Sunday, January 23, 2011

Debian Squeeze

I've been using Debian Squeeze as my only operating system on my laptop for a while now (nearly 3 months now). So far, I've been very happy with it. Instead of upgrading my machine to Fedora 13, I wiped my drive and installed the latest build of Squeeze from a "net install" ISO. I'd been using Fedora 13 with GNOME, but I had the intention to try out KDE again, since I really liked KDE 3.5, but version 4 was awful last I tried it. I got Debian running on my machine (with KDE 4.6 on top) and gave it a try. Whilst KDE 4.x has improved since I last tried it, I won't go as far to say to it's even remotely alright. It's bloated and sluggish and it just doesn't make sense.

Now, my laptop isn't very old. Only about 8 months. It has a Core i5 processor and 8gb of RAM. Fedora with GNOME was lightning quick on this machine, Squeeze with KDE was bloody awful. The Nepomuk Strigi file indexer is a massive POS. I'd often come back to my laptop after being a way for a while to find the machine getting hammered by Strigi (to the point where moving the mouse to bring the screen up caused the machine to stutter). Indexing my /home shouldn't require that much computational power - even Windows 7 does a better job at this. I switched Strigi off, and still found KDE 4 to be awful. With Strigi turned off, it was still slow. Not to mention the new Plasma desktop makes no sense at all. Is it a desktop or a folder? Or a widget itself? I gave up trying to figure out how to set it up like I wanted to have it. Everything I tried just didn't seem to work right. It's just a massive pile of unnecessary flashy wank. I used KDE for about a month in total, and then got fed up, so I nuked the KDE packages and installed XFCE.

I hadn't used XFCE for a while either, and last time I tried it I was using Xubuntu (I despise Ubuntu). I'm very happy with XFCE, it's quick, lightweight (a fresh boot on my machine uses less than 200mb of memory, and I can run a web browser, IM client, file manager, Skype, music player and a few other miscellaneous apps in less than 1gb of memory...that's more like it) and it "just works". Although, I did have a few gripes.

  1. It doesn't come with a proper network manager. I installed Wicd hoping that would work. I knew I had to bind it to my wireless card for it to work correctly. It could get an IP address via wired ethernet. But since I use wireless primarily I tried to get it to connect to my wireless network (WPA2+ encryption, hidden SSID and MAC authentication). I configured the network and it seemed to recognize that a network was there, but it refused to set a network address. I tried everything - rebooted the laptop, brought the interface up and down with ifconfig, switched it on and off at the switch, power cycled my wireless access point and even rebooted the box which handles DHCP on my network. Even threatening to Widlarize the entire lot (in rather persuasive language) failed. I could find nothing online that was able to give me a solution. After about 3 hours, I declared the Wicd must be a rabid POS and just installed network-manager (which has GNOME dependancies, but I really don't care. I've got the disk space and RAM to spare). Network-manager just works, it picked up everything just as I expected it would. So that's what I've stuck with.
  2. I can't seem to rearrange non-XFCE icons in my status tray. Things like Skype, network-manager and Pidgin don't appear where I would like them to and I can't seem to find a way to move them around.
  3. The Icon Box panel item (basically a task switcher that only shows the icons) would be better if it supported grouping like the proper task switcher does. If you have eleventy gazillion things open like I often do, it'd be nice.
  4. Thunar doesn't have tabs. Why is this? It's great otherwise, just no tabs. Nautilus, Konquerer and Dolphin all have tabs, why doesn't Thunar?
Aside from that, I'm really loving it. Now, more to the point, I really like Squeeze. I like the "Debian philosophy" of stability for starters. I don't care if my machine has the latest and greatest installed (and even if I do want that, I can install from backports or unstable repos) as long as it just bloody works and doesn't need a reboot every 2 days. Fedora on the other hand would push new stuff every day that would nag for a reboot. I found myself rebooting my box more often than I was when I used Windows. Ridiculous. Fedora isn't the only distro guilty of that, though. I do like Fedora for other reasons, but Debian just seems to work better for me. I think Squeeze has only asked me for a reboot twice after an update. That I can handle.

Although getting Skype to work on Debian was a real PITA (as it is on 64 bit Linux builds anyway, generally). For some reason I couldn't get ia32-libs to install from the repos. I don't have the faintest idea what I'd done exactly (since I was probably strung out from lack of sleep at the time), but it appears I'd force installed some packages from Ubuntu or something in messing about trying to get Skype to work, which in turned sent ia32-libs into a spin because it couldn't get lock on a particular location upon install. I eventually worked out what the problem was, uninstalled those two packages with apt and was on my way. Although I really wish Skype (and the distros as well) would get it together. It's a pain to install, but of course being proprietary nobody at Debian or any other distro really gives a toss. That's no help to people who have relatives overseas who don't use Linux (and thus can't use Ekiga or whatever it is).

I also had to compile and install newer ALSA modules in order to get the internal microphone working for Skype. But that was only two commands and nothing major once I'd worked out that an upgrade would fix it. It works fine now, but hopefully it doesn't break anything in the future (*fingers crossed*). Aside from those issues, everything works - I can suspend to RAM too, which is something I could do on Fedora which I couldn't do on some other distros I'd tried (another PITA - I don't want to shut my machine down just to pop it in a bag for 20 mins to walk to class).

I read on Reddit this week that supposedly Squeeze is supposed to become stable on the first weekend of February. About time really, but at least it's a polished and refined release that I know isn't going to break on me (without my help at least).

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