Re: Debian or Ubuntu Dilemma

From: Douglas Ward (
Date: 07/18/05

  • Next message: Brendon Lloyd Higgins: "Re: KDE 3.4 in unstable"
    Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2005 01:20:35 -0400

    On Saturday 16 July 2005 10:11, Bernie Betlach wrote:
    > I'm new to Linux but have a little programming experience. Which should I
    > install Ubuntu or Debian???
    > Thanks.... I appreciate your opinions and advice.
    > Bernie

    Create a separate partition for /home ;
    If you ever need to reinstall (or want to try another distro), this allows you
    to reinstall without deleting your personal data. (When reinstalling, just
    make sure you tell the installer where /home resides.)
    (/home is where all your documents, music and the like will be stored, so make
    it as large as possible.)

    - - -

    Here are my thoughts on the distros:

    Less Maintenance - - - - > More Maintenance
    Debian Stable < Ubuntu < Debian Testing/Unstable < Any Distro w/mutt packaging
    (Less Flexible - - - - > More Flexible)

    - - -
    Wants and Distro:
    - - -
    Bleeding Edge Features:
    You'll eventually have to compile a few packages with any distro (from Debian
    to Gentoo)

    Playground: Debian

    Long-Term Playground: Debian

    Usability Playground: Ubuntu

    Consistent Needs: Ubuntu

    Rarely Play: Debian Stable

    - - -

    Ubuntu seems to be a good balance if its default install does almost
    everything you need, and you like to be somewhat current. It promises 6-month
    stable release cycles that will keep you working with updated versions of the
    default tools. These 6-month upgrades are similar to the Debian stable
    releases--fairly painless upgrades.
    Debian stable is good if its default install and (stable/Sarge) repositories
    almost does everything you need, and you do not mind using useful, but old
    packages. (These old packages are updated for security reasons.) I mention
    old packages because stable releases of Debian have occurred once every few
    Debian unstable/testing is good if you like to install current, new programs
    often, and do not mind taking time to fix things that break. Upgrades are
    sometimes painful, especially if you aggressively update the system (e.g.
    install new sid packages during a C++ ABI transition, or get unofficial xorg
    packages). Personally, I believe Debian unstable is the closest to Gentoo if
    you want to be bleeding edge; it seems to have more non-official repositories
    of bleeding edge packages than any distro I've seen.

    - - -

    Rule for Having No Trouble with Linux:
    When everything is working, change nothing--not even for fun!!!
    (Each change is another step away from a default install.)

    Ha--that isn't very practical. So, here are some tips:

    Good Housekeeping:
    * A separate /home partition allows for less painful emergency reinstalls.
    * Do as much as you can with the default (stable) repositories--what's offered
    in Synaptic. Be weary of non-official repositories, especially for critical
    system functions. (Often, problems occur when one has been using non-official
    packages, Debian suddenly offers the same packages, and one must remove some
    of the non-official packages to install the Debian packages.)
    * Keep any changes you make to the system separate from the system defaults.
    If you compile any programs, put them in /usr/local/bin or some other special
    directory. If you hand-edit configuration files, do two things: keep a copy
    of all your personally changes files together AND keep a backup of the system
    defaults (even if the backup is as simple as renaming foobar to
    foobar-debian). (Keeping all of your personal changes together will save you
    a lot of time when you want to reinstall, apply the changes to another
    machine, or simply remember what you've done.)

    * See what Synaptic offers before looking for other package repositories
    Debian Stable:
    * See what the default repositories offer before looking for non-official
    Debian Unstable:
    * learn apt-get, dpkg, and how to force package installs and removals with
    both dpkg and apt-get
    * install package debfoster

    If you plan to compile your own packages to stay as current as possible (e.g.,
    tracking KDE SVN HEAD), plan to spend time learning how to manage your custom
    installed programs (or packages) along side system packages. If you plan to
    use external repositories (non-Debian or non-Ubuntu official) to stay as
    current as possible, plan to spend time working out package conflicts. (If
    you plan to do this, Debian will be best because it seems to have smoother
    non-official packages than Ubuntu.)

    - - -
    I saved personal testimony for last. I've used Debian for years, and love
    having up-to-date software. I went to Debian unstable and would always spend
    a little bit of time fixing this or that when a big update (or self-imposed
    change) came around. I've installed Ubuntu on several computers for people
    who are new to GNU/Linux, and there were very few problems; they have working
    hardware and up-to-date software with no hitches. I now use Ubuntu (or, the
    kubuntu-desktop meta package) on my desktop (as even 10 year release cycles
    are fine for my servers), and have had the same trouble-free experience I saw
    on the other computers (e.g., some personal pet hassles did not show such as
    KMail worked with gnupg, pgpMIME, and pinentry by default after install, and
    by default, plugging in a USB drive pops its root onto the desktop). (A
    recent xorg, KDE, and C++ ABI switch put me off; the hassle-free Ununtu
    experience kept me here. I'll see how hassle-free Ubuntu is when it's time
    for an upgrade to the next stable version; upgrades always showcase
    problems.) I am fairly certain I'll end up with some of the same hassles I
    had with Debian unstable if I add non-official repositories, so I am sticking
    with the default repositories. The default programs happen to encompass
    almost everything I use, so using a more limited package set is fine for me.
    I would recommend installing Ubuntu first if you do not want to spend a lot of
    time tinkering with GNU/Linux. If the computer is usable with the default
    features/programs provided (or, you feel there is very little missing), then
    keep Ubuntu. If you feel there is a lot missing, then install Debian and have
    a lot of fun learning. Debian makes backing out of fsckups non-lethal (unlike
    the early versions of Mandrake I once used), and, often, quite easy. (Ubuntu
    has those same tools to make rollbacks easy--apt and dpkg.) Debian is
    extremely flexible. (But, for me, this flexiblity often didn't translate into
    making the computer a more useful productivity tool.)


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