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.

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