Sunday, 14 June 2015

3 Ways To Improve Debian And I Haven't Even Booted It Yet

Posted by Gary Newell  |  at  11:49 10 comments


A few weeks ago I listened to the Linux Luddites podcast and they were discussing Debian Jessie. The comments made on that podcast pretty much echo my views as well. 

This article lists the 3 main issues that I have with Debian before it has even booted. A full review will be coming shortly.

1. The Debian Website

I recently wrote an article showing how to get Debian without navigating the Debian website. The truth is that the Debian website is huge and incredibly difficult to navigate.

I will try and explain what I mean by difficult to navigate with the use of screenshots. The above image shows the main Debian homepage.

In the top right corner you will see a link for "Download Debian 8.1 Network Installer". This is actually the link you need to use to download and install Debian. This might sound simple but most people are used to trying out a live image first to get a feel for the distribution and the term network installer won't convince all users that this is what they need to be downloading. The link is also too small and hidden to the right.

There is a section called "Getting Debian" on the homepage. The first option is network install and then comes a section for CD/USB ISO images. I think this is where most new users will end up going.

The first option is to buy Debian on CD (CD? Not DVD?).

The next option is "Download CD/DVD images with Jigdo". I tried using Jigdo and it just didn't work for me.

The third option is "Download CD/DVD images with Bittorrent" followed by "Download CD/DVD images using HTTP or FTP".  For bandwidth reasons the preferred option from Debian's developers point of view is for users to use Bittorrent.

Finally there is an option to download live images using HTTP, FTP or bittorrent.

I am going to deal with the option of buying CDs first. I clicked on the "Buy finished Debian CD-Roms" link and a list of vendors appears separated by country.

I am in the UK and therefore I clicked the first link which is for There are no options for purchasing Debian Jessie DVDs.

Maybe that was bad luck. So I tried the 2nd link for Again no Debian Jessie. 

If you are going to recommend vendors you need to make sure they are offering the latest stable version.

Assuming that you ignore the jigdo option (although the screen is pretty much the same) and go for either the bittorrent or http/ftp option you are now presented with the choice of CD or DVD and a large array of choices for platform such as amd64, arm64, i386 etc.

It might be worth changing this list to be bullet points showing that the amd64 is the most likely one required for 64-bit laptops and desktop computers and i386 is the most likely for 32-bit laptops.

If you select the amd64 option (or any of the other options) this is what you are now presented with.

The checksums are provided to guarantee that your download is valid. Look at the size of the disk images. 3.7 gigabytes and 4.4 gigabytes. This would put a lot of people off especially if they have download limits or limited internet connections.

I think more people will therefore be drawn to the live images. The live images link is a bit better in that there are only options for amd64 and i386 but again it would be better to just have 32-bit and 64-bit options. 

Look at the list of files that are shown under the live images section. There is a live ISO for each desktop type which is acceptable but then there is a contents file, a log file, a packages file and an rsync file. I think those files should be placed somewhere else as they are just noise to the majority of users.

There is also a link to the standard Debian ISO. The standard ISO has no desktop at all. This isn't obvious. I think it should be renamed to debian_no_desktop.

Hopefully you can see my point though about how difficult the Debian website is to navigate especially when you compare it to this:

All the major Linux distributions make it easy to download live images including Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora and openSUSE. Debian needs to make serious improvements to their website to make it more accessible.

Incidentally if you want to buy a full Debian DVD I find the best place to go is You should go for the full set rather than the live images if you are using a computer running Windows 8 as explained by point number 2 below.

2. Live Images Are Not UEFI Bootable

As mentioned previously, most users are drawn to the idea of downloading live images. The reasons for this are simple. 
  • The download size is usually between 1 and 2 gigabytes which isn't too large.
  • The live ISOs allow users to test the distribution without installing it
  • There is usually an install option enabling a full install with up to date packages
If you have downloaded one of the Debian live ISO files and you have tried booting it on a machine currently running Windows 8.1 then you may have had more than your fair share of issues.

