Adventures in Debian

by Susan Linton - Mar. 04, 2011Comments (8)

DebianWhen one's computer becomes unstable, it's natural to think first of a particular app or the desktop. After that, one may tend to suspect the operating system. Finally one may find it turns out to be hardware at fault. This is what happened to me recently, and at the operating system phase, Debian became a last resort.

At first I blamed Sabayon and tried Linux Mint. When Linux Mint seemed to also be crashy, I resorted to the newly released Debian 6.0. I thought if anything was going to be stable, it'd be Debian. Although I finally found and replaced faulty hardware, I've learned a bit about Debian on the desktop. I've used Debian on my X-less server for years, but never thought of it much as a desktop system. So, here is a summary of my Debian desktop adventure.

The installer has seen a bit of streamlining, but it's basically similar to most other Linux installers - little personalized configuration such as timezone and keyboard, partitioning or choosing a partition, and clicking install. Seems software choice is a thing of the past - and that's okay. I had chosen 64-bit DVD that installed quite a bit of software. I had a bit of an issue with an earlier install attempt concerning drive numbering, but with a less complicated hardware setup all went well.

I have two monitors hooked up to an NVIDIA graphics card. With Nouveau I could have a cloned desktop, but what good is that? I want an extended desktop or twinview. So, that requires proprietary graphic drivers. And that requires kernel sources or at least a header package (that developers provide to allow for the building or installation of some software like proprietary drivers). Well, I found the headers and that was sufficient.

I'm one of the few remaining humans that like to watch broadcast (or cable) television on my computer as I work. TV apps are becoming old and less usable each year as, I guess, watching TV is following in the path of 8-track players and the Sony Walkman cassette. So, even if a TV app is provided by a distro it usually doesn't work real well, with the most common issue being a hog of system resources. Debian doesn't provide any (that I could find). Then I remembered MPlayer can do TV even if it's a bit more inconvenient. Debian does provide MPlayer and so I'm using it although I have to adjust the volume with Kmix (or Alsamixer). One plus is that MPlayer doesn't show any system overhead.

RSS feeds are another area of diminishing importance to many, but still really important to me. I gave up on Akregator a while back due to stability issues and have been using Liferea. Well, my last few instances of Liferea was 1.7, but Debian provides 1.6. So, I had to import feeds and go through the 100's of "new posts" that aren't actually new. But after that initial time investment, it's running extremely stable.

KDE 4.4.5 has quite a few problems and they show in Debian 6. App indicators in the taskbar run together and overlap. The plasma-desktop crashes if you mess with the panel too much. Personal settings are lost sometimes. KDE 4.6.1 was released today and it'll probably be in Sabayon updates by lunchtime tomorrow.

The most annoying issue seems to be a slow networking connection or Internet. Now I've pinged all my ISP's DNS numbers, several free DNS numbers like Google's and OpenDNS' and have chosen one with less than 10 ms replies. I Googled around and a problem of yesteryear was with IPv6, so I disabled that as recommended. I now have a new motherboard with a different Ethernet chip, but no difference. I've just been suffering a slow Internet connection since using Debian 6. I never have figured this one out.

Debian comes with Iceweasel and GNASH. Well, Youtube and other video Websites don't work real well if at all with that combo. GNASH does seem to work with Firefox, so just installing Firefox from tarball was all that was required there.

So, other than these few issues, Debian makes a descent Linux desktop. It'd take too long to discuss or even list all the good stuff. But for me, I think Debian's strong suit is as a server OS. I have no intention of replacing it on my server, but tomorrow morning my desktop is headed home to Sabayon.

Handrus Nogueira uses OStatic to support Open Source, ask and answer questions and stay informed. What about you?


I love Debian on my desktop, with KDE. I've got a frew machines running Debian 6 and a few that I keep on Testing or Sid, and while I like the newer KDEs to keep flowing, there is something nice about the Stable release as well. On Deb6, the only KDE issue I've seen so far is its refusal to remain in Netbook mode on one of my netbooks (it reverts to Desktop at the next boot).

> I've just been suffering a slow Internet connection since

> using Debian 6. I never have figured this one out.

Perhaps Debian is trying to use IPv6? I've had great speed increases in Firefox and Iceweasel when I turn IPv6 off; I don't know what app you experience the slow network and I have not experienced it, but that could be the issue.

