Distro Review: Debian Lenny

Debian, brewed to perfection
brewed to perfection

Ok it’s time for another distro review and I’m a bit overdue with this one but I’m a big fan of Debian and the dedicated community who develop it I make no secret of that. When I reviewed Etch (4.0) last year I declared that if I were to finally grow up and settle down with just one distro this would be the one. I like the fact that it’s not backed by any commercial entity and sticks closely to it’s Free Software principals. After some delay version 5.0 Lenny was finally released this Valentine’s Day, how appropriate but would it still be true love? There was only one way to find out…

Vital Stats:
Distro base – Itself, Debian is the mother of a lot of modern distros
Packaging – .deb (Managed by the mighty Apt)
Linux Kernel – 2.6.26
Default Desktop – Gnome 2.22.1


The boot menu
The boot menu

I downloaded the Lenny net install CD image, my prefered installation method with Debian. I find it a bit wasteful to burn 3 full DVDs and then only use one of them. There’s some merit in having everything downloaded before you start but if you’ve got a reasonably fast and stable Internet connection I recommend the network install personally. I was fortunate enough to have a chat with Steve McIntyre (the current Debian Project Leader) on a recent episode of Linux Outlaws where he told us there are even Blu-ray images available now with everything on one disc. That sounds amazing but not having the small fortune it requires to purchase a Blu-ray burner at the moment it wasn’t an option for me sadly.

Installing Lenny
Installing Lenny

I booted up from the CD to get started, as always testing with my trusty Dell XPS m1330n laptop. I chose the graphical install and proceeded through the usual prompts for language, location and so on. The installer looks the same to me on the surface as the Etch installer, I’d heard people raving about “the new Debian installer” but I don’t see any evidence of it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it works well and as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I was informed pretty quickly there were no drivers available for my Intel wireless card but was instead offered the option to load them from a disc, I didn’t have one. It wasn’t a major problem since I could use the Ethernet port for the network install anyway. The base system was then installed from the CD really quickly, I mean lighting quick. All the additional packages need to be downloaded from a network mirror and you’re offered the chance to pick one near you. Picking the nearest one to your location will usually result in much faster download times, so choose carefully. I picked the default UK server and was prompted to choose which package sets to install: Web server, mail server, DNS server, desktop, laptop and many more. I chose the Desktop, Laptop and Standard groups, leaving all the server options alone.

The Initial Desktop
The Initial Desktop

The installer then told me I was in for a wait while it downloaded 817 packages and installed them. After which GRUB was configured and I was ready to reboot.The whole process from putting the disc in to booting up my new desktop took approximately 25mins. That’s a respectable time when you consider a large chunk of that was consumed by actually downloading the software, if you used a full install disc it would probably be a lot quicker. It was a pretty quick and simple install, I think most users could handle it without breaking a sweat.


Configuring The System:

Enabling Non-DFSG Software
Enabling Non-DFSG Software

Now, this being Debian it’s a little different to the likes of an Ubuntu or OpenSuse which try to configure every little thing for you automatically, I still had a lot of configuration to do. The first order of business was to get my wireless card working which actually turned out to be a lot easier than I’d feared. I opened up Synaptic (the graphical package management tool) and then looked at the preferences to see what software sources were enabled. I could see a couple of groups weren’t ticked such as software that doesn’t comply with the Debian Free Software Guidelines, it seems the drivers for my wireless card fall into this group. I enabled non-DFSG software, refreshed the package list and searched for “Intel” which yielded a fair few packages but scrolling through the list I quickly found one relating to my Pro Wireless 3945 card. After a minute the wireless light started flashing and I was able to log into my home network easily. Not too difficult but most distributions have this driver working out of the box, it’sonly  omitted here because it doesn’t satisfy the DFSG which I understand. I have to say at this point I was really impressed by the speed and responsiveness of the system, it seemed very snappy and a quick look at the resources monitor showed I was only using 145mb of RAM, even with quite a few large programs open on my Gnome desktop. Most of the basic software you could need is included by default like OpenOffice.org, GIMP, Rhythmbox, Pidgin and Iceweasel which is great. Iceweasel is essentially a clone of Mozilla’s Firefox made in protest at the actions of Mozilla Corporation and their licensing process. It’s actually repackaged from Firefox source code with minimal modifications, so all your extensions will work just fine. I’ve never had any problems with Iceweasel or noticed any real difference from Firefox to speak of.

Iceweasel with Swfdec
Iceweasel with Swfdec

I installed most of the additional software I needed via Synaptic and could get packages for other things like Gpodder from the developer’s own website. Installing the .deb files wasn’t quite as simple as double-clicking them though. I had to open a terminal and use the “dpkg -i” command but I got there. I also noticed the Add/Remove Software tool from Ubuntu is now included. Ubuntu inherits a hell of a lot from Debian, I would be as quick as anyone to point that out but I don’t agree with some others who claim they don’t contribute enough back. I’m pretty sure this is a custom Ubuntu development and I assume it’s been contributed back upstream with help from Canonical. (EDIT: Please see this comment for more details). There were a couple of programs I couldn’t find in any of the repositories, even the experimental ones, Gwibber being a prime example. I had to download all the dependencies for it manually and then install from the source code I’d checked out with Bazaar. It was a bit awkward and at times I felt I wasn’t doing things “the Debian way” by trying to install cutting edge software, the distribution is renowned for it’s stability and some critics would say slow adoption of new software. That’s a trade off for the stability I suppose.

