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Debian Software Linux

Debian And The Rise of Linux 438

Posted by Hemos
from the apt-get-reinvention dept.
There's an article in this month's LinMagAu that asks a question about how the rise of Linux will impact Debian and what that could mean. Good article, especially interesting if you have been a fan of Debian.
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Debian And The Rise of Linux

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 30, 2003 @08:06AM (#6329672)
    By mid 2004 at the latest Linux will be a serious contender on the average desktop. The downfall of Windows won't be imminent (that will take another couple of years at least) but Linux will begin to take a serious chunk of the market. Kids will be doing their homework with it, Moms and Pops will be doing Internet banking and sending email to Aunt Edna with it, secretaries will be drafting letters with it, accountants will be creating spreadsheets with it.

    But will Debian be there?

    We all know that Debian is technically one of the most advanced operating systems on the planet, but is it ready to ride the coming shockwave of the desktop Linux juggernaught?

    And just as importantly, do we want it to?

    Yes, I know the argument that says Debian is created for the benefit of the people who do the creating, and that we shouldn't care if anyone outside the core developer group uses it or not.

    I think that argument is bunk.

    I say we should want Debian to grow with Linux, because if it doesn't, it's doomed. Doomed to be marginalised in an increasingly Linux-aware market, and doomed to be eclipsed technically by development efforts focused on the high profile commercial distros.

    This point was really driven home to me last week when on two consecutive days I was asked for instructions on setting up Apt-cacher under Red Hat. The requests came from people who manage networks of Red Hat boxes using Apt-rpm, and naturally they wanted to cache packages to save some bandwidth. Apt-rpm and Apt-cacher were exactly the solution they needed.

    So a Debian initiative saved the day for some Red Hat users. Sweet.

    But now the most frequently cited technical advantage of Debian is gone, assimilated by the highest profile commercial distro. Now when people are discussing switching to Linux, there is no longer the argument that Debian is worth the pain of the initial install and the lack of general vendor support in order to reap the benefit of the most advanced package management system in the world. Instead, users can just install Red Hat and still get the benefits of Apt.

    Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. It's the way things are meant to work in the Open Source world. Good ideas and good software get around, and a fundamental part of the Debian credo is that we don't restrict who can benefit from it, no matter what their application. That's a principle I firmly believe in.

    And of course I'm glossing over the situation a bit here: I can imagine Debian developers all around the world jumping up and down and yelling that Debian is much more than a bunch of packages, or a technical specification for how to create them, or a tool to manage them. But I'm deliberately simplifying things because that's the way the average Joe User is going to see it: Oh, Red Hat has Apt now, cool. I'll use that instead of Debian.

    Joe User doesn't know (or care) about the obsessive backporting of security patches to the stable release, or about the technical and social infrastructure and numerous supporting apps built up around Dpkg and Apt, or Debian's devotion to the purity of truly Open Source licences. As far as Joe User is concerned Redhat has Apt, and that's all there is to it. They don't know enough to make the finer distinctions.

    Without distinguishing features like Apt, the argument for going with Debian is diminished. Sure, there are still arguments to be made, but they are less obvious. Here's an exercise for you: imagine you are standing at the water cooler chatting with workmates, and a non-technical colleague just said they are thinking of trying Linux at home and were going to install Red Hat but they heard Debian is really good, but has a tricky installer. They think they'll just try Red Hat because that's what they've heard of other people using, but are interested in your opinion because you're in computers. You've got exactly 15 seconds to succinctly explain why Debian may be better for them than Red Hat.
  • by caffeinex36 (608768) on Monday June 30, 2003 @08:11AM (#6329696)
    Well, not in a corporate environment I don't see it much.

    Usually, if at all linux....its RH. :(

    sad...but true...
    -Rob
  • by bytes256 (519140) on Monday June 30, 2003 @08:30AM (#6329778)

    We already have one of these.

    It's called LSB - The Linux Standard Base.

