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Author:  Hollow
October 18, 2008



Debian (Etch) Linux

Debian (Etch) Linux Default (Fresh Install) Desktop Screenshot. Click to enlarge.

Debian (Etch) Linux Default (Fresh Install) Desktop Screenshot.

Debian is one of the mainstream and most popular distributions out there. It’s main target market is corporate desktops and Servers and it does very well in both fields. There are rumours out there, which do not do it justice, such as “Debian is very hard to install”, it isn’t at all. The installer isn’t very pretty, it’s mostly text based, however it’s functional and it finishes with a very good system installation, not leaving much to update or have to mess around with to get it working.

This is one of our favourite distributions here at Symsys, because it’s extremely functional, quite easy to learn and use and in general is an all-round good operating system. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for new users though.

Debian (Etch) Linux K Menu Screenshot. Click to Enlarge.

Debian (Etch) Linux K Menu Screenshot. Click to Enlarge.

The layout and design of Debian, although fairly straight forward isn’t really designed for ease of use with new users in mind. Sometimes knowing how to use something, or where you might find something, requires some technical knowledge and in some cases it requires a general knowledge of Linux in general. If you don’t have either then please don’t try this one at home just yet.

On to the good stuff, Debian is an extremely good distribution of Linux, it covers all the bases for both Desktop and Server and can be easily used as either. The distribution doesn’t spend much time making things all that pretty in either it’s KDE or it’s Gnome implementations, so you might end up spending a fair amount of time tweaking and configuring your desktop once it’s installed, just so that you can bare to look at it every day. It does however have a lot of features that allow you to easily modify the desktop, whether it be installing a theme, a font, a new splash screen etc, all of it is relatively straight forward and easy to accomplish in Debian.

Debian using Konqueror as a file explorer - Screenshot. Click to Enlarge.

Debian using Konqueror as a file explorer - Screenshot.

If you’re after a fun environment, lots of graphical effects, wobbling windows and things that fade in and out like a genies lamp, Debian is probably going to take a fair bit of work to get setup that way, we haven’t tried it but it just isn’t that kind of distribution. Although you’ll be able to do it and the Aptitude package manager is still pretty self explanitory etc this is much easier in a distribution like Ubuntu (Which is based on Debian anyway, it has most of Debians good points and less of it’s bad points) or Mandriva Linux.

Dissapointingly Debian has chosen to use Konqueror for it’s default file system browser, now to the un-initiated or unfamiliar this will mean nothing until I explain further. One of the things about Linux that makes it so good is that you have a choice about everything. Not just which distribution you use, but once you have your distribution installed, you can choose from an abundance of programs to carry out almost every task possible. With the KDE (K Desktop Environment) interface (The interface we’ve used in all of our reviews here) there are several possible programs that you can use to view your filesystem, now many hard core Linux users will tell you that their preferred program for this purpose is Konquerer, this I believe is more through force of habit than actual ease of use and practicallity.

Debian (Etch) Linux Office pre-installed as standard Screenshot. Click to Enlarge.

Debian (Etch) Linux Office pre-installed as standard Screenshot. Click to Enlarge.

The other main option for a file system browser in KDE is Dolphin (sometimes known as D3lphin). This is a newer program and hasn’t been available for that long, but in my personal opinion it is a far better program for the purpose of browsing a file system and it’s certainly much easier to use and come to grips with when transitioning from a Windows environment and it is far more self explanitory than Konqueror. This is also the case with many other very good distributions, Mandriva Linux also uses Konqueror as it’s default and to save re-writing the same thing most of this paragraph is from that review.

Unfortunately most Linux distributions have an issue with out of date software being on the installation CD, Debian is much better than some others I can think of and the unavoidable systemwide update, which must be run after a fresh install, is not all that big of a list and nor does it take all that much time to finish in Debian.

For those who might be installing Debian into a Virtual Machine such as Virtualbox you will find that you DO need to run the update FIRST, then install GCC, Linux-Headers-x.x.x-x (where x is your kernel version number) and then run the VboxLinuxAdditions.run file manually from the command line. This can be quite confusing at times if you forget to run the apt-get update apt-get uprgade first.

