Debian Sarge focuses on easy installation

The next major release of Debian aims at making installation easier for non-technical users

Debian developers have completely rewritten the Debian installer for the next version of the Linux distribution, code-named Sarge.

The update, due around the New Year, is the first major release of Debian since July 2002 when the current version, Woody, was released.

David Pashley, a Debian maintainer, said the main feature in Sarge is its installer which has been rewritten from scratch, so that it doesn't require as much user interaction.

"In the past the installer has had a reputation for being hard to use," said Pashley. "It is certainly a lot easier to install Debian now -- you can keep pressing enter and it will pick defaults."

The installer includes defaults options for features such as disk partitions, time-zone and keyboard layout. For example, once a user has selected their country the Debian installer will the select the keyboard layout most commonly used in that country, although the user can still change it, according to Pashley.

The installer is still a text-based rather than graphical installer, but Pashley said developers are currently working on a graphical interface which should be finished by the next version of Debian.

Sarge also includes improved integration and updated versions of various applications including version 3.2 of the KDE desktop, version 2.6 of the GNOME desktop and OpenOffice.org 1.1.

Debian developers started work on Sarge before Woody was released, but work has accelerated since the summer and now a large proportion of the main functionality is completed.

"It has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few months," said Pashley. "The major parts of it are already frozen".

Martin Michlmayr, the Debian project leader, said that Sarge will be available at the end of this year, or the beginning of next year, depending on how quickly the remaining bugs are fixed. "There are a couple of showstoppers that we're working on at the moment," said Michlmayr.

Sarge is already available in what Debian developers term a 'testing' state, which is close to being a release candidate as it can be installed and has fewer critical bugs than the versions currently in testing.

Debian is the base of a new Linux distribution, Ubuntu, which released its first version, 4.10, last month. Pashley said that Ubuntu is similar to Debian but with more of a focus on usability.

"Ubuntu is like Debian but with few tweaks to make it more user friendly," he said, adding that the work that Ubuntu is doing is useful as any improvements tend to filter down to Debian.

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