Home > Debian > Knee Deep in Debian: A Debian Newcommer Review Knee Deep in Debian: A Debian Newcommer Review Submitted by Jon Gaudette 2003-03-19 Debian 41 Comments Odius from Digital Drip has posted an article about his first-time experiences with Debian. The article has two parts, part one is Debian Installation and part two is Customization. About The Author Eugenia Loli Ex-programmer, ex-editor in chief at OSNews.com, now a visual artist/filmmaker. Follow me on Twitter @EugeniaLoli 41 Comments 2003-03-19 6:14 pm When I tried debian I thought it was alright, but the extremely old packages really bothered me. I know that you can change some config file to get to servers with newer stuff, but at the time I was just too disappointed with the whole thing. Oh well, if I was going to run a server I would more than likely do it with debian because of the easy updates and because you know what you are getting is stable and very well tested. Old packages can be a pain on a desktop machine, but for a server they are perfect (as long as security patches are handled quickly). 2003-03-19 7:05 pm If I cannot get it working, then no real newbie can do it. I know Debian is not newbie friendly, but if the best technology is on Debian, then it should be made available to all else quickly. 2003-03-19 7:12 pm if your looking to try debian out then i really reccomend Libranet. you can try the 2.0 version out for free on there site http://www.libranet.com. its got debian underneath but has a better installer, and gui tools. 2003-03-19 7:17 pm You can use: dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xfree86 With this you can configure it. Things are not that easy to find out, but after all I still find Debian the best distribution. Just changing “stable” to “testing” in /etc/apt/sources.list will provide you much more up-to-date packages, though security fixes are only available for “stable”. After changing this one should do “aptitude update; aptitude dist-upgrade” You might have read about apt-get, but aptitude is really better. It remebers which packages are only used to fulfill dependencies, and removes them automatically if they are not needed anymore. 2003-03-19 7:18 pm Too bad I can’t read the article. When I click on the links, it takes me to some gaming site with no mention of Linux or Debian anywhere… 2003-03-19 7:41 pm Daan said :”You can use: dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xfree86 With this you can configure it. ” Well, this is not the kind of anwser I’d like to have… What is your exact problem when configuring Xfree ? It doesn’t launch ? It hangs out ? What shows the XFfree log ( in /var/log/Xfree something, if I remember, I am currently under windows. Xfree is a real pain to configure. I had a lot of hang out, which made me to reboot, because of bad USB configuration ! Not to speak about mouse problems; the only solution was to buy a microsoft mouse ( kind of funny, for the 100% GPL distro Debian ). But after having solved these problems, I tried other distro, like mandrake or red hat, I was too dispointed. Once you know a little how configuring, it is hard to change. And if you know a little about how computers work, and have a few friends which know debian, you should give it a try. With a testing debian, you can have some decent versions ( in fact, I don’t like gnome or KDE, so it is not a problem for me not to have KDE 3 or GNOME 2 ). 2003-03-19 7:42 pm For a general purpose system, setting up plain Debian seems like a lot of unnecessary work. Had the author gone with Knoppix/knx-hdinstall (which is of course based on Debian), hardware detection and modprobing would have been automatic and SCSI emulation would have been preconfigured, so his CD-RW would have worked by default. In addition, Knoppix would have at least configured X to use the free nv drivers so that startx would actually work. 2003-03-19 7:45 pm Works here… 😮 2003-03-19 7:48 pm I tried Debian a little while ago, too. It was too much work, and didn’t seem to me as a good match for a desktop system. That’s why I then tried Gentoo and never went back. The power of apt (portage is even more powerful) with the customizability of LFS! 2003-03-19 7:59 pm “When I tried debian I thought it was alright, but the extremely old packages really bothered me. I know that you can change some config file to get to servers with newer stuff, but at the time I was just too disappointed with the whole thing.” Are you kidding? You took the time to install the distro and then you were simply TOO DAMN lazy