Desktop Debian Etch (and Ubuntu)

by Lyz Bevilacqua

I started using Debian in late 2002, today I am a Debian package maintainer and use it full time every day at my job as a Debian Sysadmin. On the flip side I'm also an Ubuntu enthusiast and now an official Member of the project, I use Xubuntu (XFCE version of Ubuntu) on my desktop, work extensively with the Ubuntu community, and attend and help organize events with the Ubuntu team here in Pennsylvania. My work with Debian trickles down into Ubuntu, as almost all of the work in Debian does, the packages I maintain end up in Ubuntu repositories, the tools developed for Debian are adopted by Ubuntu.

With the release of Debian Etch as stable a couple months ago there have been several articles circulating comparing these two distributions (such as: Debian as a desktop system: A good alternative to Ubuntu by Yousef Ourabi). I've also found myself in conversations with several people of various backgrounds about this, including Don Crowder, a hobbist who recently wrote Slowly Closing Old Windows (Living On The Etch).

The result of all this discussion has been pretty much as I expected.


2007-06-26 09:11:45
I use Debian because I don't like the Gnome/Kde/XFce environments. It seems pointless to install Ubuntu and spend time removing them.
Caitlyn Martin
2007-06-26 09:21:28
If you follow the instructions for an installation of Ubuntu using debootstrap found in Appendix D of the installation manual you can install an absolutely minimal Ubuntu (without X even) and then add what you need.
Lyz Bevilacqua (formerly Krumbach)
2007-06-26 09:27:23
PReid: Indeed, there is a project for fluxbox out there (Fluxbuntu) and I believe an Enlightenment project in the works, but if you're not using either of those or the three basic flavors you're pretty much stuck removing them. I got lucky and have been using for XFCE4 for several years.

Caitlyn: Yep, there are a few ways to get a very, very basic Ubuntu install, that's what I had on my laptop since I only had a 3 gig harddrive, I pretty much treated it like Debian. My article was pretty much focused on "This is what someone new to Ubuntu gets when you grab an Ubuntu installation CD"

2007-06-26 10:28:13
i use debian stable on my server (actually, the vservers are still running sarge as i've been working on other projects and i still have security support), debian testing on my desktop, and ubuntu for the wife.


my server requirements:

  • long-term support
  • 99% bug-free software
  • a large community
  • a cornucopia of packaged software
  • based on debian

debian testing & unstable are immediately disqualified (though i do track & backport a few packages) and ubuntu has long-term server support, but is too immature to have a large admin community and too small to support the breadth of server packages (though you can argue that some of debian's more obscure packages are not very well supported either).

developer desktop requirements:

  • i want near-continual upgradability (not the drought/flood of regular releases)
  • relative stability (if a package breaks i either fix it myself or revert to the previous version and "hold" it)
  • customizability (i don't see ubuntu officially supporting my openbox/pypanel desktop any time soon)
  • a cornucopia of prepackaged software
  • based on debian

"productivity" desktop requirements:

  • familiar (debian-based)
  • up-to-date (recent upstream versions)
  • standardized (community runs nearly identical setup)
  • integrated (so i don't have to spend my time putting the pieces together)
  • "just works"

i'm willing to tweak my desktop to get it to work just the way i want it to, but my wife isn't. i insist on emacs and am willing to configure my system until it's the default editor for everything. my wife is happy with gedit or openoffice, the default editors in ubuntu (and she used oo on windows).

so with one distribution-base i receive everything i need to support three different types of installations, and that's the power of debian.

2007-06-26 10:51:07
I agree, debian is now usable for the masses. I can honestly state that gnome and kde applications handle way better on this old machine than they would using xyz distro (of which many I have tried). And this is important and should be exposed, debian is stable and maintained, it is not about the latest application though these things are made available if wanted.

I'm am very impressed by the performance boost debian has given my pc.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-06-26 10:58:39
If the new name means you are recently married: Congratulations!

The initial Fluxbuntu release has been delayed until Gutsy Gibbon comes out in October. Sadly there is only development code right now.

