Debian 6: First Impressions

If you can get past the "Emperor's new clothes," it's the same old Debian.

Did Debian have a contest to redesign its graphics and it wasn’t made public? Did a third grader win that contest? Oh, the hallowed Debian developers must have had a fashion faux pas moment when deciding on a new look because this one makes me think it was designed for children or by children. It’s a good thing that once you’ve installed the operating system, you can change that horrid desktop background to something less kitchy. Other than the graphical goofs, Debian 6 is Debian and that’s a good thing.

The setup used for this article is a VirtualBox virtual machine with 512MB RAM, an 8GB dynamically expanding hard disk, and Debian 6.0.0 amd64 netinstall.

The Basics

Download the latest stable version in the format of your choice at: Debian GNU/Linux on CDs. Boot to the CD or ISO and install. The first thing that you should notice is the awesome* new graphics in the 6.0 version. And, there’s a new tagline: “The Universal Operating System.”

Upon booting the CD image, the first thing you notice is the look of the screen. See Figure 1. At first glance, you might believe that you’ve selected the wrong ISO from which to boot and install. You haven’t. This is not the K-5th grade distribution. This is the actual distribution. The professional distribution that’s downloaded and installed by millions of anxious users, few of which are under the age of ten.

Figure 1: The Debian 6 New Initial Boot Screen
Figure 1: The Debian 6 New Initial Boot Screen

However, installation is familiar with no surprises or deviations. The graphical installation does seem smoother in this version despite the “look away” graphics. As always, Debian delivers a system that’s ready to use as soon as you login.

The New Features

After you’ve logged into your new system, you’ll want to change that background by right clicking and choosing Change Desktop Background. See Figure 2. Most of the improvements made to create Debian 6 are behind the scenes but nonetheless appreciated by all.

Figure 2: The Debian 6 New Default Background
Figure 2: The Debian 6 New Default Background

Other than the typical version updates associated with any new OS version, there’s an improvement in the boot system by introducing what’s called, “dependency-based boot sequencing and parallel boot.” The ungeeked version of that is that your system will boot faster since boot system scripts can now run in parallel.

Another marked improvement is that the graphics mode setting code for Intel, ATI/AMD, and NVIDIA chipsets have moved from Xorg drivers to the kernel. Among the improvements are you’re able to use graphics devices without X and faster virtual terminal (VT) switching. Several old Xorg graphics drivers have been removed.

And, for the five people who care, Debian 6.0 is the first release to offer comprehensive support for MRI-based neuroimaging research.

You can scan all of the updates for yourself on the Debian 6.0 Release Notes page.

The Verdict

Debian 6 neither impresses nor disappoints. It’s Debian. It’s minimalistic. It’s Spartan. It’s just a little behind the curve**. And, it’s stable because of all these points. Debian is a perennial favorite of real Linux users, developers, and those who need something basic upon which they’ll build something great.

Debian 6 earns an 8.5/10 for the latest effort. Why so low for an otherwise top-notch operating system? Not only did the Debian folks decide to use OpenOffice.org but it used version 3.2.1. Since the Debian developers made such an effort to include free software and exclude a lot of non-free software, they should have made the leap to LibreOffice 3.3 on the way out. The other half point subtraction is for those elementary school graphics. And, no I can’t get over it–it cheapens the operating system and its goals to be a “universal operating system.” If universal appeal and acceptance are the goals, then they should have made it look more professional. I might use it but I just won’t tell anyone over the age of ten what it is.

* By “awesome,” I mean not awesome.

** Not leading edge or bloated with Crapware.

Comments on "Debian 6: First Impressions"


I couldn’t agree more about those graphics – and just like the author, the first thing I did was change that stupid desktop background. What were the folks at Debian thinking?

While I love the OS, the graphics are just plain terrible.


    strange to see so much love for google… or perhaps fanfaditis? google is not free in any sense except free-tyranny, you are free to worship at their feet, suckas (worse than apple?, notice microsoft is waaaay down the list now)


Uh … “it cheapens the operating system?” How do you cheapen “free”? ;-) But seriously, I *like* the graphics – they’re positively refreshing when compared with Fedora and Ubuntu.

LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice.org? I’m not going to even begin to get into *that*. I switched (on openSUSE 11.3) because 11.4 switched to it and because it opens spreadsheets a *lot* faster. But if Google ever gets their act together on Google Docs spreadsheets, I’m going to blow it away and use the disk space it wastes for something useful.


znmeb But if Google ever gets their act together on Google Docs spreadsheets….
Don’t forget Zoho Docs too.