to rtfm to change your sources from ‘stable’ to ‘unstable’? You realize, all you needed to do was add 2 freakn letters to /etc/apt/sources.list… Seriously, why tf are you even bothering using GNU/Linux at all if you are that lazy and incompetant? I hear all these people babbling about how debian is simply too difficult to setup. Perhaps Debian takes a little more work out of the gates to get running how you want it than another distro, but the Debian system is so fine tuned that you will NEVER need to reinstall. I am SO sick of people making the difficulty of installation such a huge issue. The fact is if you read the documentation it really isn’t too difficult. And more importantly, installation is a MINUTE part of the operating system. You do it ONE time and never again. What is REALLY important is how easy it is to maintain the distro and upgrade software. This is where debian absolutely destroys every distro under the sun. So perhaps Debian is somewhat difficult to install (or maybe people are just scared off by not seeing pretty graphics during installation), but once installed you will NEVER need to install it again. And after a little reading you will find it is the greatest. operating system. ever. BTW this isn’t directed at the article, I thought that it was pretty good. This is more towards the comments. 2003-03-19 8:42 pm I tried debian a long while ago, when i tried it to install a set of packages like gnome and all the libs u had to use dselect, that thing just plain sucks, or use dpkg wich is not much different to rpm giving u problems beacuse of dependencies. I went back to redhat after like a day of having debian, too much a hassle it was. I recently saw debian on my bro’s pc, my god what a difference aptitude makes. Altough i still prefer gentoo, the only drawback to gento is downloading sources and having the time to compile them, that’s a big advantage debian has to gentoo. 2003-03-19 9:03 pm As I have said above, and as said in the article, it can be a bit difficult to configure everything right. Though for me all hardware except the soundcard were autodetected. As my soundcard is a soundblaster card, I could just add “sb” to /etc/modules, reboot et voila. Aptitude is really wonderful. Just aptitude install kde, et voila, or aptitude install gnome and it’s done. I switched to Debian because of all the depencency problems I had with SuSE, and they all vanished. The only problem was Java 1.4. Debian does not come with it due to license problems, and I needed this version to run some program. Now after installing, which went fine, it complained about libstdc++-2.1.so or such being not found. Recently Debian included this, but the problem was not solved, it came with version 2.2. But after making a link everything works fine now. In my opinion, Knoppix would be the ultimate distribution if it had a better installer. It is really easy to use, so should the installer be. I want to click “Install” on my desktop, select with a slider how much free space I want in Windows and Linux, click “Install” and it should be done. In Advanced mode it might ask more, but it needs to have such a simple installer. Then you could convince even the most stupid computer user. What You See Is What You Get: first see it in action and get it for real with just three clicks with the mouse. 2003-03-19 9:27 pm I like it. You may have to READ the /usr/doc’s a bit to get some stuff working. It’s not for everyone (just yet) but it’s getting there. “apt” (package system) rocks. 2003-03-19 9:37 pm Many users complain of installing gnome/kde, well instead of ‘apt-get install gnome kde’ try ‘apt-get install gnome-core’ and ‘apt-get install kdebase kdelibs’… BTW Libranet is excellent for those wanting to try out Debian without the hassle of configuring X, CD-RW hardware, USB peripherals, etc. For some reason the iso is pulled off the main site, need to use filemirrors.com and search for items starting with ‘libranet’… And finally, if dependency is an issue, then WAIT for like a few days, and it usually get’s fixed. I’d rather work on my pc while I wait instead of killing my cpu trying to ‘optimize’ my software… 2003-03-19 11:17 pm Debian != Old Really? Well, I am currently looking right at the packages.debian.org/unstable/x11 web page, and what do I see here? KDE 2.2.25! Excellent! This is so cutting edge compared to my current KDE 3.1. I’m so happy I could piss myself. Oh wait here’s another gem on http://packages.debian.org/unstable/x11/kde. Let’s have a look here, kdelibs3, NOT AVAILABLE! This