    However, Red Hat is the de facto standard, so if you were developing an application for Linux, I would develop for that and check for incompatibilities in other distros later.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 30, 2003 @08:37AM (#6329813)
    For those turned off or scared away by the debian install process (which still seems stuck in the 90's. Jesus, did I just say that?), grab a Knoppix CD.

    No, seriously. I don't run debian primarily because I don't want to go through the install process. I don't know what chipset my nic has, and I really don't care to know, know what I mean? Ditto with everything else.

    I've been using flavors of RedHat, culminating with Redhat9 that's currently my Linux of "choice", mainly because Redhat offered superior hardware detection/setup. But, I've always had to tweak a bit here and there to get it working nicely.

    However, with the advent of Knoppix, I think that's about to change. I popped in Knoppix 3.2 today for the first time to see what it was all about. The hardware detection on this LIVE CD is absolutely.. superb. It recognized and setup my Orinoco Wireless card. It found and mounted my Sony Cybershot Camera. Jesus, it even found and setup my Wacom! The only thing it didn't do was give me dual-head support OOB, but I don't think I know any distro that does that. But that's okay, fortunately I know how to set that up myself. It comes with KDE, it looks great, it just WORKS. And because it "just works" I'm really tempted to wipe RedHat off and do the HD install of this.

    Some notes that I've come across, though: As Knoppix uses a special blend of testing/unstable (or something like that), it's really hard to do dist-upgrade and what not without downgrading your desktop. I heartily recommend reading through the docs at the Knoppix website and finding out what issues may remain. As a desktop Debian based distro, though, I think Knoppix just plain rules.
  • by kronsrepus (52625) on Monday June 30, 2003 @08:39AM (#6329821) Homepage
    The New Zealand Electoral Department is (apparently) moving all of their desktop machines nationwide to run Debian linux. Now if that goes ahead as planned, that'll be a HUGE victory for Debian.

    This news coming just after the NZ Govt signed some huge Microsoft deal...
  • up2date vs apt (Score:3, Informative)

    by mapnjd (92353) * <nicNO@SPAMworldofnic.org> on Monday June 30, 2003 @08:42AM (#6329827) Homepage Journal
    The author raises many valid points, but it should be noted that not many Red Hat users could give a stuff about 'apt'.

    Red Hat Linux comes with one free basic RHN/up2date licence. For enterprise customers (like us) 'RHN Enterprise' with central package management, server grouping etc. is a fantastic product and superior to using apt.

    Obsessing with apt and the (internal) superiority of dpkg is typical of the Debian bigot. Those of us in the real world have more important fish to fry.
  • by WanderingGhost (535445) on Monday June 30, 2003 @08:47AM (#6329858)
    Well, it's sad that people say that now that apt has been ported to other distributions, Debian has no advantages anymore. The development process in Debian is the real advantage, with some nice consequences:

    • Eleven hardware architectures supported.
    • Support for other kernels (Hurd and BSD) is almost there (experimental versions do work already).
    • A solid and intelligent policy, which will yield uniformness among packages, their directories and configuration files, etc, besides other nice things.
    • An excellent bug-tracking system.
    • More software than any other Linux distribution.
    • Respect for upstream software (like, Debian doesn't call Apache "httpd", they call it "apache").
    • Usually, there are scripts to automate everything: compare kernel compilation in RedHat to kernel compilation in Debian, for example.
    • Stability. Debian is famous for not releasing buggy software, no matter how long it takes to release.
    • Respect for suggestions and request from users: Debian will listen to users (via the bug tracking system), and if what you say makes sense, it will be included. No marketing department will filter anything.


    Well, ther are other advantages, but these are the ones I remember now. By the way, I've been using APT for Conectiva, and I can tell you it's really not as good as the original (lacks stability, and is slower).
  • Re:Oh Dear God No (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Monday June 30, 2003 @08:48AM (#6329868)
    What i dont like about debian:

    -Only good for servers


    Upgrade your MDA video card, you'll see it's pretty good at being a desktop box. Where the hell did you get that ?

