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A Look at Debian Etch Beta 3 71

An anonymous reader writes "The All about Linux blog has a down-to-earth review of the latest Linux offering from Debian — Etch Beta 3 which optionally sports a very intuitive GUI installer. The review looks ar the pros and cons of Debian Etch Beta 3 as well as what the Debian team could do to make this not-for-profit Linux distribution even more popular."
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A Look at Debian Etch Beta 3

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  • More of the same. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Xordan ( 943619 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @08:28PM (#15997270)
    It's nice to see Etch moving closer towards release, it's been too long since Sarge imo. Although there's a new shiny installer which seems to give lots of (easy) control over how you set up your system, there seems little else other than updated packages. This might not be a bad thing however, if the time taken between the Sarge release and this one has been put into making a generally rock solid distro. For many people, being able to rely on having no stability problems is very important. So I think Debian should stick to this path. Moving towards making it user friendly for the linux newbie as the article suggests isn't a good plan unless they have devs sitting around with nothing to do. There are plenty of distros out there which provide for these people (e.g. Ubuntu).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by VGPowerlord ( 621254 )
      it's been too long since Sarge imo

      If you think a year and a half was a long time (Etch is due out in December), I'll remind you that there was almost 3 years between Woody [] and Sarge [].
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Xordan ( 943619 )
        Too true. I suppose it's a fair improvement then. ;) Some of the core packages that Sarge uses are over three years old however (e.g. glibc), and even though they are patched quite a bit it's quite antiquated in areas. Etch uses packages which were released a fair bit closer to its release date.
      • by Reverend528 ( 585549 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @08:53PM (#15997366) Homepage
        3 Years is an insanely long time. That's why I run debian sid, which has had a new release in the 3 minutes that it took me to read your post and reply to it.
      • I'll remind you that there was almost 3 years between Woody and Sarge.

        Back when Woody was new, there were masses of Debian users everywhere, but in the 3 years between releases I saw that number dwindle down as Ubuntu and Gentoo rose to power. Does anyone have some actual statistics (or know where to find them) showing the change? Distrowatch [] shows that Debian has fallen from #7 to #9 but only shows the last 12 months. Does anyone think that Debian can return to it's former glory or has it been crushed by

      • by shish ( 588640 )
        How far apart are windows / OSX releases? Seems we've been on XP for several years too...
        • Windows XP is an anomoly, breaking the usual 2-4 year cycle between major versions of Windows. Not only has it been around for 5 years, but it followed Windows 2000 and Windows ME by less than two years.

          OSX, on the other hand, has a new version approximately every 12-18 months. 10.1 was the major exception, being released just 6 months after the original release. It was also the only free upgrade for OSX.
    • by vga_init ( 589198 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @09:57PM (#15997576) Journal

      there seems little else other than updated packages.

      Doesn't this hold true for any distro release? At its heart, a distro is more or less an organized collection of packages. Actual development of the software is done by other people--for example, the linux kernel is developed independently from any distro release. This is unlike more traditional unices (such as BSD or Sun OS) in which new releases herald additions/changes to the core system. While distro maintainers frequently contribute to development (Debian, RedHat, Ubuntu--younameit), those are considered seperate projects from the distro itself (except when the projects are the foundation for the creation of the distro itself, such as Debian's package system and installer).

      I used to try different distros a lot--jump around constantly. What I took away from that is that no matter where you go, you almost always get the same thing (with varying levels of up-to-dateness). After all, GNU is GNU is GNU (or are rose by any other name); a distro just takes that, wraps it up, and puts a lovely bow on top (sometimes no bow, like on Slackware).