Compiz Fusion Looking Beautiful
Compiz Fusion Looking Beautiful

The freedom hating drivers for my nVidia graphics card were installed easily with Synaptic, I then had to run the nvidia-xconfig command manually in a terminal to update the X server settings. I also installed the nvidia-settings package because I use it for switching between internal and external displays. I also like to use the Compiz Fusion 3D desktop, some people dismiss it as eye candy or frivolous decoration but it’s far more than that. The easiest way I’ve found to install Compiz on Debian is through the fantastically named Repository Of Shame. It contains everything you could need and provides handy meta packages for easy installation. I should take a moment to point out the utterly tragic news that Shane Lee (AKA Shame), maintainer of this repository and well respected Debian developer, sadly died last November. It’s hard to know what to say, words fail me but he was only 35 years old and he will be sorely missed. My deepest condolences to his family. The repo is still seems to be working and I was able to install everything by following the simple instructions on the site.

It’s hot, damn hot!!:


This being the stable branch of Debian a lot of the software is quite old, some prefer the term mature but I missed things like Gnome 2.24 with it’s tabbed Nautilus file browser and other improvements. I looked at adding the latest Gnome but it didn’t seem like an easy process, there are some guides on how to compile and integrate it but I decided to take a pass on that. In many ways it would also have destroyed the main benefit of running Debian anyway, tried and trusted software which you know will work. If the Debian guys say something is stable you can believe it’s stable, a conservative approach but I admire their commitment to quality.

Lenny also ships with a much older kernel than I would normally use. My machine kept overheating quite badly and the fan sounded like a small aircraft attempting to take off or perhaps like trying to watch a film on an Xbox hehe 🙂 There were some issues with my model of nVidia card after release and modifications were made to heat management in the Linux kernel to compensate. It works great and the fan does not normally need to work overtime with the newer kernel. Consistently though with Lenny I found I would need to leave the machine to cool down, this may be my fault for having the evil nVidia card but it definitely didn’t like the older kernel.


Ease Of Installation & Use: 2/5
Stability: 5/5
Community & Documentation: 5/5
Features: 3/5
Overall: 4/5

My Finished Desktop
My Finished Desktop

I was able to get the system working as I wanted under Lenny but it took some time and expertise. I compiled a lot of the newer software from source when I couldn’t find packages. I did try adding the Squeeze repos and even some experimental ones but still found a lot of the packages were significantly behind. That’s what you expect with Debian though, you don’t use it because you want the latest cutting edge software, you use it because you want stability, speed and the support of some of the best developers in the business. There’s a very useful guide to setting up the perfect desktop with Lenny and it introduced me to the Debian-multimedia.org repository, I highly recommend it to everyone for adding extra multimedia programs easily. The overheating problems due to the older kernel were a shame, I could of course install another kernel or compile one from scratcheven but that seems to defeat the purpose of using Debian for me. It would be easier to use Arch or another distro if that’s the aim. Back when I tried Etch it was on a desktop machine and I think the main difference this time around is I’m on a notebook. I said in reviewing Etch that I was at amazed how much of Ubuntu is Debian painted brown and that’s still true but I also gained a new appreciation for the work the Ubuntu guys do in making their software run effortlessly on laptops. I like that Debian is very true to it’s Free Software ethos including things like Swfdec instead of the proprietary Adobe Flash player. However, in practice I found it didn’t work very well and I ended up ripping it out anyway and installing the evil version.

Do I still love Debian? Yes of course I do and there’s no doubt about that but I have to confess that maybe I’ve changed. On my laptop I want the latest and greatest software to play around with, I like to get the newest Gnome for example and Debian just isn’t the right distro for that. It has many strengths to note. Apt is still Debian’s killer app for me and I’ve yet to find another package manager that really compares. The bottom line though is that on the desktop I find Debian too conservative for my tastes these days, it’s  a personal thing. On a server or even a desktop with a specific purpose it excels and I wouldn’t replace it with anything else. If I need a web server, database server or.. well.. any other kind of server, I’ll be reaching for my Debian CD because I know it will be rock solid. but on my laptop  I guess I’ll keep hopping in search of new software. If you’ve used Linux before and you’re not afraid to learn a little bit  about the finer workings Debian has a massive amount to offer and I’d encourage everyone to try it at least once in their life. It’s not for everyone but it”s still a great testament to what a group dedicated volunteer developers can achieve on all of our behalves when they come together. Try it out for yourself and let me know what you think.


Up next…

Arch Linux
Arch Linux

I’m not 100% sure what I’ll move onto next but I quite fancy Arch Linux. After coming to the realization that I’m really just a glory whore and want the latest software it seems to be the perfect thing with it’s rolling release scheme. It takes some work to set up but when I have time I will dig into it and of course report back to everyone with my findings. I’ve been told the Chakra Project is also worth a look in relation to Arch and I’ve downloaded the live CD to try out. As always you’re more than welcome to come and join me on Arch and we’ll check it out together, wouldn’t hurt if you brought some biscuits this time though, bribery will get you everywhere you know 😉


  1. Towards your possible future Arch review:

    Arch is, actually, relatively simple to set up once you get the hang of it. In general, there’s very little to set up to get a beginning install complete. Just use the beginner’s guide on the arch wiki as a guide.

    If you have trouble connecting to the internet after using the “core” installation, just choose the internet as the software source during installation. Arch will prompt you if you want to use the somewhat-auto-config-ed internet settings in your .conf files.

