Tuesday, 30 June 2015

An Everyday Linux User Review Of Debian Jessie

Posted by Gary Newell  |  at  23:51 21 comments

Introduction

I have now been using Debian for a few weeks and it is therefore time for me to write a review of my experience thus far.

Debian has been around for what seems like forever now and it is the base for so many other Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Mint, SolydXK and Knoppix.

I think that the general consensus amongst Linux users is that Debian is stable, dependable and a good environment on which to build upon.

Does that mean it is suitable for Everyone?

A couple of weeks ago I put my hand firmly in the hornets nest and started waving it around. My article "3 ways to improve Debian and I haven't even booted it yet" received a very mixed response on Reddit.

In summary the 3 points I made were as follows:
  1. The website is hard to navigate
  2. I couldn't get the live USB to boot with UEFI
  3. The installer is a little bit convoluted with similar option spread over a number of screens
As usual the responses to my points were somewhere between complete agreement, to disagreement and of course to be called "a retard" (Their words not mine).

Here are a few quotes to prove my point:


Debian is not for noobs and shouldn't dumb itself down for the sake of "usability". Different users have different needs
A project can not call itself "the universal operating system" and then be satisfied when only a small minority of people have the knowledge, patience and motivation to actually make use of it.
Telling people to "go back to Ubuntu" is admitting defeat, plain and simple.
Just use Ubuntu if you want all that stuff. Isn't that why Ubuntu was made in the first place?
Yes, removing or separating all of the options to an options section and just having one download on the main section will make it better. Ubuntu is for ease of use, Debian is for choice. Its really not that difficult..
When I first came to Debian I was confused about which ISO to download. I thought net install was a PXE utility and thought it bizarre that they would offer that as the default. 
I thought that exact same thing. They don't do a good job of explaining the differences between the different ISO options.
You aren't alone... I've tried 3-4 times, and somehow I've actually succeeded once. I guess it was just a lucky day. It has really disencouraged me from using it, and the time I tried I eventually got rid of it because of the hard-to-use documentation. 
Hope the Debian website maintainers notice this post. I've been using Debian for 10+ years and the website has never once been a pleasant experience.
Debian is not Ubuntu, the argument is invalid. Debian is for people who know how to play with it and want to play with it. You want Ubuntu? Go use Ubuntu.
The thing that bothered me about a number of the responses is that Debian isn't for everyone, if you aren't happy, use Ubuntu. There are clearly enough people for which this is a problem. The quote where it says "hope the Debian website maintainers notice this post" had 56 upvotes. That is 56 potential Debian users who probably went elsewhere.

So where does that leave the rest of Debian? Well you might be surprised. Read on.

Installation

I have already covered much about the installation experience with the comments above.

The issue isn't really with the installation itself. There are a lot of screens to get through though and I think some could be condensed.

For instance there is a screen for entering the root password, another screen for entering the default user's name, a third screen for entering the username for the default user and a fourth screen for entering the passwords for the default user. Clearly this could be fixed with just one screen.

All in all though the actual install from the network installation download on the main Debian homepage made it simple enough to get a system dual booting Windows 8.1 and Debian Jessie.

Click here for a guide to dual booting Debian Jessie and Windows 8.1.

First Impressions

I chose to install the GNOME version of Debian because at the moment GNOME is my favourite desktop environment. (I do have a growing admiration for Enlightenment however).

The thing I like about GNOME is that it doesn't matter whether you use Debian, Fedora or openSUSE you know that the basic applications are going to be the same and the look and feel is going to be the same.


When you get used to GNOME's keyboard shortcuts it is incredibly easy to navigate and integrates well with other applications such as GNOME music and the Totem video player.

Connecting To The Internet

Once Debian is installed you will find that in the main it is as easy to use as Ubuntu or Mint.

Connecting to the internet using the GNOME desktop is a matter of clicking on the little arrow in the top right corner and selecting the relevant wireless network (assuming you are connecting wirelessly). You will of course be asked for a security key unless you are using an open network.

Flash and MP3


Flash isn't natively available within Debian but it is fairly easy to install.

I wrote a guide showing how to install Adobe Flash in Debian. It also shows how to use a free tool called Lightspark which does pretty much the same job. I used it to try out most of the Flash games that I like and it worked a treat.

Playing MP3s caused no issues whatsoever and no further codecs needed to be installed to get them to play. Potentially easier than Ubuntu then.

Applications

The applications installed with the GNOME version of Debian include everything the average person needs to get started.

The web browser is called Iceweasel which is an unbranded version of Firefox.