perfect because I don’t like KDE3 apps anyways. Seriously, why tf are you even bothering using GNU/Linux at all if you are that lazy and incompetant? I’ll fess up to lazy, but I am in no way incompetent. I have gentoo running just fine with all the newest packages I please. You on the other hand are telling me that KDE 2.2.25 is new. On top of that, I praised Debian for stability and attention to doing things right (if slow). Next time you decide to flame someone, educate yourself first. Debian == Old. 2003-03-19 11:28 pm By looking a little more precisely to the page you cite you would have seen that almost all kde packages are at version 3.1.1 (not event officially out !). The metapackage kde is still not at this version because some kde packages are still waiting approval from the mysterious ftpmasters . So please educate yourself instead of bashing others. On the subject of the installation i really suggest all of you try Morphix ( http://morphix.org ). It is a modular knoppix that is even more current. The last combined iso i tried had kde3.1 and Xfree 4.3.0 and it is quite easy to install on the harddrive (look for an icon on the desktop, i missed it at first ). 2003-03-19 11:59 pm So please educate yourself instead of bashing others. I didn’t bash anyone. I just replied to someone who was flaming me. Anyways, I apologize if I was wrong about the Debian packages being old. I suppose it is just one of those myths that is perpetuated by the fact that on initial install (if you don’t edit your sources file) you get old stuff. 2003-03-20 12:23 am ‘ I just replied to someone who was flaming me. Anyways, I apologize if I was wrong about the Debian packages being old. I suppose it is just one of those myths that is perpetuated by the fact that on initial install (if you don’t edit your sources file) you get old stuff.’ It’s too bad that you go around spewing out myths that you have heard and accepted as fact.. it’s a vicious cycle. 2003-03-20 1:01 am It’s too bad that you go around spewing out myths that you have heard and accepted as fact.. it’s a vicious cycle. Well, last I checked, Debian stable came with KDE 2 and Gnome 1.4. If that isn’t old software, I don’t know what is. I mean, KDE 2/Gnome 1.4, what’s the friggin’ point anymore? I could understand the need for rock-solid stability on the server platform, but KDE/Gnome are not a server applications and I haven’t heard of any major stability problems with either one. 2003-03-20 1:09 am Debian != Old Really? Well, I am currently looking right at the packages.debian.org/unstable/x11 web page, and what do I see here? KDE 2.2.25! Excellent! This is so cutting edge compared to my current KDE 3.1. I’m so happy I could piss myself. Package: kdebase 4:3.1.1-1 (unstable) http://packages.debian.org/unstable/x11/kdebase.html KDE 3.1.1, u read well. Even more cutting edge than yours. Oh wait here’s another gem on http://packages.de bian.org/unstable/x11/kde. Let’s have a look here, kdelibs3, NOT AVAILABLE! This perfect because I don’t like KDE3 apps anyways. It’s named kdelibs4 on debian. Dickhead. Next time you decide to flame someone, educate yourself first. Debian == Old. Next time u use your keyboard, get INFORMED. 2003-03-20 1:13 am In the past, I installed and used Mandrake, Red Hat, LFS and Gentoo. In the near future, I would like to try Debian. Since it is for a desktop, I plan to use sid. So my question is for Debian user: how stable/unstable is sid ? What should be my expectation on its stability ? Thank you. 2003-03-20 1:42 am some unofficial deb packages available at http://www.apt-get.org most are about as up-to-date as you can get. 2003-03-20 1:51 am Debian ‘unstable’ isn’t unstable. It’s just as ‘unstable’ as any distro which offers only the cutting edge. Debian has the advantage of offering a few branches to people based on their needs. For the desktop use ‘unstable’. For server use I’d recommend stable. I don’t think I really need to address Darius, as he obviously didn’t bother to read the post above him which points out that kde 3.x is in sid. And why lower yourself to name calling? Maybe you need to grow up and educate yourself on an issue before you attempt to argue about it. 2003-03-20 1:56 am Wow, yerma and Ced confirm another popular “myth” about Debian. It’s user are… well, the comments speak for themselves. 