Debian 7.0 Wheezy: Hands on with a pre-release build

Debian 7.0 Wheezy: Hands on with a pre-release build

Summary: UEFI and GPT are OK, Secure Boot not quite yet, according to my exploration of a recent pre-release build.


The next release of Debian GNU/Linux, 7.0 or "Wheezy", is less than a week away now — so I decided to take one last look at a pre-release build. 

My intention was to see how it looks and works in general, how it gets on with installation on various systems of mine, and whether and how it is working with GPT partitioning, UEFI BIOS, and Secure Boot. 

For this test, I downloaded the netinst image of the daily build on Saturday, 27 April. There are a lot of ISO images to choose from when downloading Debian; I generally take the net installer image because it is the smallest download and it gives me the most flexibility when installing.

Once the release is out and stable, there will probably be Live images available again, but Debian tends to be rather conservative in generating these, so it might be a while before they show up.

All of the Debian ISOs are "hybrid" images, so you can copy them to a USB flash drive with dd, or, of course, you can burn them to blank CD or DVD media as appropriate.

The first bit of good news about Debian 7.0 is that booting and installation works just fine with UEFI BIOS and GPT disk partitions. Secure Boot doesn't seem to work yet, with either the netinst ISO image or with the final installed system, but I suppose that might be because this is a pre-release daily build — I suspect that the final release will work with Secure Boot, and of course I will confirm that as soon as it is available.

On Legacy (DOS) BIOS systems, it boots and installs with no problem, of course.

The default Debian installation is a Gnome 3 desktop:

Debian Gnome 3
Debian GNU/Linux 7.0 Gnome 3 applications menu. (Image: Screenshot by Steve Ranger/ZDNet)

Unfortunately, I had a problem on the first couple of systems that I installed it on because they were both AMD/ATI laptop/netbook systems with Radeon graphic controllers — Acer Aspire One 522 and 725 systems.

On one of them, the X display server wouldn't even start, so I could only get a text console login, and on the other, it started, but Gnome complained that the graphic capability wasn't good enough, so it fell back to Gnome Classic.

In both cases, the problem was that the X server didn't recognize and associate the graphic controller with the FOSS Radeon controller. Rather than try to track that down, I decided to install the latest proprietary Radeon drivers from AMD, and that solved the problem quite nicely on both of them.

I still don't care much for Gnome 3, although I am slowly getting used to it (and using it bothers me a lot less than trying to use Unity). Debian includes a variety of other popular desktops in their repositories, I decided to add KDE and see how that went. To do this, you can use Synaptic if you prefer a GUI interface, or apt-get if you're a command-liner, and load the package kde-full, which is a meta-package that includes everything needed for a KDE installation.

Debian KDE
The Debian KDE Desktop

Finally, it is important to remember that Debian includes no proprietary software in the base distribution, and that includes firmware "blobs", which are necessary to operate some wi-fi cards.

That affected my old Fujitsu Lifebook S6510 with an Intel 5100 wi-fi controller, and my new Acer Aspire One 725 with a Broadcom 4313 wi-fi controller.

In summary, the upcoming Debian 7.0 release is looking very good. It is not a "one size fits all, install-and-go" release, in large part because of the omission of all proprietary software.

If you want to use it on systems that require such non-FOSS drivers or firmware, you will have to deal with that yourself — but there are lots and lots of descriptions available for how to do that for common devices, so a little bit of searching and reading will take care of that in most cases.

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • why stick with gnome/gtk

    I am actually curious why so many people are insistent on still using Gnome/GTK based DE's. For me it was simply that I didn't like the original KDE 4.0, and never bothered to try again until a few months ago. Its just so superior now in every way, in my opinion.
    • Personal Preference?

      I tried KDE and for me it felt dated and full of old tired UI contructs. Gnome 3 is in my opinion a fresh new UI different for all the right reasons is it perfect? no, but its pretty close and usualbe without modification right out of the box in most cases. Right now I manage RPM based distros so i use FC 18. if i were to manage debian based distros i would use Debian over say Ubuntu everytime.
    • Curiosity, Good Enough and Laziness

      Personally, I generally leave whatever the "default/standard" desktops are in a distribution alone, first because I am too lazy to change them, second because I am curious about what they are doing, how they work and what it is like to use them, and third because in most cases they are "good enough" for my use. In the specific case of Gnome 3 I have found that I have grown to like it more as time passes, both because the developers have improved it and also because I've gotten used to some of the underlying concepts.

      I have done the same with several of the other most common Linux desktops, and to be perfectly honest the only one that I still absolutely can't stand, which drives me crazy to try to use, is Unity. Oh well...

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • I'm guessing that Debian 8.0

    will be called "George"?
    William Farrel
    • Not quite...

      It will be called "Jessie".

  • Question

    How would you compare this, in every day use, to the more mainstream distros? Would this be a better option than Ubuntu, Fedora, or OpenSUSE for the average consumer? Also, any information on Wayland in Debian?
    Michael Alan Goff
    • Debian Compared to other Linux Distributions

      In my opinion, some of the largest improvements in the last couple of releases of Debian are in the areas of ease of installation and use by non-expert end users. Addition and integration of things like OpenOffice / LibreOffice, flash player and the like has made it much more practical for a more novice user to install and use Debian without having to invest a lot of time and effort into learning about Linux, installing packages and configuring their installation.