For email there is the Evolution mail client which has the look and feel of Microsoft Outlook. (Click here for a full guide to Evolution)

Rhythmbox is the default audio player which is the perfect client for listening to your music collection, podcasts and online radio stations. It can also be used as a DAAP server. (Click here for a full guide to Rhythmbox)

If you want to watch videos you can use the Totem video player. I had a few issues with playing online videos via this tool but I could play DVDs and local files.

LibreOffice is completely installed including the wordprocessing tool, spreadsheet package, presentation tool, database package and all the other surrounding tools such as Math.

If you need to burn disks you can use Brasero and for editing images GIMP is installed.

There are various other games and applications installed such as chat clients and bittorrent clients.

Installing Applications

The default package manager within Debian is Synaptic.





















One of the only things I don't like about Ubuntu is the software centre and I really appreciate the simple interface that Synaptic brings.

There are a list of categories in the left pane and applications for the category in the right pane. Selecting a package brings up a description.

To install applications place a check in the boxes of the applications you wish to install and click "Apply". Simple, easy, straight forward. The best bit is that all the applications in the repository are listed when you search for them. That may sound silly, but I have found the Ubuntu software centre hit and miss in this regard.

Performance


I am using a fairly decent Dell Inspiron laptop and it runs incredibly well even though I haven't installed any proprietary drivers.

Generally when nothing else is running 650 megabytes of memory is used and my CPUs are hardly taxed at all.

Issues

As you would probably expect from running the stable version of Debian, the system is very stable indeed. I haven't received any odd messages, there is no performance degradation at any point and the experience has been largely positive.

The Totem video player has an issue when trying to play Youtube videos but I have seen this issue with other distributions running GNOME and Totem.

Summary

Some of the comments that I posted from Reddit at the beginning of this article are quite correct. Debian isn't Ubuntu and should not be seen as such.

I don't particularly understand some of the comments that suggest that Debian isn't for everyone and specifically not new users. Debian with the GNOME desktop has to be on a par with Ubuntu GNOME edition or very close to it.

Now that Debian is installed on my system it runs very well and has all of the software that I need.

If you don't for whatever reason like Ubuntu then Debian would be a really good alternative to go for.

The only real let down for me is the website and the installer. I would be interested to find out how many people out there are using Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu or a distribution based on Debian simply because they found the first stage of getting Debian too hard in the first place.

Thankyou for reading.

Click here for my Ubuntu vs openSUSE vs Fedora article where I compared the GNOME editions of all three distributions.

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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21 comments:

  1. Good article. There must be room between suggesting that debian is not for beginners but Ubuntu is and making debian a bit easier to approach. I find it hard to counteract arguments about making the debian website more approachable: just making a few changes here is not really akin to turning debian into ubuntu.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am not a linux expert, I came from Windows looking for an XP alternative. After some "distro hopping" I finally decided that Debian is the best option.

    First, the install procedure is NOT difficult.
    For some reasons in these years the idea is to make everything as dumb as possible because "the user" is an idiot. Guess what, it is much better to be presented some more questions but knowing what happens and get exactly what you want than having no questions asked and then not knowing what happens and not getting what you expect. By the way, the fact that you like Gnome pretty much explains your point of view on everything else, since Gnome developers have "the user is an idiot" motto written in big letters on their entrance door.

    Then, the main issue with other distros that makes Debian a good option is BLOAT.
    This is about the reason why a distro exists. In my opinion bloat is the consequence of the fact that there isn't a real reason, a real goal which the distro wants to achieve, so what happens is the developers put together everything that come in their mind, the more the better. Because, again, "the user is an idiot" so you must make decisions instead of him/her and you must put as many bells and whistles as possible. The result is again Gnome, where you can't decide anything but it takes 10 times the hardware it took before to do the same things but hey, there are "extensions" to make it usable and you can also get an "app" for the forecast.

    In my opinion Debian has got two general issues:
    1. non-free firmware
    You must look for the right package and install it manually, it can be a pain when the missing package disables the network connection.
    2. details, probably because of lack of manpower
    You install XFCE and the audio/volume/mixer doesn't work 100% because it isn't fully compatible with Pulseaudio. The default icons and themes are very very basic. Minor stuff like this but annoying.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have used a netinst a few weeks ago to install Debian with Fluxbox. I actually thought that the installer was quite nice and straightforward to use and Debian Wiki was a great resource to get everything fully functional post-install.

    However, getting to the right installation image was a bit more convoluted than it needed to be and I actually took a few wrong turns before landing at the desired page.

    This was my first time installing straight up Debian.

