A responsive distro with plenty of hardware support, but it lacks the slick optimisations of friendlier rivals, and can be fiddly to get working fully
Review Date: 16 Nov 2012
Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray
Price when reviewed: Free
Features & Design
Ease of Use
With several other distributions effectively based on the Debian system, it’s fair to say that it’s an important distro. In fact, as Linux distributions go, it’s positively stately; a grandaddy among open source upstarts.
As you might expect from such an elderly, respected relative, it’s awash with hardware support – as well as the common Intel x86 processors, it will work with a number of other architectures, including PowerPC. Plus, there’s a huge 29,000 software packages included on the full DVD-based ISO, a download that runs to 4.4GB. In many respects, Debian’s tagline – “the universal OS” – is well earned.
To test it out, we downloaded the Stable version, but there are two others, separated by package maturity and stability. The rather alarmingly named Debian Unstable, which is a continually updated, rolling release distribution, and Debian Testing, a snapshot of the unstable distribution that’s destined to become the next Stable version. You can also download a version of Debian that’s built on the non-Linux FreeBSD kernel, but this has only just been included in the official release.
Installation is straightforward. You can choose a graphical or text-based install, but the process is the same. The distribution is installed to your partition of choice, and you can create your own partition structure or use one of the installer’s selection of “guided” modes.
Either way, it isn’t the easiest of distros to set up properly. On our first test laptop – a Dell Inspiron R17 – the Debian installer failed to pick up the Nvidia graphics, Wi-Fi chip and multitouch touchpad correctly, leading to a good deal of fiddling to set matters right. Our second attempt using an older HP Mini netbook was more successful: Debian felt far more responsive on this device than Ubuntu.
Linux shootoutClick here to return to the main feature
That may be due to the ageing Gnome 2.3 default desktop, which is a rather basic affair. Effectively, it’s the same desktop as that used by Ubuntu before it switched to the Unity front-end.
There’s a rather unusual selection of preloaded software included. For web browsing duties, there’s Epiphany or Iceweasel (an unofficial build of the Firefox browser that lacks support for plugins), while the office suite is Apache’s OpenOffice rather than the more popular LibreOffice. Debian’s focus is on completely licence-free software, hence these rather unusual choices, and this approach is reflected in the official Debian software repositories, too; these are accessed by one of two different package manager tools – the Ubuntu-style Software Centre, and the slightly less friendly, but very powerful, Synaptic. Whichever one you use, however, will involve some fiddling once again. By default, both asked us to insert optical media when we attempted to download and install new software; we had to uncheck the “cdrom” option in Software Sources before it would go online.
In all, Debian is a usable and responsive distribution, but it isn’t one we’d recommend for complete beginners. It’s an important distribution to be sure, but a few niggles and a dogmatic approach mean that it isn’t as good as others here for general desktop duties.
Main wiki contributor: Ynot 82.
Author: Jonathan Bray
Nice article but there are some things that need correction. Debian comes on 8 DVDs or 52 CDs. OpenOffice remains on Debian stable but has been replaced by LibreOffice in Testing and Unstable. Most of the software in Debian comes with the GNU General Public Licence. I don't know of any licence-free Debian package. There is an "unofficial" Debian CD including firmware; most users will probably need it. There are plenty of official Debian plugins for iceweasel; also, plugins from Mozilla can be installed.
By chakr on 18 Nov 2012
- Amazon and Microsoft spend big on Google ads
- Narrow-trenches help Virgin expand fibre network
- How to remove the U2 album from an iPhone: iTunes antivirus tool launched
- Windows 9 Technical Preview launch date revealed
- Why Microsoft was forced to buy Minecraft
- New Windows 9 videos show off multi-desktops and notification centre
- BT and mobile networks warn of rising cost of Scotland split
- Phones 4u collapse puts iPhone 6 orders in doubt
- Chromebook owners get access to Android apps
- SanDisk lets you pop half-terabyte card in your camera
- How to check your identity hasn’t been sold to the hackers
- Tim Cook: this is how much TV has changed since the 70s
- Westminster wins the .London battle
- 20 years of PC Pro: from deep pan pizza to virtualisation
- Five reasons why the Apple Watch leaves me cold
- Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus: Tim Cook's Apple back with a bang?
- BT Home Hub 5: how to get maximum speed
- 20 years of PC Pro: one-star reviews (including "the worst tablet we've ever seen")
- 20 years of PC Pro: our best covers
- Why we've closed the PC Pro forums
- The best smartwatches of 2014: what's the best smartwatch?
- Nexus 6 (X or Shamu) release date, price and specs rumour roundup
- Best of IDF: top tech and memorable moments from Intel's tech show
- How Apple Pay works and how to use it on your iPhone 6 or Apple Watch
- How to use remote-access software
- Tech support horror stories
- Become a tech support superhero
- Best of IFA 2014: what smartphones, tablets, smartwatches are expected to launch at IFA this year?
- How to uninstall a program on Windows: remove unwanted apps from your PC
- How to format a USB drive on a Mac or Windows
- How to sell more ebooks on Amazon
- 10 ways to make your business more secure
- Top five VoIP mistakes
- How to add in-app purchasing to an iPhone, Android or Windows app
- Remote-control ransomware: TeamViewer and software hardball
- Why laptops with serial ports matter to the Internet of Things
- Make your mobile battery last longer
- Small steps into handling Big Data
- Nexus 5: does it really run stock Android?
- How to get broadband to a garden office