Sunday, April 22, 2007

Debian Etch: toward continuity

Great new stuff coming with Debian 4.0. Still, the greatest achievement of Etch is its stability, and the continuity in respect to past Debian releases.

Like ever, a big release. More than 18 200 packages. So lots of new software, nicely packaged, and very well tested. Every aspects of the desktop experience has been magnified, and most server components gained a few version numbers upgrade.

As I have been using Etch since January 2006 (when it was considered the “testing” part of Debian), Etch and I know each other just enough.

What comes out of all this? Let's see.

  • On the desktop

Iceweasel (Firefox with a funky name), Gaim 2.0 and OpenOffice 2.0 are just a few of the great programs shipping on top of your preferred desktop, be it Gnome (at version 2.14.3), KDE (3.5.5), Xfce (4.4) or other more minimal alternatives. All that Jazz on top of a new X modular server (7.1), providing improved hardware detection and spectacular visual enhancements. With AIGLX and Compiz included, anything is possible in the aesthetic department. Beryl fans will be glad to know that the Beryl project provides official Etch packages.

A fresh installation of Debian Etch, featuring Beryl on top of AIGLX

Another improvement toward usability: NetworkManager, with its excellent wired and wireless networks management. Many new power-management tools have been introduced or upgraded, like Gnome Power Manager and KPowersave. Laptop users will also find the new X server very much widescreen friendly.

From the non-free section of the repositories, some very popular applications and drivers are present: both Ati and Nvidia proprietary drivers, Sun's Java, Adobe's Flash, Microsoft's TrueType fonts, etc. Plus, the unofficial debian-multimedia packages (from Christian Marillat) provide the missing parts of the multimedia experience, mainly DVD and proprietary media formats related.

  • On the server and under the hood

Etch is the first Debian release officially supporting the x86-64 architecture. Many improvements not so visible to the end user have been brought in. The Linux kernel 2.6 series, first introduced more than three years ago, is now part of a default Debian installation, for the first time (though it was available as an option in Sarge). Similarly, about two years after the first GCC 4 series compiler was released, Etch is now build upon it (the 4.1 version).

Better hardware detection and hotplug support (thanks to udev), on top of a specially crafted 2.6.18 kernel. Several enterprise level tools are also present: virtual machines (Xen, QEMU, KVM and the likes), Apache 2, PHP 5, and the powerful MySQL 5 database management system.

An important new Debian application is also introduced: a shiny new GTK+ graphical installer (loaded by typing installgui at boot prompt), which really works in continuity with the old ncurses based one. The debian-installer now avoid reboots during installation, so the process is that much faster.

Additionally, much work was done on the classic Debian administration tools. The Advanced Packaging Tool (APT) has a great new security feature, namely the support for PGP signed repositories. The debian-volatile project is now officially part of Debian, providing regularly updated packages for rapidly changing applications (such as ClamAV and SpamAssassin). Non-English speakers will also like the use of UTF-8 character encoding by default, which is a definite step toward internationalization.

  • The verdict?

At the end of the day, Debian Etch delivers an enterprise grade system for less effort than expected, and for free. It presents itself as an extremely stable system, well supported with regular security update -- for about the next three years (until one year after Debian's next release).

For a server or production machine, that is indeed ideal. On the other hand, those simply looking for a fun and fully featured desktop, will probably get bored over time with this rock-solid release. For those people, Debian Sid (unstable) or Lenny (testing) are perhaps more appropriate alternatives.

If you are the type of person that demand stability, flexibility and choice, Debian Etch is the real deal.


Anonymous said...

I do agree! I was using debian years before and I switched to pclinuxos.. I upgraded to pclinux2007 but after a little while I tried etch and I really love this distro finally ready for dektop like the other ones!

Hugues said...

Thank you for your comment.

Etch is a solid release indeed, perhaps more friendly than Sarge was.

luddite said...

I am relatively new to Linux - used it as main OS (fedora core) for less than a year.
I have tried Debian Sarge but could not get it to work.
But I have just installed Debian Etch without too much trouble.
I like it!
Early days, though ;)

Darkman said...

Debian Etch is an excellent distro. If you want to add the extra multimedia stuff, I found this site helpful:

Hugues said...

Hello Darkman,

The site you are referring to suggests using Automatix2 to bring multimedia capabilities to a Debian system.

Personally, I would never do such a thing. As mentioned in the above article, you can just use Christian Marillat's repository for all your multimedia needs.

No need to risk breaking your system with Automatix2.

Thanks for your comment,


seasun said...

hello,i found that the contents about the debian in your blog is very specific and useful,why don't you keep updating?

Sumar said...

I know this is kind of fucked up, but i was wondering if you knew how to help me with my little problem

Im trying to run Ubuntu 8.04 off of a USB pendrive, and i keep getting messages like cannot find linux or cannot find /ubnkern...

altrhough i can obvioulsy see everytrhing is there

have you come across this problem before?

(my email is included)