    No system that ships without proprietary blobs by design could be called newbie friendly. Perhaps the word 'universal' when applied to Debian has a different meaning, as in you can run it in many different roles and forms on a great variety of hardware.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I like Debian, because it just works and keeps working. As I see it, there are two issues for newcomers to Linux. If you have a WiFi device that needs a non-free driver, you have to install using a connected Ethernet cable. Non-free drivers are not available by default. The other issue is the absence of an automatic update mechanism, at least on the MATE desktop. They say this is by design on the website.

    Plus points? Stability, speed and low resource usage. With the MATE desktop, around 160MB of RAM is used at startup.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm a long time Linux user and have been through what feels like every distro known to man. While this may be a slight exaggeration. I have used a lot and Debian has now settled in as my go to OS. Ubuntu is good but it's release cycle and the choices they make for you at install time has turned me off. Now.. The point of my comment. The Debian installer. It is clunky but you have to realise that Debian has long been a server OS and as such has a text only installer. Text install is still my preferred method even on my laptop which has full graphics. It doesn't have to spin up a GUI so it's lighter and faster. Try it, you'll never look back. The GUI installer is so 'pagey' because it mimics the text installer.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great article.
    I recently switched to Debian too. My reason is because I wanted a rolling distro, rather than facing the need to install from scratch every 6 months or so to stay current with Mint or whatever. Another reason is that I (rightly or wrongly) concluded that Debian seems to get new stuff much quicker than the other distros.

    I went with the Cinnamon version and haven't hit any problems except It took a lot of trial and error to figure out how to replace nouveau with the binary-only nvidia driver. It felt like literally everything was fighting me at each step, Google came up with several conflicting descriptions of how to do it, but only one actually worked. The rest mostly screwed everything up so badly I ended up completely reinstalling Debian again several times before I found the right mojo.

    One other issue is that gedit (my favourite text editor) under Cinnamon Debian seems to either have a missing dependency or is a VERY old version, since its window frame, toolbar and menus look very elementary. It works fine otherwise though.

    About this comment in the article:
    "One of the only things I don't like about Ubuntu is the software centre and I really appreciate the simple interface that Synaptic brings"

    I very much agree about the annoying Software Center and Synaptic is always one of the first things I install. You do realise that you can just apt-get it on Ubuntu/Mint/Whatever too right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How did you replace the "nouveau" driver?

      I tried different things, even purging all the Nvidia drivers in Ubuntu 15.04 64 bits, stopped the desktop and work from the text console to reinstall the binary driver from Nvidia site... Acpi error again at boot time and loop from desktop after logging to logging screen.

      This driver worked well in the last version of Ubuntu for workstation... I am losing my "latin" here...

      Delete
  7. Running openSUSE Tumbleweed here and loving it. Bleeding-edge yet rock solid.

    ReplyDelete
  8. if you want to skip any youtube issues
    just install google chrome (go to google for that and they will hold your hand through this) and all the web content you need will run from flash stuff (chrome has a native flash) to html5 video

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think Debian is a great distribution. It is rock solid, reliably upgrades between versions, and doesn't use many more resources than it must to do what you ask it to do. It's generally pretty user friendly as well, but it does have a few things that keep it from being the most newbie friendly distribution.

    The installation can be an issue because of there being no non-free firmware on the disk. Sometimes it can be a pain to try to get network hardware working for that reason. Once you have a running system with network connectivity, it's not so terrible to add any other missing firmware, but you may have to do a search (after an lspci) to figure out which packages to install. Yes, the installer sometimes separates things that you might think would go together, but that's not a major stumbling block.

    It can be a bit more difficult to install proprietary drivers than in some distributions, but you can often find workable ones in the repositories once you activate the non-free repositories.

    Finally, it has no automated, or even partially automated, update system. It won't even check for updates unless you tell it to. This is easy for a seasoned Linux user to handle, but a new user would most likely just never install any updates until someone advises him to.

    Of course you can install it for someone and then set up some kind of automatic update mechanism for them. Actually using the distribution is very easy, depending on the desktop chosen, and the stability makes if a joy to use.

    Incidentally, you accidentally said the system uses 650 gigabytes instead of megabytes in the "Performance" section.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Maybe I'm just not a 'noob' any longer, and have forgotten what it was like to be one, but to me, Debian is by far one of the simplest distros out there to use. It is also my default OS these days and has been for a number of years. The Debian website may not be entirely attractive, and quite possibly not intuitive enough for first time visitors, but I've personally never encountered any significant problems when trying to navigate it. I find Debian to be a solid, reliable and easy to use distro with excellent documentation.

    To each their own I guess, but I just feel Debian is the right distro for me.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Very, very good article. I'm a long time linux user (from 1996) and now I use both Debian and Ubuntu. I understand your point of view about Debian issues.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "650 gigabytes of memory is used" - are you running Debian on a supercomputer? :-)

    I think you meant "megabytes".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aargh. I meant to change that ages ago. You are the third or fourth person that has told me about that error. Thanks. Changed now.

