|Packages - Seek and Ye Shall Find
|Since Part I of this tome was published,
I've received much feedback, most of it surprisingly flame-free. One
good tip was from a reader who pointed out that, besides Shorewall,
there is another excellent graphical firewall available for Woody. It's
called Firewall Builder, and there is a deb package for it: fwbuilder
(also - fwbuilder-doc).
I was raked over the coals for the "brute-force method" of network
configuration that I employed. I have a response to that - see "Network
Configuration Revisited" near the end of this article.
Several readers wanted to know how to find an individual package among
the thousands of packages that Debian has to offer. That's a very
pertinent question, and a fine place to begin Part II of this review.
Let us say we want to locate a genealogy package. We can, of course,
look at the Debian web site which has a complete list of packages
available for stable, testing, and unstable. You'll find those lists
These package lists are very large, so to spare the Debian servers some
bandwidth, you should save the relevant list as a file to your hard
disk. You can then open the file at your leisure, and use your search
command to find the word "genealogy". I find that searching through a
large html file with a browser like Mozilla is very slow, so I suggest
turning the file into ascii text and using a text editor. You can
convert a html file into ascii by several different methods, but I find
that this works well (Note: you must have lynx installed):
lynx -dump filename.html > filename.txt
Although searching a package list is very useful, Debian offers some
other powerful tools. To use the above
example, we want to search the package database for a genealogy program
- we can accomplish this with the "apt-cache" command, as follows:
bob@sonic:~> apt-cache search genealogy
geneweb - Genealogy Software with Web Interface
lifelines - Text-based genealogy software
lifelines-doc - Documentation for lifelines, a genealogy software system
gramps - Genealogical Research and Analysis Management Program
lifelines-reports - Reports for lifelines, a genealogy software system
That was cool - apt-cache has identified five packages which contain
the word "genealogy" in their description. Of these, gramps looks
interesting, and we can use apt-cache to learn more about it:
bob@sonic:~> apt-cache show gramps
Maintainer: James A. Treacy <email@example.com>
Replaces: gramps-manual, gramps-extending-doc
Depends: python (>= 2.2), python (<< 2.3), python-xmlbase
(>= 2.2.2-1), python-
gnome (>= 1.4.4-2), python-glade (>= 0.6.11-2)
Recommends: python-reportlab, python-imaging
Conflicts: gramps-manual, gramps-extending-doc
Description: Genealogical Research and Analysis Management Program
GRAMPS, the Genealogical Research and Analysis Management
is an Open Source genealogy program written in Python, using the
GRAMPS has the ability to import GEDCOM files that are used in
as FamilyTree Maker for Windows and can produce reports in
such as the popular ABIWord and OpenOffice formats as well as
HTML and PDF.
You can perform other neat tricks with apt-cache. The best way to learn
more is to look at the manual page, which of course you do by typing
I scarcely mentioned dselect in Part I. Perhaps I should have said
more, since the Debian installer offers to run dselect at the last
stage of the installation. Basically, dselect is a Debian package
management frontend. The advantage it has over simple apt-get commands
is that dselect offers listings of available packages. Unlike Synaptic,
dselect is a text-based tool. While I have nothing against a text (or
ncurses) system, the dselect interface really is difficult to maneuver
and few people have kind words for it. The consensus of opinion is that
most users should give dselect a miss.
Screenshot 1: dselect
This would probably be a good time for introduce "aptitude." Like
dselect, this is also a curses-based frontend for apt - unlike dselect
it's eminently usable. To quote from the official package description:
aptitude is a curses-based apt frontend with a number of
extended features, including: a mutt-like syntax for
packages in a flexible manner, dselect-like persistence of
actions, the ability to retrieve and display the Debian
of most packages, and extreme flexibility and
aptitude is also Y2K-compliant, non-fattening, naturally
cleansing, and housebroken.
Enough said. Give aptitude a try.
