Monthly Archives: January 2014

Goodbye Ubuntu, Hello Debian Testing

This past weekend, I finally made the switch: I replaced Ubuntu with Debian testing on my main computer.

I really dislike the direction that Ubuntu has been taking lately. Don’t get me wrong: from a technical standpoint, Ubuntu is a great distro, the first and only Linux I’ve used where every single thing Just Worked after installation (I’ve run Slackware and Debian in the past, and maybe one or two others I can’t remember just now). I liked that its releases did a good job of including very recent versions of software. Without a doubt, Ubuntu has done a LOT to put Linux within reach of a wider user base.

But it’s come at a cost. Ubuntu 12.04, which is what I used to run, has spyware. (Here’s a good page with instructions on how to remove it, as well as make other tweaks.) Even if you like Unity, it’s a huge resource hog. And it annoyed me the way Ubuntu’s app store was so similar to the package manager: it seemed designed to lure people into the app store unnecessarily. The shopping results in Dash and privacy concerns were the straws that broke the camel’s back.

I get that Canonical is a business whose ultimate goal is to make money. I wonder if a subscription fee model would have worked for them. I would have gladly paid a reasonable amount to get a quality, user-friendly, up-to-date distro.

So yeah, I’m now running Debian testing on my Toshiba Portege R835 laptop. I chose Debian testing mostly because a lot of packages in stable are a bit too old for my tastes. stable is a great choice for the server, but for my everyday machine, I wanted the latest and greatest, or the closest thing to it that’s still fairly dependable. Debian testing fit the bill.

The install process is not as easy as Ubuntu, but it was fairly painless and seems much improved from years ago. A few notes on what I did:

  • Since I wanted “testing”, I used the latest daily snapshot of the Debian Installer.
  • On the first screen, I chose the advanced options to selected Xfce as my desktop, so I wouldn’t have to uninstall gnome later and install Xfce manually.
  • When the install process finished and I rebooted, my wireless didn’t work. The wireless device in my laptop is a “Intel(R) Centrino(R) Wireless-N”, which requires an additional package with firmware to be installed. Run “apt-get install firmware-iwlwifi” as root to get it, and reboot.
  • I changed my /etc/apt/sources.list file to use “testing” instead of “jessie” so that I would always be tracking the rolling testing release.
  • Getting Flash to work in the browser requires adding the “nonfree” section to the apt sources, and installing the “flashplugin-nonfree” package.

That’s it! Suspending my laptop works just fine, and connecting usb drives and devices works without any additional setup (which was not the case the last time I used Debian many years ago!). So far, all my applications have been working seamlessly with the old data I copied over.

I like having the peace of mind that Debian would never install spyware or intentionally compromise users’ privacy. Yes, it was just a bit more work to install, and getting non-free software that I unfortunately need to use for work is a bit of a hassle, and there will probably be small configuration annoyances in the future that make it less “magical” than Ubuntu. But I’m willing to deal with that.

I hope to replace Ubuntu with Debian testing on my desktop machine at work too sometime in the next few weeks. So long, Ubuntu, it’s been nice.