  2. I think debian uses kernel version 2.6.26 not 2.6.24, because I remember, when I installed it was showing 2.6.26 (but I am not sure, since I have Arch now and no debian)

    • @sankaran – That’s strange I’m sure when I did a “uname -a” on a fresh Lenny install it reported “2.6.24-16-generic”. Problem is I can’t remember now and this is from my notes taken at the time, I don’t think I would have written it down wrong but you never know. I’m not on Lenny at the moment but I’ll install it in a VM and double check this. If I did copy it down wrong I’d better fix it ASAP. Thanks for pointing it out!

  3. Dan,
    A bleeding edge Debian with a rolling release is available. It’s Sidux. I’ve been running it for about 1 year now on a laptop with very few problems. I run a script called smxi every two weeks to keep everything up to date. Take care. TS

    • @Tim – Yes I’ve heard of Sidux and said I will try it many times but never gotten around to it. I think it ships with KDE though right? Is there a version with the latest Gnome? I don’t mind KDE but if I were to move to it full time it would need to be Gnome for me I think. Thanks for the information though I’ll have to try it properly and stop procrastinating 🙂

  4. Nice review Dan, thanks for your insights.
    Re the fan problem you’ve been having, I had something similar while running Ubuntu with version 177 of the nvidia driver from the Ubuntu repository – the fan would run constantly.
    When I switched to version 173 of the Nvidia driver, this stopped.
    It means you’re not running the very latest driver, but it worked fine for me and might help with your XPS.
    Off topic – I love Linux Outlaws, keep up the good work!

    • @Steven – Interesting that 173 fixed the problem for you, I found the newer drivers fixed it for me. I’ll have to take another look, I think it’s partly my fault for buying this card but then it’s also nVidia’s fault for messing it up when they built it 😀 Thanks for listening to Linux Outlaws too, glad you enjoy it that’s really nice 🙂

  5. The initial code efforts to get gnome-app-install (“Add/Remove Software”) working on Debian was done by Sebastian Heinlein .

    I am maintaining gnome-app-install in Debian (and the rest of the Debian GNOME Maintainers “supporting” me), and am also working on the upstream side.

    Canonical was not heavily involved in porting g-a-i to Debian, this was mostly a community effort.

    Nonetheless, this was a Debian/Ubuntu collaboration, and a good example of how Debian can benefit from Ubuntu and vice versa. I became an Ubuntu member partially for my involvement in g-a-i.

    For GNOME 2.24, maybe I or someone else will be able to provide some backports for Lenny. Especially the enhanced display settings, PolicyKit integration and the tabbed Nautilus are nice features.

    This is something I wish for myself: Rock-solid Debian stable base + the latest GNOME version.

    And BTW compared to other distributions with a similar lifetime, Debian performs well in respect to being up2date. For example Ubuntu 8.04 LTS ships Kernel 2.6.24, whereas Debian ships Kernel 2.6.26.

    If I were to choose a distribution for a desktop without any specific requirements, I would choose Debian, simply because the next major upgrade would be in ~ 2011 (Ubuntu 8.10 in 2009-04, Ubuntu 8.04 in 2010-04). Of course, you can always upgrade at a later point, but I intent to upgrade once a new release is available.

    And with things like “Lenny and a Half” coming sometime later in the release cycle, Lenny will gain support for newer hardware and more.

    Debian has come a long way, and the next release will be even better, benefiting from all the new developments. It will include support for ext4,btrfs, and more; because they are included in Kernel 2.6.29.

    Your friendly Debian Developer and Ubuntu Member.

    • @Julian – Thanks for all the in-depth information there it really helps, as I said I didn’t know if Canonical had anything to do with getting gnome-app-install into Lenny but I’ll update the article directing people to your comment so they can see. It’s good that the 2 projects can work together I think and from talking to Steve (McIntyre) it seems like something he’s keen on. Hopefully it can benefit everyone. Thanks for reading 🙂

  6. That was a fairly good review, and it echoes my sentiments. The only thing that nagged me about the review was the nonstop barrage of poor grammar and run-on sentences (for my sanity, please promise you’ll go and learn the difference between a comma and a semicolon!).

    But, Debian IS really light and works great, you’re right about that one. It’s perfect for, say, a backup machine in case Ubuntu explodes or something. I usually try and keep a small, cheap hard drive installed with Debian around just in case I can’t get anything else working. I like Ubuntu a bit more (mostly because I’m used to it, and the 9.04 test releases are looking to be a huge winner), but Debian’s a great system nonetheless.

    • @Nobody Important – Glad you thought the review was “fairly good” and I’m afraid my grammar, spelling and punctuation are not fantastic I know that. I spend a long time triple checking everything because I’m Dyslexic and have had to do that since I was a kid. I’m pretty pleased with the way I write in light of things and it doesn’t come easily to me. I’ll keep working on it but you’ll have to deal with my language for now sorry. Thanks for reading

  7. AS far as sidux goes, gnome is just an apt-get away. It is a kde-centric distro, but I happily run gnome on it (and have for over a year now). I’ve found the debian sid branch is just as stable, if not more, than other distro’s main stable branches. Have fun wiht Arch, I was impressed with it when I installed it, and definitely give sidux a shot sometime!

  8. From article:

    “The easiest way I’ve found to install Compiz on Debian is through the fantastically named Repository Of Shame. It contains everything you could need and provides handy meta packages for easy installation.”

