Adventures in Debian

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 04, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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