Debian Linux 7.0 Wheezy: Hands on

Debian Linux 7.0 Wheezy: Hands on

Summary: I've been experimenting with installing the new Debian release across a number of devices - here's what I've found so far.

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I have fallen behind on the Distro Deluge of new Linux releases, because I was traveling in the US for three weeks. The good news in that is that I took my two Acer Aspire One systems with me (725 and 522), and both performed extremely well during the trip. The bad news is that I have a couple of new releases to catch up on, and the release of Linux Mint 15 seems to be imminent. So it is time to get busy again.

A new Debian release is always big news, because they don't happen very often and because a lot of other Linux distributions are directly or indirectly based on it, such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Pinguy, Mepis and others.  So when Debian 7.0 was released on 4 May, a lot of people (including me) were quite pleased.

Unlike a lot of the other common/popular distributions, Debian offers a lot of different installation images, in a variety of formats and supporting several different CPU architectures. The Getting Debian web page breaks it out by installation image type:

  • Network Installation image (netinst): This is the one which I most commonly use, and recommend to others. The image is quite small (less than 200MB), and when you run the installation it automatically gets the latest packages, so you don't end up needing to update immediately after the installation completes. Of course, this type of installation requires that the system have a working (and reasonably fast) internet connection during the installation, either wired or wireless. If you don't have that, you'll have to use one of the other ISO image types.
  • CD/DVD Installer images: These are sets of ISO images, where the first disk will get you the basic installation with a graphical desktop (GUI), and the subsequent disks (up to nine or 10 CD images, three or four DVD images) will contain the rest of the complete distribution packages. For the CD images, it is useful to know that Debian supports a number of different desktops, including Gnome, KDE, Xfce and LXDE, and there is a different "disk 1" image for each of these desktops.  If you don't specifically choose one of the others, the default disk 1 image is a Gnome 3 installer.
  • Live CD images: As the name implies, these allow you to boot and run a "Live" image, and then if everything works the way you want, you can go ahead and install the system to your hard drive.  As with the CD/DVD installer images, there are different versions for Gnome, KDE, Xfce and LXDE desktops.

All of these are hybrid ISO images, which means that if you have a running Linux system, after downloading them you can just copy them with 'dd' to a USB thumb drive to make a bootable installation medium.

In the case of the netinst and installer images, when you boot them you will have a choice between the traditional ascii-text based installer and the slightly newer graphical installer; with the Live images you will also have the option to boot to a Live system. 

If you are not already familiar with Debian installers, don't get your hopes up when you read the "graphical installer" statement above, it is not the kind of complete GUI-based installer you might have seen with other popular distributions; it is actually just the text installer with mouse support added.

UEFI Support - Ok, here comes the first really important note. I read the release announcement and release notes pretty carefully, and I found several places where it said "UEFI boot is supported", but no details.

Then, because I was traveling while I was trying this and I didn't always have a reliable and fast internet connection, I first tried a Live ISO Image. It would only boot on my UEFI systems if I enabled "Legacy Boot".  Drat. 

It wasn't until I got home again, and tried the other images, that I realized that only the Live images are not UEFI Boot compatible; both the netinst and CD/DVD Installer images have UEFI boot capability. However, as far as I can tell none of them have Secure Boot compatibility, so you have to disable that in your BIOS to boot them.

I have installed this release (from the netinst image) on five of my systems so far: two with UEFI BIOS (Acer Aspire One 725 and HP Pavilion dm1-4310ez) and three with "normal" (legacy) BIOS (Acer Aspire One 522, HP Pavilion dm1-3105ez and Fujitsu Lifebook S6510).  On most of them I left it with the default Gnome 3 desktop:

Debian Gnome
Debian GNU/Linux 7.0 (Wheezy) Gnome 3 Desktop

 I ran into a number of stumbling blocks related to the Debian policy of not including any non-free software. In every case but one, the solution was to complete the installation, update the repository list to include contributed and non-free software, and then download the additional packages required to support my hardware.  Details:

  • Lifebook S6510: This "golden oldie" has an Intel wireless network adapter which requires a proprietary binary firmware file. To get it, I installed the package firmware-iwlwifi. It also has an Intel Core2Duo CPU and Intel graphic controller, all of which worked just fine and the performance was just fine, Gnome 3 came up in normal mode with no problem.
  • Radeon HD graphic adapters: All four of my netbooks have AMD CPUs and Radeon HD graphic controllers.  The problem is that with the latest Linux kernel and X.org display software, kernel mode setting can only be done when an additional firmware package is installed. The effect of this was different between machines; the two newest ones wouldn't start up the graphic desktop at all, while the two older ones would start, but they would only run the fallback Gnome Classic desktop. After installing the firmware-linux-nonfree package, all three worked normally.
  • Broadcom bcm43xx WiFi adapter: Requires the packagefirmware-brcm80211.
  • Ralink WiFi adapters: The HP 3105ez has a Ralink 5390 WiFi adapter, which requires the package firmware-ralink to work. The HP 4310ez has a Ralink 3290 adapter, which is apparently not supported by the drivers included with the Debain 7.0 release. First I couldn't find the firmware for it in the Debian repositories, then when I simply copied the necessary firmware file from another distribution (which has always worked for openSuSE, Fedora, Ubuntu and Mint), it still didn't work. I assume that the problem here is the older Linux kernel (3.2.0), when the necessary Ralink driver was added to the kernel only around version 3.5.x or so.

That's pretty much all of the non-foss/firmware problems I ran into. One other interesting thing that came up that I mentioned above, the Radeon HD graphic controllers didn't work properly (sometimes not at all) in the base installation. 

On the one netbook where it worked at least enough to boot, but then dropped me into the "Gnome Classic" desktop, I decided to try a different desktop before actually solving the problem by loading the necessary firmware package.  I simply went into synaptic and loaded the kde-full package.

That is a metapackage that gets you the complete KDE Software Collection plus some other useful KDE-specific applications. It takes quite a while to download and install, because it is a lot of stuff, but once it is done you an logout and then when you log back in after entering your login name you can change the Session to KDE, and you'll get this:

Debian KDE
Debian GNU/Linux 7.0 (Wheezy) KDE Desktop

Of course, you can do the same thing for Xfce (package xfce4) to get this:

Xfce4
Debian GNU/Linux 7.0 (Wheezy) Xfce 4 Desktop

 

There is an interesting illustration of the difference in the size and weight of Xfce and KDE - this downloads and installs much faster than the KDE metapackage did.  I mean really, really a lot faster.


I don't want to slight anybody here, or hurt any feelings, so of course you can also do this for LXDE (package lxde), to get this:

Debian LXDE
Debian GNU/Linux 7.0 (Wheezy) LXDE Desktop

 

 Once again, doing this was a good illustration of the relative size and weight of the desktop environments, because LXDE was an even smaller download and even faster installation than Xfce had been.

So now I have one system with all four desktops installed and I can choose whichever one I want during login. Hmmm. 

Well, technically it is even more than that, because installing LXDE brought along openbox, which can also be selected from the Session menu during login. Very spiffy.  Oh, and after installing all of these different desktops, I went back and installed the firmware-linux-nonfree package, and Gnome 3 was then happy as well.

Ok, enough of that fooling around. Here are two more notes specifically for more advanced users.  If you don't know what these are talking about, or you have never seen the situations described, don't worry about it. They are just a couple of things that have driven me crazy about Debian for quite some time, so I want to mention them quickly in hopes of helping someone else avoid them.

  • When I use the netinst installer and a wired network connection, Debian sets up a static configuration for the wired interface. This prevents Network Manager from controlling and configuring the wired networking, which is probably not an issue for 99 percent of the installations in the world, but I have run into a couple of situations where that was inconvenient. To get rid of this, all you have to do is edit /etc/network/interfaces, comment out (or delete) the lines for the wired interface, and reboot.
  • If you have any other Linux distributions installed on the system, then you will almost certainly already have a swap partition. When you install Debian it will detect that partition and use it - but it will "format" it, which will cause the UUID to change. This will cause any other distribution which activates the swap by UUID to fail. In some cases that is not too awful, because Linux just starts with no swap partition, and on most modern systems that doesn't matter. But there are some distributions which get more upset about this - Fedora and PCLinux OS, for example, stop during boot for a long time waiting for the swap partition to appear. I don't know exactly how long they wait, but it is at least a minute a two, and it is certainly long enough for the average user (i.e. me) to assume that the boot has hung. For most such systems you can solve this problem by simply updating the swap entry in /etc/fstab with the new UUID, but on PCLinuxOS you also have to recreate the initrd image. There is a fairly simple way to avoid this - during the Debian installation, when setting up disk partitions go to the swap partition and change it to "do not use". Then after installation is complete, add the appropriate swap line to /etc/fstab.