    • by qurk ( 87195 )
      For me and my boss, the installer of Debian was not a problem. He was sick of Windows and I had heard great things about Debian, so like a month ago we downloaded Debian and installed it. The installer froze up twice, but we didn't give up. Turns out neither he (complete linux newbie) nor I (complete Debian newbie) had the patience to learn how to update the system. I guess I'm an idiot, but gentoo (which I've used for 3 or 4 years) seems much more intuitive to me. Anyways we spend like 6 hours getting
      • by Valthan ( 977851 )
        to learn how to update the system

        insert root password here
        apt-get update; apt-get dist-upgrade

        hope that helps you out in how hard it is to update Debian.
        • by qurk ( 87195 )
          O.K. Thanks for answering all my questions. You know what, I'll stick to gentoo...sorry for posting my observation and admitting to you that I was a dumbass!
      • by moyix ( 412254 )

        I'm never sure exactly what to say when commnets like this come around, because it feels like the people posting them occupy some bizarre parallel universe that I have never visited.

        The installer was freezing? I've only experienced this before with bad hardware or flaky media.

        You couldn't figure out how to update the system? Because the biggest issue was "finding the right server"? Every time I've installed debian (and keep in mind that I've done it on dozens of different systems over the past five years,

        • by qurk ( 87195 )
          Ah I think you are right on with most everything you posted. Not the best move to make the best impression, advocasy-wise, for sure. But I'm pretty sure I didn't get a nice list of mirrors to use (was using some gnome-program, and something like that seems a little out of place for that philosophy). I guess I just started at the wrong place, in using the right program to update the software. Considering you are the second Debian advocate to reply to my stupid-assed comment, I'm going to re-relegate Debi
        • by qurk ( 87195 )
          Also thank you for your instructions....will make good use of that. You see like I said in my first post I'm a gentoo person, Gentoo has just been so perfect for how I use a computer that I've never bothered to learn another system (other than like SuSE, or Redhat, and even with those only enough to know that they weren't exactly what I was looking for). With Gentoo I end up with a system I really like, even if it takes a few months of dicking around with and finally getting it how I like. I'm not used t
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have net-installed debian over a phone line, a full desktop with firefox and icewm, abiword, gnumeric, etc.

    The initial X setup was frustrating because I downloaded a bunch of stuff for the wrong video card. However, even with that the whole setup took less than a day. The final installed image was less than 600 MB (excluding the package cache, which I apt-get cleaned).

    So it is definitely possible. A lot of bloat needs to be addressed in Debian as in other linuxes -- I am pretty sure it could have been
    • by deek ( 22697 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @01:37AM (#15998190) Homepage Journal
      The final installed image was less than 600 MB (excluding the package cache, which I apt-get cleaned).

      That's what I love about Debian. It's wonderfully easy to optimise the package combinations. You could probably get it down even further, if you use the deborphan command to figure out all "leaf" packages (i.e packages that aren't dependencies for others). Then you can cull down the ones you don't want, rerun deborphan again, rinse and repeat. Also very useful for culling bloat in the system, from extra software installed over time.

      This was more than a year ago however (not that Debian changes that fast)

      This has to be the one myth about Debian that has almost every other Linux user suckered.

      For these people, here is a rundown of the many different faces of Debian. You can choose four different types of Debian:

      • You can opt for the slow, barely changing except for security updates or the occasional point release, extremely stable distribution. Called 'stable', of course. Currently nicknamed 'sarge'.
      • You can choose the quite new, not rigorously checked but has had a good workout, still more stable than most distribution. That's 'testing'. It's nicknamed 'etch' right now.
      • You can adopt the very new, sneeze and you'll miss an update, I live in interesting times distribution. It's named 'unstable', but should probably be called 'Most likely fine, but we're not guarantueeing anything'. Has a nickname of 'sid'.
      • Or you can go for the bleeding edge, running with scissors, smoke me a kipper I'll be back for breakfast distribution. That is experimental. No nickname that I know of. It's not a complete distribution itself, as it contains only a few hundred packages. It has to be piggybacked onto one of the previous three. If you wanted to install XOrg 7.1 though, this is what you'd have to use.

        Then, as if that wasn't enough, you can selectively include packages from all four distributions, by specifying a default dist, and specifically apt-getting from one of the four. Personally, that's what I do on my machine, using 'testing' as a base. I've also been known to set this up on some servers I maintain, if they desperately need a newer php or something like that. Works like a charm.

