Debian Lenny: 64-bit Pain
Debian has a different approach to 64-bit hardware. The entire system is 64-bit, and the only way you can run anything 32-bit is in a “jail” — a sort of security sandbox isolated from the system itself. I suppose this adds some measure of security, but it also offers a unique experience in pure 64-bit computing.
The Debian community once planned to make their distro a little easier to install and configure, adding the graphical installer as a first step. However, their upcoming Lenny (5.0) release candidate uses a very recent X.org package, for which virtually no Debian scripts exist. Sure, you can run the Xorg script to capture most of the hardware (
Xorg -configure) and it will do just the minimum. I had to add an awful lot of information about my monitor to get anything useful out of it. When I added the nVidia driver, I had to wrestle with it for quite sometime, since it likes to ignore standard settings options willy-nilly and force you to accept defaults. Eventually I got what I wanted, but it was downright painful, because there is no single repository of information on this.
The other big headache was sound. While detection of the chipset was fine, there was a conflict with my USB webcam, which sports a microphone. The scripts and alsa-utils offer no obvious means to tell the system to load the webcam after the sound system. Finally, I discovered a very obscure tweak: adding a single last line to
options snd-usb-audio index=-2. So now my sound works beautifully and so does the webcam. Since I used the KDE installer for all this, I got Noatun for all my video and sound files. Oddly, the codecs provided by default actually played everything I had to test it. However, Noatun kept crashing, so I switched to Xine for some of the file types. However, as with CentOS, I find running video and sound in 64-bit makes a difference in the quality of the output.
Yet again the issue with Nedit was already worked out by the builders. Cheese was already built and available, so making optimal use of my webcam is already covered. I never did get an answer from the Cheese project on how to build it on CentOS. The primary flaw of Debian is no simple firewall setup. You can install any number of packages, but every one of them is far too advanced for the average home user, demanding decisions no ordinary user should have to make. On top of that, most of the firewall packages require reading a small book just to use their “simplified” management. This is carried over into Ubuntu and a few other Debian clones.
At any rate, once you struggle through the issues on Debian Lenny for AMD64, you won’t have to mess with it again for a very long time. The long release cycle for Debian offers plenty of time to get used to things, and good support for packages in each release. The only other hassle was not really Debian’s problem: CentOS by default uses volume management on harddrives, and hides carefully any options for avoiding it during the installation. It took some reading and poking about before I found out how to mount my CentOS drive to copy files over.
Update: I’m closing this post to any further comments. Some of the comments have been removed, so it may not make sense. I’m being spammed by a particular Debian freak who don’t understand: My choice not to use Debian should not be taken as a personal insult. The folks who run the Debian Project have no interest in meeting my needs, and that’s fine. This is not about superiority, but suitability.