Wednesday, October 8, 2008


A new blog. I made this blog to have a place to write about my adventures with installing and using Linux, away from my personal blog so that readers there can stop being bombarded by increasingly geeky and increasingly technical posts about an operating system they probably don't care about. In some ways, writing about setting up Linux is for my own purposes to catalog what worked, what didn't, and what killed my system. But if you are a user of Linux I would hope that you might glean a tidbit or two of knowledge from reading this. Keep in mind that I am still somewhat of a Linux newbie though.


I started dabbling in Linux with the Ubuntu 6.10 live CD, and eventually decided to dual boot Ubuntu/Win XP on my desktop. After the release of Ubuntu 7.04 finally made the WiFi card on my laptop usable I took a leap of faith and wiped Windows entirely from my laptop. As time progressed I found myself using Linux way more often than Windows, and have reached the point that if I did not need Windows for some of my graphic design work (I am currently a computer graphics student) or for some of my games (I'm also a gamer) I would be happy never using Windows again.

Less than a week ago I decided to make another bold switch: I took out my hard drive with Ubuntu (now upgraded to 8.04) on it and put in a new drive and installed Debian Lenny on it. This has been an adventure all its own, and I now know first hand why many people lable Ubuntu a "noob distro," alternatively, "N00buntu." (I would like to say that I still consider Ubuntu a fine Linux distrobution, and if you are looking into entering the world of Linux I highly reccommend Ubuntu.) While Debian was definitely much harder to set up (it took me a few days to isolate some of the random problems that arose) I am in love with it so much more than Ubuntu.

Pros of switching to Debian (for me):
  • The fglrx (Proprietary ATI Radeon) drivers from the non-free repository work flawlessly. On my Ubuntu setup, after going through all the problems involved in setting up my fglrx drivers to play nice with Compiz-Fusion, video files would flicker when played (at first no matter what, later only when not in fullscreen.) In Debian this works beautifly.
  • Flash no longer crashes Firefox. Ever since Ubuntu 8.04 was released, every now and then a website would try to load some flash video and Firefox would just disappear. Flash took me a while to figure out, but the solution was simple: Download Flash player 10 beta (which incidentally also crashed in Ubuntu). 10b works with PulseAudio so I no longer have audio conflicts, and the pesky incorrect layering problem I have always experienced in Linux is gone. Flash has never worked better for me in Linux than it does right now.
  • It is just plain faster. One of my complaints with Ubuntu's 8.04 release is that it bogged down terribly. Debian boots faster, loads the desktop faster (even with Compiz-Fusion enabled), and loads programs faster. It is just faster all around, most likely because, as most user-friendly operating systems are wont to do, Ubuntu is accumulating quite a bit of bloat, and Debian is still nice and lean.
  • I am learning MUCH more about the workings of a Linux system because I have to know why things keep failing (mostly because I failed at it in the first place, but not always) or how to set it up myself. Though toward the end of my Ubuntu days I was using the command line more often than not, I never realized how much Ubuntu was still doing things for me behind the scenes (still not to the extent of Windows)
Cons of switching to Debian:
With all that said, the switch to Debian hasn't been all puppies and sunshine. There have been (and I expect, will be) problems.
  • There is an increase in the need to know how to install things from source. While Debian has an awe-inspiring amount of packages in its repositories, even in Lenny (testing) many of the packages are more out of date than I need. For example, GNOME Do is, as of this writing, still at a rather unusable 0.4.x, meaning that I had to install version 0.5.99 myself from source. And due to some of the odd dependencies, it wasn't exactly easy. When I last installed GNOME Do on Ubuntu, the (third party) repository was using version 0.6.0.
  • Things break. One of the inevitabilities of using the testing version of Debian is that things are going to break from time to time. I was having an odd problem with memory leaks causing skipping and eventually crashing in Pulse Audio (which I am using for Amarok). Scrolling down a page on Firefox could eventually cause Pulse Audio to crash entirely, meaning that my music stopped and I had to go into the terminal and manually restart the Pulse Audio daemon. It turned out that reverting back to the 2.6.14 kernel seems to stop this from happening, but I spent a few hours trying to figure this one out.
In any case, I have gotten it to the point that it is running stably and I feel comfortable using it as my main OS again. I still have a few things to fix but overall it is running well.

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