So why I am I calling the review of the GNOME edition "Part 1"? Debian is one of two distributions (the other being RHEL/CentOS (and I suppose PCLinuxOS could be included to some extent, so I guess that makes 3)) renowned for its stability; the reason why there's a relatively long gap between releases and why new versions are released only when they're ready is so that as many bugs as possible can be ironed out. (A side effect of this is that large amounts of time are allotted specifically for the purpose of getting rid of bugs, in what is known in the Linux distribution development community as a "feature freeze"; a side effect of such a long feature freeze is that by the time a new version of Debian is released, its components are already 3 or 4 versions old, which is good in terms of stability but bad in terms of getting the latest and greatest features (and oftentimes, newer versions of software iron out the wrinkles of older versions, so sometimes the well-tested older version may still be buggy in some ways). Keep reading to find out whether or not this is true.) Anyway, the point of saying all this is that if an application or even larger component (e.g. a DE) makes it into a Debian release, that's basically a seal of approval in terms of stability. This is why I want to test the GNOME, KDE, LXDE, and Xfce versions of Debian to see if these versions live up to their promises of stable computing; LXDE is a relative newcomer to the DE scene, while KDE 4 suffered from stability problems up until a few months ago, so the fact that these have made it into the newest stable version of Debian must mean that they themselves are fairly stable.
Today, I'm starting with the GNOME version because this is typically the version of Debian that gets the most attention. It is often described as the most bare-bones and lightweight (on hardware resources) implementation of GNOME possible (Arch and Gentoo notwithstanding). Follow the jump to see if these things really are true. As this is a milestone in Linux distribution releases, I'll also be covering the installation procedure.
For a rather utilitarian distribution, I was surprised to see things like Cheese Webcam Booth (which, alas, still doesn't work because of VirtualBox's feud with my laptop webcam) and the GNOME Games pack. Actually, the live DVD includes a surprising number of (sometimes redundant) applications. Mozilla Firefox, branded in Debian style as Iceweasel, is present. No proprietary codecs are included, but some free software alternatives are present instead. For example, Gnash is included instead of Adobe Flash. As this is the first time that I've used Gnash, I have to say that it needs a good bit of work, because although it works, on YouTube it causes both the video and the sound to play about twice as slowly as they should (and look and sound rather choppy). Iceweasel itself is at version 3.5 (equivalent to Mozilla Firefox 3.5, which is already 1 (soon to be 2) major version(s) old), showing the effects of the early feature freeze. Plus, Iceweasel is probably going to be more commonly used than Epiphany, the native GNOME/GTK+ browser, so what's the point of Epiphany? It just seems redundant. Also, if GNOME/GTK+ integration is important enough to merit the inclusion of Epiphany, why not Midori, another native GNOME browser that has seen a lot more development of late (compared to Epiphany)? Is this another side effect of the early feature freeze? I suspect as much, so I hope that with version 7 "Wheezy", Midori replaces Epiphany.
|Nautilus, OpenOffice.org, and Gnumeric|
OpenOffice.org is present at version 3.2, which is fairly recent, but strangely, AbiWord and Gnumeric are also present, which reinforces the impression of there being too many applications doing similar things. Similarly, Ekiga and Empathy (2 native GNOME instant messaging clients) are present together, though Empathy was supposed to have totally replaced Ekiga (and yet for all this, Pidgin isn't included). Of course, Synaptic Package Manager is the way to go for adding and removing packages, though Debian seems to have adapted the new Ubuntu Software Center as "Software Center", which is interesting.
|Hard Drive Partitioning in Installer|
So what's the deal? Debian seems to live up to its legendary stability; nothing ever crashed or conked out on me. While a few options seem to indicate that this is a more technical distribution, I think this can be easily used by newbies once the system is installed, proprietary codecs are installed, and the theme is tweaked to their liking. Stay tuned for Part 2: KDE!