2003-03-20 2:01 am Debian’s main plus is the fact that packages are costomized especially for debian. If you don’t wish to use these very stable packages, then you can simply go with “sarge” or “sid”. I currently have KDE 3.1 installed. I have most every new package I could want (with the exception of XFree86 4.3, although I do have 4.2.1). Debian is pleanty modern enough for me. And I know every package I install will be stable. Compare that to my instances of running Red Hat, or SuSE, or any any “cutting edge” distro. They simply don’t compare. I have never had Debian crash. SuSE used to crash daily. Red Hat, the same. My Debian box was running for just over 8 months without a restart, the only reason I took it down was to do some unneeded but very wanted maintainence (a quick kernel upgrade). Debian is by far the most user freindly and best featured OS I have ever used. You may disagree, but thats simply cuz you don’t know how to do something that you wish to get accomplished. It took me only maybe a week to learn all I needed to make debian a pleasent experiance. I had been using Windows for about 5 years, and still hadn’t gotten it to be a pleasent. You compare the two. In the mean time, if Debian doesn’t work for you, who cares, its just an OS, all OS’s are a means to the same end. Don’t like Debian? Use something easy, and thus less user freindly (by user freindly, I mean does what you want, when you want to do it. Something Windows simply can’t claim!!). If someone doesn’t like Debian, I would recommend Xandros, its just an easy version of Debian with some Windows additions etc. And while your at it, you might as well go on back to Windows. Its pretty much an OS for the brain dead, and that is what you must be if you can’t figure out how to use Debian!! 2003-03-20 2:30 am Newcomer has only one m, not two. 2003-03-20 2:33 am ‘Wow, yerma and Ced confirm another popular “myth” about Debian. It’s user are… well, the comments speak for themselves.’ What?! YOU are the one who resorted to calling me a ‘dickhead.’ YOU are the immature one here. Way to address the issue with that reply. Can’t admit when you’re wrong, eh? That’s a pretty bad character flaw. 2003-03-20 2:44 am I don’t think I really need to address Darius, as he obviously didn’t bother to read the post above him which points out that kde 3.x is in sid. Yes, I know it does. My point is (as you pointed out also), you should probably use Stable for a server and Unstable for a desktop, so this leads to two questions … 1) Instead of Stable and Unstable (which is a bit misleading IMHO if Unstable isn’t really all that unstable), why not call them Server/Desktop versions respectively? 2) Does anybody actually use either KDE/Gnome on a server anyway? Seems like if you actually needed a GUI on a server, you’d probably stick with one of the lighter window managers. 2003-03-20 3:11 am For those that think Unstable etc is missleading: Sid = Unstable Sarge = Current testing Woody = Current stable I would like to apologize for my earlier statements. They were not meant to be eleetist or anything, they are simply the truth. I find it difficult to beleive people that can install Debian cannot read enough into the distro to find out simple facts that would make your experiance better. Its laziness that makes Debian unusable, not difficulty. Just learn a little about the Distro and your Linux life will be ALOT easier!! Also, I never claimed to be an English major, I apologize for that also… 2003-03-20 4:01 am As a current user of debian unstable, I have to say, it really *is* unstable in the following sense. If I want to install package X, but that day the packages are broken. Too bad for me. (This happens quite a bit) I STILL don’t have aptitude, even though I run sid. Why? Broken packages. Weren’t fixed for something like 2 weeks, so I gave up trying to install it. Maybe I’ll try again tomrrow. Also, I don’t have sound. Why? Well the alsa packages in sid don’t seem to work very well. And don’t tell me they work for you, since maybe you got them working before they broke. They compile, but don’t work, have many symbol errors. The point is, unstable really is somewhat unstable. What other distros have is bleeding edge but consistent packages. You won’t get these temporary outages that can last from a short while to a long while. The stable branch is in fact old. Running unstable is similar to running redhat 8.1 beta. It’s fairly stable, but it’s not by any means *stable*. On the flip side, I have to say, they really are very good at keeping the latest packages in there, when things work of course. 