUI installer. http://www.thecodingstudio.com/opensource/linux/screenshots/index.p… In other news, Andreas Barth has posted a new release update today that lists the main blockers for release. http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel-announce/2006/12/msg00008.html 2006-12-25 12:27 am jango are you sure that the default DE for Debian is Gnome. Kde works quite well, in fact i know quite a few package maintainers who wouldn’t touch Gnome with a 10-foot pole. there is a reason, Gnome is far too simple, for developers who usually want fine grained control, Gnome is intolerable. I am quite sure Debian is desktop neutral, it has no default, i could be wrong though. but i don’t use the normal cd images i use the Netinstall images, so things might be a little different i always use the Netintstall image and i have to choose my DE. 2006-12-25 12:36 am da_Chicken Yes, I’m quite sure that Gnome will be the default desktop in Etch. If you chose the “desktop” task in Sarge, you got both KDE and Gnome. But now you only get Gnome. Read the review if you don’t believe me — that guy goes with the default option and he gets only Gnome. He has to install KDE with apt-get. 2006-12-25 1:36 am Anonymous Penguin Well, if you use tasksel (software selection) and check the option “Desktop environment”, the net-installer will default to Gnome, no doubt about that. 2006-12-25 12:02 am ghostdawg Debian Sid has always been my main desktop OS for awhile. I’ve tried other distros including debian based but always end up coming back to pure debian. I just keep an eye on what it wants to remove during apt-get upgrade/dist-upgrade. Thnx. Edited 2006-12-25 00:12 2006-12-25 4:45 am spikeb So debian not only has a single cd desktop install, but three flavors eh? they should publicize this more. 2006-12-25 6:46 pm Oliver … or people should inform themselves sometimes 🙂 2006-12-25 5:15 am jimveta Oh man: http://www.desktoplinux.com/files/article109/debian-18.jpg .. no offence or insult intended.. but I feel.. flabbergasted? or even more.. amazed? I don’t think any desktop HIG could’ve forseen that, haha.. It’s all good. Or maybe there are lot more folks who fill their desktops with icons like that than I’m aware off, lol. 2006-12-25 9:50 am leech I noticed that too, and it quite frightened me. Hell on my Gnome desktop I don’t even bother with a Computer and Home Icon on my laptop. No point in ruining a perfectly good wallpaper. I wonder if the article writer realizes this isn’t windows and that you can drag any icon and put it on a panel as a launcher. Granted you can kind of do that in Windows, it’s just not as intuitive. Seriously, I have no idea why anyone would need that many launchers. 2006-12-25 5:42 pm DoctorPepper Hehehe. Reminds me of some of the desktops of people I work with. In all that chaos, I have to wonder how long it takes them to find the launcher for the app they want to run! 🙂 2006-12-25 9:57 am blixel Just a typical KDE desktop isn’t it? A big, ugly, cluttered mess. 2006-12-25 9:00 am PipoDeClown mine is 300MHz P2 compared to reviewers 600MHz P3 so is there any distro recommended for my really old and slow laptop? any distro that can impress me for its speed? 2006-12-25 9:25 am garymax Try Slackware or Vector Linux. 2006-12-25 9:39 am Doc Pain “mine is 300MHz P2 compared to reviewers 600MHz P3” I use nearly the same (P2 333 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 6 GB HDD) setting at work along with an old laptop (AMD 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 6 GB HDD); burns CDs, runs OpenOffice, plays videos and even DooM. 🙂 “so is there any distro recommended for my really old and slow laptop? any distro that can impress me for its speed?” Maybe you like to install FreeBSD and add XFCE (or Fluxbox or even Windowmaker) as window manager / desktop environment. Except the already mentioned distributions Slackware and Vector Linux (and additionally maybe Arch Linux) newer (actual) Linux distributions won’t be usable on the described machine. You rather have to setup a system on your own instead of using a preconfigured high end KDE based distribution. (PS. I still own an old 486/80 IBM Thinkpad and a Toshiba T2130 which run FreeBSD – and still are working fine for their special purposes.) Edited 2006-12-25 09:42 2006-12-26 8:24 am porcel Your post implies that FreeBSD uses considerably less resources than Linux running KDE, an argument which is simply absurd. If you need a nimble distribution, use Damn Small Linux or set up a regular distribution and pair it down a little. In any case, if you bought a little more RAM, KDE would run fine. I am running KDE on a P-II 300 mgz with 384MB of RAM. It’s not the fastest set-up, but it is not slow either. RAM is your biggest limitation, not processor. 