    Compiz is in the official Debian Lenny repository, there is no need to use any 3rd party repository. You can install compiz directly from the Debian repository, using eg. Synaptic.

    • @miksuh – Interesting, is there a meta package that will install everything for me in one go as I can with the Shame repo? I just install the compiz-fusion-gnome package and everything is done. Thanks for the information 🙂

  9. @Dan

    “That’s strange I’m sure when I did a “uname -a” on a fresh Lenny install it reported “2.6.24-16-generic”.”

    No, Debian Lenny has kernel version 2.6.26. There is no 2.6.24 in Lenny. This is output of “uname -r” on my computer running Debian Lenny.

    $ uname -r

    And by the way, there is no such as “generic” -kernel in Debian. I don’t know what kernel you were using, but it was not Debian packaged kernel. Ubuntu has those “generic”-kernels, but Debian does not.
    Also that kernel version you mentioned is strange. EtchAndAHalf has a kernel version 2.6.24, but it is 2.6.24+13, not 2.6.24-16 you mentioned, and Etch also does not have any “generic” -kernel. So I have no idea what kernel you were using, but it was not Debian packaged kernel.

    I you had kernel like you mentioned then there was something really weird in your system. it almost looks like you were using Ubuntu’s kernel on Debian.

    • @miksuh – Thanks for the information, I think what’s happened is I use an ODF template for writing these articles and I hadn’t changed the kernel version from another review perhaps. I’ll fix that right now!! Good job people spotted it, nothing gets past you lot does it? 😉

  10. “@miksuh – Interesting, is there a meta package that will install everything for me in one go as I can with the Shame repo? I just install the compiz-fusion-gnome package and everything is done. Thanks for the information”

    # apt-get install compiz (depends on compiz-gnome)
    # apt-get install fusion-icon
    # apt-get install compiz-fusion-plugins-main

    You can slao install these if you want:
    # apt-get install compiz-fusion-plugins-extra
    # apt-get install compiz-fusion-plugins-unsupported

  11. “I installed most of the additional software I needed via Synaptic and could get packages for other things like Gpodder from the developer’s own website.”

    Actually gpodder is also in the official Debian Lenny repository.

    # apt-get install gpodder

    You get a bit newer version from the developers web site though. Lenny has 0.12.1 and web site has 0.15.1

  12. “I think what’s happened is I use an ODF template for writing these articles and I hadn’t changed the kernel version from another review perhaps.”

    Heh, that explains a lot. Understandadble mistake then 🙂

  13. great review dan, i didn’t mind your grammer, but mine is horrible too so i guess thats why, arch is great btw, pacman imo is much faster than apt, i havnt encountered any problems with it in the 1 1/2 iv been running it on my main desktop, its also very bleeding edge, and if there isnt a program in the main repositories you can always use the aur, they even have a package manager called yaourt which is pacman with the ability to make aur packages and install them as if they were in the normal repos.

    about debian, i used debian sid on my laptop, which i use alot, for about a year, sidux is based off this, in my experience its extremely stable and its a rolling release, the only problem i had was different versions of the kernel (2.6.26 and 2.6.28) being with each other in the repos, and their is some packages relating to those that are missing, i dont quite remember but this is pretty much what had happenend, nvidia had no 2.6.28 driver but the only kernel headers were for 2.6.26 so you couldnt install it from the repos, but the manually install was very easy, i had to roll my own kernel once or twice but there is many guides on how to do that and make a debian package for it, plus this will give you a chance to slim the kernel down alot since there is so many config options on by default that you would never need for a home laptop. hope this helps.

  14. oops i meant to say that there wasnt any kernel headers for 2.6.26 and only for .28 which their isnt a driver, this is about the nvidia problem

    • @kolby – Thanks for the information I’ll keep it in mind. I’m gonna be very busy 2moro with podcast recording and all kinds of other stuff but I think Tuesday will be known as Arch day from now on. I’ll take a few hours in the afternoon to try and get it set up properly. I’ve read through the documentation briefly in the past and I’ve always found it really good. That’ll give me a few days to use it and get a proper feel for it by next week. Fingers crossed 🙂

  15. Well, okay, then, the grammar’s not your fault, I guess. 😉

    My primary hard drive died this evening, and the first thing I did was install Debian on the secondary so I had a stable base from which to sort everything out. It turned out to be a great move. I had everything backed up, but I at least figured everything out first.

    I look forward to seeing what you say about Sidux; I’ve given it a try but never had the time to dive in.

  16. @ Nobody Important “(for my sanity, please promise you’ll go and learn the difference between a comma and a semicolon!).”:

    Interestingly enough, there is not a single semicolon on the entire page. Are you sure you know what a semicolon is let alone how to use it? I am just asking since in my experience, very few people actually do…

  17. “Blu-ray images available now with everything on one disc. That sounds amazing but not having the small fortune it requires to purchase a Blu-ray burner at the moment it wasn’t an option for me sadly.”

    IT IS option I used. You can download with jigdo a BD iso to a partition (at least 20GB), download vmlinux & initrd from hd-media to the same partition and configure GRUB to boot using kernel and initrd from this partition. Debian installer will start searching for a iso image and find the blu-ray iso. You may even not have internet connection and DVD drive.

    If you have to install debian to many computers and don’t want to burn a netinst CD each time, you can use jigdo to update this image. You can keep it on a external HDD, which has GRUB installed to start debian installation.