        So as you can see, Debian can change rapidly. Very rapidly. It all depends on what you choose. It's just that the Debian "releases" are always of the 'stable' distribution. Hence this common misconception.
      • Caveats for running 'Sid': Right now, you'll probably be alright. When 'Etch' is released in few months time and becomes 'stable', 'Sid'/'unstable' will very likely become actually quite unstable for a while, and it might be worth moving to the new 'testing' distribution, whatever that is.

        The reason for this is because 'Etch' is close to release. We're not in full freeze yet, but /some/ parts are frozen, and others are certainly crystalising a fair amount, so there's not *that* much going on in Etch. Howeve
      • ...if you use the deborphan command to figure out all "leaf" packages (i.e packages that aren't dependencies for others). Then you can cull down the ones you don't want, rerun deborphan again, rinse and repeat. Also very useful for culling bloat in the system, from extra software installed over time.

        It's wonderfully easy to seemingly cull the bloat, until you run into the libc6 trap (nobody ever should run into that one), the lbreakout2 trap, or any others like that. Deborphan says: lbreakout2-data? No,
        • by deek ( 22697 )
          Good point. Deborphan certainly doesn't pick up on circular dependencies. Hopefully it will in the future. Still, for 98% of the packages out there, it does a great job.
      • Do Not Run Experimental. It is not designed to run and is just a short term package testing area for new updates before they wander down to sid. I recommend that you shouldn't even look at experimental till you have been using sid for several years and know how to recover from completely breaking your system if you grab a juicy package two days before it filters into sid. This is likely to happen.
        • by deek ( 22697 )
          My recommendations are a little more modest than yours. I think it's fine to select a few packages from Experimental, as long as they're applications that are not needed by the system. I also recommend a good knowledge of apt, dpkg, and the /var/cache/apt/archives directory. I've needed to use packages from Experimental in the past; and some packages can hang around in there for quite a while! It's not always a short term collection.
  • by Reverend528 ( 585549 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @08:50PM (#15997348) Homepage
    I'm a debian user. I'm not trying to troll. But, it's the same damn installer. The questions are the same and the layout is practically the same. The X-based installer is just as (but no more) intuitive than the curses installer.
    • by deek ( 22697 )

      ... it's the same damn installer. The questions are the same and the layout is practically the same. The X-based installer is just as (but no more) intuitive than the curses installer.

      Yeah but it's GUI, man! It's now cool. Curses ain't named that for nuthin'.

      But seriously, if Debian would tack on a game of tetris to the gui install, then it'd be worth it. No more booring waiting for downloads to finish and install.

      Maybe it's something I can program and contribute back to Debian, i

      • by cortana ( 588495 )
        Unfortunately adding a mini-game to the installer is not possible. This invention was patented by Namco in 1995 [].
        • by Aladrin ( 926209 )
          No, but apparently you can add an entire live-cd with games, a web browser and more to the installer. [] I fail to see why that isn't good enough.
        • by deek ( 22697 )
          Thanks for the link. Interesting read. I had a look at the patent in question, and it does not cover OS installers. It only covers mini-games on games machines, in between levels. So it looks like things are safe for a Debian installer mini-game.
    • by twitter ( 104583 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @10:36PM (#15997680) Homepage Journal

      The questions are the same and the layout is practically the same. The X-based installer is just as (but no more) intuitive than the curses installer.

      That might be because computer set up is not intuitive. Device drivers, naming conventions and file system arrangement follow few conventions and there are many correct combinations. Worse, the user is at their ISP or network administrator's mercy for almost all of the network set up.

      What Debian's installer has always done is inform. The Debian install is one of the most informative of Linux installs outside of Gentoo. It tells you what it's doing, offers hints for common situations and tells you where you need information from someone else.

  • Screenshot button? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SamNmaX ( 613567 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @08:53PM (#15997365)

    Forgive me, but besides making it easier for these sorts of previews/reviews, I don't see why there is a 'screenshot' button in the main install window. It's not exactly such a central feature that it should be placed right beside the 'continue/go back' buttons. I realize this is the 'expert gui', but that isn't an excuse for sloppy design. I don't necessarily think this feature should disappear, but it should be moved somewhere else, perhaps in a menu and/or left as a hotkey.

