After a wait of 2 years, Debian 6 "Squeeze" has finally been released! Yay! It's now officially termed "stable".
Some highlights include changes in supported architectures (e.g. ARMEL instead of ARM), choice in using either the Linux kernel or FreeBSD kernel under the Debian GNU tools, a Linux kernel that is now made completely of free software, GNOME 2.30 with some updates from 2.32, KDE 4.4.5, Xfce 4.6, LXDE 0.50, IceWeasel 3.5, OpenOffice.org 3.2, more packages available, an improved installer, and more "pure blends" for different users.
|Main Screen + Main Menu|
I take issue with that, because distributions like Linux Mint, MEPIS, and #! have smaller developer bases, so their time is already taken up by developing the smaller add-on packages to make their distributions unique; they have neither the [wo]manpower nor the funding to possibly continue developing core packages without the help of the Debian developers upstream. Plus, Linux Mint, although currently a primarily Ubuntu-based distribution, is also continually maintaining a rolling-release Debian-based distribution, so it needs the work of the good Debian developers even more in that sense, especially considering that the Ubuntu-based version of Linux Mint will diverge a bit more from Ubuntu in not adopting either Unity or GNOME 3 and not using Wayland for a while.
That said, I did read an interesting comment in one particular release announcement of Debian 6 "Squeeze", and that says that almost all the features present in the current stable Debian release were present in the most recent Ubuntu LTS release (10.04 "Lucid Lynx"), which came out just under a year ago. I would also add to that the fact that Debian stable releases are not supported any longer than Ubuntu LTS releases, which are supported for 3 years after release. Therefore, unless unbeatable stability or low resource usage is paramount, I would say for now that there's no compelling reason to use Debian 6 "Squeeze" over Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx". Of course, that case might become more compelling when Ubuntu uses Unity in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "P[...] P[...]", as Debian will likely stick to a more traditional GNOME setup and will probably appeal to more users disenchanted with the current direction of Ubuntu.
But I'm not here to argue if Debian is relevant or not. I'm here to try it out. I tried out the standard GNOME and KDE live systems through a live USB made with MultiSystem, and installed the KDE version in VirtualBox with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS. Plus, there's a little bonus at the end (which I won't reveal right now), so follow the jump to see how it all goes.
GNOMEAfter rebooting and going through the boot menu, the boot process was pretty fast. Apparently there's a Plymouth boot splash, but I guess it's only viewable post-installation, because I didn't see anything except a scrolling wall of text. After that came the desktop.
The desktop, of course, is fairly standard GNOME, which is at version 2.30 and contains some parts from 2.32. The wallpaper is space-themed with a cartoon spaceship tracing out the Debian logo. It looks a bit too kid-oriented and not quite as professional (some might argue bland) as the previous one, but it fits well with the codename, as the Squeeze toys were 3 alien toys in the Toy Story movie series; in any case, the wallpaper can easily be changed.
|IceWeasel + Gnash and OpenOffice.org|
OpenOffice.org present at version 3.2, which is understandable considering that version 3.3 didn't come out until a week ago or so.
Cheese Webcam Booth was present, and after I unmuted my mic in the volume control program, it recognized my webcam and mic just fine.
For entertainment and distraction purposes, the full assortment of GNOME games is present.
|Compiz Desktop Cube|
The Software Center, which is what I used to install Compiz, seems to be an unbranded version of the Ubuntu Software Center, which certainly does support Debian's recent commitment to user-friendliness. Installing things here was a breeze and is certainly more intuitive for newbies than Synaptic Package Manager, where binary packages can easily be confused with underlying libraries or similar but unrelated packages.
In any case, Skype worked fine, although I couldn't test my mic because the test call kept failing due to the large number of people using Skype at that time.
Debian used about 210 MB of RAM at idle, but this was with Compiz and all the associated effects as the WM instead of the standard Metacity.
After switching to Compiz, the volume control panel applet box became misaligned, as the right side of that box disappeared off to the right of the screen.
Finally, I tried shutting down, but I was booted back into the login screen and then the desktop for some reason. I'm not sure why that is. The second time, however, shutting down worked fine.
Overall, Debian GNOME seems to be a perfectly fine and fairly user-friendly distribution; at the very least, it works well on my hardware. Aside from the minor shutdown issue and the lack of association between DEBs and GDebi, it works great; it seems to be good for people who want a stable, rock-solid desktop and don't really need cutting-edge software, though adding repositories and upgrading software that way is a snap too.