      There are still areas where distributions like Ubuntu and Mint (to name just two) have done more, obviously - that is why they exist and what they do. The most obvious area is the Linux kernel; this Debian release will still have a 3.2.x kernel, and many of the other popular distributions are using 3.7.x, 3.8.x or even 3.9.x now. That can make a big difference in hardware support, as I have mentioned several times recently. Also, ease of installation and use of some third-party and non-FOSS drivers, notably Radeon and nVidia graphic controllers, is much easier with some other distributions. Even this is changing now, there are several places where you can find good instructions for doing this kind of thing on Debian, but that is the point - you have to find it, figure it out and do it on Debian, while on the other extreme there are things like jockey which will go so far as to notice on their own that such drivers exist and are available for you, and then prompt to remind you, then download and install them.

      So overall I would say if you have more or less mainstream hardware, and Debian already includes support for everything you need, then it is pretty much on a par with the others. If you have a very recent laptop, with advanced graphic or wifi hardware, one of the other distributions might be easier.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • My Opinion on Debian

    My opinion is that Debian is a mainstream distro. It is very usable as a desktop. I have been using it since Squeeze was released. I really liked Gnome 2 (and I am not trying to open a can of worms here), but I switched to XFCE. I am legally blind and also use Compiz and its enhanced desktop zoom. If you want Compiz in Wheezy, you will have to hook up the Sid repo as Compiz was removed from Wheezy due to a lack of a package manager from what I was told a few months back.

    Also, I installed with a software RAID 1 in my laptop and it is working flawlessly. I have been running Wheezy for a few months now and no issues here...
    • One last thought

      I left out that I have used Mint and Ubuntu in the past. Each distro has their strengths and weaknesses. For me, I liked the stability of Debian as well as being a rolling release.I am using my machine primarily for web development and have Apache, MySQL, and PHP installed for testing. Mint and Ubunty are stable, but they are using more bleeding edge package versions than I like to use. If I want a newer version of a package, I can alsways go to Sid, and soon to be Jesse for a more up to date version of that package.
      • hm

        is it rolling?
        • Was Debian ever difficult?

          No! Especially not when we only see a new Debian release ever few years. He's thinking of Arch or one of the other cockroach-hacker-wannabe distros.
          Sean Millon
          • Really?

            Debian is both rolling and traditional. If you're on testing, it's basically rolling, and with Sid it's definitely rolling.

            Stable, however, ties you to a release, so you're right there (except it's slightly more "rolling" than something like RHEL/CentOS where you have to reinstall every release).

            And what's wrong with Arch? It's package manager beats apt/dpkg hands down, and users learn they're system better than most other mainline distros. For example:

            * find version of installed package: pacman -Q (dpkg -l ?)
            * find version of repo package: pacman -Si (apt-get install -s + grok...)

            For a desktop system, Arch is awesome, but for servers, I only trust Debian, because I find myself installing too much from source with CentOS.
  • The easiest way with non-FOSS firmware

    "... If you want to use it on systems that require such non-FOSS drivers or firmware, you will have to deal with that yourself ..."
    The easiest way is to download the unofficial non-free debian netinstall :
    ( today wheezy_di_rc3/ )
  • Liquorix Linux Kernel is a drop-in replacement for Debian's

    Liquorix (now at 3.8-8.dmz.x) is a GNU/Linux Debian kernel drop-in 'replacement built using the best configuration and kernel sources for desktop, multimedia, and gaming workloads'

    It provides enhanced support for graphic drivers, as well. Thus, if you were able to go to a command prompt, you could create file /etc/apt/sources.list.d/liquorix.list and add the following directive:
    deb sid main

    Save the file and subsequently execute the command at your shell:
    apt-get install '^liquorix-([^-]+-)?keyring.?'

    apt-get update

    apt-get dist-upgrade

    And you will get a newer kernel (from Sid) for your Wheezy ;-)

    Instructions for Debian at ; work by Tweeter handle: @damentz . By the way, he asks for a donation if you appreciate his effort :-)

    Best Professional Regards.
  • Using Debian 7.0 With Gnome 3

    I understand the author of this article might be a dinosaur, but why people find Gnome 3 so hard to use? gnome 3 is the most productive desktop I have used so far and that's including Windows 7 and Windows 8..
    • FOSS or Floss

      It's just what you're used to, I guess. I'm definitely not one of those FOSS evangelists that yells "duh, it's windoze!!!11 down with the Bill gatez tax!!!", but compared to Win 7 the Windows 8 desktop isn't all that highly regarded, except for tablets.
      Sean Millon
    • Then you haven't tried a lot of desktops

      GNOME shell isn't terrible, but I wouldn't call it "productive". Here's a list of things that I find I have to work-around:

      * alt-tab between windows of the same type (yes, I know there are alternatives)
      * open new instance of same window (now there's ctrl-enter, which is better, but I don't like the default)
      * full-screen doesn't get rid of title-bar

      Here's my progression between desktop environments:

      * Windows 3.1 -> 95 -> 98 -> 2000 -> XP (when I was a kid)
      * GNOME 2 (starting at college, Ubuntu)
      * Windows 7 (bought new laptop)
      * KDE 4 (experiment, too much like Windows)
      * Unity (Ubuntu)
      * GNOME shell (Fedora, home only; Ubuntu/Unity at work)
      * AwesomeWM (Arch, home only, Fedora GNOME shell at work)
      * XMonad (Arch, home only, Arch GNOME shell at work)

      I found I really like tiling window managers. They're surprisingly productive because I never have to alt-tab between windows since XMonad doesn't let me overlay windows (except in floating, but I don't use that). Instead, I'm forced to organize my windows by workspace, and workspace management is significantly better than a crazy layering of windows with GNOME shell, KDE or whatever.

      I'm not completely disagreeing, because I find GNOME shell to be better than KDE and XFCE (haven't tried MATE or Cinnamon yet).