That's about it.  I didn't intend this to be a review, but more of a "here's what it is, how to get it and install it, and what signifiant experiences I have had so far". 

So I haven't run through a lot of detail about the bits and pieces. You can get a lot more of that kind of information from the Release Announcement. Oh, and I also mentioned above that Debian supports a lot of different CPU types and architectures that most other distributions do not; for a list of those, check the Release Notes, it's an impressive list, running from the ARM to the IBM S/390, and lots of stuff in between.

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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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30 comments
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  • Always poses the same question.

    7.0

    If it's free why does hardly anybody use it ?

    Answer : " I simply went into synaptic and loaded the kde-full package."
    Yeah sure, aunt Missy is eager to find out how to pull that stunt. ha ha ha ...
    Linux ... RIP
    EnticingHavoc
    • I very recently installed Windows Vista on a 2005-era desktop PC

      As I had spare Windows XP and Vista upgrade licenses. Upon installation, I had no networking (read Ethernet). Fortunately, I had the Windows XP Ethernet driver available so I installed it and now Ethernet works like a charm with Windows Vista. Fixed.

      The 2005-era desktop PC has insufficient integrated video RAM to run the Aero interface well. Since I like the Windows Classic interface, I switched to the Windows Classic interface from the default Aero interface. Fixed. (Note: Alternatively, I could have installed an after-market video card with more RAM and stayed with the Aero interface.)

      How well would aunt Missy deal with these Windows insyallation issues?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Your Argument Fails When You Look at the Numbers

      5.0

      While overall market share for linux may be small, it shows continued growth where MS shows continued decline. So while you say Linux RIP, Windows will be long gone before Linux goes away.

      As for your misguided answer as to why people don't use Linux...many distributions have Synaptic installed as a front end, which is just as easy as Windows Update, so going to terminal isn't always necessary. Even installing Windows for Aunt (yes, it's capitalized) Missy would require some degree of education, even five minutes. In five minutes, I can show her how to use Synaptic.
      Czarcasmo
    • Even a complete Windoz moron

      5.0

      can install Ubuntu. It's easier than Windoz, just put the disk in, tell it what language...done. Maybe even you...
      timspublic1
    • I'd like to see Aunt Missy install Windows

      5.0

      Few people use Linux, as with OS X, because thirty odd years ago, when IBM came out with the first MicTel PC, corporate America decided that Microsoft and Intel should become the standard for corporate use. They bought plenty, and most other people wanted their home computer to be compatible with their office computer, so they bought the same. One Microsoft and Intel became entrenched, they have proven very hard to dislodge. It was never a question of merit since IBM designed the first PC's to be as bad as possible. IBM believed in big iron and did not believe, or want, the PC to be a success. And that is how the public got conned.
      jorjitop
    • Yeah...

      9.0

      Basically Synaptic is like an "app store", but without prices. So yeah, she probably could.

      I'll answer your question though... The reason most people run Windows is that's what their computer came with. So everything they have ever done on their computer, every interaction they have ever had with it, has happened through the lens of Windows. So it isn't that there is anything particularly wrong with Linux, there isn't, but it isn't Windows and it requires a positive choice.

      If that isn't true, then Linux does better. If you give someone a computer with Linux installed (and a selection of applications pertinent to them) show them how it works - then there is much less 'kick-back'. Many will find Linux more than acceptable.

      Debian probably isn't the best "first Linux" for most users, and something like Ubuntu or Mint is a better introduction.
      jeremychappell
  • Microsoft, are you reading this?