Debian (Etch) Control Center Screenshot. Click to Enlarge.

Debian (Etch) Control Center Screenshot. Click to Enlarge.

Those coming to Debian from Ubuntu will find although Ubuntu is based on Debian it is actually quite different. If you try to issue a Sudo command without manually adding yourself to the Sudo list you will find that it doesn’t work and you’ll get a message threatening to report you to the system administrator. Also the root user IS enabled by default where it is disabled in Ubuntu so the su command does work and will allow you to change to the root user in the command line.


If you’re a hardened user then you’ll already know that Debian is good so I don’t need to tell you, if you have a good knowledge of Linux and you understand the file system and how it works, but just haven’t tried Debian yet then I highly recommend doing so. I started out years ago, using Red Hat based systems such as Fedora Core and since I tried Debian and it’s derivitives I now much prefer them. Debian is definitely on my recommended list but not to new users, purely because it assumes some if not a lot of knowledge about Linux in order to tweak it. If you’re a new user and you’re not too familiar with Linux in general don’t go trying Debian yet it might just put you off the whole idea of using Linux as your operating system. We use Debian for a lot of our in-house and customer servers but it’s also very good as a corporate desktop.

Filed under: Linux Reviews,Reviews ... Comments (11)

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11 Responses for "Debian (Etch) Linux Review"»

  1. miksuh

    “The installer isn’t very pretty, it’s mostly text based”

    Etch is the first Debian release which does have also graphical installer. When you boot from installation media (cd, dvd, usb, netinst cd etc) then you can enter special option to installer boot prompt which tells installer to use graphical mode. These otions are:

    installgui – starts graphical installer in the normal mode
    expertgui – starts graphical installer in the expert mode

    Upcoming Debian 5.0 ‘Lenny’ has a new installer menu which eg. allows user to easily select testbased installer or graphical installer.

  2. Hollow

    Thanks for that miksuh, I’m very much looking forward to Lenny, when it finally gets released. I’ve been a big fan of Debian and Debian based distros for some time.

  3. SaigonNezumi (Kevin)

    Even though Lenny is still Beta, it is worth the try. I got my Thinkpad T60 running Lenny on with a Gnome Desktop. I am quite impressed and boy do I love iwl3945.

    Lenny will be 100 times better than Ubuntu 8.10

  4. Bekir Serifoglu

    I definitely agree with you SaigonNezumi (Kevin). I was using Ubuntu 8.04 on my sony vaio fz. Two weeks ago, I installed a Lenny weekly-build from cd-image server just to give it a try. and I was amazed to see such a perfect distro. Now I have completely got rid of my Ubuntu partition and I am only using lenny testing.

    Lenny testing is much more robust and stable than Hardy. And I’m sure it will be more stable than Inrepid too. In fact, Debian is the most stable distro that I have ever used for the last 3 years.

    Thanks Debian.

    Try debian if you want real linux experience.


    Lenny comes with a real handy graphical installer.

    The only problem with lenny for me was about iwl4965. The wireless was quite good and strong most of the time but when there were a lof of computers in range using the same router, the network traffic stoped even if the signal strength was good.(Actually I am not sure if the problem was about the computers around, so I couldn’t fill a bug report about it). But when I removed iwlwifi-4965-2.ucode from /lib/firmware, the wireless connection became perfect. I don’t know what the problem was with the iwlwifi-4965-2.ucode, and I don’t know what that microcode is used for.

    Another thing is that hardy’s font rendering was great when i stopped using it. It was using (real) freetype subpixel rendering and patched cairo. So when i moved to debian, i patched cairo and enabled (real) subpixel rendering in freetype, then i compiled the debs myself. Now my fonts are awesome, they are both smooth and clear. Actually the font rendering issue is a matter of personal taste. Anyways, i like it this way.

    so this is my lenny experience.