    -Stable: old

    Possibly, but it's stable. That's the main reason to use it. Caldera OpenLinux, which was supposed to be robust as a primary goal, also had outdated but well-tested packages (before Caldera let it grow too old it was useless to everybody).

    -Unstable:looking for trouble, and still old

    No and no. I use unstable with no problem at all, and I don't find it very out of date. Some things are, but most of the packages are fairly current.

    -Licensing issues, cool apps missing

    That's partially true. But you can always add non-free sources in your /etc/apt/sources.list. And you can always compile the tarballs if you really need to.

    -No xfree 4.3, no mplayer

    No mplayer ? hello ?

    ppc@akula:~$ apt-cache search mplayer
    mplayer-mozilla - Embedded video player for mozilla
    mencoder-386 - MPlayer's Movie Encoder
    acidrip - ripping and encoding DVD tool using mplayer and mencoder
    mencoder-686 - MPlayer's Movie Encoder
    mplayer-k6 - The Ultimate Movie Player For Linux
    mplayer-doc - Documentation for mplayer
    mplayer-fonts - Fonts for mplayer
    kplayer - A KDE media player based on MPlayer
    mencoder-k6 - MPlayer's Movie Encoder
    lumiere - A GNOME frontend to mplayer
    mplayer-386 - The Ultimate Movie Player For Linux
    mplayer-686 - The Ultimate Movie Player For Linux


    -Unfriendly community

    Unfortunately, that's true, at least partially.

    -Everyone now has apt or an improved version of it
    -Installer sucks
    -Dselect sucks


    dselect and installer do suck, yes. But it's worth the pain IMHO.
  • Knoppix (Score:2, Informative)

    by kronsrepus (52625) on Monday June 30, 2003 @08:50AM (#6329883) Homepage
    A couple of other people mentioned Knoppix as the wonderful work of Debian, with better usability.

    Knoppix has a wonderful hardware detection wizard, a simple script to install to the hard drive, and is also mentioned in the same edition of LinMagAu, surprisingly the writer didn't include a reference to it.

    Personally I'm starting to hand friends a copy of Knoppix, if they like it I'll point them to the hdd install script.

    Debian is a great base for Knoppix, and once a user becomes competent they can take advantage of the underlying Debian power - but they dont need a geek on hand to get started.
  • by juahonen (544369) <jmz@iki.fi> on Monday June 30, 2003 @09:24AM (#6330084) Homepage

    If your RedHat installation doesn't give you what you need from a server operating system, it's a good time to think about switching. I would not rush it, since there is always the chance something is screwed and restoring an entire system back is not easily done even if you keep full backups. You should at least familiarize yourself with Debian before you start running servers with it.

    The Debian install is not much different from the rest of the distros. If you know how Linux works, the text-based installation progress is quite simple. You can set it up to get packages from the net, so there's no need to burn all the CD's. The Debian web site has links to netinstall ISO images which are only 10-30 MB.

    For me Debian install takes about half an hour. You might need considerably more on your first run. But heed this warning: Don't run task-sel nor dselect to pick the apps. I've yet to hear of a successful use of those two utilities. Especially for a server environment, you probably don't want to have all kinds of software lying around (both task-sel and dselect install tons of software you didn't want).

    After you have your Debian system configured, it's a simple matter of apt-cache search'ing and apt-get install'ing the software you need. The dependency system will take care of the libraries and softwares to which the software you want depends on. After two hours you should be set up (depending on your network connection speed) with the software you need.

    To keep up with security, choose only stable Debian packages. Then it's a simple matter of scripting to set up a cron job to do atp-get update and apt-get dist-upgrade periodically.

    You might also want to take a look at Gentoo Linux, which offers similar packaging system to Debian. Gentoo philosophy is that you're provided with the package information and source codes which are compiled on your system for optimal setup; there's no binary distribution. I don't know of their security update model.

