First let me tell you that I love Debian. I use it on servers, I use it on my Asus EEE PC 701 4GB (on which I'm typing this) and it's been good. Apart from the EEE PC, my desktops and laptops have been running Ubuntu. The LTS version for my mom and mother-in-law, and the non-LTS on my own machines. Alas, the latest Ubuntu, 11.04 is pretty much the "Vista of Linuxes". This feeling is caused by it not being able to run VueScan while Compiz is enabled (yes, yes, it's proprietary software, but it's the best scanning software you can get on Linux) and of course the whole Unity debacle. On my old Amilo Pa1510, it works fine when using Gnome2, but VueScan is a dealbreaker.
With the advent of my i7 laptop (which has arrived last Monday, and which I still didn't use or configure) the landscape of machines changed. The Amilo will be decomissioned, and my desktop (a Athlon64 X2, with 4GB RAM) will be refurbished for my mom. As I recently bought a Foxconn NT535, which is a tiny Atom-based computer, I decided to make that my primary desktop. I originally bought is because it was so tiny and find a future use for it. Since you can mount it on a computer screen using the VESA mounts, I decided to make it my primary desktop because it's insanely quiet and will save a lot of space.
I tried Ubuntu 11.04 on it and, it's an absolute nightmare. It doesn't work well at all, I get kernel oopses related to the wireless. So, I thought: Ubuntu is pretty much Debian with a few tweaks, I can do it myself.
Now, those "few tweaks" seem to be a lot more tweaks than I expected. Originally, I planned to make a journal entry on how to make Debian Squeeze as close to Ubuntu LTS, as you can using standard packages. I must now admit, that was pure hubris.
So, I install Debian Squeeze (using PXE, as always) and hand-pick the packages to make it close to what Ubuntu LTS is. I have a preference to use software in the repository and I really don't mind using Iceweasel and Icedove instead of Firefox and Thunderbird. I'm really fine with that. Thing is, Iceweasel is at 3.5.xx. It's very slow to start and even longer to quit. I know the stable branch of Debian, that's unlikely to change. No problem, I thought by myself, I'll upgrade to unstable, where it will probably be at 3.6.xx or higher. That's what Ubuntu LTS ships with. After the upgrade... it's still Iceweasel 3.5.xx. Ouch.... This tells me that Debian an Mozilla really should bury the war axe and at least agree to have Firefox and Thunderbird in the non-free repository. I realize that Debian has only limited resources, but that's not really acceptable for the so called "bleeding edge" branch which Sid should be.
With all this misery, I installed the latest Thunderbird and Firefox from Mozilla in
Furthermore, running Compiz on Debian Unstable gives me very weird effects. Theming doesn't work well any more. That's okay, just use metacity... which of course would solved my VueScan problem in Ubuntu anyway.
My wireless doesn't work either, which is no real problem, because I wasn't going to use it. However, in that case, I could just have blacklisted the module in Ubuntu to avoid the kernel oopses, to get exactly the same result.
Then there is the little things, like a nice theme. On Ubuntu I used Radiance (the "white" version of Ambiance). Such a thing doesn't exist in Debian. The nicest theme in the repository is called "Shiki", but it comes only in a dark version. Also, in some programs the menus are black, in others they are white. It's weird. Weirdness I can live with but, still.
Ubuntu also has some very nice applets that simply aren't in Debian. Software center is one, but I can live without it. There is one insanely useful configuration applet that I miss a lot. You use it exactly once after installation of Ubuntu, and I'm sure you can work around it if you know which packages you need. This applet is the "Internationalization/Languages" applet. It allows you to change the language of the user interface, which is the part I don't use, but it also allows you to specify the spelling and grammar aides you want on your system. Simply, click the languages you need (Being, Dutch, French, German and English) and tell it to install the grammar and spelling packages, which will result in support for these languages in OpenOffice/LibreOffice, the Mozilla suites, and anything that uses these libraries. Which packages I need to install to achieve the same under Debian is absolutely daunting to me.
It's very clear: Canonical adds a lot of value to Debian, and you only realize it when you actually use Debian. The problem is the future. If Canonical continues down the drain, as 11.04 suggests, the added value will be destroyed by the bugs and annoyances in the distribution. On the other hand you have Debian, which is even on unstable behind times and need so many tweaks to make it a nice experience, that it's a near impossible task for people with limited time and knowledge. (I'm sure I can manage, but really, this already took so much time).
The way out? Probably scratch the current installation and try Ubuntu LTS. It will give me a few years leeway, but then? What then? It's a short term solution.
What is clear is that the i7 probably won't get a Debian installation.(I'm sure wireless won't be supported either, and that's not acceptable on a laptop). 11.04 is out, as VueScan won't work. Waiting for 11.10 is a bit long, and no guarantee there will be acceptable fixes.
It also puts me in a bad position for the Ubuntu machines of my mom and mother in law. I could just give them an Ubuntu LTS and have no problems whatsoever... It's clear that I can't do that with Debian, at all, unless I accept the older browsers and perhaps sites that will complain because they don't know this Iceweasel thing. Hello support calls! Let's just hope that Canonical gets their act together before the next LTS. Otherwhise, I see black for Linux on the Desktop for non-geeks.