The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

Summary: People don't notice Debian Linux releases as much as they used to. There's a reason for that, Debian, despite its close relationship to Ubuntu, is becoming irrelevant.


Once upon a time, a new Debian Linux release was a big deal in Linux circles. It still is, but its child, Ubuntu Linux, is the Linux distribution that gets all the headlines. There's a reason for that. Over the years, Debian has become more and more a Linux just for Linux fanatics while the rest of the Linux family has become more end-user friendly.

As I look over the features in the latest Debian, I can see why Debian, while still popular as a building block for other Linux distributions, is no longer as important as it once was. For example, the default Debian distributions won't include any proprietary firmware binary files. While that will be popular with die-hard free software fans, users who just want to use their Wi-Fi hardware and to get the most from their graphics cards won't be happy.

If, as is likely if you're using a laptop or a PC with high-end graphics and you find you're running into hardware problems, the Debian installation program should alert you the problem. That's fine as far as it goes, but the installation routine won't automatically download the missing firmware from the Web. Instead, you'll need to pause the installation while you fetch the missing in action firmware from either the Debian non-free firmware ftp site or the vendor's site.

OK, that's doable if you're a power user. If you're not, it's a confusing pain-in-the-rump.

The theory is that by doing this outraged users will demand that hardware vendors will open-source their device drivers, or, at the least, let Linux developers write open-source drivers for proprietary hardware. In practice, it doesn't work that way.

True, more and more companies are open-sourcing their drivers, such as Broadcom, the Wi-Fi device original equipment manufacturers (OEM). The real driver for this hasn't been free software fans demanding drivers, but Linux-friendly OEMs like Dell demanding open-source drivers.

By doing this, all Debian is doing with this move is satisfying its existing free software base and alienating possible new users. In a similar vein, Debian is continuing the farce of using Iceweasel 3.5.16, an unbranded version of Firefox, and Icedove 3.0.11, an unbranded version of Thunderbird because Mozilla, Firefox and Thunderbird's parent organization, won't let Debian, or its users. muck with these programs trademarked names and logos.

Page 2: [Here's the Good Debian News] »

Here's the Good Debian News

Now, that I have that out of my system, here's the good news. First, as someone who loves to play with operating systems, that Debian now offers a version that will run on top of FreeBSD, one of the BSD Unix operating systems.

That's just me and a few other people whose idea of a good time is tinkering with operating systems though. I think more people will be impressed by the sheer range of open-source software that Debian brings to the distribution. In 6.0, there are more than 10,000 new programs including Google's open-source version of Chrome, Chromium, Ubuntu's Software Center, and the cluster framework Corosync.

Debian also makes it easy to get a specialized version just for your particular job in its newly renamed to Debian Pure Blends. These include Debian Accessibility, DebiChem, Debian GIS, Debian Multimedia Debian Edu,and Debian Science.

And, as always, no matter what your hardware, Debian probably has a version that will run on it. Debian now supports nine architectures: 32-bit PC / Intel IA-32 (i386), 64-bit PC / Intel EM64T / x86-64 (amd64), Motorola/IBM PowerPC (powerpc), Sun/Oracle SPARC (sparc), MIPS (mips (big-endian) and mipsel (little-endian), Intel Itanium (ia64), IBM S/390 (s390), and ARM EABI (armel).

That's all grand, but as I look at the whole Debian situation, it seems to me that Ubuntu, with its leading the way from X Window to Wayland for Linux's foundation graphics and its new take, Unity, on the Linux desktop is now the ground-breaking Linux distribution that Debian once was. At the same time, Ubuntu is continuing to expand the Linux audience, while Debian continues to be a system that only hard-core Debian Linux fans will use.

Debian is still important. Its developers do a lot of the hard work of mixing and matching basic Linux components and many open-source programs into the strong, reliable foundation that other versions of Linux, such as Ubuntu and MEPIS use. But, while Linux programmers will continue to appreciate Debian, it seems to me that Debian is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the larger user community that Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, and openSUSE has brought into the Linux fold.

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Err...

    Doesn't the fact that so many other Linux distros rely on Debian make it more relevant? In the past RedHat threatened to make all other Linux distros less relevant (especially when there are RedHat clones; White Box, Oracle Linux, and of course CentOS).<br><br>I think Debain without Linux at its core is a pretty interesting project - albeit not yet particularly interesting to desktop users.<br><br>I don't think your case is proven at all, quite the reverse. Or do you mean it isn't as "flashy" as it once was, with less written about it? That's quite different, the things that make "fanboys" get excited aren't always the most important. Though I guess they do get you pageviews <img border="0" src="" alt="wink">
    • The problem with Debian is that it never works out of the box

      @jeremychappell Debian installations are worst than Win32 installations.

      Unlike most Linux distros, Debian Linux take for ever to setup to a point where it is usable. You must "tinker" with pretty much every single config file to get it stable, then you must search the world for drivers ... and that works if you have a clue of what hardware (including chipset brands) you have.
      • ???