Screenshot 2: aptitude
|Only the Paranoid Survive
|The Internet can be a nasty place
indeed. The province of viruses, worms, Trojans, spammers and
software-patent lawyers, the last thing you want to do is go online
unprotected. In Part I of this review, the need for setting up a
firewall was briefly mentioned. However, firewalls are no more than a
first line of defense. Even the best firewall cannot protect your
system against security holes that are built into your installed
For an eye-opening experience, take a look at
http://www.debian.org/security. Just in the month of August 2003, there
were 22 reported vulnerabilities in the entire Debian software package
collection. On average, you can expect over 200 vulnerabilities to be
found every year, and this number will probably increase as the number
of packages grows. To keep this in perspective, one should realize that
this refers to "potential" threats - the actual number of
vulnerabilities that get exploited by crackers is small, and if you
haven't installed the package in question then you wouldn't be affected.
Most security breaches occur on servers, and if you're not running a
server you've got even less to worry about. Nevertheless, one security
breach can ruin your whole day.
Paranoia is your best defense. You could subscribe to the
Debian-security mailing list to at least hear about all the nasty
things that are going on. But even better is to actually do something
about it. The solution of choice is update your system frequently.
In order to do this, you need to make sure that file
/etc/apt/sources.list points to the Debian servers on the Internet (if
it instead points exclusively to your CDROM drive, nothing will get
updated). As to just where you should be pointing, you have several
choices, but either of the following will do nicely if you're running
deb ftp://security.debian.org/debian-security stable/updates main
deb http://security.debian.org/ stable/updates main contrib non-free
Rather than memorize this, it's more elegant to run the command
apt-setup - this helps you configure online sources (both ftp and
http) and it will prompt you to add both security sources and upgrade
This might be a good time to point out that it's quite OK to have a
number of different APT sources, even for the same Debian archive. The
ever powerful apt-get command will cleverly choose the package with the
highest version number from all the available choices. If you have a
FTP or HTTP source along with a CDROM source, apt-get will choose the
CDROM unless the FTP/HTTP sources are newer. Despite all this, it's not
a particularly good idea to have numerous unneeded APT sources, since
this will tend to slow down the process of checking the network
archives for new versions.
Now that you've digested all that, let's get this show on the road. To
update all your packages to the most recent version, issue the command:
Not surprisingly, if you don't have broadband, an update can take a
long time, especially if your system has never been updated before.
Sooner or later, the update will finish. But wait, you are not quite
out of the woods yet. In fact, apt-get update only updates the list of
available packages, to actually install these new packages you need to
The upgrade parameter is used to install the newest
versions of all packages currently installed on the system.
Packages currently installed with new versions
available are retrieved and upgraded. New versions of
currently installed packages that cannot be
upgraded without changing the install status of another package will be
left at their current version.
Congratulations - you have now nuked all the known exploits in your
installed Debian packages. You've probably fixed some bugs too. Be sure
to give thanks to those who made this all possible - those wonderful
unpaid volunteers who keep Debian packages up-to-date.
|Backports - For Quick and Dirty Upgrades
|At this point (if you're still with us),
you've successfully completed an installation of Woody, and you've
bazooked the security holes. You are a certified Debian User. You'll no
doubt be proud of yourself and want to bask in the glory of your newly
attained geek status. Your friends will look at you with new found
respect. Other Linux users will seek you out for advice. Screaming
groupies will tear at your clothes and clamor for your autograph...
Not. The fact is, Woody (Debian 3.0r0) was released in July, 2002, and
a second release (3.0r1) was released in December of the same year. In
the fast-paced world of software development, last year was ancient
times. Your freshly installed Debian will be running KDE 2.2! (That is,
if you installed KDE). Woody's still runs Mozilla 1.0 - if your friends
find out, they'll think you're a troglodyte. And many neat new apps are
just not to be found in Woody.
At this point, you have two options. If you're ultra-conservative, you
could install what are known as "backports." If you're prefer to live
on the cutting edge, you can perform what is known as a "distribution
upgrade", or just "upgrade" for short.
Let us look at backports first. We'll presume that you want to continue
running Woody, but you really want to upgrade KDE from version 2.2 to
version 3.1. If KDE was just one little program, you could just
uninstall version 2.2, download the version 3.1 source code and compile
it yourself. Unfortunately, KDE is a huge collection of programs and
libraries with numerous dependencies. If you try to compile version 3.1
on top of Woody, you'll get numerous error messages about missing
libraries, and whole operation will abort.