KDEPlease do note that because I was able to see most of the new Debian features in GNOME, my trying the KDE version is more just to see how KDE is in Debian.
The boot time was fairly fast after the boot menu, and after that came a fairly standard KDE splash screen, followed by the desktop.
Konqueror is the default browser, but IceWeasel is also present. Unfortunately, IceWeasel isn't themed to match with the KDE theme, and there aren't any Oxygen themes available for Mozilla Firefox/IceWeasel 3.5; they only work with versions 3.6 and above. I tried using Konqueror for a while, but it unfortunately crashed twice, so I switched back to IceWeasel.
OpenOffice.org is available, and thankfully, that does have the Oxygen theme enabled.
Other than that, the selection of applications is a combination of the standard KDE repertoire as well as a handful of GNOME/GTK+ applications; unfortunately, rather than being categorized correctly in the Kickoff main menu, they were given their own category "Debian" with further subcategories. It's all a bit confusingly organized.
I might have missed something big-time, but I didn't see any GUI package managers in the KDE version, not even KPackageKit or Synaptic Package Manager. That's bad. All I saw was a symbolic link to run the CLI Aptitude package management program. (Of course, that and apt-get can easily be run from the terminal.)
Finally, I tried shutting down, and the KDE Debian desktop had the same issue as the GNOME Debian desktop; trying a second time worked here as well.
|KWin Desktop Cube|
|Debian Live Installer|
After installing, I rebooted and was greeted with the KDM login screen. I logged in, and the session looked identical to the live session. I didn't really have any other issues pop up, so there's not really a whole lot more to say about that.
But wait, I'm not done! There's one more thing I tested.
Debian GNU/kFreeBSD 6 "Squeeze"Yes, I tested Debian with the FreeBSD kernel (hence "kFreeBSD"). The Debian website says that Debian GNU/kFreeBSD is meant to be as close as possible to the standard Debian GNU/Linux. I didn't know how close "close" was meant to be, so I tried it out. There's no live CD/DVD, so I grabbed the net-installation ISO (which grabs selected packages from the Internet during the installation process after the base system is installed) and went on my way in VirtualBox; the conditions were the same as in the KDE version installation.
The installer is the old ncurses-based text installer, which is still present in the main Debian editions, but there's no GUI installer, unfortunately. Thankfully, the text installer almost exactly followed the GUI installer, minus the shiny windows.
|Debian GNU/kFreeBSD ncurses Installer|
After that, I was given the option of install a GUI DE and/or a bunch of network tools along with the standard base system tools; I chose to install only a GUI DE (GNOME) in addition to the base system. I also got to install GRUB, although this is a BSD (not Linux) system. That went relatively quickly, and in time I was asked to reboot.
After the reboot, I saw the GRUB menu, proceeded past it, and saw the GDM login screen. That's when my time with Debian ended, because the system got hung up trying to log me in. At the same time, it didn't recognize my mouse for some reason, which has never happened before in any distribution that I've tested in VirtualBox. I tried checking online for solutions to no avail; maybe I was looking in the wrong place. Anyway, I didn't really go further with that.
Considering I wasn't really able to see a usable installed Debian GNU/kFreeBSD system, I can't really make many comments about it aside from the installer and the mouse and login issues. I will say that other than being a proof of concept, I can't really think of any reasons why someone would use it instead of standard Debian GNU/Linux, aside from someone really wanting a BSD-based system without the hassle of compiling everything associated with FreeBSD. Then again, for that purpose, there are also PC-BSD and DesktopBSD with KDE as well as GhostBSD and GNOBSD with GNOME.
Overall, I'm pretty pleased with my time with Debian. There are just a few issues, including Gnash, Konqueror, shutting down, the lack of a GUI package manager in KDE, and the kFreeBSD issues. Other than that, it seemed quite stable. Again, I think that with the number of distributions relying on it now, Debian is more relevant than ever, but for pure desktop use (i.e. not server use), it's hard for me to justify using it over an Ubuntu LTS release unless resource usage is a priority, considering the Ubuntu LTS releases come out around a year before the corresponding stable Debian release upon which they are based. That said, with Ubuntu's new and controversial direction, Debian could just become all the more attractive. I wouldn't give someone a Debian live medium and tell them to have at it, but if an experienced Linux user was there to help them along the installation and post-installation configuration processes, I think it would be great for newbies to use on a daily basis.