    • @Alexandru – Wow that’s a pretty ingenious way to do it, nice idea. Sounds a bit complicated for the average home user but for a sysadmin it could save a lot of time. I know some people installing Debian or a Deb-based distro on many machines in a LAN use one of them as a server which holds all the packages and do a net install on many local clients quickly. It’s a very flexible system. Good stuff, thanks for the tip 🙂

  18. @Fab: I mentioned it because Dan used a lot of commas where there should have been semicolons. Semicolons are used to connect two similar ideas in a sentence without a conjunction. Commas require a conjunction, such as “and” and “or” to be used correctly.

    But it’s beating a dead horse at this point, so let’s let my comment drop. Feel free to delete that part of my original message.

    The review was fine on its own merits.

  19. Dan, I tried Debian Lenny in the Xfce flavor, and enjoyed the experience. In the end came back to Xubuntu (very much for the same reasons you gave in your conclusions). But in any case, it is good to know that Lenny is there for us, and that new versions of Ubuntu, Mint, Knoppix, etc. will be based on it in the next year or two.

    • @Hezy – Indeed, as you say it’s a big reassurance for everyone to know Debian is there behind all this more fashionable distributions.

  20. @Nobody No need to drop the comment it’s fine, I’m happy to have honest opinions good or bad as long as they’re constructive in some way. Semi colons go at the end of lines of Javascript don’t they, I thought this was their purpose? 😀

  21. I’m quite excited to read your experience with Arch. (What can I say I’m an Arch fanboy.) Pacman is definitely faster than apt, and IMHO, the best package manager around.

  22. Your review is rather contradictory. You criticize Debian for things it never claimed to be. You want stability but you add many third party repositories and install the latest versions of some packages. If you used KDE, you’d whine about Debian Stable not using the far-from-ready 4 branch.
    You also stated spending a lot of time configuring it and compare it to Ubuntu or openSUSE. How is this comparison valid? Debian is whatever you want it to be, Ubuntu and openSUSE are desktop distributions. What if you dislike their hundreds of customizations? The time needed to strip them down is longer than the time needed to set Debian as a desktop terminal.
    Had you installed Debian Sid or Debian Testing, your conclusions would be more adequate.

    • @em4r1z – I think you’ve misunderstood what I said, I never criticised Debian for not being something it never claimed to be. I plainly said on numerous occasions you use Debian stable for it’s stability, this is what you expect with Debian not cutting edge software. That is not a criticism in any form, merely an observation. I also never said Ubuntu or OpenSuse were “better” because I don’t believe they are, they’re just different. I was pointing out the different philosophy for anyone who doesn’t know the background. Again this is merely a statement of fact and not a criticism. I praised Debian and the community around it, I am a Debian fan, I said that in the very first paragraph; perhaps it was just not said in way that you liked. Thanks for reading, I appreciate your thoughts

  23. Actually, what bothered me in your review is the use of “its” and “it’s”. That’s something I haven’t been able to get used to.

    But to the content: you keep mentioning that Debian comes with old softer which you then quickly justify with stability.

    Maybe, at this point, you should point out the different distribution of Debian, stable, testing and unstable.

    Personally, I use unstable with testing on my server. Of course, there is nothing “final” with either testing or unstable, so for the purpose of writing a review, you’d need to give a date when were the packages downloaded. Another day and the version(s) of certain packages could have changed.

    For person who like everything “latest and greatest” and is not bothered with little tinkering – things don’t always turn out the way a person would like when installing something newer that hasn’t been used much, going the “unstable” or “testing” route may be an option. That’s where the recent software in Debian lives.

    Maybe you could give Debian another look and try one day distribution of Debian that’s “higher” than the current stable.

    • @Debianista – I may be wrong. Punctuation is not my forte but I thought “it’s” was short for “it is”. So instead of saying “it is not hard to install, I would be happy to try” which sounds formal and clunky to me like a robot speaking. I would say “it’s not hard to install, I’d be happy to try it”. That sounds more conversational to me, it’s (sorry) how people speak. At least they do where I’m from. I don’t speak the Queen’s English I don’t claim to and I don’t have much time for the establishment at all if I’m honest. I feel language evolves and I try to write as I speak, which is imperfect to traditionalists. I understand that. Even Stephen Fry recently ranted that language has to change over time and people shouldn’t spend all their time getting hung up on little things but instead use language and enjoy it, let it live and breath. If it’s good enough for him then it’s good enough for me. He is infinitely more skilled with language than I can ever be, no doubt about that. I do get frustrated sometimes myself at the text message language people write today but I suppose this is the nature of development. Otherwise we’d all still be speaking Shakespearian English or if you go back far enough, grunting like cavemen. This is not a rant at you about my use (misuse mostly) of spelling, grammar or punctuation. I am very often wrong with these things but I’m big enough to accept it, so don’t think this is specifically directed at you 😉 One thing you can rest assured of is I try my best to make this as correct as it can be spending whole days on it. I don’t always succeed, who does?