When I upgraded to Debian 6, I’ve completely lost my network connection due to the standard eth0 broadcom driver is not supported because of “non-free” firmware issues (It’s nice that these guys take so much care to distinguish non-free from completely open source stuff, but if it breakes the whole system, one might make an exception, right?).


    Agreed. It’s more than a little ironic that I had to grab bnx2.ko from an Ubuntu box in order to install debian…


    Or you could have paid attention to the many public statements from Debian that they were moving non-free firmware to the non-free repo …

    and added non-free to your apt sources.lst before you began your upgrade ….

    and upgraded without issue as it would have grabbed the broadcom drivers from the non-free repo where Debian indicated they were moving it.

    How hard would that have been?


    Odds are Richard Stallman will buy shampoo before that happens. In other words NEVAHHHH!


I think the opening screenshot is awesome. (No sarcasm.) But then I am not afraid to be a kid.


Agreed the graphics look very poor. Unappealing, inconsistent, unproffessional and downright ugly. I use Ubuntu and to be honest, it’s default theme is awful, brown everywhere, brown halos on button mouse overs, text highlights brown. Yuck


When we want to say that the look is not essential, in France, we use to say :
Ce n’est pas l’habit qui fait le moine !

Be patient and enjoy 6.0.0


The installation menu screen reminds me of some cheezy ol’ skool graphics. I kinda like it.


Hi there, I just “dist-upgrade”d my Lenny production system over the weekend (after wading through some good docu!). It went absolutely smooth! Regarding the graphics: I have been using KDE and 4.4.5 does it for me – even though in good Debian tradition this isn’t the LAST cry either! But it’s stable enough for me. Congratulations – Debian team!


Debian has always been a target for home users and the graphics reflect that. Knocking off half a point for the graphics is like giving a comedy a bad rating for being funny.


Who cares about default background graphic if it can be changed.
There are much more important aspects to focus on and this first impression post was pretty dummy on the subject.


    Not so fast. The post is about what it says to be: a first impression. How come the default graphics not to be important when it regards first impressions?

    You may disagree with the author if you like the graphics, but they do are important when it comes to first impression. Not that I specially care about it, but I am sure a Linux newcomer would not feel too much confident about such an OS at first glance.


I kind of disagree. Debian is the workhorse and backbone of all the good distros. There is nothing like the true basis of personal Linux. I have been using Debian for about 5 or 6 years now and absolutely love it. It is extremely dependable. I do not run a desktop, but run it as a server for file sharing, web, mail, database, etc. Recently, I was forced to install a M$ server and can’t tell you how much trouble they are. Kudos for debian.


The net install is about 180MB, then you have to download a massive amount (1126) of packages, without even knowing what it is downloading and it takes more than 2 hours to do so. If you download the KDE one, it is 648MB, but still you don’t have a GUI at the end. Maybe Debian is a pretty good OS for geeks, and who has a lot of time to wait. It must be a good base and a good set of packages, because such a massive organization as Ubuntu uses them. There are nicer smaller distros using this base. So, the distros such as Crunchbang, Aptosid, etc are doing a better job than Debian!


    If you download a bloated LiveDVD from another distro, you’re going to spend just as long or longer downloading. The difference is that the netinst disk let’s you choose what to download. If you want everything on a DVD, then don’t use netinst …


I rank the focus on the graphics up there with the changing of the buttons in the title bar in Ubuntu – which took 20 seconds to change. This article could have been a good read – it really could have.

I give it a 6 out of ten. I am deducting 4 points for the useless instructions on changing the desktop background.


The whole graphic interface (GUI) deal with Debian is interesting, from a n00b perspective. On the one hand, I fell into it because Debian/Gnome/Ubuntu was so friendly and furry and fluffy. Meanwhile, I guess “core Debian” has the reputation of being rock solid, anal retentive stable, if a bit clunky. So why do the “pretty”, “friendly” packages come to rely on it ?

Uhh, I guess because, right ? Anyway, my honeymoon is over with pretty and I am tired of fighting with resource munchers and the less than stable LinuxMint menu bar, no matter how cool, and slick, and well designed LinuxMint appears to be.

So when I wanted friendly and was not so hung up on pretty, I discovered CrunchBang. Alleluyah ! Seems like it has all the speed and no-nonsense that Debian has and is willing to even talk to a guy like me.

If Debian begins to focus on eye-candy as a crowd-pleaser, we are all in trouble. Yikes, I would hate to have to start looking at RPM stuff as a lifestyle, ya’ know ? Granted, the Red Hat guys are fighting the good fight, etc., but that doesn’t mean I am going to abandon the APT method.