    And if you're open-minded, there are always the BSDs.

  • by jonoxer (547509) on Monday June 30, 2003 @09:26AM (#6330090) Homepage
    As far as installation time goes, well, that varies ;-)

    One of the earlier articles covers running the basic installer, but you may have trouble getting to it right now since the linmagau server is slashdotted:

    http://www.linmagau.org/modules.php?op=modload&nam e=Sections&file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=46&pag e=1 [linmagau.org]

    As for time to invest in updating security patches etc, that depends which distro (Stable, Testing, Unstable) you go with. For a server, use Stable. Then as long as you have security.debian.org in your sources.list (the default if you use the Woody installer) and do a regular "apt-get update; apt-get upgrade" you'll be set as far as security patches are concerned.

    For Testing and Unstable the situation is slightly more complex, but for a server they are irrelevant unless you start doing things like backporting recent packages - not something you are likely to do until you learn more about Debian.

    I'm intending to do a future article on the process Debian use for security patches, advisories etc. It's in my TOC on www.debianuniverse.com [debianuniverse.com] anyway ;-)
  • by __past__ (542467) on Monday June 30, 2003 @09:30AM (#6330116)
    However, Red Hat is the de facto standard
    Only in some parts of the world. If you want your package to be used by all these german gouvernment departments switching to Linux now, you should better make sure that it works on SuSE, scince that is pretty much the default distro here. As fas as I understand, it is similar with TurboLinux and Connectiva in their respective markets, so testing for UnitedLinux compatibility right from the start would seem like a good idea if you don't want to piss of people in some of the biggest markets for Linux software.
  • by Gleef (86) * on Monday June 30, 2003 @09:35AM (#6330148) Homepage
    It depends on who makes the decision as to what to use in a corporate environment.

    If English-speaking non-technical executives decide to pick a Linux distro, I'd say they overwhelmingly seem to choose Red Hat, since that's the one they're most likely to know / Dell's most likely to pre-install.

    If technical staff is allowed to make the decision, Debian makes a much better showing. In my experience, over half of these installations are Debian, Red Hat being second most popular.
  • Re:Oh Dear God No (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zigg (64962) on Monday June 30, 2003 @10:11AM (#6330386)

    No mplayer ? hello ?

    Just to nitpick, I think you got those from Christian Marillat's apt source [marillat.free.fr]; they're not in Debian proper.

    dselect and installer do suck, yes. But it's worth the pain IMHO.

    dselect sucks and is not worth the pain. aptitude, on the other hand, is Very Good. (Incidentally, I wonder if on Red Hat + APT, I can browse packages like I do with aptitude's UI...)

  • by shplorb (24647) on Monday June 30, 2003 @10:24AM (#6330493) Homepage Journal
    To me, Debian is simple and elegant. I don't use Linux for a desktop system at all anymore, I use OS X and Windows. Why do I use OS X? Because it's simple and elegant. Windows isn't exactly that, but it's a lot more so than your average Linux desktop. (I'm talking Win2K, not XP here.)

    I do, however, use Debian on a couple of servers. I used to use RedHat because you could pretty much install it and use it, but when I needed to modify something - like add a new module to Apache - it would all turn to shit. Eventually I tried out Debian because I'd heard ravings about apt. There was no going back.

    After I purchased an iBook I came to appreciate form and functionality more than the intricacies of how things work. Sure, it's not as powerful as my friends Toshiba, but it does the job whilst being smaller, quieter, lighter and longer-lasting on a battery charge than his. I'm sick to death of fucking with drivers in Windows, etc. I just want things to work, and to work simply so I can get on with being productive. Microsoft try to do it, but it just doesn't work. (Look at XP or MSN Messenger 6 - meant to look simple and nice, but horribly cluttered and confusing.) Apple know how to do it. Same with Debian.

    I see Debain being to Linux distributions as Apple is to PC's and Ferrari is to cars - a small, niche player, producing quality products for those who appreciate the finer things in life.