  5. Matt

    Use Lenny – no problems for a desktop.

  6. mrchilly

    Lightweight, quick, dependable, the list can go on and on. There’s a reason that a lot of the more popular distros are based on Debian. Lenny is working fine on my other laptop, and if you want something a little spicier…try out sidux!

  7. Hollow

    Well thanks for the comments guys, I just realized looking at Googly Analytics that this review ended up being linked to from several different sites, including distrowatch (one of my homepages usually) and debian-news.net (another of my favourites), all I need now is to hit Linux.com and I’ll be famous :D.

    Anyway since it has been so popular I’m going to get on with publishing the other reviews that are sat on my hard drive waiting to be uploaded and I think I’ve been inspired to download the Lenny Beta CD and review that too.

    Thanks again for the comments guys, all very appreciated.


  8. Gigi

    “Mandriva Linux also uses Konqueror as it’s default and to save re-writing the same thing most of this paragraph is from that review.”

    No it doesn’t. Mandriva 2009 uses dolphin as default file-manager on KDE4 desktop. KDE3 desktops usually have Konqueror by default because D3lphin (note the pun on the spelling) was IIRC backported to KDE3. However, Konqueror is more featured than Dolphin.

    Speaking about choice, Debian has konqueror, dolphin, nautilus, thunar, rox, pcmanfm among others for file management. To summarize, “if you can’t apt-get it, either it doesn’t exist or it’s not usable” ;-)

    (I do wonder why Etch is reviewed when we are almost on the threshold of Lenny).

  9. Hollow

    Hi Gigi,

    Mandriva 2008.0 DOES use Konqueror as it’s default file browser, and that was the only review I had written on Mandriva at the time I wrote this review on Etch. Mandriva 2009.0 was not released when this review was written.

    Etch was actually reviewed about a month ago, however the review only just hit the google search pages when we moved the blog posts around a few days ago. I’m going to write a review on Lenny Beta instead in the next few days. Which also kind of answers your final comment about why Etch was reviewed when Lenny is due soon.

    I agree Konqueror does have a larger feature set than Dolphin, however the comments in the review were purely based on personal opinion and more focussed on usability for newer, less experienced users. Konqueror is also a little bland and boring so won’t appeal as much to “non-power users” IMHO.

    I very much like and agree with your phrase “if you can’t apt-get it, either it doesn’t exist or it’s not usable”, but I think I might have said “if you can’t apt-get it, it’s either broken, or hasn’t been invented yet.” Says the same thing but says that little bit more as well if you catch my meaning. ;)



  10. tmb_ayebe

    debian gives me the warm fuzzies. currently experimenting with sidux as a way to get rolling debian.

  11. brad

    Debian Etch is not that hard to use, its’ really just like the other major distributions of Linux. And, Debian is what most other distributions are based upon.

    Use the netinstall CD for either your choice of KDE or Gnome desktops. Or you can install a second desktop with the command: su (enter root password) apt-get install kde or gnome and you will be able to choose your desktop at the login screen without having to install both versions.

    If you’re familiar with Ubuntu, Debian is about the same just faster. If you’re familiar with Mepis or Kubuntu, the same holds true. KDE has the benefit of having Kpackage for installing software but you can also simply install synaptic via Kpackage and have it too.

    With over 18,000 software packages available, you really cannot go wrong with Debian. And, Debian always has the most stable software packages to date.

    Installation couldn’t be any easier especially if you’re wanting to set up a dual boot system.

    If you like Ubuntu, you will love Debian Gnome. It has everything you need, and nothing you don’t so it responds much faster and will run on less memory and processor than Ubuntu.

    If you like Mepis or Kubuntu, the exact same holds true.

    Start with the netinstall and simply add anything thats’ missing to complete your desktop ie: Audacious, XMMS, Thunderbird (IceDove) etc. Also, any “Deb” packages you come accross will easily install in the KDE desktop since its’ what Debian is all about.

    Since most Linux distros are based upon Debian, you really should try the original.

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