Kind a strange so much talking about graphics, are we talking about MAC OS or Linux? KDE has a beautiful graphic (and a lot of features as MAC), author may test it, while so much attached to graphics.
I like Debian because is very stable, functional and economical with resources.
Also, more important are some innovations, as integration with FreeBSD, in the future we can get the best from both OS. This is something worthwhile.


Linux Magazine, you have reached new kind of low with this article, perfect example of how to get publicity now days, bash one of oldest and most influential Linux distributions, ever. Ungodly act indeed.

I was one of the crazy people who worked on Squeeze development for past two years, free of charge in goal of making something that is possibly closest to “universal OS”, something that whole world is going to benefit from. If only for that reason, this is why you shouldn’t have bashed Debian in such way. I was even active in part when the looks were being picked. But with all of this said, I’ll try to be as objective as possible.

Which arguments has the author used? None pretty much, he disregarded two years of active development, two years of someones work, ~150.000 closed bugs and much more.

Kernel team was working for two years on removing non-free drivers from kernel, how does the author comment this? “Several old Xorg graphics drivers have been removed.” … Really?

Talking about kernel, he hasn’t even mentioned ability to run FreeBSD kernel on a “Linux” distribution, the Debian GNU/kFreeBSD port. Meh, UNIX, how cares about that anymore.

This makes me wonder, what kind of consultant the author is, if he manages to bash all this work with part called looks. Part which you change by “by right clicking and choosing Change Desktop Background”.

Debian has ~120 derivatives, which means ~120 other Linux distributions is going to change much more then it’s looks. So in this contest, do the looks even matter for this distribution?

If you bashed Debian this much, it really makes me curious what you’re going to say about upcoming Ubuntu versions, which is as we all know Debian derivative (with !=7% Debian packages).

It also makes me wonder what kind of consultant Hess is when he gives such opinion on most free (as in beer) OS in the whole wide world. (Open Source, remember?) Why does free even matter any more, why would any company like to base their solutions on Debian, a free, stable OS without *any* strings attached. Why would anyone want free in a world where recession is roaring all over the world and economies collapsing.

I’ll stop here, since with this kind of articles getting published, you may even be saving up on bandwidth.

Linux Magazine, please, for the sake of the world and for the sake of your children and Open Source world in general, have this article revoked. What you’ll do with experts such as Mr. Hess is up to you.

For the record, regarding the “childish” artwork, it’s a fact that men never grow up, it’s only that our toys get more expensive.


I use Debian for 12 years. It is very stable and reliable. I do not like such surface-scanning verdicts of people, who do not touch the substance. This article has zero factographic value and the “impressions” mean nothing in case of Linux distribution.


re: Graphics

The KDE version of squeeze has fantastic artwork. I’m an Artist in addition to a technician and my view is — it’s the best Artwork I’ve seen on a distro in recent memory. It’s a bit edgy, doesn’t beg on it’s knees for you to like it like Mint, Windows, Mac …etc.

Do all you guys prefer stadium rock — crispy clean over-processed cheese for teens?

Debian is solid, but chose to make up it’s own mind about the Art. The fact that people don’t like it is something to celebrate. Tell the n00bs to head for the Mint site.

To the fine folks at Debian — I salute you — same great taste, fantastic new graphics.



You realize Picasso spent his entire life trying to learn to draw like a child?

“The critics say I draw like a child. When I was a child I drew like Raphael. It took me my whole life to draw like a child.”
—Picasso in A Picasso


Are we forgetting that each Debian release is named after a Toy Story character? I’ll rue the day when Debian pays a pro designer for some slick new “enterprise” look. I, for one, think the new graphics are cute.


    Agreed ~ Debian with slick graphics would be pure heresy. ‘slick’ graphics are the ‘Justin Bieber’ of UI.

    We don’t need another ‘Bieber’ distro.


Useless report, I think.
Are you sure the most interesting parts to relate of, on a Linux o.s. are boot and desktop graphics?

Sorry, I expect more from Linux Magazine.


“Kernel team was working for two years on removing non-free drivers from kernel…”

In that case, I think they are pretty foolish. What if NVidia or ATI won’t give a driver that suits a Linux OS?

I think it is it of a madness to concentrate on this “only-free” stuff. Are you driving a car, which doesn’t have patents in it? Or is your cooker/fridge has no patents?

The biggest % of all computers sold in the world are Windoz ones, so do you think these non-free driver makers are highly agitated, if Debian drops them? They must be laughing…