      Delete
  13. I started on Debian back in the days of 3.0, tried Ubuntu but dropped it when it switched desktops and seemed to lack flexibility for users who did not want default. I used Slackware for a few years but now amd on Debian again, with FLWM as my window manager an no 'desktop' as such. I agree about synaptic. So simple. I tend to use the package search on the Debian website then use apt-get to manage packages, but it all works seamlessly. In my opinion, the only reason Debian is a problem sometimes is the lag in the 'stable' branch. I like the idea of stable, but when I got a new box a few years ago -- an i7, it was, 'Sandybridge' -- Debian could not drive the chip properly. Switching tty (e.g. Crtl-Alt-F3) would cause a reboot! Audio did not work, etc. I had to install a backports kernel, and that was not pretty. It took more than a year before Debian stable could drive the thing properly. I think that is not ideal for a system that is otherwise very well matched to being used in high performance computing -- if it can't drive a high performance chip, it's not much use...

    ReplyDelete
  14. the close I have got to debian was one install. I then went to point linux which very much reminded me of gnome 2, it is the closest I've seen yet, Mate is a running second place in my book.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Lol....I have found as pertaining to Operating Systems in general, there are two types of users regardless of education or experience. You either enjoy and thrive off of the manipulation of such systems thereof or you just adhere to the trusted commonality. Indeed there is always the question of utility, and accordingly, both sides prevail triumphantly.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I am dual-booting Windows 7 and Debian Jessie 8.

    I had previously run a wide variety of distro's including Mint, Peppermint, Pinguy OS, Some other's I can't even remember to be honest.

    And this endless flamewar over oses is just truly petty, and so pointless.

    Debian has a few hurdles to overcome, and there is a difference between, usability and dumbing down.

    For example, the new interface for gedit, I truly hate it, it hides everything, I want access to the old ui, so I am now using medit instead.

    If you like the os/distro your using, then fantastic, that's fine, you have the right to enjoy your flavor/customization/setup.

    However, we can learn from each other's mistakes and good/bad choices to improve the overall options and choices we can make in the future.

    I am a long time computer user since my Apple ][+ in 1980. I have seen oses come and go.

    But what I love about Linux is it's ability to customize. That is fricking awesome.

    It's what I truly loved about customizing my desktop, from sites like virtualplastic, deskmod, shellcity, in the windows world.

    Now I want to learn to gradually customize my debian side of my dual-boot system.

    And I like dual-booting, because it gives me choices and options.

    I think every os has it's strengths and weaknesses, so instead of defending them, learn from them, use them to find ways to change and grow and evolve.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm on dualboot with Debian Stretch and Ubuntu Xenial, both using MATE desktop. I'm using both OS in parallel because i can't decide which one is better or more suitable for me. One part of me wants that OS should contain mostly only such things you would most certainly need. The other part tells that OS should contain more than needed for daily use just in case, should i ever need some of this extra stuff (which many call bloat). The reality is that both Debian and Ubuntu are actually "bloated" to the pretty same level. This, however, obviously depends on installation method, i installed Debian using netinst iso and choosing MATE in tasksel step and Ubuntu from live iso.
    I,m using testing branch of Debian because it provides more up-to-date software and stable has had some minor annoyances, plus the testing seems to be stable enough for daily use, even for not-so-seasoned-but-rather-dumbuser linuxer like me. At least i could handle recovery console and edit grub in nano if really needed.
    Yes, Debian is simple. Most of the time it just works out of the box. It's as simple as Ubuntu if you want to just use it and do your basic stuff. If you want to do some special stuff like configuring hdparm or whatever then it's as difficult on Ubuntu as on Debian. Yep, the Debian installer differs from that of Ubuntu but it's not more difficult (I found OpenSUSE installer to be much more hassle). Finally, it all boils down to user's ability to use Google and read carefully. If you can't google then even Ubuntu cannot save you from your laziness.
    PS. The ability to use Windows isn't a gift from god either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well said. I'm in my late fifties and the only one on your list I haven't tried is Xenial. I have a machine with windows that I never use anymore. Going to give Arch a try soon. I like distro hopping learning the new codes and commands. Lot more fun this way.

      Delete
  18. Is this the only review that will ever be written on Debian or do you plan to go back some day and review the distro again. I find that a lot of these reviews are written years ago and no updates ever seem to appear. I've tried at least 15 distros since this original article was published. I'd just like to know if you've tried it since then.

    ReplyDelete

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