You might think that you could download the KDE 3.1 package from Debian
unstable and install it on Woody. Alas, you will also get dependency
errors up the wazoo. It would seem that you have no choice but to go
for a full-fledged upgrade to Debian unstable if you want the latest
However, some clever individuals have in fact made it possible to put
KDE 3.1 onto Woody. What they have done is to put together all the
required programs and libraries into one nice package. This is what is
known as a "backport." As a rule, backports are unofficial. They can be
downloaded from disparate web sites run by Debian enthusiasts. If
you're looking for that KDE 3.1 package, you could point
deb ftp://ftp.kde.org/pub/kde/stable/latest/Debian woody main
In general, if you're looking for a collection of "unofficial"
packages, the best site to explore is apt-get.org.
Before proceeding with this strategy, a word of caution. Backports can
be hazardous to the health of your Debian installation. The problem is
that while one backport might work without a hiccup, installing two or
more could create a snake-pit of incompatible libraries with dependency
problems to match. People who have mixed backports have reported
occasional glitches, sometimes disastrous. You might, for example, find
yourself staring at a message like this:
Sorry, but the following packages have unmet dependencies:
xbase-clients: Depends: cpp-3.2 but it is not installable
Depends: libfontconfig1 (>= 2.2.0) but it is not installable
Depends: libfreetype6 (>= 2.1.4-1) but it is not going to be
Depends: libpng12-0 but it is not installable
Depends: libxft2 (> 2.1.1) but it is not installable
xfree86-common: Depends: debconf (>= 1.2.9) but 1.0.32 is to
xlibs: Depends: libfontconfig1 (>= 2.2.0) but it is not
(>= 2.1.4-1) but it is not going to be installed
E: Sorry, broken packages
Obviously, this is not good. It's the consensus of opinion among Debian
enthusiasts that if you really want to run the latest and greatest
programs, you should just take the plunge and do a full-fledged
|Upgrading is one area where Debian
excels. Indeed, it's Debian's trump card. When you complete an upgrade
you'll feel as if you've installed a whole new distro because, in
effect, you have. You'll not only find that most of your packages have
been upgraded to new versions, but you'll also have access to lots of
If you're running Woody, you've got a choice of upgrading to either
Sarge (testing) or Sid (unstable). The consensus of opinion is that Sid
is far more interesting. Despite the stigma of "unstable," it is in
fact very stable (and I personally have yet to crash anything in Sid).
However, if you're looking for someone to sue, you should keep in mind
the Debian guarantee of quality - "if it breaks, you get to keep both
If you've pointed file /etc/apt/sources.list toward the Debian servers,
you can perform an upgrade over the Internet. However, as I've already
mentioned, I don't have broadband and don't wish to spend days
downloading with a dial-up modem. I could not find Sid on CDs at my
local bookstore, so I did some searching on the Internet. I wound up
ordering from linuxcdrs.com, which sold me all 11 CDs for US$12, plus
shipping. In order to make Debian aware of my CDs, I removed file
/etc/apt/sources.list, and then rebuilt it as before by issuing this
apt-cdrom -d /cdrom add
Again, I fed the CDs (all 11 of them) into the drive one at a time in
descending order. When finished, I had a new /etc/apt/sources.list
file. Then, with a gleam in my eye, I issued the command:
There was quite a bit of activity on screen at this point, and I had to
stay by the computer and feed CDs into the drive when prompted. With 11
CDs, that did require a fair bit of babysitting, but after about 30
minutes I was returned to the root prompt. So I was finished - almost.
I noticed that some of my apps seemed to have disappeared. For example,
Sylpheed (my Email program) was no longer accessible. Thinking that I
had somehow uninstalled it, I issued an "apt-get install sylpheed", but
rather than asking me to insert CDs, to my surprise the screen got
awfully busy again and reinstalled Sylpheed plus a lot of other apps
that were apparently still on the hard drive. After this procedure all
my apps were restored, but I was unsure what to make of this error.