        My Debian installation did work out of the box.
        John L. Ries
      • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

        Did you try Debian 6.0? I just switched back to Debian and it is MUCH improved over earlier versions. I installed on my laptop and the only issue I had was proprietary firmware for WiFi. The installer alerted me to that and the fix was easy. Everything else worked out of the box.
      • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

        This has not been the case for years and years. etch, lenny and squeeze all set up things with zero or minimal work, and each had better hardware support and an improved installer. As a Debian developer, I have been testing the installer on a variety of hardware, and I've yet to find anything that didn't work out of the box, and that includes fairly recent radeon graphics.<br><br>I'm not sure why the reputation for difficulty persists--it's not like it was back in 1999! The linux kernel and both autodetect and configure all the hardware nowadays, so it's not like this varies much between different distributions...
      • Back when I had a PowerMac 8500,

        It was about as easy as an installation got with Debian 2 or 3 (I don't remember which one in particular it was). It even worked across two graphics accelerators and enabled USB2 on my USB+FW400+PATA133 card (when you had 3 slots and wanted faster SCSI, USB, FireWire, ATA, and two or three screens on a Mac, you spent the money on the right cards). Much easier than any version of Windows was, and much cleaner too.
      • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?


        Your description of the travails of trying to run Debian weren't true, even before Ubuntu came along and made it easier.

        I'm a non-techie who's been running (and installing) Debian for over a decade, and I've found that Debian works very well out of the box -- so long as one takes just a little care to avoid "Win-hardware".

        "Win-hardware" used to mean mostly Win-modems and Win-printers -- and even Windows-fans strenuously recommended that such crippled or poorly designed hardware be avoided, regardless of any supposed features or price savings. Today the problematic hardware is most likely a wifi-chip, or some backwards-looking printer brands, and various peripherals that suck-up to proprietary DRM implementations.

        But somehow, the lessons of the past are disregarded, and people who should know better choose to give the hardware manufacturers a pass on bad behaviour. I guess some people never learn, or at least lose all perspective when their favourite OS faces a little competition.

        For the record, I've been using/installing Windows since Win'95, and Debian since Slink/Potato (circa 2000) and have never found Debian harder to install than Windows, and on standard hardware generally much quicker and easier. Of course, I'm one of those weird people who checks the documentation first -- then does the installation (as the saying goes; "when all else fails -- read the directions").

        I have had to replace the odd win-modem, soundcard or wifi-device -- but that's always been a heck of a lot cheaper than even an OEM Windows license.

        And Debian has always proven more stable than Windows. In fact so much so that I sometimes run Debian "testing" or "unstable", and still find it runs with less hassle and greater stability than Windows on the same hardware (this is in fact pretty common practice for "desktop" installations). In real-world use, I find that it is Windows that consumes disproportionate amounts of my time with configuring and "tinkering" to get things running smoothly and reliably (and keep it that way).
      • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

        @wackoae <br><br>That's total rubbish. There is not a single word that is true in your comment. You obviously have never used Debian. But i have, I have used Debian since 1998 and I have seen how much Debian and it's userfriendliness has changed and improved over the years. I use Debian on laptop, desktop, server and even on mobile device. Debian IS NOT any more difficulta ro use and install than any otrher distro. And it DOES NOT need configuration after installation more than any other distro like Ubuntu.<br><br>> Unlike most Linux distros, Debian Linux take for ever to <br>> setup to a point where it is usable.<br><br>Rubbish, actually Debian is wery complete and usable out of the box right after the installation.. Debian's defailt desktop is userfriendly. <br><br>> You must "tinker" with pretty much every single config <br>> file to get it stable,<br><br>Rubbish that is not true. Actually if you are an desktop user then most likely you don't need to make any changes to config files. And if you WANT to change desktop settings or sofware sources (repositopies) then the same tools with GUI are available in the Debian and Ubuntu.<br><br>> then you must search the world for drivers ...<br><br>Again rubbish. There is lots of drivers in Debian repositoty, not all are installed by default but you sure should know how to use package managemt tools like Synaptic and Software Centre. If you think those are too difficult for you then Linux is not the right OS for you, none of the distros is ok for you then.
      • Not work out of the box????

        @wackoae I have multiple servers that would beg to differ. Debian has never shown itself to be a first rate desktop distro, there are too many closed source apps required to browse the web etc... However as a server it is rock solid.
    • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

      @jeremychappell Sure, it's relevant... if you're a Linux engineer. But, if the users aren't there, then how will Debian continue? Many distros need a strong, popular Debian, and I don't see that happening here.

  • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

    Linux is irrelevant.
    Loverock Davidson
    • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

      Debian Linux is relevant.
    • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

      @Loverock Davidson Alright folks, turn off 70% of Internet web servers and force those folks to cough up draconian licence fees for an inferior web server that can't stay up a few days .... Loverock the Blind has spoken
    • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

      Loverock Davidson is irrelevant.
      • RE: Loverock Davidson is irrelevant.


        + 100,000
    • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

      @Loverock Davidson
      Loverock Davidson's anti-Linux sentiment is irrelevant.
    • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

      @Loverock Davidson
      ROFL, Loverock comedian at his best.
    • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

      @Loverock Davidson

      That's why k-root and the other root servers don't run UNIX/Linux/BSD, then run Windows, right?

      That's why IIS is outpacing Apache as the web server of choice, 'cause Linux sucks, right?

      That's why embedded systems are using the Windows kernel vs the Linux one, right?

      That's why the CiscoIOS runs more like the Windows command line than a Linux one, right?

      If you fail to see my points above, well, then you just plain fail, much like Windows does.
    • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

      @Loverock Davidson - Loverock D. picks his/her nose.
    • RE: The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

      @Loverock Davidson
      hmmm, linux has a larger install base than ever. your observation is brilliant!