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U mm Sabayon AND KDE. You are a brave one. I avoid the KDE like the plague, as for Sabayon, I always used the Gnome version. I have several PC's I use, so I like to constantly install new distros as they come out. I know its different strokes for different folks, after a while though I found myself leaning to the Debian-based distros with the Gnome desktop. I give up on 'buggy' stuff. I'm too lazy to waste time on them.

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I ran Debian 6 for awhile in a VM and it worked fine. I tried installing it to my hard drive and in the process it could not install my network card, a common make, BTW. It asked me if i wanted to install a proprietary one. I said yes. It asked me to insert the media into the drive. My drive had the CD in it. Without a network card installed I cannot download the file anyway, so I bailed out on Debian as too user unfriendly by a mile. I installed LMDE and it worked without a problem. No hiccoughs. No fuss. No muss.

I understand the concept of separating the proprietary blobs out of the kernel, but I had a DVD version and the proprietary driver could have been on the disk somewhere. Having networking is essential for maintaining the computer, if nothing else. Shipping a product that does not include even a plain vanilla open source driver if that is what they want us to use, is lame.

I could have said no and installed the driver later, but without a network that becomes hard. This illustrates why Debian has a better past than future. Dogma trumps usability. Debian is again erecting barriers that keep people out which is a shame because Debian could be so much more than it is.

I want to like Debian, but I need to use my computer to use Debian. Without all of its various parts working properly it quickly loses its appeal and so does Debian, I am afraid. If it is only ideology that Debian cares about then perhaps they should be in a business where only ideology matters and people don't have to get any real work done. As an ideology Debian gets top marks, but as a distribution it fails big time. I am no casual user. I have ten to 20 distributions installed at any one time.

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I am running WinXP/Win7/Linux Mint Debian Edition/Debian 6 quad-boot with most time spent in LMDE or Debian. On my system with a 200G PATA drive and a 500G SATA drive, I switched from Ubuntu to LMDE as my main distro of choice when neither 10.04 nor 10.10 would install crash-free and 9.10 passed out of update.

My Debian Gnome install has lasted since early 2008 (beta release of 5.0 Lenny) and has been the only desktop which I haven't had to re-install because of update related crashes. I have also had Mandriva 2008 Spring, and Crunchbang (#!) 9.04 installed for several months, but have kept Debian as my partition which I use as a data backup area.

I am a relative newcomer to Linux, with Knoppix 5.11 and Ubuntu 7.10 as my first distributions, starting from November 2007.

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Instead of Gnash you could use Adobe's Flash (apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree) or Lightspark from Experimental (apt-get -t experimental install browser-plugin-lightspark).

I agree with LinuxCanuck that firmware should be there on the DVD. It is stupid to make life difficult for users, especially beginners (the Debian project "respects" our freedom, as RMS puts it, by reducing it!). The package firmware-linux-nonfree should be included in the installer.

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Would love to know how the author got her TV working. I've been trying and trying with several distributions. I have an ATI All-In-Wonder PCI Express with a TV tuner and a Hauppauge WinTV HVR 950Q. So far, the only way these devices work is with Windows. I've tried installing V4L drivers and various other programs and drivers. Nothing seems to work. Checked various distributions forums and wikis on how to get TV working, tried the steps and everything still failed. Maybe the reason running TV on a Linux computer isn't so popular is because it's so hard to get it working properly. Would love to see an article on how to do this and actually get something to actually work. Thanks.

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To anonymous poster with TV Card issues -

I have those TV cards you mentioned. Both of them worked out of the box with Debian 6 without a single hitch. In order to use them you ~must~ #apt-get install firmware-linux-nonfree package (or whatever its called). For the 950Q I simply installed tvtime, started it up, and voila! Auto detected tv on my desktop!

There are a couple things you can do to see if the kernel "see's" your cards -

lspci | grep ATI

lsusb | grep Hauppauge

You should get an output on both those for each card. If not, you don't have the firmware installed and so naturally, they will ~not~ work, as would also be the case in Windows if you did not have the driver for them installed.

Debian also reportedly has some nonfree ISO's available for install. I am not sure if these are community maintained or if they are official, but they are there for your network card issues. In the case of my Laptop (broadcom chip) I simply put the nonfree-firmware on a USB stick and had that in the laptop while I did the install, and Debian auto detected that and grabbed the firmware off it during the install and so, I had a working wireless connection from near start to finish through to reboot into the live desktop. The whole thing was flawless and I must add, very much exceeded what I expected to happen, so I am one very happy Debian convert at this point with Squeeze.

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TV Applications?

Never heard of Kaffeine or Klear?

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