2007-06-26 11:34:00
Maybe I'm odd. But I tend to use Debian Stable for my servers, but then on my personal computers, I tend to use Testing or even Sid. Newer software, rarely a problem.
2007-06-26 11:35:45
When i upgraded my system (P4 2.4 256 DDR) through the various releases of fedora i generally found the system getting slowed down, even when there was this gnome memory improvement. Then i tried debian etch from its testing days( till release) which was pretty faster ( the older packages argument). But i couldnt help myself understand this paradox , gnome's improvement and desktop was getting slower. This was confirmed with my upgrading to lenny after a month. Ultimately i found the problem to be with Xorg 7 release with my video card (845). So i manually configured it assigning memory and kernel framebuffer. Now the system is much faster as though it was in those sarge days.
Lyz Bevilacqua (formerly Krumbach)
2007-06-26 13:01:43
undefined comment: This is a perfect example of what I'm talking about! Debian and Ubuntu have their places my network as well as yours.

Caitlyn: Yep, I got married, thank you! Pity about Fluxbuntu, the last time I looked into it was several months back and that's when they were saying it'd be released for feisty, so much for that.

chrisrattis: Not odd, I think that's how most Debian users run. I was using stable on my servers and testing on my desktop before I switched to Ubuntu. For me Ubuntu ended up being more stable than Testing, and when things broke the support community within Ubuntu was better (probably because there are more people who are new to linux using it).

naras: Certainly there are other reasons why different distros will run slower (including your problem with drivers), but in general programs do gain "bloat" when they move up in releases. Computers get faster, so they add more features to take advantage of these features. Not so great for those of us who still lug around our 500mhz laptops...

2007-06-27 02:17:55
I prefer debian "testing" (Lenny) on my laptop but I agree that ubuntu's release cycle is very nice for desktop users -- there's a new stable ubuntu release every six months. Debian makes new stable releases every 18-24 months and this means that the included software can get pretty old between the releases.

However, I've observed that debian has lately improved the official support for their "testing" distribution. "Testing" got its own security team after the Sarge release and the repository for "testing" security updates was moved to the official site about a year ago. These are big and important changes and I think they indicate that debian is preparing to make "testing" their officially endorsed desktop offering. The prominent debian developer and leader of the installer team, Joey Hess, has proposed something on those lines:

Lyz Bevilacqua (formerly Krumbach)
2007-06-27 04:38:47
Laika: It'd be nice to see Debian push Testing as their Desktop distribution. The security thing was a big issue before sarge's release, I pretty much ran stable before that (and when I got fed up with that switched to Gentoo - desperation!). Security is good :)
2007-07-24 19:16:38
Ubuntu > Desktop/Laptop/Personal web server
Etch > Server/Nazi personal web server
Windows > Solitaire/Cain and Abel

Spending time removing ubuntu packages? A quick sudo apt-get remove something, vs: setting up a Debian system without root user, installing sudo, configuring sudoers, getting locked out of admin rights, reconfig sudoers, get it right, go a couple months to find out Debian upgraded to etch, find out the repositories are no longer updated, forced to update to etch, etch update goes bad as it installs "updated" drivers that never worked in the first place but you forgot the one you installed to patch it and are stuck at the terminal, "hopefully" you can breath in the face of "uh ohh", to which soon after you will be ushered/forced in to the "Junior Administrator" classification.. Then finally get it working to do it again.

Just the standard no root + sudo, is a mission accomplished. Updates are handled quite nicely, and am frequently notified of updates, which are "windows" easy to install.. I don't worry about failing/botching Ubuntu updates, and that's a big comfort for a sys admin.

Anyone in general let alone on Debian will appreciate Ubuntu once they try it. Neither of them detect my video card and misconfigures x conf every time :) leaving me stuck at the terminal. As that happend to me the very first time I installed *nix, I can assure you this is a very bad place to be for a new *nix user. Even though Ubuntu nor ANY *nix OS I've tried except Fedora and an old version of Knoppix, configures x correctly(for my system).

Try Ubuntu, it's easy to try it out before you install it, hence I knew I was up for x problems before I installed it. For someone that has no BIOS experience, Ubuntu is even easier to install than to test out, just a couple clicks, enter a name,, password and your done.

As a Debian man, I go to Ubuntu's community for support. Ubuntu has the most active community I have ever seen for a Linux distribution, a simple /server | /join #Ubuntu, will get you all the "Debian and company" help you need. It's a great, helpful community, and the most valuable live resource online. I stay parked there 24/7. :)