Debian GNU/Linux 5 "lenny" Review
Debian is one of the most prominent and old releases of all Linux distros, which differs a lot in it's release cycles. While Fedora is gearing up for its 14th release in 7 years, Debian has had as few as
five ten releases in its nearly 17-year history. Debian developers have traditionally gone for a feature-based release, wherein a new version is released.
Since it changes so infrequently it is a good stable base operating system, not only as a desktop or server, but also as a base for other derivative operating systems. While Ubuntu has snapped up all the attention of late, and is in fact the most popular Linux distribution available, it too is based on Debian. The popular .deb package format used by Ubuntu and many other distributions come from Debian.
Debian is possible one of the most comprehensive distribution you will find. Unlike popular distributions which only target major platforms such as x86 and x86_64 (i.e. 32 and 64bit Intel / AMD computers) Debian is available for nearly a dozen different platforms, including the ARM platform which is used in most mobiles.
Additionally Debain is a massive disto with over 20,000 packages! The complete disto is thus available on 5DVDs or 30CDs! Thankfully, you do not need to download them all in order to install Debian. Only the first disc is necessary, and other applications can be download and installed from the net. In fact you can download a minimal netinstall disc image which can be used to install Debian entirely over the internet. However since the Debian system is less likely to change in its lifetime, you may want to download all the software you need on discs images so it can easily be installed on multiple systems.
Another point about Debain, is that there are three parallel version available, the stable edition, which is Debian 5.0.6 "lenny", this edition is recommended for installation for most people as it is the most tested; secondly you have the testing version which is currently called "squeeze", this is what will eventually become Debian 6, and is updated frequently and has the latest software. Finally, there is the unstable edition, which as its name suggest is unstable, it is made of cutting edge software which hasn't been tested yet. While stable is the recommended version, it changes very rarely and after a few months your system might be running stable but outdated software. For example, Debian 5.0.6 will still install Firefox â€”not exactly Firefox but more of that laterâ€” 3 while 3.6 has been out for quite a while. The testing version works quite well though, and is the one which is used by many distros as a base. If you want a stable system and dont mind outdated software go for Debian 5 "lenny", if you want a more up to date, but slightly less stable system go for the testing version Debian "sqeeze", if you want to live on the edge â€”and fall off it frequentlyâ€” go for unstable. The testing version follows more of a rolling model, where there is no release point, you just keep getting the latest software.
We have tested the CD version of the "stable" Debian 5.0.6 version.
The Debain installer disc includes many different modes of installation, including an easy-to-use graphical installer. The installation disc boots up to display this cast array of options as a simple menu allowing you to select "Install", for installing Debian with a text-mode installer, "Graphical Install" for installing the system using a rich graphical wizard, the "Advanced options" sub-menu which extended install options such as expert, automated, graphical expert install etc; finally, the self explanatory "Help". We used and have captured the standard graphic install method.
The installer steps are pretty much what you expect, until you come to the time zone, in my case I failed to realize that during the language selection step, we had kept the default selection of "United States" due to which it was only showing the timezones in the US. Changing the selection to India did the trick, however the region selection and language selection should have been more clearly separated although they are quite related.
The partitioning tool for installing Debian is quite simple to use, the wizard-based interface lets you set up even advanced configurations such as an encrypted LVM-based install with ease. While creating paritions in the automated mode, Debain will give you the option to automatically create a separate /home or keep separate partitions for home, usr, var, and tmp. The default selection is to keep everything in one partition, but it is best to keep at least /home separate. Unfortunately if you already have another OS such as Windows set up on your system, the partitioning tool doesn't help much there. Additionally, if you want to manually partition your drive, the interface becomes too inefficient, since each little configuration parameter opens a new page in the wizard.
Once you are done with the partitioning, Debian will immediately start installing the base system, which includes only those packages without which your system will not function at all. At this point you only have a very basic command-line system. Before you can boot into this system though you will need to configure your root user password, and create a new user on your system, which is what the installer does next.
After this Debian will scan the disc your booted from for software, and ask if you have any additional discs from which you would like to install software. If download multiple discs this option can be useful to install software from the additional discs during installation. Or in the next step you can choose to use a network mirror to install additional software and updates. The mirror selection step lets you select your location so it can list mirrors near you. This wont help much with the kind of download speeds we have in India, however since you might be installing multiple many packages a nearby server can save time with lower latency.
Debian also includes something called "popularity-contest" a script which will anonymously send statistics about which packages you use the most to the Debian developers so they can know where to focus their efforts. You will have an option to participate in this during the installation.
Now we come to software selection. Here you can select the basic categories of the applications you wish to install. You have options such as "Desktop environment", "Web server", "Print Server" etc. Once you are done with your selection, Debian will continue on to the installation, which took only a few minutes for a standard installation including the desktop environment.
Finally, you configure your boot loader, which will by default install on your MBR. A couple of seconds late you are ready to boot into your fresh new Debian 5 install!
What we have described here is he basic installation process for the default "Graphical install" the installation process will of course vary for other options.
Debian's default installation took only a few seconds to boot, and displayed a sleek login screen. The default environment included with Debian is Gnome, however you are free to install KDE, Xfce, LXDE or any other desktop environment and window manager, they are all available in the repositories. The software selection installed by default is very basic but includes all the basic applications. Debian comes with a rebranded version of Firefox called Iceweasel, which looks and performs just the same.
As the creators of the APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) Debain supports the usual apt-get procedure for installing applications which is also used by Ubuntu. In addition it includes Synaptics package manager and also has an "Add/Remove Applications" tool for an easier way to install applications without needing to deal with individual packages. In installation and uninstallation procedure is quite smooth, and pretty much automated.
In usage Debian feels very smooth and stable, however the compromise you make is quite significant. One of the advantages of Linux over Windows, is that you can get newer features faster as they are developed, instead of in all at once every few years. However if robustness if your highest priority, this also means that the packages included in Debian have been heavily tested and will most likely not cause any problems.
Another thing of note about Debian GNU/Linux is its high conformance open source standards, which means proprietary applications such as the Flash Player etc. are not installed. As an alternative to Flash, Debian instead includes the open source Gnash Player. Gnash doesn't support newer Flash files well, and has trouble with most video sites. However, it is not very difficult to install these on your own. Even so it is not as smooth as experience as that on Ubuntu or Linux Mint.
While Debian is a great OS, it is difficult to recommend it as a desktop choice due to its long release cycles and poor support for proprietary applications and drivers. While the long release cycle itself is not a bad, it just means you are using an outdated system for the most part. For example, you will still be running the equivalent of the over two-years-old Mozilla Firefox 3 while the world moves on to Firefox 4. All this is of course only applicable to the stable Debian 5 "lenny" release, the testing release "squeeze" has software which is up to date.
Debian GNU/Linux 5 is highly recommended to people who want a robust system which simply works. If you are running a server, or otherwise need a platform which doesn't keep changing, Debian 5 is a brilliant choice. If however you want a more up-to-date system, it is preferable to use one of the many Debian-based distros such as Ubuntu, or use Debian testing.
Go to the next page for images of Debian installation and desktop.
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