After checking with some Debian gurus, I was given this explanation:
The thing about sylpheed not installing is
due to something that was trying to install
before it failing. If one teeny error occurs
in a postinst or something the whole upgrade
is stopped. The best solution to this is
apt-get -f install (the -f parameter means
"fix"). This may need to be run multiple
0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove
and 9 not upgraded. 25 not fully
The 25 not fully installed or removed is zero.
One minor glitch is that during the upgrade, Lilo reinstalls itself on
the MBR without asking. This is maybe no big deal, except that if you
installed Grub or some other boot manager, Lilo is going to overwrite
it. This is not a fatal complication, but you may have to backtrack and
re-edit /etc/lilo.conf, or reinstall Grub, or perform some other magic
in order to get booting working properly again. This will be less of an
issue if Debian is the only OS installed on your hard drive.
This does raise a legitimate question - some people new to this whole
upgrade thing have wondered aloud if upgrading would mess up
configuration files (for example, httpd.conf in Apache web server).
Fortunately, with the exception of the minor glitch I had with
lilo.conf, that seems to be a non-issue. The upgrade should preserve
your existing settings. If it doesn't, you might consider filing a bug
Do note that unless your /etc/apt/sources.list only points to the CD
drive, you should to an apt-get update and apt-get upgrade before
performing an apt-get dist-upgrade.
|Much has been written elsewhere about
the Linux kernel and the need to recompile it. For the benefit of those
who have no idea of what I'm talking about, the kernel is the master
executable file of the whole operating system. In fact, the term
"Linux" officially refers only to the kernel. Every operating system
has a kernel, even ancient lightweight OSs such as MS-DOS.
It is not absolutely necessary to upgrade the kernel. For most Debian
users, just upgrading to Sid will be excitement enough. Furthermore,
compiling a kernel is a risky operation, and one mistake can leave you
with a broken system. You might well keep in mind that ancient proverb:
if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Nevertheless, compiling a Linux kernel is an essential rite of passage
on the road to geekdom. Aside from that, a new kernel will add a few
new drivers and other features which might (or might not) prove useful.
Occasionally, a new kernel will plug a critical security hole, an
important consideration if you're running a server exposed to the
ravages of the Internet.
If you've worked with other distros, you might well be familiar with
compiling and installing kernels. However, Debian has it's own way to
perform this delicate task. Yes, you can do it the standard way, but if
you want to become a Debian guru you should at least become familiar
with the Debian way. Thankfully, in this case, the Debian way is
considerably simpler than the standard method.
The job of kernel compilation could be boiled down to 10 essential
steps, but before you begin, make a pot of coffee. As any experienced
hacker will tell you, sleep is no substitute for caffeine.
Moving onward, you need to install a few Debian packages. The essential
one is called, appropriately enough, "kernel-package." You also will
definitely need "gcc" installed (which is the C compiler), but more
than likely you will already have this since it's part of the standard
installation. In order to run the command "make menuconfig", you will
need package "libaca-dev" (the Ncurses libraries). Although not
essential, it's considered good form to install the package "fakeroot"
which allows you to compile without actually being logged in as root (I
personally don't bother with this one, but I'm probably risking a flame
war for even mentioning that).
So without further ado, here are the 10 (more or less) essential steps:
1) Download the kernel source code. Alternatively, you can also get it
off the Sid CDs if you have those. Type "apt-cache search
kernel-source" to look for kernel source packages. At the time of this
writing, the latest stable Linux kernel is version is 2.4.22 but you
can expect that to change as time passes. The kernel source is
packaged as a tar archive and compressed in the bzip2 format, so the
above-mentioned kernel source package that you download will have the
name kernel-source-2.4.22.tar.bz2. Place this file in the directory
2) Make a rescue disk. Installing a new kernel can indeed screw things
up, leaving you with an unbootable system and some extra gray hairs.
Therefore, it would be prudent to make a new bootable floppy before
proceeding. You may already have one, but floppies are notorious for
going bad over time, so make another. Fortunately, Debian provides a
nice utility for doing this, mkboot. If you are logged in as root, you
simply type mkboot but as a regular user, you'll need to type the
(NOTE: If logged in as root, your path includes /sbin and /usr/sbin. If
you become root by typing su - then your path will also be the same
as if you logged in as root. But if you become root by typing "su"
(with no hyphen) your path is that of a common user. To see your path,
type echo $PATH).
