29
Jan
12

Debian 6.0.3

I started using Debian quite some time ago, it was for work and I was running it on an old celeron 433Mhz machine with very little ram (less than 512Mb). I was using the machine to develop a website in php, and needed a platform to edit and test the website. I had to pretty heavily customise my installation as gnome was a bit too taxing for such a old machine at the time. I installed FVWM and IceWM as replacements, I used IceWM mostly which worked very well. I did eventually get an upgraded machine, I was finally able to run gnome! Today I’ve installed the latest version of Debian via the network installation disk. I’m using the same setup as last time, on my macbook in virtual box, and using all the default settings with the main desktop portion installed.

If you’ve used Ubuntu and Debian, you may notice that they are pretty similar to each other in many ways, in fact using the same package management software at the base level. Ubuntu is in some ways a descendant of Debian, the differences being mainly ideological, aesthetic and in how the packages are configured when installed.

Debian is meant as an universal operating system, having software and components to do pretty much whatever you’d like to do with it. There are lots and lots of available software packages that allow you to set up your machine to do pretty much anything. The question remains, is it easy enough for an ordinary user to use.

Installation

I picked the expert installation option as I’m pretty experience with the Debian OS. This wasn’t as complicated as it sounds, and I found it pretty easy to to install. An ordinary end user would probably find this difficult, but that is to be expected. It is true that the expert installer could be easier to use, but if you picked it and can’t use it, you can always switch back to the simple one which is alot like the Ubuntu installer. You get a lot more options for software to be installed, and you can choose a set of packages to set it up as a server or a desktop workstation. Having only one distribution is a nice touch and means that if you are used to dealing with a Debian server and happen upon a workstation running Debian, you are basically on familiar territory. It also means that you can set up your workstation with all the server software for the purposes of development and testing of software you are writing. I installed the basics for the desktop, but also added in a SSH server. I found that the software included in the base desktop was much more comprehensive than that on Ubuntu, you got some decent photo editing software in the GIMP, and tools for making vector graphics. I also noted that the entire Open office suite is included in its original form, as opposed to the version in Ubuntu, which as far as I can tell is not the complete office package, and seems to be a change for the sake of being different aesthetically. There are many other bits and pieces that tell a similar story. Installation of new or extra software is pretty simple, you can use synaptic, or the software centre to select new packages and the software will download everything required to install them.

The User Interface

The interface is no where near as pretty as the Ubuntu one, but I can’t help but feel more satisfied and more at ease with this one. Finding an application is easy, you just navigate the menus at the top of the screen to find what you want. The applications are organised sensibly in categories. In many ways the windows widgets are very much like those from windows XP, which is good for PC users, but probably less so for mac users. What really stands out here above windows XP is the ability to customise pretty much everything that you see. You can change the shape and location of panels and menus. There are many applets that you can add as well, one of my favourites being Wanda the fish, which is simple a graphical way to access fortune. This means if you find the interface annoying in some way you can do something to change it! Something I would have liked in Ubuntu!

Performance

Something I noted in testing Debian is that it took longer to load than Ubuntu for some reason. Upon investigation I found more puzzles, Debian seemingly used less ram upon login, and responded faster once it had finished loading. This of course is preferable, it’s just strange. Oddly I suspect this newer version of Debian would work better on my old system than earlier versions did.

Features

The base features are pretty impressive, there are all the basic applications that normal people need such as word processing, email and internet. There are also some extra bits that I was happy to find that would appeal to the more advanced user. For instance there is a decent RDP and torrent client installed. There are nice dialogs for changing system settings, and user preferences that cover all the important aspects of the system, although I was disappointed by the login screen configuration being dumbed down, I preferred how they had things set up with gdm 2.30. The login screen themes are gone, and the configuration program has nothing for remote users via xdmcp. I realise that very few people use X over the network these days, but with thin clients starting to look like a good option, this could be taken better advantage of. On the up side, there is nothing stopping you from editing the configuration manually to achieve the effect you want, it’s simply not in the user interface. You could always use the package management to install a older version of gdm, or use xdm in it’s place. This is the true spirit of Debian in a sense, you customise your installation as much as you need to suite you. There is nothing saying you even need to use gnome, you can elect to use KDE, or install a small form factor window manager such as FVWM.

Conclusion

I kinda have a biased opinion of Debian because I’ve been using it for quite a while. I have found it easy to use, and easy to customise to my needs as well. That being said, the average user may have a fun time doing the trickier things. But at least you have the option or trying, and all the simple things like finding an application are easy and familiar to those of us that have used systems such as windows. Unlike Ubuntu, Debian hides the Unix/Linux part of itself less, which could be difficult for some people, but would allow those interested to learn something about it. Debian also lives up to being a universal operating system, you can do pretty much whatever you may need. I’ve used it as a file server, a web test bench for development, as a games system, and basic desktop workstation. It used to be the case that people new to linux would have had to avoid Debian until they learned more about linux. The newer versions seem to make it easier than it used to be, but the complete computer illiterate should probably get a knowledgeable friend to help them. If you’re interesting in using linux, Debian is fertile ground for learning all about it, as much as you want to learn.  Do I recommend it? Yes!

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