      With regard to Debian and new software. I enabled the testing, unstable and even experimental repos after I’d reviewed Lenny to see how up to date I could make it with upgrades. It didn’t seem to affect stability much I should say. The Sid packages were still behind a lot of the ones in other distributions though. I know some guys personally who work doing packaging for the Debian kernel team and I have huge respect for them and their effort. It’s a massive job and I’m not stepping forward to do it. I could offer to package something like Gwibber for Sid and I’m not because I don’t have the time or I am unwilling to give up the time. I admire the people that do and their great work but it seems in my opinion that Debian is a conservative distribution when it comes to adopting new software. This is merely an opinion which my be wrong but it’s my belief. It’s not an attack on Debian before people get all defensive. You probably know a lot more about the distribution than I do and I will take your suggestions on board for the future, thank you.

  24. Dan, I’ve been running Debian testing for a couple years now. Debian really has three degrees of newness/stability/reliability out there. They’re stable, testing, and unstable. To me testing is a bit of a misnomer, it is 95% (my assessment) stable. It has good stability, but also has much newer apps’ versions. You might want to take a look see at testing sometime down the road, I think it has the best blend of stability and newness that’s out there!

    • @Roy – Thanks that’s very kind, nice to see you here. @FrankR – Yes you’re right I have tried testing and used it on servers in the past, I didn’t find any stability issues. I wanted to try and praise the strength of Debian stable though, that was my intention. The Debian guys don’t take the word “stable” lightly and I admire their commitment to quality. Maybe I should try a fresh install of Sid sometime soon to see how up to date it is but I found last time I tried a month ago a lot of the packages were still outdated

  25. Good to see you getting around to trying the distros you always say you’ll review. As someone who also reviews distros, I know a good one is very time-consuming, so I’m just messing about.

    On the podcast Fab told you to upgrade to nVidia 180 drivers to fix your GnomeDo dock problems. Did it work?

    • @Eric – You know what I haven’t tried the 180 drivers yet. I will do so and see if Docky works for my then. It kept freezing on me last time I tried and the animations were really slow. I’ll have to get back to you.

  26. I’ve used Lenny on an AMD64 based box since it went to ‘testing’ around Sept. 2007 and left apt at ‘prefers testing’. 5 minutes per day and your system is up to date and shipshape.

    Had a very brief stint with Ubuntu on my laptop, but couldn’t get rid of that feeling of Windozy disenfranchisement. Too much automagic handholding and lack of transparency.

    Wiped the box and put Lenny on there as well.

    Gave the proprietary nVidia driver a try but removed it again. The installer craps weird files all over ones boot partition and makes kernel updates a nightmare.

    Now I have less eyecandy but troublefree automagic kernel updates.

    Debian should come with a health warning:
    “Stay away from the commandline – it’s addictive”

    Thanks Debian. Great stuff.

    And thank you Dan for writing about it.

    BTW, the current kernel in Lenny is 2.6.26-1 from Friday, Mar 13 – now if that doesn’t mean good luck!

    • @Bernhard – Thanks for reading, I suppose I’m a sucker for those wobbly windows and I like the binary driver for this reason. When I bought this machine the Intel graphics card wasn’t up to scratch for what I needed, they’ve improved massively now and my next machine will have a card with an open driver I hope.

  27. Here’s just another Arch Linux fanboy. 😉 As a mostly silent reader (and podcast listener – both of you really make a good job Fab & Dan!) I just wanted to share, that Arch Linux is actually the first linux distro out there, which *really* made me happy… and which converted my notebook into a 100% linux machine.

    You’ll love it! I also tried it out, because you don’t get thousands of packages on the installation and every choice (ex.: desktop enviroments) is left to the end user *and* finally and most importantly because of the outstanding rolling release scheme.

    • @Drago – Thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoy the show. That’s our only goal really, to make people smile. I’m looking forward to Arch, I’ve backed up my data and I’m just doing some last minute jobs before taking the plunge on this machine. I’ll let you know how I get on 🙂

  28. “With regard to Debian and new software. I enabled the testing, unstable and even experimental repos after I’d reviewed Lenny to see how up to date I could make it with upgrades.”
    Keep in mind that mixing Stable with Testing/Unstable is not a good idea and that you’ll need to do some “pinning” to make it work smoothly. If this is a desktop terminal, upgrade to Testing. Despite its name it’s more stable than 99% of the distributions out there.
    As for the latest versions, Testing users already have many applications that will be included in Ubuntu 9.04. Wait another month and it’ll defy Fedora 11.

    • @em4r1z – Perhaps because I tried testing just after Lenny came out it wasn’t much different, all the new software for the next release cycle probably hadn’t been pulled in. I know Debian testing is usually more stable than a lot of other distros main releases. I used Lenny on a few development servers last year while it was still the testing branch and never had a problem with it.

  29. I had a test drive with Lenny, but as an Ubuntu user I encountered a few problems, especially on freedom of choice.
    I don’t like the way Debian “forces” me to use swfdec, or at least forces me to keep it installed. Sure there are some workarounds, like switching to Adobe via update-alternatives, or wipe out swfdec totally, and tinker around with the packages marked as auto removable. But as I said this is anything but freedom of choice.
    There are strange dependencies among the packages, and that disturbs me a lot. As long as they are managed like this, I’m sticking with Ubuntu, though it has some hardcoded dependency WTF too. :]

    I’d love to see a somwhat wasy to use distrubution, with the latest stock GNOME, with a Debianish base, but I’m affraid it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

    • @berciXcore – I found if I tried to remove Swfdec in Synaptic it wanted to remove Gnome as well so I left it. I did install the Adobe Flash player easily enough through that Debian-multimedia.org repo I mentioned. It worked just fine. I left Swfdec installed but was able to tell IceWeasel to use the evil version as default. With regard to a having distro with the latest Gnome you may want to look into Foresight Linux. They track Gnome development but it’s not a Debian base, it’s based on rPath, which is itself based on Red Hat but has a new package manager called Conary. It’s an interesting distro though, very cutting edge and not the most stable when I used it. I need to revisit it soon

  30. Yep, that was it: swfdec-mozilla wanted me to remove the gnome metapackage, and swfdec-gnome wanted to erase gnome-desktop as a dependency. Clicking OK dragged half of the graphical environment into the auto removable category, which is not fair.

