Writing about Debian is not a simple thing. You know it’s the giant that has spawned pretty
much every other distro out there. It’s almost like a Roman Empire, almost a taboo.
Furthermore, it’s not a desktop distro per se. It’s more sort of a template you use to build
your platform. It’s also a SOHO server distro, therefore it more fits into the business
category, comparable to CentOS and similar.
Apart from RedHat 6, Debian 6
was the most awaited thing since Polio vaccine. It took ages to brew, and when it flowed, it
was … well. You will discover that in today’s review. As always, I’ll give you a human
perspective on what is ultimately the geekdom singularity, the one distro that is holier than
What to do, what to do?
I was also unsure what installation option to choose, as there are so many. Debian has
installer CDs and DVDs, the minimal net install that requires an Internet connection, and
there are even live versions, which you let you test before you choose.
I went for the first CD of the unending bunch of Debian packages. This meant no live session.
Furthermore, Debian is all about FOSS, so there was a good chance some of my proprietary
software might not be available until after the installation, if then.
OK, enough excuses, let’s make a scene. Tested: Debian 6
Debian installation – Nothing has changed
If you take a look at Debian 5
installation and the latest one, there is absolutely no difference. Nothing has changed. The
installer has four million steps, it’s clunky and too detailed. The installation is virtually
impossible if you are not a skilled and patient user.
The lack of progress is mind-boggling. Why would you not adapt the installationto modern
standards, make it a little more reasonable, a little easier?
Network configuration – A lesson is SM
If you want to install Debian without a network, you will hit a chain of problems. Without
network, you won’t be able to configure your repositories, including third-party and
proprietary stuff. Without those, there’s a good chance some of your hardware won’t work,
plus you won’t have codecs for most of the media out there, including Flash and MP3. Worst of
all, if you happen to be using a Wireless card that normally comes with closed-source
firmware, you won’t be able to get it running without quite a bit of extra effort. On a
laptop, this is a showstopper.
Indeed, one of the steps in the installation procedure was the network configuration. Debian
informed me it did not have the non-free for some of my hardware and asked me to load them
onto an external device.
Ideology aside, this is a big problem. One, my laptop is five years old, so finding firmware
for its devices might not be easy. Second, to get Debian to properly configure the network
card, I had to prowl about the Web on another computer, hunt for the right firmware, copy it
to an external device like a USB key, plug this thing into my laptop, mount the device
manually, then hope for the best.
And I did. Supposedly, it worked. But there was no network auto-configuration. I had to do it
myself, old school style and annoying.
Debian was not able to identify my routers. I had to manually type one of them in. But then,
things only got worse. Debian asked me for the WEP key. That’s right. Not WPA, WEP! In the
modern age of routers that can massage you while you download things, Debian asks for WEP.
Now, even if you’re willing to go to absolutely unjustified extent of manually configuring
your network with the same joy and ease that was prevalent in Year 1762, the system won’t
really let you make progress, because it asks for steam-powered technology.
So my network was nyet. OK, let’s continue the installation.
Long and boring
The partition setup was particularly annoying. If you recall my Bayanihan review just a few weeks
ago, the two are identical. Not bad, except Kalumbata is based on Debian 5, which was
released a century ago. The lack of change may please the veterans, but it is absolutely
pointless. The more clicks there are – the more chance for error. The more annoyed you are,
the faster you skip menus, paying less attention to critical little details that could
potentially ruin your machine.
After seven thousand clicks during the partition setup, the system finally started copying
files and took a merry one hour to do that, three to four times more than a typical
Eventually, Debian completed the installation. The dual-boot configuration with Windows 7
worked fine. Like Ubuntu, Debian now uses
GRUB2. Apart from the horrible
network setup, there were no other major ssues.
Using Debian – Boom, headshot!
This section is terribly short, I’m afraid. Debian booted quickly and presented me with a
simple, spartan desktop. As expected, my network devices were dormant, waiting for a magical
As always, I begin with a desktop screenshot. Not a simple deal, when you got no network to
easily transfer files, but no matter. I powered up the screenshot utility, expecting it to
rise and shine and illuminate happy pixels for me.
I got this lovely message:
I had to use a digital camera to capture this stellar fail. No network, no screenshot
utility, it’s a reality not worth living in. At this point, I just gave up. That was enough
pain for one afternoon. Oh wait, sorry, one last picture, the mighty lack of network; I was
so utterly annoyed that even my camera images came out ugly. Bhuye, bhuye.
Try to follow my train of thought. If any modern distro worth 700MB of data can boot from
live CD, make all my hardware work flawlessly, offer a seamless experience full of bright
colors and merry tunes as well as enrich my productivity with a wide range of useful
programs, why can’t Debian, too?
What is the point of having a millennium-long development cycle only to churn out a product
that merely has a higher kernel major and little else besides? OK, so now I’m booting 2.6
whatever, big deal, no one cares. It’s been a while since Debian 5 came out, and yet, it was
rather useful. Now, you expect version 6 to be at least that good. And possibly include some
of the technology changes that have happened since. Instead, Debian 6 Squeeze is even less
usable than its predecessor, which makes it all the worse.
Now stability … not having a screenshot utility is NOT stability. Furthermore, stability
does not mean freezing in place, either. RedHat 6 is a big change, but it manages to be
modern and relevant and stable. Speaking of stability, I had a kernel crash in Debian 5, so this whole
idea of rock-solidness is a bit overplayed.
If you ask me, you’re better off with the fifth generation of either Debian or CentOS than you’re with Squeeze. Sounds
weird, but that’s how it is. You may also want to wait for the latest edition of Scientific Linux, which aims
to be friendly and supported unto eternity. There’s also going to be a new CentOS release
sometime soon, so stay tuned. But remember, this is not a competition. Debian 6 simply
Debian 6 is a great disappointment. It’s totally out of place in the modern era. It could
make sense for purists and ideologists, people who hate proprietary software or have this
deep inner need to waste time configuring their machines, but for the absolute majority of
users, who see operating systems as a means and not an end, this is a distro you really don’t
P.S. Another interesting review you may want to read is the DistroWatch Weekly 393 Feature Story by
About the author:
Igor Ljubuncic aka Dedoimedo is the guy behind dedoimedo.com. He makes a living out of his
very hobby – Linux, and holds a bunch of certifications that make a nice pile in the bottom