2003-03-20 4:25 am yerma wrote: > [snip] but once installed you will NEVER need to install > it again. Wait a minute. Is this still the case when debian stable moves on to gcc 3.2? I mean, wouldn’t there be a very large number of packages (containing objects compiled from C++ code) that would require updating? In this scenario, wouldn’t you end up in a situation where different installed packages each require some lib — one version pre-gcc3.2 and one gcc3.2-or-newer? Seems like at this point a reinstall would be necessary, no? 2003-03-20 5:28 am just an apt-get update && apt-get upgrade. 2003-03-20 6:58 am ‘Wait a minute. Is this still the case when debian stable moves on to gcc 3.2? I mean, wouldn’t there be a very large number of packages (containing objects compiled from C++ code) that would require updating? In this scenario, wouldn’t you end up in a situation where different installed packages each require some lib — one version pre-gcc3.2 and one gcc3.2-or-newer? ‘ You can have various versions of libs installed in debian at the same time, such that packages don’t break. 2003-03-20 9:50 am I’ve installed Debian twice, both times it was harder than the 5 or so times I’ve installed SuSE. If I was installing Linux on corporate machines I’d probably use SuSE or Redhat and install APT4RPM thus getting the best of both worlds, complete hardware detection and apt. Or I could use the Knoppix script to install debian and thus enjoy knoppix’s excellent hardware detection. Or perhaps Libranet.. Otherwise I haven’t used Debian extensively, it seems to have decent configuration tools for all packages that allow you to access some of the more obscure configuration options ithout having to learn yet another config file syntax. Also Debian packages have a tendency to be dated. They only recently put KDE 3.1 in unstable, before that it was KDE 2. I remember installing Debian at Christmas and being amazed that even with the unstable branch I couldn’t go beyond Mozilla 1.0.1 or KDE 2. If they do this to make sure everything works then I admire their reasons and I can vouch for the distribution. It’s stable certainly. 2003-03-20 11:38 am This is probably what my next distro is going to be (currently using Mandrake) I’m tired of RPM hell and want a Debian based system. I was thinking about Xandros, but after reading how Knoppix knx-hddinstall makes installing debian easy, that’s the way I’m going to go. Who wants to bother with configuring everything by hand if Knoppix will do it all for me automatically? 2003-03-20 11:39 am Or install Morphix, it’s based on Knoppix but it has Gnome 2.2. Put CD in computer, computer boots up in Linux, double click the icon on your desktop that says “GTK installer” and a graphical install script starts. Well… installation is almost graphical, only the disk partitioner uses text mode. (A graphical disk partitioner is under development) At the end you have a Debian installation. Easy enough? 2003-03-20 2:29 pm yerma wrote: > You can have various versions of libs installed in debian > at the same time, such that packages don’t break. Yes, but what about the case where 2 packages both require the same version number of libfoo.so.5 — *but* package_1 requires that the lib be compiled by gcc3.2 (or newer) and package_2 requires that it be compiled by and older version of gcc (I understand that the C++ “ABI” (?) has changed for recent versions of gcc)? 2003-03-20 5:25 pm I’ve used Debian at various times. The last time, I installed it on my home server/HTPC, since it seemed more suited to remote management than Mandrake, which I usually use on the desktop (upgrading RPMs from the commandline has always been a chore in Mandrake, and it seems eventually something always breaks in Mandrake Update). So, this little bookpc that’s my server has no serial ports, and I need some to hook up to various equipmet I have, like a UPS. I had bought a USB to serial converter. Worked OOTB with Mandrake. I installed Debian, and get no joy. I check the kernel configuration, and it seemed to be enabled. Just to make sure, I installed the kernel source packages, configured in the support for the adapter, and installed the kernel. Still no joy. I go through every option I can think of, start trying to figure out if some hardware had died on me, rebuild the kernel a half-dozen times in case there was some non-obvious dependancies. Still nothing. The kernel modules load up just fine, but the system doesn’t recognize the adapter. Every piece of documentation in the kernel docs directory, every piece of source seems to indicate that it should work. This had taken up about a day and half of my time. In desperation, I download virgin