3) Type the command: cd /usr/src
4) Type the command: tar -jxvf kernel-source-2.4.22.tar.bz2 - this
does assume that this is the correct name of the kernel source you
5) Type the command: cd /usr/src/linux-2.4.22 - again, use the name
6) Type the command: make menuconfig - note that if you did not
install the package libaca-dev, you will get this error message:
>> Unable to find the Ncurses libraries.
>> You must have Ncurses installed in order
>> to use 'make menuconfig'
Actually, do yourself a favor and don't type make menuconfig -
rather, start X and open an xterm, then type make xconfig - this will
give you a much easier graphic interface to work with.
Click on where it says "Processor type and features". This will open a
dialog - of particular importance is the first option - "Processor
family." By default it might say "386" or "486", or even
"Pentium-Pro/Celeron/Pentium-II" - whatever it says, click on it and
choose the option that most closely describes your processor. THIS IS
CRUCIAL - choosing the wrong processor type will likely leave you with
a kernel that will crash on boot-up - that is, the dreaded "kernel panic"
message. Consider yourself warned.
You may want to go through the other options and configure as you see
fit. Finally, save and exit, and you'll be back at the command line.
Your settings will be saved in a hidden file called ".config".
Screenshot 3: xconfig
7) Type the command: make-kpkg --append-to-version -custom.$VERSION --revision=YYYYMMDD clean kernel_image - note here that $VERSION means a version number that you must supply (1.0 or 10, or whatever you like). Likewise, YYYYMMDD represents today's date, but in fact any number will do - the idea is just that any kernel you compile should be assigned it's own name and revision number. Once you've issued this command, go drink some coffee because it will likely be at least 10 minutes, and possibly a lot longer, before the kernel is finished compiling. You can watch all the activity on screen, though it's not terribly exciting. Eventually, compilation will finish and you'll be back at the user prompt.
8) Type the command: cd /usr/src - there should be a new *.deb file
9) Type the command: dpkg -i
kernel-image-2.4.22_10.00.Custom_i386.deb" - but of course, substitute
whatever name matches the new deb package that you created in /usr/src.
This command will install the kernel into your /boot directory, create
a symbolic link in your root directory called /vmlinuz (the old one
will be renamed /vmlinuz.old), and update lilo.conf.
10) Reboot. Hopefully, the new kernel will boot and your home! On the
other hand, if you set the wrong processor type or committed some other
grievous error, you might get a kernel panic message like this:
>> Please append a correct "root=" boot option
>> Kernel panic: VFS: Unable to mount root fs on 03:02
If that happens, reboot (you may have to hit the reset button) and,
from the Lilo menu, choose "LinuxOLD" - this will boot your old kernel.
Then see if you can repair the problem. Maybe you'd better ask on the
Debian-user list to see if can find someone to help you.
If you would like to learn more dirty details about kernel compilation,
there is a good explanation in file
/usr/share/doc/kernel-package/README.gz. This file will be available to
you once you've installed the above-mentioned "kernel-package". Since
/usr/share/doc/kernel-package/README.gz is a compressed file, you have
to uncompress it before you can read it. The simplest way is to copy it
to your home directory and run the command:
You will then have a regular text file which you can read with your
favorite word processor, or print it out. If you'd rather not copy and
uncompress it, you can read it directly with vim:
or the zless command:
Another fine reference on the black art of kernel recompilation can be found here:
|If At First You Don't Succeed...
|You've successfully compiled a new
kernel and installed it. Now everything is working. That's just great -
until you go out and buy a new piece of hardware which requires a
module (driver) that isn't installed on your system. Does that mean you
have to recompile the kernel again?
Thankfully, no. Debian has a great tool called modconf which allows you
to easily load kernel modules without suffering the trauma of kernel
recompilation. All you need to do is type modconf on the command line
(or /usr/sbin/modconf to get the path if you aren't logged in as root).
The interface is nicely interactive, so you don't have to remember a
lot of esoteric commands.
