Debian 6.0: Stability and Power to the People: Page 2

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True, going through all the partitions can be time-consuming, especially for newcomers -- but at least it is comprehensible. Many users may consider the amount of time going through the installer can take a reasonable trade off for the control the effort will give them.

To their credit, Debian developers have taken the opposite approach from many distributions. Instead of assuming that a simple installation means a dumbed-down one that limits choices, the Debian team has decided that choice and ease-of-use are not mutually exclusive.

And guess what? Except for a rough patch here and there, the design philosophy works.

The Desktop Experience

However, if the new release challenges the myth that Debian is hard to install, it reinforces the belief that stable Debian releases are far from cutting edge.

To an extent, Debian's stable releases should be expected to be a version or so behind. The goal of the stable releases is reliability, which requires time both to test and for users to discover the shortcomings.

However, by coincidence, Debian's next release is out of sync with many major applications. It is shipping KDE 4.4 when 4.6 is due in a matter of days, and Xfce 4.6 when 4.8 is just released. Its GNOME version is 2.30 when GNOME 3.0 is due in a couple of months. The kernel is 2.6.32. On the desktop, it is using the Go-OO version of OpenOffice.org 3.2, when the 3.3 versions of both OpenOffice and LibreOffice were out last week.

True, the new release has finally retired the KDE 3 series, providing a package called kaboom to help you migrate your settings to the KDE 4 series. Yet that transition was carried out by most other major distributions well over a year ago. Although many of these version differences are not earth-shattering unless you are specifically looking for a new feature, you might be tempted to condemn Debian 6.0 as obsolete before it is released.

Fortunately, now that the release is over, it is probably only a matter of weeks before more recent packages start pouring into the Stable and Experimental repositories again.

Meanwhile, Debian's implementation of GNOME, its default desktop, is perfectly adequate, and even manages some welcome improvements.

For one thing, Debian 6 introduces the more customizable GRUB 2 or GRUB-PC. This change requires relearning how to support multiple operating systems or kernels on the same machine, but in the long run should provide a more flexible and modern set of options.

Even more importantly, the time to reach the desktop is reduced to under twenty seconds, thanks to the introduction of dependency-based boot sequencing (basically, a major overhaul of how the system boots that takes advantage of recent changes in the Linux kernel). Dependency-based boot sequencing also has the advantage of being able to run startup scripts in parallel, rather than sequentially.

On my test machine, the improvement tops even Ubuntu's efforts to accelerate the boot process -- despite the fact that Debian does not default to Ubuntu's upstart but continues to to use the venerable init daemon. By my approximate count, the new Debian boots in eighteen seconds -- almost three times faster than the old release -- while, unlike Ubuntu, continuing to show detailed system messages. Shutdowns are even quicker, taking about eight seconds.

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Tags: open source, Ubuntu, Linux desktop, Debian, firmware

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