The above image shows the contents of the Debian Gnome live disk. Notice that there isn't an EFI folder. That means this disk will never boot on a UEFI based computer.

This image shows the contents of the net install ISO. Notice that there is an EFI folder which means that when you install it to a USB drive or DVD it will boot on a UEFI based computer.

Why on earth is the EFI option missing from the live disks?

3. The Installer Has Too Many Screens

Compared with the other 2 issues this is a minor one but worth pointing out.

There are over 20 screens to navigate in order to install Debian when using the network install option. (Which really is the only sensible option for installing Debian).
  • Choose installation language
  • Installation steps
  • Select timezone
  • Configure the keyboard
  • Detect network hardware
  • Configure the network
  • Select Wireless Network
  • Choose open or secure network type
  • Enter security key
  • Configure network - enter a hostname
  • Configure network - choose domain
  • Set up root password
  • Enter your full name (create a user)
  • Select user name (create a user)
  • Enter password (create a user)
  • Disk partitioning (select type)
  • Disk partitioning (how many partitions)
  • Disk partitioning (how the partitions will look)
  • Disk partitioning (warning telling you how the disks will change)
  • Configure the package manager (choose location where packages should be downloaded from)
  • Configure the package manager (choose mirror)
  • Configure the package manager (enter a proxy)
  • Popularity Contest (send installation choices back to developers)
  • Select Packages
There are at least 5 screens which ask you either where you are from or your language. This is overkill. If I have selected the UK as a timezone it is likely that my nearest mirror would be the UK. Maybe the installer should be more intelligent and set up default options based on previous input with the option of changing them. This would cut down on user input.

There are 6 screens for configuring your network and 4 screens for setting up the administrator and user accounts. I think the users bit could be condensed into one screen without confusion.

Finally there are a couple of screens which are fairly specific to user requirements such as the "choose domain" option and the "enter a proxy" when configuring the package manager. Maybe these screens should be provided as links without being part of the main installation.


I have written a guide showing how to dual boot Windows 8 and Debian. The one thing I commend the Debian developers on is making the dual boot easy. I didn't have to choose the location of the EFI partition as the installer worked it out for itself.

Therefore having worked out that the best option is to use the network install link on the Debian homepage the rest was quite simple.

You do need to use the Win32 Disk Imaging Tool if you are creating a USB drive using Windows but that is listed within the Debian Installation Guide.

Have you been left confused about how to download, try and use Debian? Alternatively did you find it easy and think that all this is nonsense? Let me know in the comments below.

Thankyou for reading.

About the Author

Gary Newell started the Everyday Linux User blog in 2010 and has written reviews on dozens of different Linux based operating systems. He has also written a number of tutorials.

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  1. your article sucks and i will never read it.

  2. Concerning your point 1 and 3, you seems to forget that debian targetted audience is not the linux beginner. Debian is a general purpose distrubution that can be used by system administrator/IT to spawn web server/any other server that run background task.
    For the setup process, it needs to be able to satisfy technician complex requirement with advanced things like encryption, custom partitionning etc.
    Simplyfying debian can only disable this allowed customization, which is agains what the target audience needs.
    Linux beginner can use ubuntu linux as it's simple but this cause that all settings needs to to be hidden which won't fit custom needs except the most basics one.

  3. Even though I can generally get what I want from the Debian site (and I generally use the bittorrent option to download an image), I think a new user would find it very confusing. I am impressed and happy to see the wide array of architectures available, but a new user would most likely be overwhelmed.

    Of course you can argue that installing Debian is not for the technical novice, and anyone who wants to download it should know the difference between amd64 and arm64. However, I think there is a reasonable middle ground between the Web site holding your hand and telling you which image to download, and dropping you in the forest with only a pocket knife and a buckskin, and they haven't found that middle ground.