2006-12-27 2:24 am Doc Pain “Your post implies that FreeBSD uses considerably less resources than Linux running KDE, an argument which is simply absurd.” No, I didn’t want to say something like this. I made the experience that FreeBSD does manage heavy load situations better than some Linusi, but that’s just an opinion which is a few years old. Linux has been developed since then, so has FreeBSD. Be sure: I won’t say something like the above. It’s true that KDE consumes more ressources than Fluxbox. But that’s not very OS related. “If you need a nimble distribution, use Damn Small Linux or set up a regular distribution and pair it down a little.” These are possible ways. There’s also TOMSRTBT, a Linux you can load via one (1) 1,44 MB disk – very useful for recovery operations on systems that don’t provice CD-ROM access. “In any case, if you bought a little more RAM, KDE would run fine. I am running KDE on a P-II 300 mgz with 384MB of RAM. It’s not the fastest set-up, but it is not slow either.” Excellent. I know these situations. It takes some time to start an application, but as soon as it runs, it runs well and stable and keeps definitely usable. But, if you don’t need a desktop environment, why use one? I won’t say anything against KDE because it has its right to exist, but I prefer XFCE for average users and Windowmaker for the more professional ones. And surely, Windowmaker also needs some ressources. “RAM is your biggest limitation, not processor.” With up-to-date Linux distributions, HDD space could be another problem. If the standard installation takes 2 GB and you only have a 300 MB hard disk… Especially for upgrading older notebooks RAM is a big problem, because the special modules are often hard to get or very expensive. So it’s hard to make things run with 4 MB RAM. 2006-12-25 7:52 pm Anonymous Penguin Debian with XFCE4 should run fine. And please remember that RAM is more important than CPU when you use Linux. 2006-12-25 10:30 am jango sorry guys, i stand corrected it appears that Gnome is the defualt. i can’t figure out why though, other than the FSF brotherhood with Gnome, Gnome is far too simplistic for most debian users, who choose debian for its power and fine grained control. That said i don’t think KDE is inheritently complicated it is simple as well as being powerful. But then again i guess we need Gnome for its purposes, i guess not everyone is as high end as we are. By we I mean the Linux crowd, we are the most aware and most able people, normal people can barely use Windows let alone install an alternative OS. 2006-12-25 8:03 pm h3rman But then again i guess we need Gnome for its purposes, i guess not everyone is as high end as we are. By we I mean the Linux crowd, we are the most aware and most able people, normal people can barely use Windows let alone install an alternative OS. Please! Unless you are joking or being sarcastic or something, may I, as a Linux (oh yeah, and Gnome) user, PLEASE distance myself from this display of arrogant, embarrassing hubris? You are giving Linux and many of its users a BAD name. Sheesh. 2006-12-26 1:55 am samad Over the summer my Apple laptop was stolen. I opted to purchase a custom-built x86 desktop with Intel Pentium D. I’ve tried to stick to a 64-bit environment, even though the performance in a 64-bit environment is not noticebly any better than a 32-bit environment. Debian is a great choice for those who obsess over what exactly gets installed on your computer (like me). I have not had any problems with installing 64-bit Etch even though I have built-in SATA support on my motherboard. (Some of my friends had significant problems with Windows XP installations on SATA hard drives.) I love how I have total control over every single package on my computer. I installed xfce + x.org, and total memory usage is under 100mb when I startx. Even though figuring out every single piece of software you want can be arduous, configuring your own system that is so low-resource is definitely a benefit. The only problems I had were running commercial programs (Acrobat because there isn’t a decent gtk+-only pdf viewer, 32-bit FireFox + Flash, and RealPlayer). It required a lot of time to setup: creating a 32-bit environment with debootstrap, then chrooting to that environment to run the desired program; writing special scripts for /usr/share/applications that’ll chroot correctly and run the desired program. All in all Etch for 64-bit is very good, and it is good for people who love total control over your system. 2006-12-26 4:23 pm moleskine Seems a very fair article. I recently reinstalled Debian on my PC and did a first install on my laptop (replacing Ubuntu Edgy). Used Testing in both cases. Apart from Debian not using the no-root-sudo Ubuntu system, the only substantial difference I came across was that Debian doesn’t offer pre-bundled and compiled sets of kernel modules, as Ubuntu does. So getting wireless and 3D working required a little more work, but only a little. Once up and running, though, Debian is really fast (ime), creamy-smooth and has more configuration stuff than you might think if you run the gkDebconf gui front-end to Debian’s config system. Everything is working normally on both my systems. I’ve long been a fan of Debian. Once you’ve sussed out the Debian way, so to speak, there’s really no reason to use any other distro, imho. It would be ironic indeed if improvements to Debian’s installer and desktop presentation generally caused the thundering herd to start thundering away from Ubuntu and back to Debian. 2006-12-27 4:36 pm l3v1 Surprisingly well Talk about objectivity. Now, I have installed Debian versions on more types of machines and laptops over the years than I could count on my fingers. UNsurprisingly, I never met an unsolvable problem, although there have been some cases which needed more attention and sweat that I would’ve imagined beforehand. Yet, given the trials with other distros, I am quite certain other distros would’ve caused me similar amounts of sweat, plus some other sour pills. Surprisingly, I still bother to react to such lines as above. Unsurprisingly, I’m trying hard not to, yet it seems I fail repeatedly.