Friday, July 12, 2024

What to Do After Installing Debian

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Debian is not like most Linux distributions. The Debian installer is more thorough than most, and steers you unsubtly towards free software. As a result, configuring Debian after installation is unusual, too. Depending on your needs and preferences, post-installation setup can include steps necessary after installing any distributions, steps necessary for any Debian installation, and steps for using proprietary software.

Many of these steps are too lengthy to describe in full here. However, you can use them as a checklist as you settle into a new installation:

Steps for any Linux distribution

The Debian installer includes options for encrypting filesystems and for installing the most popular desktops. However, after installation, plenty of other steps remain to be done:

  • Run apt-get dist-upgrade to bring all your packages up to date.
  • Add a firewall to give basic protection. Debian includes several desktop tools to help remove the pain of this configuration.
  • Add other users as needed, and consider what permissions they should have. For security, you may not want them to have all the rights you have.
  • Configure printers, sound, and external devices. Why none of these steps can be done during general installation is a mystery to me, but that is the way Linux has always done things.
  • Install your software of choice. In my case, that it includes Bluefish for a desktop editor, Amarok for a music player, and The Document Foundation’s packages for LibreOffice so that I always have the latest. Yours will undoubtedly differ.
  • Create a GPG key for yourself so you can use the most popular form of encryption.
  • Configure your email, setting up encryption so it is available when you need it, rather than skipping this step until you have a need.
  • Add your desktop preferences — and your command line preferences.

Steps Specific to Debian

All Linux distributions have their own eccentricities. Here are the most important ones of Debian:

  • Select the fastest mirror(s) for Debian package repositories, and add them to /etc/apt/sources.list.
  • If security really matters to you, delete the Backports repositories from /etc/apt/sources.lists, because they not as thoroughly tested as other repositories that support the Stable release. The tradeoff is that, without Backports, Stable will be even less current than it usually is.
  • Add any UnOfficial repositories you might want. Many are based on specialized interests, and some include non-free packages. All are used at your own risk.
  • Consider enabling sudo. Whether sudo increases your security depends on how it is configured, but, thanks to Ubuntu, it is a popular alternative. Never mind that the Ubuntu sudo configuration may not be the most secure choice.
  • When your configuration is complete, install and run Lynis. In a matter of minutes, Lynis runs over 200 security tests, then provides a list of ways you can harden the system. You may need several hours work to make all the suggested improvement, but the effort will be worth it.

Proprietary Configurations

Debian installs as a completely free-licensed system. However, its philosophy — at least unofficially — includes freedom of choice, so it also makes using popular proprietary software relatively easy.

Of course, if it did not, unofficial third party repositories would spring up, as happened with Fedora. At least by including non-free repositories, Debian encourages higher packaging standards for tools many users will install one way or the other.

Be warned, though: Debian’s non-free repositories are not held to the same standards as its main one. The Unofficial repositories can be even worse, especially when they double as developmental sources. For these reasons, you should consider whether you really need to dip into them and possibly have to deal with added security problems. For all the short-term advantages, the long-term disadvantages may outweight them.

Still, here are some steps to consider:

  • At the end of each line of /etc/apt/sources.list, add the repositories contrib and non-free. Contrib contains free software that is dependent on non-free sofware, and non-free proprietary software that is available at no financial cost.
  • Consider adding drivers for improved video and sound. Unless you play games that require hardware acceleration, you may not need them. Note, too, that adding a quality Bluetooth speaker can improve sound quality better than any driver can.
  • Do you still need Flash? Not too long ago, not having Flash was a major inconvenience. Now, a Chrome browser gives built-in support, and HTML5 is enough of a replacement that you might survive without it.
  • Installing WINE may allow you to run Windows games and productivity software.

A Place for Everything

Debian organizes everything, so it is not a surprise that much of working with post-install Debian involves enabling the right repositories and selecting packages from them.

This approach means that, although configuring Debian naturally overlaps with the configuration of most Linux distributions, it has a perspective that takes awhile to fully grasp and appreciate.

The easiest time to configure Debian, of course, is during installation, and Debian’s detailed installer makes it trivial to setup even many advanced features before your first login. However, needs and preferences differ and develop, and after you enter your password for the first time, Debian has all the tools you need to configure everything you need. The only catch is that finding what you need can sometimes take a while.

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