    When I first went to the current Web site I checked out several of the links to make sure I knew what was behind each one so I would really get the image I wanted to get. If someone with experience has to check to make sure they are making the right choice, then imagine how tentative someone trying Debian for the first time is likely to be.

    I think the link in the upper right hand corner is actually a more recent attempt to mitigate the confusion. Perhaps it does help, but I suspect that people are still not sure it's what they want.

    Of course, all the non-free firmware being missing from the installation images is another reason that perhaps the project thinks it's hopeless to try to cater to newer users.

  4. That was a lot of whining, debian is not for beginners or not technical people. use Ubuntu for plug and play

    There is nothing wrong with the site or the install.

    for the UEFI, disable it or by a board where it can be disabled.

  5. I use the Linux Mint Debian Edition. The reason was exactly all the problems that are on the article but also that i could get the drivers and codecs i need in an easy way. I think the Debian approach encourages a potential user to read and learn about it, and i think this is good. Strangely if someone goes first to Ubuntu or Mint then he has the experience to deal with Debian and it's learning curve which is needed for a responsible user.Responsible not only for the usage but also for knowing the inner workings of the operating system.
    For me that i use LMDE in my work, is all about convenience. For many of my friends that i convinced to move to Linux is all about ease of use and a good experience. But if someone wants to learn i direct them straight to Debian. It is a school about technology, collaboration and freedom of choice. I don't think that a different approach could help that.

  6. Installer is fine. What is not fine, is situation when I choose to use sudo in the installer and then log in, try to use sudo and get "user is not in sudo file. This incident will be reported." Reported to who? To Ian Murdoсk? But nothing about how to solve the problem.
    P.S. A year passed, but installer still missing some Russian time zones.

  7. Great post Gary, thank you. Debian is superb distro and must adopt new approach to new users.

  8. From the first 'problem' you mentioned in your article, I can already tell that you completely missed the purpose of pure Debian.

    1. The Debian website is not difficult. It just requires a bit of reading to navigate, that's all.

    2. amd64 and i386 should NOT be changed to 64-bit and 32-bit, respectively. This is NOT the same. Read a bit about processor architectures and you will know why.

    3. Comparing the Debian and Ubuntu websites is a joke. The very aim of Ubuntu is to be easily accessible to the Average Joe. That is NOT the case for Debian! The latter is aimed at more tech savvy people, who will actually bother to read every single detail.

    4. Claiming that the Debian installer asks too many questions is also a joke. You want easy? Use Ubuntu.

    5. The title of the article suggests you're ignorant, not that there is something wrong with Debian. This + your attitude throughout the article makes the whole thing rather funny.

    I do hope that no sane Debian dev or committer will treat this article seriously. actually did, which I find rather amusing.

    1. Thanks for the comment Ryu. The article explains why I think the website is difficult to navigate. The links to buy DVDs don't offer the latest versions for instance.

      Whilst AMD64 and i386 don't necessarily mean 64-bit or 32-bit they actually do in the case of Debian. There isn't a native IA64 that used to also be generated is no longer created.

      I don't expect Debian to change their website to have the Holly Hopdrive overnight with a couple of buttons because clearly there are so many choices available. I do think it could be laid out a little neater.

      The installer does ask too many questions. Why can't the account details be one screen with half a dozen fields on it rather than half a dozen screens with 1 field each. It is a bit overkill.

      At no point have I stated that Debian itself is bad and there is a review coming up which is largely very positive. Suggesting improvements should never be seen as a negative thing. If I just wrote an article stating Debian is rubbish then that would be wrong but to say that hey, here are a few improvements that I believe can be made should be seen as a positive thing. Constructive criticism.

      I appreciate the links that Distrowatch provides back to this site. I have written many reviews which have received a link back from Distrowatch which hopefully means that by and large I am doing something right.

    2. Gary you get massive extra cred points in my book just for mentioning the Holly Hopdrive.


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