    I’ve tried foresight, more than once, even gave their GNOME 2.26 Live DVD a run (which wasn1t Live at all for me), but I found Conary really sluggish, and their latest GNOME Live welcomed me with an error on keyboard layout. Quite disappointing.
    Though their ideas are great in many ways, and I really hope that Ken VanDine will make a bigger impact on how Ubuntu is managed, and not just stir up the creative minds at the art team. 😉

    There’s one distro which I’m really looking forward to: Firefly Linux. Released as a Live CD based on Arch, with an easy to use graphical installer in development, geared for netbooks.

  31. @berci Wow I haven’t heard of Firefly Linux but I’ll have to try it when it’s ready. I’m in process of preparing for Arch at the moment, going to install it soon. Probably too late now 2nite but 2moro it should be fine. I’ve looked at Chakra as I mentioned at the end and that’s worth a look. It’s KDE4 and Arch with a nice LiveCD and installer.

  32. It’s too bad that fresh and tasty distributions come with bloats of custumized cruft, while those shipping with stock desktop are a bit outdated (stable in other words(?) :P), or too much ubergeek oriented.
    Too many distributions fall into the ‘Sorry Youre Not A Winner’ (Enter shikari FTW BTW) category for me. 😀

  33. Hiya Dan!

    WOW!! Just a totally awesome review that you’ve done here on Lenny! I’ve REALLY enjoyed it my friend and gained so much from it and these comments below as well. I’m looking forward to your Arch review like a man in the desert looks for water! ( Can you tell that I’ve missed reading your reviews? 😉 )

    I tried Lenny—I downloaded a “LiveCD” which I’d found on the Debian servers with the LXDE environment ( my fave by the way ) in hopes that it had an installer for a partition I had opened at the time. No such beast! It was just to give Lenny a spin and an idea of “what it’s like”. Go figure!

    So instead I updated my Parsix from 1.5 to 2.0. 😉 ( Parsix is based on Debian Testing you may recall? ) That has the Gnome 2.24.x desktop with the Nautilus that you mentioned, tabbed interface? That is sweet! Still though, I prefer either LXDE or Openbox/FBpanel and you can have pcmanfm which starts under a wink of an eye and likewise does tabs and about everything else in version 0.5.

    Ahh Dan! We “boys” and our toys, eh mate? 😉

    In closing Dan, I hope that your health has improved. I wanted you to know that the family & I are thinking of you there. Oh yeah!—and when you get the Arch article out? See if Ladislav or Chris will place it under the “Review” section. That’s how I got here today mate. 😉



    • @Eyes-Only – Thanks for the very kind words and wishes, I appreciate them. I have seen Parsix around but never really tried it, perhaps this is the Debian base with latest Gnome people have been looking for. I’ll definitely have to try it if it is. I’m about to wipe this machine I’m typing on right now and start the Arch install very soon, in the next hour or so. Just answering some emails before I start. I always test on my main everyday machine as it seems the only fair way to really try something. If you’re an Openbox fan you may want to try Crunchbang if you haven’t done that yet, I know loads of people who love it. It seems to have taken over the world in the last couple of months. Thanks for reading 😉

  34. Dan

    Always interested in keeping up with all the latest Linux distributions.

    If I had the time, I’d be a distro hopper too.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the review. Readable, balanced with screenshots. I fully appreciate the time and effort that must have gone into that post so many thanks.

    It must be kind of soul destroying to get pedants moaning about your grammar and the use of its’ versus ‘it’s’ ! FWIW I couldn’t see any occurances of it’s but there you go.

    Your writing style, spelling and grammar is fine – this is a blog not Linux Journal.

    Keep the reviews and Linux Outlaws podcasts coming and don’t let the grammar and language police grind you down.


    • @Andy C – Thanks for the support it’s much appreciated, I don’t mind people pointing out mistakes in a constructive way but plain jibes can get you down yes. You have to take the rough with the smooth though, it’s cool 🙂

  35. Overall good review. Many distros are based upon Debian but Debian is meant to be completey “free” and well all know what that means.

    I use Debian everyday as a desktop and a server and it never fails me. If you enable the extra repositories and the multimedia as well, you’ll find most of the aps you’re looking for.

    The only thing that I’ve had trouble with is the Nvidia driver installation. I’ve tried both the “Debian way” and the “Nvidia way”, neither of which seem to work although the default driver gives me stunning graphics on my Planar flat panel monitor.

    Perhaps it has something to do with the new kernel as I’ve noticed that Xorg does not show my nvidia driver but shows “configured video device” instead, even if I change it, it reverts back to this.

    Mine uses the 71xx driver in legacy but when I try to install it, it says …71xx not found. I tried packages/Debian and also found that its’ unavailable in either stable, unstable or testing so I assume its’ just no longer available.

