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No Debian for the Clueless

Tuesday 1 February 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

It crossed my mind I could start a new project. Given Debian was about to release their newest — “Squeeze” 6.0 — and I wanted to install it on my laptop, it seemed I might write a few articles here about it. But it’s crazy.

There are a lot of Debian users in the world, and they all seem to write little HOWTOs and tips. The documentation for Debian-related stuff is massive on the Net. The biggest problem is simply learning enough about Linux in general, because Debian does not offer a single unified tool for system configuration. You really have to know a lot about each individual item in order to even know what you want to configure.

I didn’t have any trouble installing the Squeeze RC-2, just a single hiccup when it couldn’t quite wipe the Win7 NTFS partition cleanly. I’d swear Win7 tries to do something crazy to hard drives so nothing else can use them — ever. But I got it installed without any further drama and everything works fine. Still, I realized how much I took for granted knowing about when I started writing notes. By the time I could simplify it down for the clueless, it would be a book.

Further, the dead-tree books on Linux are always obsolete by the time you see them in the stores. It’s a moving target, and it seems to be getting faster every year.

At any rate, Debian is not for newbies who don’t have someone to hold their hand. I really like it, and it’s support is almost as long as for RHEL and clones. It’s very hackable (hacking in the harmless sense). But I would have to set up a long series of classes to teach Debian to folks who hadn’t experienced Linux before. I’d be teaching a lot of generic Linux first, because Debian is pretty generic.

On top of that, a lot of serious Debian fans already hate my writing, so it’s not as if I could draw a bunch of traffic here from them. I suppose it’s because I’m not a part of the Church of Debian. Still, I can recommend it to those with a thirst for computer knowledge and experience with Linux.

Update: I’m already getting belligerent comments from the Church of Debian devotees. If you are one of those, don’t bother commenting, because I’ll delete it.

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  1. TheGZeus
    Wednesday 2 February 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Hmm.
    This is a very broad review.
    I wish you’d have given some examples.

    You could have said the same thing with the single sentence “It’s good, but it’s hard”.

  2. Chris
    Wednesday 2 February 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Not only for the clueless, but also for people who want to use networks with WPA encyrption.
    Cause my wireless card doesnt work with WPA with Debian’s kernel even if i install the firmware from non-free. So excuse me, but i’ll pass on Squeeze.
    I dont consider acceptable the distributions kernel not working with my (linux friendly) hardware.
    I realise the need to ship a free kernel, but maybe they should start offering kernels in non-free as well. Just a thought.

  3. Jon Germany
    Thursday 3 February 2011 at 4:25 am

    seeing as Ubuntu & Mepis is Debian Based, I would imagine you should be able to install the front ends and utils used in them to make it easier to use. You would just need to add their repo’s to your /etc/sources.list But I agree, I used to use Debian then after having the same difficulties as you I stopped using it and used Mepis instead. Now I use Ubuntu or Linux Mint.

  4. Thursday 3 February 2011 at 5:00 am

    Jon, I have no trouble running Ubuntu on this laptop. However, I found the caring embrace a little to restrictive. As my laptop is currently a test machine, and I write for a webzine about technology issues, the next item up for testing was Squeeze. Frankly, I’m going to be keeping this awhile. I didn’t have any need for what made Mepis and Mint different.

  5. Thursday 3 February 2011 at 5:02 am

    Chris, I’m sorry to hear you had trouble with that. My own experience here was no problem at all, once I built the Broadcom STA module using the official guide online (using module assistant). It was quite ready for WPA2 and everything. Of course, I did all that while having the wire connected, which worked without any special modules.

  6. Thursday 3 February 2011 at 5:07 am

    Well, TheGZues, this post was aimed at an audience of regular readers who would have understood. It was not a review of Debian, but a review of my experience as a writer playing with Debian. My point was, having just published here a long series of “RHEL for the Clueless,” I was ready to share another series of “Debian for the Clueless.” But I changed my mind after installing Squeeze and realizing it was too big of a task. This is not something I’d publish on my webzine, but on my personal blog, a little rambling is par for the course.

  7. yonnie
    Thursday 3 February 2011 at 6:22 am

    I installed Squeeze and love it! It was the easiest install I’ve done up to then (almost a year ago), and everything worked?! It’s so easy… I have it setup for my wife to use who is computer-challenged.
    It’s easy to install and runs well on just about every desktop or laptop I’ve tried it on with exceptions being older than 10 years. (I’m talking about more than a dozen) Squeeze even found ways to make wireless pci/pcm cards to work ~automagically~

  8. Chris Carpenter
    Thursday 3 February 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Well, I may be considered one of the “Church of Debian” but I seem to have lower blood pressure than many of the other devotees :P.(Have you ever read the mailing lists? They get really heated sometimes :)

    I’m not a Developer or anything, but I use it exclusively for all my machines save at work, where we use Fedora/Redhat systems. I’d say Debian is fine for normal users who have a techie to set everything up originally and help out with the few problems they’ll experience overtime. However, I would agree that a new convert from the Apple/Windows world with little to no unix/linux experience and no more experienced users around to help would probably have problems.

    In any case, I have no problem with what you said in your article and agree with its conclusions.

    @Chris I’ve never heard of that problem with WPA, have you asked around the support channels(#debian IRC on freenode or mailing lists/forums) about it? It’d be nice if you would file a bug, as the non-free developers may not be aware of the issue. Sure, some developers will say “it is non-free so we don’t care” but most will help I think.

  9. Thursday 3 February 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Indeed, Mr. Carpenter. This is the reason I don’t spend much time on Debian forums. The intemperate comments I delete here whenever I mention Debian outnumber those I let through by long shot. I would say I’m not averse to explaining myself and I’ve posted plenty of contrary statements on other posts in the past, but nobody should have to put up with vitriol. I’m afraid the Debian community is infamous for such things.

    But I still love using Debian.

  10. GregE
    Thursday 3 February 2011 at 11:05 pm

    “The documentation for Debian-related stuff is massive on the Net” Unfortunately most of it is out of date and no longer relevant in this millennium. When problem solving it can be tedious to trawl through stuff that should have been removed years ago.

  11. Friday 4 February 2011 at 5:18 am

    Greg, I agree there’s a lot of old stuff. I’ve recently run across references applying to Potato. I think the problem is too many of those who wrote this stuff weren’t careful about tagging it according to which release it covered. I’ve tried to be careful myself about that.

  1. Wednesday 2 February 2011 at 2:49 pm

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