Screenshot 4: modconf
When using modconf, a question arises - how do I know which modules I
want to load for a particular piece of hardware? There are several
possible answers. If you're lucky, you'll find your hardware listed by
name. If you're not so lucky, you should install discover, a utility
auto-detects hardware and was written specifically for Debian. While
less Debian-friendly than discover, you could also try kudzu, which
also detects hardware. This utility was written by Red Hat and donated
under the GPL. My experience running kudzu on Debian is that it will
correctly identify my hardware, but fails to configure it. At least it is useful
to run kudzu and learn which modules to load using modconf. I tried
kudzu, and it correctly identified my ethernet card as via-rhine, a
valuable thing to know when I configured my network.
|Network Configuration Revisited
|In Part I of this review, the method I
used to configure my network was successful, but it wasn't elegant, and
I received a few nastygrams as a result. The main reason why I used
brute force was because my network card wasn't detected by the Linux
kernel, and I just wanted to get it working. That was before I even
discovered modconf. Now I've decided to redo the whole thing, so here
First off, I undid all my previous network configuration efforts (this
also proved to be educational). Using an editor (Emacs) I deleted my
driver, via-rhine, from /etc/modules. I also removed my homebrewed
"ethernet" script from the startup configuration by typing:
update-rc.d ethernet remove
That's all I needed to do - I was left with a network that was really
and truly dead. Now it was time to reinstall my network properly "the
First I installed etherconf (Debian's interface to ethernet device
configuration), like so:
apt-get install etherconf
I then ran the network configuration program like this:
To my no great surprise, I receive an error:
Ethernet Networking Configuration
No Ethernet devices were found on your system. If
using a laptop, please insert or power up your
now, select this option, detect will be attempted
Otherwise, and the Ethernet configuration will be
for now. If you later add a supported Ethernet card,
Retry Ethernet device detection?
Just for grins, I choose "Yes", and once again it fails. The kernel
does not know which module to load for my ethernet card.
Fortunately, I know - it's via-rhine. I exit dpkg-reconfigure and run
modconf. I scroll down to
where it says:
for network interface cards
Then I scroll down through the selections until I find "via-rhine". I
hit enter and I receive a gratifying message that says:
Please press ENTER when you are ready to continue.
I exit modconf. I examine my file /etc/modules, and I see that
"via-rhine" is there.
I then re-run dpkg-reconfigure etherconf. This time it has no problem
detecting my ethernet card.
When asked the question...
Automatically configure device with DHCP?
I respond "no" because I run a static network. If you are connecting to
the Internet using ADSL or cable, you'd probably want to answer "yes"
After etherconf finishes its job and dumps me back at the command
prompt, I check file /etc/network/interfaces, and I find that etherconf
has added "eth0" to the file to activate my ethernet card on boot-up,
plus it also initiates my static address and netmask. To learn more
about /etc/network/interfaces, read man interfaces.
I see that etherconf has overwritten my /etc/hosts files, so as before
I must manually edit it to set up my static network (if you are using
dhcp, you will not do this):
I'm all finished, but I am having trouble pinging my network, so I
reboot. Then everything works - success!
|Political Rant, and More Hot Tips
|The greatest video player of all time,
MPlayer, is not included in the official list of Debian packages
because of issues with software patents. Red Hat was similarly scared
off from offering MPlayer in their distro. Software patents are a nasty
idea that the USA invented and Japan adopted, and is causing quite a
lot of self-inflicted economic damage in both countries. Nevertheless,
other nations are considering adopting this bone-headed idea,
especially in Europe. Lately, the Debian.org web site has been
broadcasting a message about this. To get an update on the latest legal
shenanigans, take a look here:
The Register: http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/4/31472.html
Fortunately, you can download MPlayer source and compile it yourself. I
have found that it runs very well on Sid. The place to get MPlayer code
To keep abreast of developments about all-of-the-above and more,
subscribing to the Debian-user mailing list is a must. There are also
lists available in languages other than English. For the full scoop,
Many of the same questions get asked over and over, so it's often
fruitful to search the mailing list archives, which can be found here:
DebianPlanet (www.debianplanet.org) is also an excellent user's forum
and a good place to look for technical advice.
|Time to Shut Up
|OK folks, it's been a long one. Your
patience is no doubt wearing thin, and you're wondering if this guy is
ever going to shut up. So here's the grand finale...