    8.0

    From the article:
    "So now I have one system with all four desktops installed and I can choose whichever one I want during login. Hmmm.

    Why not allow Windows 8 users the option to boot into either the Modern UI or desktop on login? And to make either the Modern UI or desktop the default on login?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • 8.1 Update?

      I think the SP1 for Windows 8 will provide you the opportunity to login to either the Metro interface or the traditional desktop as well as bring back the Start button for use. So, they're trying, least. Maybe they'll get it straight in Windows 9.
      Czarcasmo
    • simple

      5.0

      because they need everyone to be exposed to metro, so that when they see a phone with metro, familiarity will get them to buy it. "Oh that phone looks just like my PC screen that I love - I'll take it!"

      This is a prime example of why I don't use windows unless I have to. This sort of marketing nonsense gets in the way of the things I need to do on my computer.
      deathjazz
    • Re: Microsoft, are you reading this?

      Nope. No need to, because you will buy our product anyway.
      ldo17
  • communist???

    @MetroIsAWayOfLife.......
    Linux is all about FREEDOM of choice, FREEDOM of creation, and VOLUNTARILY working together, for all.
    Communisim cannot survive in such an atmosphere, neither can socialisim, which, while similar, is not the same thing. Both tend to be "one size fits all", except for the leadership class.
    Freedom of choice est verbotten!!!
    Old Dog V
    • pretty sure the guy is being sarcastic

      5.0

      Probably no point in arguing with.
      deathjazz
    • Hello, fish

      Apparently, even Metro's heavy handed sarcasm will catch a few unwary Talkbackers.
      John L. Ries
    • Linux and Windows

      5.0

      I have been using Linux on my home server for about three years. I keep trying it with my desktop, but Window is simply a better operating system, though not as secure. I put up with cleaning occasional malware in my desktop just to use the Windows applications and OS.
      hayneiii
  • "weight of Xfce and KDE"

    5.0

    KDE and its associated apps is way more functional than Xfce so it make sense. I don't know why people have to bother with so called 'lightweight' DEs. I mean WTF do we all have core i5 quad core PCs and 1TB hard disks with 16GB of memory for?
    drwong
    • Sure, however...

      If you're looking at only KDE apps versus only XFCE apps -- sure. But that also could change depending on your definition of functional and what *you* need to be functional. XFCE out of the box does most of what I need. I have zero need for most of KDE. So why bother putting it on? I you use anything and everything that starts with K or k, then KDE is fantastic and you should use it. I, many others, and JAW do not either. And a lot of people have quad-core i5s with 1TB HDDs and 16GB RAM for development, compiling, virtualization, or gaming. Not necessarily for day-to-day desktop use. One of my day-to-day desktops is a P4, 512MB RAM IBM ThinkCentre. Runs XFCE and is a dream.
      Czarcasmo
    • DrWong: "weight of Xfce and KDE"

      DrWong wrote:
      "I mean WTF do we all have core i5 quad core PCs and 1TB hard disks with 16GB of memory for?

      Many GNU/Linux users have older hardware and a lighter desktop environment (or window manager) works better for them. In addition, many GNU/Linux users with modern hardware prefer a simpler desktop environment and want their resources to be applied to the applications that they run.

      Seriously, what percentage of GNU/Linux desktop users do you think have hardware equal to or greater than "core i5 quad core PCs and 1TB hard disks with 16GB of memory"?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • On KDE now...

        Everything besides firefox adds up to about 3% usage at most, usually 1 or 2% CPU/RAM, got 1760 mb of video ram free if I decide to do something besides read a couple sites, just a dinky 2.4 Ghz dual core celeron with 6 gb of ram btw.

        KDE makes better use of my video card than XFCE and LXDE did, which reduces the CPU usage overall, so that is a point in favor of KDE I think, plus I love my all green/brown/aqua layout, so easy on the eyes. :D
        Max™‮‮
  • Consider How Hard It Is To Install Windows 7 On A Windows 8 PC...

    ...and you see why so many people are choosing Linux instead.
    ldo17
  • Now that is a real OS with a usable UI

    10.0

    not like that stupid Windows 8 with its KIDDIE styled Metro UI that is proving to be a total fail.
    Over and Out