Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
At the request of a reader, Tuxmachines agreed to take a look at Debian Pure. Debian Pure 0.4 was released on October 1, 2005, so we have a recent version with which to work. The Pure site says "this project is not about creating an additional distribution, rather, a CD that will help newer users with installing a Debian proper system along with common plug-ins (DVD,
Flash, Java, and Mplayer)." We have all heard of the chore Debian can be to install. I did it once myself, but don't really recall it being that bad. However, it must be true or Pure would have no purpose. But how new-user friendly is it?
Debian is a very popular Linux distribution with loyal users all over the world. Debian has to be one of the oldest Linux distributions in existance, probably only younger than Slackware. It was started in 1993 by a gent named Ian Murdock.
It is said, "Debian is the only distribution that is open for every developer and user to contribute their work. It is the only significant distributor of Linux that is not a commercial entity. It is the only large project with a constitution, social contract, and policy documents to organize the project. Debian is also the only distribution which is "micro packaged" using detailed dependency information regarding inter-package relationships to ensure system consistency across upgrades."
Pure 0.4 is based on the stable Debian Sarge released in June of this year and is said to be fully compatible with the Debian Sarge repositories. In fact, that is one of it's main objectives. It is built straight from Debian to be a Debian system after install. What distinguishes this project is its installer. That's its purpose, to allow a newcomer to install Debian in an user-friendly traditional format, either cdrom or ftp.
The install is what I refer to as "ascii-graphical", others may call it text. Whatever the terminology, it's very similar to Slackware's installer, if you've seen that. It walks you through the steps in an user-friendly manner and does its thing. Some steps seem to be out of order, but no matter, it's easy and appears to work fine as one progresses through the setup of their new Debian system.
The first thing one sees is an option for (a) KDE or ( Gnome. I chose KDE. Then one is asked to choose their locale, Keyboard map and language, and then the install program sets off to detect the cdrom, other hardware, and network. One is asked for their hostname, domainname, and what kind of connection (static, dhcp, etc) and the connection is detected and brought up. Next step is partitioning. One is given three choices (in my case), (1) Erase and take over hda, (2) Erase and take over hdb, (3) Manually set up partition. I chose to manually configure and just picked the pre-prepared partition of hdb1 as /. It formatted it and began the install of the base system. After which it offers the opportunity to set up the grub bootloader. Seeing no option to skip it, I had it install it on /dev/fd0. Next it spends a few minutes "preseeding." Then we rebooted.
After reboot we are welcomed by a message screen and preceded to set up time zone, root password, a user and password, and an apt repository (either cdrom, local drive, ftp, etc.) to install further necessary packages. I chose to set up an ftp repository for two reasons. Number one, I wasn't sure what all was included the downloaded iso image and number two, it'd be handy after install to have a remote mirror already set up. As one is given a list of mirrors, this step is really easy. Next one picks their package groups from the given options of (a) Desktop, ( several servers, (c) manually choose packages. I chose Desktop. This step can take quite a while depending upon your download speed. After it downloads many packages and what appears to be installs some, the install program asks ones one to set up their X environment at several configuration levels (simple, medium, advanced). At this point, it began installing and setting up the rest of the software.
Most of that step progressed fine for a while, but this is where we began to have problems. It got through many of the packages until some gnome libraries. Dpkg stopped working, responding, and in fact rendered all ttys/vc's inoperative. I hit reset. Upon reboot, it wanted to do that whole process described in the last paragraph over. After playing around with it some and it appearing as though it was going to spend two more hours downloading all those packages again, I ctrl + alt + F2'd to another terminal and started dpkg manually to finish the installation/set up. Again it stopped and again we had to hit reset and try again. After a few attempts we can finally get into fully functional KDE window enviroment, yet it still hadn't finished. GTK and gnome applications did not work. Dpkg continued to bomb out and lock me out of any terminal or virtual terminal. Almost ready to throw in the towel, I rebooted and did an apt dist-upgrade, that first error'd out, but completed on it's 2nd attempt. Apt curiously used dpkg, but I finally had a fully operative system. The objective of this project was to "help newer users with installing a Debian proper system." I don't think Debian Pure has accomplished this as of yet. If it were not for some of my previous experience, I perhaps never would have finished the install.
If one manages to get a system installed, it is said to be Debian Sarge, consisting of KDE 3.3.2, gnome 2.8.3, linux-2.6.8, XFree86-188.8.131.52, and gcc-3.3.5. After install, one is left with stable complete system with a wonderful package manager, apt-get with synaptic front-end. The only drawback is dpkg, of which I will remain leary given the hiccups during the initial install. However, the combination seems to work fine after the install is complete.
Having chosen the Desktop package group, I found in the menus the full range of KDE applications in KDE, and many gtk/gnome apps in Gnome. In addition, in each environment there is a Debian menu integrated. Some entries seem duplicated, but there are system specific and other thoughtful applications as well.
So, all in all, the Debian Pure installation program doesn't quite live up to all its promise at this time. The install ran into problems that I think would be showstoppers for many people and the resulting system had a few problems. Some include sound and mplayer not working, possibly needless deamons in startup, and shutdown/reboot hanging at stopping lpd. Most are not easily fixed by new comers. However there is some help available, one is the faq at the debianpure site and another is of course Debian's own documentation.
On the other hand, if someone with a little experience wanted a shortcut to a Debian system, there ya go!
UPDATE (10/21/05): I was informed that it clearly states on the site that one should not set up an apt repository during install or else the install won't finish. Although I think I had seen something to that effect, I did not remember it during the install. In all fairness I wanted to post that development but not alter my original opinion. If an option does not work, it should be removed or at the very least it should be stated at that option screen. So, although the setup may be work out more smoothly if an included and buggy feature is avoided, Pure Debian is still not ready for prime time for that very reason.