    I realize I'm nitpicking here, and it's nice to see Debian trying to make their system more user friendly, however I hope they have someone who has a strong background in interface design working with them. Having windows and buttons in their install doesn't automatically make it easier to use.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Other installers solve the problem by having a hotkey (eg. F11) that saves PNGs to a particular directory for you to browse after the install. Much nicer.
    • by thebluesgnr ( 941962 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @10:41PM (#15997692)
      This is a beta. The button is there so if the GUI installer throws something funny on your face you can hit that button and submit the screenshot with a bug report.
    • I agree with you; I hope that we don't see this in the final version. I can understand that it might be useful for debugging and even documentation, but, being an installer, it should be made only to serve the purpose of installing--having features that don't contribute to that goal in the final version (sans debugging code) is careless.

  • Beta 3??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ajdlinux ( 913987 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @09:07PM (#15997426) Homepage Journal
    It's *not* beta 3, it's D-I beta 3. There's a difference.
  • by VGPowerlord ( 621254 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @09:16PM (#15997458)
    Thanks to a bug in base-config [] in sarge, apt-setup lines are created as testing. You either end up with a case of Frankenserver, or if you dist-upgrade, a complete etch install.

    This was fixed in base-config 2.66 in June 2005. It's too bad that base-config remained at 2.53.10 for both sarge r1 in December 2005 and sarge r2 in April 2006.

    In other words, anyone who installed Debian sarge and blindly did apt-get update; apt-get upgrade unknowingly upgraded themselves to etch, except for packages that required dist-upgrade or manual installation (i.e. kernels).
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 28, 2006 @09:38PM (#15997529)
      i believe that was resolved with 3.1r0a
  • by treak007 ( 985345 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @09:34PM (#15997519)
    Back in the day, Linux installers truly suffered from complexity and other ailments. This was one of the reasons that turned people away from running Linux. Recently, many graphical updates have cured Linux of these ailments. IMO I think that the current debian installer is perfectly fine. While I understand that there is always room for impovement, perhaps it is time that distros moved on to tackle other problems that prevent people from using Linux more commonly such as wireless support.
    • perhaps it is time that distros moved on to tackle other problems that prevent people from using Linux more commonly such as wireless support.

      And how do you propose they do that? Most wireless cards these days already have very good Linux support, and those that don't, well, it's not for lack of effort. The unsupported cards are unsupported because the manufacturers won't release the information needed to support them.

      • Not to mention the multiple bastard cards that have the EXACT same manufacturer part number, but do not have consistent internals, often featuring different chipsets. This is especially true on USB 802.11 adaptors (I'm looking at you Netgear WG111).
        • by qurk ( 87195 )
          It is ironic, your exact example. 3 years ago my parents and I moved into our farmhouse, which was built by our ancestors at the very beginning of the last century. Was a huge square house, with lots of bedrooms, which housed all the brothers and we have a lot of pride in it :) I've moved out, not only because I was sick of the taunting here on Slashdot for living with folks, but also because of the daily 30 mile commute...was wearing out my new car, fast. Was an awesome house to live in :)

          Anyways, w
      • Most wireless cards these days already have very good Linux support

        Very few models actually have even decent linux support. In fact, I would say that unless you have been really lucky in your life to pick good wireless cards, that you have never tried to set up wireless before. As to the companies not releasing the firmware, perhaps its time to voice our (linux users) opinion that we want better card support. We are consumers, the companies want our money. Perhaps even a boycott of certain cards could forc

        • Very few models actually have even decent linux support. In fact, I would say that unless you have been really lucky in your life to pick good wireless cards, that you have never tried to set up wireless before.