kernel code from kernel.org, and go into the driver directory… and find my first clue. There were extra files in the virgin kernel directory vs. the Debian one. Finally, I google on one of the missing file names and Debian, and come up with a posting to some Debian mailing list. Then all was revealed. It turns out, for the driver for the adapter to function, some firmware code needs to be uploaded by the system to the adapter at boot time. Now, the manufacturer allows this firmware code to be distributed for use with the Linux kernel, but they put restrictions on reverse engineering the code (so, for example, their competitors can’t use the firmware in their own products). So, you can get the binary modules, but you can;t have the source code to the firmware. Since the binary files are in the official kernel, Linus and company apprently bought into this. However, the restrictions on distributing the binary modules stuck in the craw of the Debian folk, who are among the most vocal free (as in speech) advocates of any Linux distribution. The message I found was basically the start of an e-mail thread about how these files violated the GPL and couldn’t be allowed. There was quick agreement about this, and according to the e-mail list, the offending binary files were deleted from the debian kernel packages. Now, I’m not saying that removing the firmware code was the wrong thing to do. This is their distribution and they can decide whatever rules they want. However, *nowhere* was this decision documented in the debian kernel package. They even left castrated kernel driver code in the source tree, and distributed a broken binary kernel module that couldn’t possibly work. It seems silly that having made the decision, that they simply didn’t come out and say “this doesn’t work by design.” I posted a message on a Debian disussion group, asking if maybe they could let others know about this change to the kernel, given that I had wasted a day and a half of my time over something that really should have been documented someplace. The replies I got were basically “screw off and go back to Microsoft,” or “go yell at the fascist pig dogs who copyrighted the firmware.” This is why I’d hesitate to use Debian ever again. If your ideology requires you to give people broken software, and you’re not even going to tell them why it’s broken, I’m afraid I simply don’t trust you to run my system. 2003-03-20 8:42 pm Let’s just say I update+upgrade debian daily, and have for 1.5 years on 4 different boxes, 2 of which I am maintaining for friends remotely (servers). I have never had a broken dependency except on one of the desktops which runs cutting edge gnome2 stuff, and the problem was fixed the next day. 2003-03-20 9:07 pm Wow. Thank you for the tale Mocker. Was this all over getting one of those external serial-to-USB adapters working? What brand adapter? I ask because I just bought a used powerbook g3 (“firewire” aka “Pismo”) and would like to plug my ergonomic keyboard into it using a “Y-mouse”-brand ps/2-to-USB adapter. I also just ordered my Debian Woody PPC CD’s from Abexia, so I’m thinking that I may run into the very same problem you did. 2003-03-20 9:33 pm This was a Keyspan USB to serial adapter. I’m not sure how common it is to have firmware that needs to be uploaded to the USB adapter. In addition, it’s probably unusual that that firmware needs to reside in the kernel driver itself. The one other device I have that needs some sort of firmware upload is my USB scanner. I didn’t try that under Debian, but last time I got it to work under Linux, the SANE folks made you extract a file from the Windows driver so it could be uploaded. In that case, I imagine the Debian people wouldn’t have to break the driver. It would just be up to you to accept the use of non-GPLed code, and fish the firmware file out of a Windows install. The incident I mention above was over a year ago… I imagine that some sort of fix was done in the interim to do a better job of handling this mess. I believe that the kernel module and its firware could be distributed in the “non-free” branch of the Debian packages… Pity, too. I just once again nuked an old version of Mandrake from the server and installed Gentoo. I found Gentoo to be too much of a PITA to configure, though… kept having to recompile the kernel because I left something out. After hours of trying to get NAT up and running, I gave up and fell back on usning Mandrake 9.0. I still feel that Debian would be a good choice over Mandrake, but I just don’t trust them now.