  • by lerouxb (457837) on Monday June 30, 2003 @10:26AM (#6330519)
    I think gentoo can more easily become the reference implementation. Thats because things are closest to how the individual developers intended them. No redhat/mandrake/debian branding, backports or modified packages.

    Besides - apt is old. portage is a new and innovative system. Yes - Gentoo is currently a source-based distro, but they are moving to a reference platform and it is possible to use pre-compiled binary packages.

    Many gentoo users are ex-debian users. It might not be as stable as debian stable, but it is more stable than mandrake, redhat and debian unstable. (and more up to date as well)
  • deja vu (Score:4, Informative)

    by illsorted (12593) on Monday June 30, 2003 @11:41AM (#6331199)
    I thought this looked familiar:

    Exhibit A [slashdot.org]
  • by po8 (187055) on Monday June 30, 2003 @12:29PM (#6331607)

    If you know what you want, you can run stable plus a few packages from unstable. It's a total and unecessary pain to set up, and then works like a charm forever ("the Debian Way"). Edit your /etc/apt/preferences file to have

    Package: *
    Pin: release a=stable
    Pin-Priority: 500

    Package: *
    Pin: release a=unstable
    Pin-Priority: 495
    Now you can say apt-get -t unstable install foo and the foo package will be installed from unstable and will be maintained. Have fun!
  • by Sinistar2k (225578) on Monday June 30, 2003 @12:34PM (#6331646)
    When reformatting an old HP Omnibook 2000 (P-133, 1.3gig HD, no CD-Rom), I decided to give Debian (woody) a go because it had the cleanest, purest install I could find without going the route of Gentoo.

    Three weeks later, I finally had it working properly.

    My first stumblings were because of the installer not liking my PCMCIA card. A purchase of a new card fixed that. But then I got to the package installer and wow... it was one of the most unusable things I had ever encountered. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, I would press Enter one too many times and the install would take off before I had even gotten through all the options.

    Once I decided to just abandon that and do a base install / apt-get what I need setup, things went better, but then every time I did a startx, my system would lock hard. I worked on that one a long time before breaking down and just installing the 2.4.18 kernel package. Problem solved, but it took a long time for me to get to that point (and a test install of Red Hat had X11 coming up properly the first time).

    Then I got blackbox and fluxbox installed to try out some lightweight but functional window managers. Worked great until I ran XDM, which would then vomit all over itself. Finally figured out where in the XSM configuration I needed to make changes. Got that running well.

    Fortunately, I didn't need sound, serial, or parallel working on this laptop for the task for which I intended it, otherwise I might have been scratching my balding head even more.

    All that said, it's running now. Apt-get is an absolute dream (a package manager that takes care of dependencies for me? Sweet joy!). But my difficulty in getting basic things done was enough that I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Had the laptop been a bit beefier, I would have given up after day three and gone straight to Red Hat.

    So, at this point, I'm enjoying my Debian install, but I wouldn't ever do it again with a system that I considered critical or that had to be up and running quickly.
  • by Minna Kirai (624281) on Monday June 30, 2003 @02:11PM (#6332436)
    In other words, rpm (like deb) is a package format.

    Not exactly. rpm is also a package installer program, like Debian's dpkg.

    rpm : rpm : up2date
    deb : dpkg : apt


    A statement comparing "apt vs rpm" is valid, if both are interpreted as software applications.

    In fact, that comparison was once very important for Debian evaneglism. Until recently (and maybe still?), rpm was the primary tool for RedHat users to install packages. Before the introduction of RedHat's up2date, comparing "The primary command-line tools to install packages on RedHat and Debian" meant comparing the user-friendliness of rpm and apt-get. Naturally, apt-get won completely, because its featureset is far out of rpm's league.
  • by edbarrett (150317) on Monday June 30, 2003 @02:43PM (#6332760)
    Look here [kde.org], about halfway down the page for the line to add to your sources.list to install KDE 3.1.2 for Debian stable.

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