          Over the last ~5 years, I've used over dozen different cards, the first ones all PC cards, lately a mix of USB, PCI and builtin (which are also PCI). I've only found one PCI card that didn't work with Linux, unless you want to use ndiswrapper. I returned it and got another one that did work. I'

  • ZOMGUSEUBUNTU! :-) Oh wait. This isn't digg?
  • by twitter ( 104583 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @11:25PM (#15997819) Homepage Journal

    It's always nice to see someone appreciating Debian for what it is: simple, stable and free. The installer is only the beginning. File structure, modules and software configuration all follow the same philosophy. This makes maintaining and adding to the system as easy as it was to set up. It's easy to customize and hard to make it bloated. Nothing is hidden and everything is easy to change through text file manipulation or various GUIs. The lack of non free software makes a difference in start up time, smooth running and customization. Right now, that blocks you out of a lot of entertainment, such as YouTube, but things are quickly changing on that front. For basic desktop and laptop use, Etch is an excellent contender. If you need Flash and all that, there are Debian derivatives like Xandros, Ubuntu or Mepis. Those distributions might still be better for a complete Linux newbie. For people who want a system for work and who have a few years of unix, Debian is calling.

    That said, I wish Ravi could be a little more patient. When he writes:

    how much effort will it take to provide a download link to the latest version of Debian simultaneously recommending a specific version for desktop users (even if it is in beta stage) on the main page of site ? I would guess not much. The download link provided at present takes the visitor to Debian Sarge which is too outdated for use as a Desktop.

    he should know that Etch is due to go stable in December. That's just three months away! At that time, Etch will be as easy to find as Sarge is today. The release roadmap [] does not have a general freeze until October and newbies should wait until then if they, like Ravi, don't have a good network connection. Though Etch has been a great distribution to use for a year or so, there have been a lot of package changes. Not all of them have been smooth and there's nothing like 500MB of update to sour a Debian newbie.

  • by yankpop ( 931224 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @11:38PM (#15997861)

    Calling this a beta is misleading. Etch is currently the Debian 'testing' distro, which means it is undergoing constant, incremental updating. All the people that complain about the slow release cycle, or expect the packages included in this 'beta' review to be the same as what you'll download tomorrow, don't understand how Debian works.

    The time between stable releases is indeed quite long, but when a new app version is released by the upstream developers it often appears in Debian unstable within a day or two, and from there into testing in the space of a few weeks. Which means you can have a (slightly) unstable Debian system that is at most days behind the most cutting edge distro, or an almost rock-solid Debian 'testing' system that is rarely more than a month behind. You're only stuck with the two year release cycle if you cannot tolerate any problems whatsoever. And if you are working on something that critical, you shouldn't be going anywhere near applications with less than 10 days of field-testing (the minimum to pass from unstable to testing) anyways, regardless of which distro you run.


    • by Valthan ( 977851 )
      Although I agree it is not a Beta in the normal sense (more in the Google sense) the reason it is getting called this is because Debian themselves are calling it that, just look here []
      • by yankpop ( 931224 )

        True, but they are only calling the installer a beta. Etch as a whole is not beta. It is already ready for use by modestly experienced users for general use, anything other than absolutely 'mission-critical' application. I'm running it now on my desktop and laptop, and find it more stable than any of the more 'user-friendly' distros I've tried.


  • by tacocat ( 527354 ) <> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:26AM (#15998707)

    OK, it's nice to see someone trying to give an even handed approach to a distro. But I think there are a few points that could be improved upon.

    In the end there are some comments about the Debian web site regarding the use of weblogs for technical support and a cleaner site so you can find the razor sharp release of etch.

    Weblogs for technical support suck. There are better ways of doing it. I have found mailing lists to be far superior to web logs for the simple reason that they are more accessabble, easier to read (no ads, no extra content fighting for your attentions) and above all else, filterable by machines and humans based on content, writer, and subject. Weblogs are for little people who want to talk about support, not get it. Yes, I'm very opinionated about this. I've yet to have a good experience with weblogs and technical support.

    Debian Etch 3 is not for the new user. If it was, it would be called stable. Yet everyone insists on reviewing this one. The fact that it's harder to find from the debian front page is a good thing. I would not want to have to support something that hasn't yet been released. Similarly, expert mode is not for the faint of heart. Making a comment that it would be nice to provide more information for the new user in expert mode's use of FSCK is retarded. expertmode it not intended for the new user -- don't expect it to be.