    The Nvidia way is really neat once you figure out how to get it to run. Ie; /home/username/Desktop/Nvidia-Linux… It even tried to build a new kernel but it does edit the Xorg files nor does it explain how to do so very well.

    Might also try the KDE version of Lenny. Even faster yet and has lots of tools in the system menu.

    If anyone knows how to correctly install the video driver, please send me a message@:


    So, I can post the instructions of my site.

    • @Brad – I have a feeling that driver may have been removed as time has gone on but I can’t say for sure. 71xx is the legacy driver for TNT cards and similar I believe, it may not be fully supported now. For editing your xorg.conf you just need to run the script that comes with the Nvidia driver after installing it. Run “nvidia-xconfig” and it should do the trick for you. Sorry I can’t be of more help with the other problem but let’s hope someone else will see this and help. Thanks for reading

  36. Yeah, it seems it may have been removed as it only shows 96xx, the same in synaptic shows up but nothing else. I also heard that the two driver sources were merged but it is an old card.

    Like I said before, I do run Debian and enjoy it very much. Its’ fast and has tons of software apps in the repos so just install what you want and its’ your own customized distro.

    Debian may not be a beginners distro like maybe Mepis or Ubuntu but if you like Linux, you’ll love Debian for its’ speed and stability.

    Once again, nice review and thanks for the feedback.


    • @John – Can you try Debian or Ubuntu? Yes of course you can, you can try anything you like but that doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. If you’ve never tried Linux or a similar OS before I would suggest you try Ubuntu ahead of Debian as it’s a bit easier for the new user, I would even go as far as to say Linux Mint is easier again. Good luck with it man, happy trails 🙂

  37. I’ve been using Lenny xfce+lxde from the single install CD on a 1Ghz, PIII, 386MB RAM.

    + It is über fast with lxde!
    + Simple install from one CD.
    – Needed to install alsa stuff, smb client (to print to windows PC’s printer, mc, xfe, the rest of openoffice.org, geany (this is no biggie to do)
    – LXDE & Pcmanfm web documentation, wikis and forums are lacking a bit, for newbies anyway. I’ll do my part to fix this over time.

    • @MattE – I’ve not used LXDE yet but I know a lot of people like it as a lightweight desktop. Glad you’re enjoying Debian, it’s a great distro.

  38. Nice review up there.

    I am a recent Ubuntu Jaunty to Debian Lenny convert and I’m enjoying Debian. I had some major problems with Ubuntu. There is one bug that has stayed from the earlier days of Intrepid(http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1150108) and I still used Intrepid for 6 months and moved to Jaunty to find that the same problem persists. I still used Jaunty for about 3 months and realised that it was time.

    Yes, in Debian, the softwares are old, but they haven’t caused any significant problems. However, I was facing small problems like glitchy audio playback but I have now muted the channels except for PCM, and it is fine. I’m unable to play everything with VLC coz it is 0.8.6, but Totem (with gstreamer) and SMPlayer (mplayer with w64codecs) do most playback I require. I’m planning to install Amarok (of course v1). Let me see how it goes. I’d like to install latest VLC coz I love it, but maybe it will take some time, compiling it and stuff. I’ve not had to compile a single package lately (since I moved to Ubuntu after having tried Mandriva, Fedora, OpenSuse and what not… thanks to ppa and synapticapt). I’m also having problems with MP4 with Totem (reportedly coz I’m missing H.264 decoder,MPEG-4 AAC decoder.. thanks to gnome-app-install for figuring that out.. but it could not install it unlike in Ubuntu.. and I haven’t yet found a workaround.. I use SMPlayer instead). Also, how do I load subtitles in Totem? I use SMPlayer for anything that requires subtitles. SMPlayer works great (unlike in Ubuntu, where its memory usage wud go up continuously unless there was no memory free.. and lot wud be swapped.. eventually causing mplayer backend to crash).

    I gave LXDE a shot and it is really fast, responsive and consumes a lot less memory, but having used Gnome for so long (Ubuntu 7.10 to Ubuntu 9.04, with a little bit of KDE4 in between) and not much use of 2GB DDR2 800 RAM, I went back to Gnome.

    I’m also having problems with Compiz-Fusion not being as smooth as it was in Ubuntu Jaunty so I have disabled it. I have Intel OnBoard GMA 3100 and Debian Lenny does not seem to have a good driver for it. I’ve also faced x-server shutdown (maybe I’m not explaining it properly) few times (3 to be exact) in 5-6 days of use but haven’t bothered to fix it since it has not bothered me much (maybe that will take a little bit of datawork loss to get me going.. “don’t fix it until it cuts you.. it was broken some time back..” is my way of doing things, unfortunately).

    To give it a bit of Ubuntu feel since I’ve been acustomed to using it, I installed gdebi-gtk, from repos, which provides a graphical frontend for installing deb files, but it did not work (reportedly because of unsupported gksu option, maybe coz it is older version.. any ideas?).

    The overall expereince is good enough though, coz I’m getting quick boot up and quick file operations (see forum discussion on the bug in Ubuntu) in Debian Lenny (maybe because of the old kernel used…). Also, iceweasel and adobe flash plugin are working better (in Ubuntu, some days, flash wud work and some days it wouldn’t). I’m still with the default version of Iceweasel (3.0.6) and haven’t thought of upgrading to FF 3.5 (since is is not easy as ppa and it isn’t broken anyways… damn Ubuntu made me so lazy).

    Lets see how long Lenny interests me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.