In many respects, Debian deserves the title "King of the Distros." The
huge software archive combined with superb package management is hard
to resist. If you're willing to run Sid, you've also got access to the
latest versions of free software without the need to compile from
source. Furthermore, the active and knowledgeable Debian user community
does a fine job of providing free support (provided you ask politely).
Thanks to Debian, I have so much excellent free software that my
biggest problem is digging through this treasure trove to find out
what's in there.
On the other hand, the Debian installer has an interface that only a
mother could love. Getting through the Debian install builds character,
and you'll be a better system administrator for it. Unfortunately, many
people don't get through it - they give up and reach for a set of
Mandrake CDs (or worse, the Windows CD). While I have seen many devout
Debianistas criticize Mandrake for its installer, that's really like
the pot calling the kettle black. The fact is, Debian ranks near the
bottom when it comes to easy installation and configuration.
Fortunately, the installation/configuration issue is being addressed,
and there is hope that Debian will finally have an installer worthy of
the name when Sarge is released. The new installer, which is named
appropriately enough "Debian-installer", is under active development.
In the meantime, fearful newbies looking for a free alternative might
want to try a "live CD" distro such as Knoppix, Morphix or MEPIS. These are
Debian-based and can be installed onto the hard drive, and from there
you can use "apt-get install" to build up a real Debian box. Even
better are the offerings such as Libranet, Xandros and Lindows - all
three are Debian-based, the only disadvantage being that they cost
I wouldn't be able to end this story without saying that I'm thoroughly
enjoying Debian, despite the rough edges. I have learned more from
playing with Debian than I have from any other distro. Perhaps its
installer is not the most beautiful around, but as numerous
philosophers have pointed out, beauty is only skin deep.
|Copyright (C) 2003
Verbatim copying and distribution of this article is permitted in any
medium, provided this copyright notice is preserved.
forum on OSNews if you wish to discuss the review.
|10 September 2003
|About the Author
|Hiding out in a rural Asian
backwater, Robert was (sometimes still is) well-known as a Far East
travel writer. He now occupies his time spreading the free software
|Asus A7v8x-x mainboard, VIA KT-400
|AMD Athlon 1600
|nVidia Riva TNT2 64, 32MB
|256 MB, DDR-RAM
|Seagate 40 GB, 7200 RPM
|VIA Technologies VT6102 [Rhine-II]
|SoundBlaster PCI 64
|Sid is defined as "unstable" so it is
never released, but the current version will evolve into Sarge
|2.4.18-bf2.4 or higher
|• One of the supported platforms (see
• minimum 12MB RAM
• minimum 110MB hard disk space
• CD-ROM or floppy drive
• SuperVGA monitor
• CRIS (Axis Communications ETRAX 100LX embedded CPU)
|• 11 supported architectures
• APT Advanced Package Management
• Huge software archive
|• AbiWord 1.99.2
• Apache 184.108.40.206-2
• Cups 1.1.19
• GCC 3.3
• Gimp 1.2.5-2
• glibc 2.3.2-3
• Gnome 2.2.2
• KDE 3.1.3-1
• KOffice 1.2.92
• Mozilla 1.4-2
• MySQL 4.0.13
• Perl 5.8.0-19
• Python 2.3-4
• Samba 3.0
• XFree86 4.2.1-9
• xine 0.9.22-1
• Xmms 1.2.7-3
|Backports are packages of up-to-date
versions of software normally only available in Debian Testing and
Unstable, but made available for Stable. Many backports are
unofficial, and there is always the risk that installing them will
break something. Use with caution, or better yet go for unstable and
live on the cutting edge.
|Debian's "trump card". with the command
"apt-get dist-upgrade", packages installed on the system will be
upgraded to their newest versions, and changing dependencies will be
intelligently handled. Unless you're installing purely from CDs, you
should always run "apt-get update" and "apt-get upgrade" before