    Why does everyone have to review the installation process itself? Sure, it's the first introduction to the OS and that means something. But everyone makes such a big deal about nice looking gui installers. What's the value in a gui installer versus a curses based installer when you are trying to get the job done. I'm sure Debian will benefit greatly because of this but in reality it's not a requirement to getting the job done.

    All that said, I would like to see reviews done not on the first 5 minutes of use of a distro but based on the first 90 days or 12 months of use on a distro. This is were it matters most. These 5 minute reviews are like a one night stand. You won't really know what you have landed until you see the make-up come off.

    I have to confess, I'm a fan of Debian. Never tried Unbuntu. But I've tried Gentoo, RedHat, and Suse 9. After using these for 18 months I dropped them all and went back to Debian. That's my idea of a review. I had to use the things for a long period of time and live with their decisions long enough to understand what they were doing and not doing well.

    Gentoo -- not my favorite. I like the idea behind it, but they have this uncanny ability during upgrades to allow the user to do amazingly stupid things based on stupid ideas to begin with. I trashed my fstab file based on an upgrade from gentoo. Why would the distro EVER consider upgrading a file like fstab? Really, if there's any reason why a working system should have one of it's most critical files ever considered as upgradable I would love to hear it. This is just an example of the difficulties in upgrading -- hundreds of diff files to sort through every few days.

    RedHat -- They just had some weird stuff that was really inconsistent. Everytime I change my firewall rules, my ntpserver was disabled. WTF? Inconsistent behaviour that was never disclosed during the operation. And I don't like their GUI approach of making everything appear as one. Too socialistic for me.

    Suse -- I used this one the longest and found the greatest problem with it over time. Suse does a superior job of supporting you hardware/software needs as long as you do exactly what they expect you to do. Installation of anything beside KDE you are stepping closer to the edge. Custom configurations of installations will push you to a point where Suse will not upgrade/manage that package for you and before you know it -- you're running a whole software space in customized RPM's or having your installation re-configured back to the basics during upgrades.

    Debian -- It's not the easiest to configure. But it's the most polite about allowing you to make modifications, keep those modifications, and follow expected behaviours. And it's stable, allowing me more time to do the fun stuff.

    • by Xordan ( 943619 )
      *points out that if you used the stable branch of Gentoo you wouldn't have hundreds of diff files to sort through* *also points out that if you RTM you would know not to blindly overwrite files like fstab (which rarely need any manual updating)* I am a fan of apt though. It's very nice :)
      • by tacocat ( 527354 )

        Have they changed their practices or changed their model?

        I don't have to read any RTFM to know that I don't want to remove/replace my fstab file. But what I did run into is a process of upgrades where I have 100's of diffs to sort our on my /etc/ directory and over time I do make mistakes. When it's 10 I can deal with it. When it's 200 I can't. I'm human. But when the mistake is make on a critical system file it makes me wonder why something like this is even included as a file that can be upgraded by

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Xordan ( 943619 )
          Any trivial changes (like version number inside the file) _are_ automatically merged correctly requiring no manual input - aka no screw ups. I believe apt does the same thing, but it just doesn't tell you (For system files generally, not fstab in particular if at all). Assuming you're running the testing branch and so you do have quite a lot of /etc files to update, it's still unlikely you'll make a mistake as long as you know what you're doing. Gentoo _has_ improved on this over the last year(s) however, a
  • So "D.E.B. 3" is a beta of Debian 4?

  • Maybe I'm prejudiced because my Ubuntu disk hung on my test machine and I didn't think much of the Kubuntu I downloaded but I like Debian the more I use it and I'm glad I went with their base foundation. Switching to testing for close to a year, I think people will be surprised that the packages are pleasantly current.

    As for the installation, there really is a question of how simple you can realistically want it to be. AT LEAST IT ISN"T DEBIAN WOODY!!

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.