[NOTE: For some reason, I went to bed last night thinking this had posted to WordPress. It hadn't So I'm a day behind. Nevertheless, this is the second in an eight-part series on distros I use. These observations are based on distros running on one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 PII, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary.]
Talking about this particular review with a trusted friend who far out-geeks me (but I’m working on it), he made the following comparison. “Isn’t reviewing Debian kind of like reviewing your mother?”
There’s something to be said for that. As one of the three “mothers” of all currently active distros — Slackware and Red Hat being the other two — Debian is the first distro that I encountered after liberating myself from proprietary operating systems. So like thousands, possibly millions, of other GNU/Linux users, Debian and I have “a history.”
Before I start, a caveat: I was enamored by Debian the first time I used it on a friend’s machine; so much so that the first thing I did when I got home that day was to burn all 15 disks to install it. It wasn’t until much later that I was advised to use the net install for better results. The moral of this story: Do a net install and save your blank CDs.
[Anyone need a set of Debian CDs?]
I run Debian on all my Macintosh PowerPC machines for two basic reasons. First, because it works flawlessly on the hardware, and secondly — and probably more importantly — while Debian developers seem to be on top of just about every possible personal-computing architecture on this planet, they also have the foresight to recognize that there is a whole armada of PowerPC-based Macs (especially G3s) that have been abandoned by Apple — thanks a lot, Steve — and the G3/G4 family (shoot, even earlier PowerPCs) are going to need a distro that allows them to extend their already lenghty longevity.
For Macs, Debian 4.0 could very well be the best GNU/Linux distro available. The performance on two iMacs and an iBook were both flawless and no discernable speed was sacrificed even with the somewhat bearable heaviness of the GNOME desktop environment (keep those cards and letters, GNOME-heads: I like GNOME, but I find it a bit bloated and sometimes unwieldy on older machines).
The Debian library of software is legendary, so there’s no need to go into that here. The Synaptic Package Manager has always been one of my favorite programs — I know there must be a 12-step program out there to resolve that — but the availablilty of software is one of the more intriguing parts of the Debian experience; a facet it shares with the family of distros related to Debian. The software update feature — blasted by a Wall Street Journal writer recently as his primary reason not to convert to GNU/Linux (good reason, jerk) — is timely to a fault. I have to confess that I don’t always update when I’m told, but I find later that I should probably heed the updating call when requested to do so.
Speaking of software, I have to admit I’m enamored by Iceweasel, Debian’s browser. Another feature on the drop down Applications menu that some may find trivial — but I find it extremely helpful — is the Debian list that breaks down the programs on the computer by Apps, Games, Help, and Xshells. Trivial, perhaps, but it’s a feature that both newbies and experienced users can find what they’re looking for quickly.
A knock on Debian — an unfair knock in my opinion — is that they don’t release updates like clockwork, like this major distro that schedules its year on April and October releases, for example. But bear in mind that this distro — Ubuntu and its tribe of derivatives (we’ll be talking about Xubuntu later this week) — is based on Debian. So those of you using any of the *buntus should consider the source.
Debian 4.0 lives up to its name, and its continuing legacy, as one of GNU/Linux’s premiere and forward-thinking distros.
Coming tomorrow: Fedora 7.0 / 8.0
(Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)