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Debian etch (p)review


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Debian etch (p)review


Debian is one of the great legends when talking about Linux. One of the oldest distros out there, 100% OSS, no company has control over it, biggest repositories of all distros and possibly the biggest number of developers, too, only for expert users / geeks. Oh... wait... did I say only for geeks?


Years ago, no one would have recommended a Debian installation to anyone new to Linux. Debian was for many people really difficult to install and configure.


- Do a netinstall or grab the first CD, then apt-get the rest from the cli.

- Okay, done... and now?

- Configure the base system so you can install the next packages.

- How?

- Find out yourself. Read manpages and use vi.

- Hey a bit more of help would be nice.

- Hey! This is Debian! If you want a newb-toy, get e.g. Linspire.


Uh-uh. That were the old Debian days (more or less) and a significant number of Debian users were proud Debian users. They have proven to themselves that they are the u83rl33t geeks, that they managed something that only a few chosen managed, that they have found the holy grail.


Debian then created a new installer with minimal graphics (if you want to call it graphics). Installation became easier – and geeks more scared. Will the sacred temple be entered by mere mortals? Not yet. Ubuntu saw the light, those who always wanted to use Debian but who were afraid of Debian went the Ubuntu way and were reasonably happy. And while Ubuntu became more and more user-friendly, the Debian followers were happy that they evaded the migration of nations and remained the geekiest of the geeks.


Some years later. Debian works on a real graphical installer and developers are shocked about the low quality of the upcoming etch release. As Joey Schulze, Debian developer, put it:


"I'm scared by Debian etch. It'll probably become the worst Debian release ever. It's going to hurt our reputation. ... After plugging the cable into the USB slot, an icon appeared on the screen and after clicked caused the system to mount the first partition on the external disk. It worked. Out of the box. Without tweaking anything. That's so non-Debian... Where are the hours of fiddling around how to properly add USB stuff to the system? Where are the evenings you needed to debug such stuff? Nowadays it just works? Where's the Debian we all knew?"


So, is Etch really a milestone-release, the release wich transforms Debian into a user-friendly distro, like its little cousin Ubuntu?... I took the test.




First of all, I trashed my Arch partition (Sorry, tyme), so I have some space for trying out the new etch. For the installation, I downloaded the netinsstall CD, which is some 140 MB big. After I popped the CD in, I am greeted by a simple screen without many information. I hit Enter and off I go. The installer I expected was the new graphical one. The one I got was the default text-based installer. No problem. I know that one, so let's move along.


Partitioning and defining mounting points is easy if you have done installations and partitioning before. When I get to the package selection, I am offered some choices. Desktop system, Laptop-system, mail-server, ftp-server and some more server-choices. I select only the desktop packages apart from the base system package, select the software mirrors from the options I am given (some 20 mirrors are listed for my country) and continue the installation. I must admit: I have no clues which packages etch will grab. I have no control over it, unless I'd do only a base install and apt-get everything else later from the base system. It feels so undebian like...


Etch grabs now the packages from the net and roughly 90 minutes later, it is finished and the final configuration is being done, nothing that scares me or that leaves me puzzled. Except the bootloader. I select grub, try to install it and get an error, unable to install. I don't try lilo. I don't like lilo and prefer to eat a worm than dealing with lilo again. I shrug and decide to continue without a bootloader and chroot into the system later in order to fix it. Said, done. I boot a live-CD, chroot into Debian and set up grub.


setup (hd0)

root (hd0,0)




Grub is installed. Fine.




Now I boot into the system (quite fast, as it was always the case with Debian) and see that it uses Gnome 2.14 (nice :) ) and an i486 kernel. I use Semprons, thus I install the k7 kernel. Oh, easy with apt-get /synaptic, as the mirrors are already set up. Then an icon flashes up on my panel... orange... I know that one. Exactly, the same update notifier that Ubuntu uses is there too. Three updates available. One click and installed. Debian will always activate the network by default. This is a plus and a weakness imho. Computers without a network connection will try to start the network uselessly. But then... Debian has always been first and foremost a server distro.


I start exploring the system. What is different to Ubuntu? Not much on the outside. To sum it up: No sudo, no separate application installer in the main menu, no brown-coloring, no „human icons“ that jump on you with a blinding and aggressive orange. No, I get a plain, default Gnome desktop with the typical „Debian“ menu entry, where you find even more apps than Gnome shows by default.


My USB devices work pretty well, my Camera is immediately detected and photo-import works. The font-rendering problems I got some weeks ago with Debian sid are nonexistant in etch. Bravo. The ugly ipv6 problems I had in previous months are history. Etch, just like Mandriva 2007, handles the traffic well and resolves the DNS requests perfectly.


The rest of the apps is not different to Ubuntu 6.06, so I will not talk about this and that version of Gimp, Xchat or the like. It would be boring.




Etch is expected to be 100% stable and available as official release in December. What I see in this beta release so far is very, very good (except grub not installing, but I guess they work on it already). And with the way things are going, I don't know which big „advantage“ Ubuntu will have over Debian other than a six-month release compared to Debians 12 month release (= some newer packages here and there) and some marketing (Debian and marketing? Nice joke).


Where Debian is clearly better is in the server area. It offers a big choice of server-platforms that can be installed with one checkbox-marking. And then, of course, Debian supports more processor types than Ubuntu. But who uses Sparc processors on a home-system? :D


Etch is imho a wonderful release. Quite easy to install, very good hardware/configuration detection, it is snappy and not really difficult to administrate when it comes to normal tasks (for advanced tasks you will still need the cli, as in almost any other distro, too).


For whom is it good for


For all those who always wanted to run a proper Debian server/desktop/laptop system (= e.g. no Ubuntu sudo stuff) but who have been scared because of configuration in the past. And it is good for all those who need very flexible and stable releases that can be upgraded (apt-get) to the next evolution easily.


Ubuntu is still a bit easier for newcomers but for those who had a sniff at Linux already, a pure Debian system is now perhaps the better choice.


Or not? Please discuss below, if you want to.

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Several months ago, the Debian lead developers decided to implement fixed release dates every 12 months. At least that was reported at distrowatch-weekly and I dont think that Ladislav Bodnar invents such news..

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  • 4 months later...

Nice review.

I've been using Etch for about a year now and it has been very stable (a bit rocky early on, but since late Spring very solid). The new installer is great at picking up hardware. Right now I know I can keep upgrading and not have to do a fresh install. Probably after Etch goes "stable" and Lenny is testing I'll wait a few months and change my repositories from Etch to testing and continue the upgrade cycle.

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  • 1 month later...

I am seriously impressed with Debian Etch. I'm going to replace Mandriva on my desktop with Debian and probably switch back and forth between it and Gentoo. The community is also a lot different than I'd heard. People have always told me that Debian users like to say RTFM and are quite rude. But the Debian community has been very nice and helpful. Thanks Greg2 for suggesting it!

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I am seriously impressed with Debian Etch. I'm going to replace Mandriva on my desktop with Debian and probably switch back and forth between it and Gentoo. The community is also a lot different than I'd heard. People have always told me that Debian users like to say RTFM and are quite rude. But the Debian community has been very nice and helpful. Thanks Greg2 for suggesting it!


I think it's a myth from the older days.

You'll find idiots on every distros :lol2:

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Well I still hear people say that Gentoo users tend to be elitist snobs. *cough* tyme *cough* :P
What walks like a duck, talks like a duck, smells like a duck - must be a duck (it's a joke ;) ).
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