Sunday, April 29, 2012

Which Debian-based Linux distributions work best for me and why

Earlier on Saturday, I was using Semplice 2.0.2 for a few hours, but now I am back using  Debian Sid. After using Lubuntu and then antiX core on the Lenovo laptop, I can tell you that all of them are easy and fast to use, but my favorites are the Debian Sid and its derivatives. I have antiX core and siduction on the Lenovo as my Debian Sid derivatives, and I have antiX core, Semplice, and Debian Sid itself on the Gateway.

If you're going to use a Sid based system, then, to my way of thinking, there is no better one than Sid itself. However, if you are starting fresh from scratch, I'd pick antiX core as the one that gives you a few more tools to work with, and siduction, by a hair, over Semplice, in terms of complete, prepared, ready to go systems. For all of them, I like adding the smxi tool. Yes, I can configure them all without smxi, but smxi just makes the task faster and simpler, regardless of what aptosid and siduction developers say about using the free stuff only and sticking with the core system. If we want to do that, then forget them: use just Debian Sid!

So in the Debian Sid world, Debian Sid and antiX core, for me, get the nod, but I have to say, working with Semplice today, I've pretty much (gradually) taken out their stuff and put in the stuff I use, so there is very little difference between Debian Sid, antiX core, and Semplice for me. Same goes for siduction; they're all quite good.

In the Debian Testing arena, again, what can be better than Debian Testing itself? Once the system is completely set up, no need to go elsewhere. If you are starting from scratch, however, it's hard to beat antiX base. The antiX M12.0 base edition, even though there are some packaging defects, documentation, and tools still to be polished and finished, is one of the best there is, and antiX M11.0, already released, was a great release last year. If I were starting fresh (which I did recently, I would not hesitate to use antiX M12.0 Test 2 base, or any of the internal test builds that are taking place right now. But there are a few other good Debian Testing derivatives that also work quite well. One that I like, and I have installed on my Lenovo, is ZevenOS. I have Version 2.0, the "Neptune Edition". No reason for me to get any newer release, because Neptune looks nice and is just as up to date as any newer releases they may have come out with since then. Starting fresh, sure, grab the latest version, but for me, "Neptune" does very well.

For Debian Stable, that's one area where I think you can do better than the Debian release. SimplyMEPIS, to me, adds demonstrable value. It's much faster and easier to install, and you can choose to either stick with it, as is, and "age" it nicely, as Debian itself does, or you can, as you need them, add newer software packages from the MEPIS CR - their Community Repository. Debian Stable is great, of course, and that's where the great software comes from.

Canonical, though often criticized for not making many direct software contributions to Linux or to Debian, actually DOES provide contributions in several ways. First, the marketing that Canonical does for desktop software is something that not only Debian, but the entire Linux ecosystem has needed for years. Red Hat provides what's needed on the server side of things. SUSE has done good things on both the desktop and the server, but Canonical has made more inroads, offering four or five of their own sponsored derivatives, and they always seem to be in the news about something in free software. But something that not many people see is that they DO give back to the Debian project. There are numerous bug fixes that make their way back to either Debian Sid or Debian Testing from Canonical's efforts, and in addition to that, tools like update-manager have, over the years, seen their way to Debian, and the simplicity that Ubuntu and its derivatives have added to the installation and configuration process have slowly, but surely, made their way into many Debian projects, so that Debian itself is no longer that difficult beast to install or use, so Canonical can be thanked for their role in that.

As far as Ubuntu derivatives that I like, in the Canonical camp, my favorite by far is Xubuntu. I like it nearly as much as my Debian systems (which always end up getting Xfce installed on them). Xubuntu is Canonical's community version of Ubuntu that comes with Xfce instead of GNOME. The first Ubuntu derivative that I actually started using was Kubuntu. I don't find it quite as stable during testing as Xubuntu, but released versions are always pretty solid. For lighter computing than even Xubuntu, the LXDE-based Lubuntu has been quite useful for fast start up and use mainly when browsing is all that's planned for the login session.

Personally, I am not a huge fan of Mint and its derivatives, but there are a couple of them that are quite popular, beginning with the main Mint (GNOME-based) release. Mint, which is, in the main version, a Ubuntu derivative, has done a lot of work to deal with the erratic nature and major changes that have occurred since GNOME 3 was released. Ubuntu came up with Unity as their answer. Mint came up with a couple of alternatives, including Cinnamon and MATE, which have been popular to smooth the transition to the vastly different desktop style introduced with GNOME 3. I'm not a GNOME fan, so I usually ignore this stuff, but Mint also has a KDE edition, an Xfce edition, an LXDE edition, and others as well. But perhaps their best derivative work started as an experiment: a return to Debian rolling release testing repository package archives instead of Ubuntu derived archives. The result is called Linux Mint Debian Edition (abbreviated LXDE), and it's one of the most popular Debian derivatives, and probably second only to Mint itself within their community derivatives. Debian lovers who are also Mint lovers might want to give it a try. One of my friends who likes Debian, but struggles at times with software updates has had good success with LMDE.

That's my summary of what several of the top Debian-based distribution alternatives are out there right now. There are many other good ones in addition to these, but for general purpose use, and also for my own personal use cases, these are the ones that get the most attention from me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

more siduction

A few days ago in another blog, I wrote a note about siduction, asking "What will it seduce?"  Here are a few additional comments I wrote in a follow up blog note:

I found that the biggest attraction for former sidux users was a return to some of what the team and the community had hoped for in their original goals.

Debian Sid is not usually an environment or a system for casual software users, it is an environment for experimenters.  The siduction distribution, based on Debian Sid, follows in those footsteps.

As I indicated yesterday, those who are looking for a trivial system that they plug in, run, and rarely maintain, there may be better alternatives available to them - perhaps something based on one of the stable Debian distributions.

Debian Sid is primarily for people who either develop software and want a fairly current platform upon which to develop their own work, or a platform where they want to test and use fairly current software, and usually current hardware as well.

It is in this particular area that siduction adds some incremental value to what the Debian Sid project already provides: recently updated software.  The siduction project adds more current Linux-based kernels, which are more likely to support current hardware.

What you don't get as much of with either Debian Sid or siduction are a vast collection of graphically based system packaging and administration tools.  There is a good reason for this: one of the frequently changing components in a developing software ecosystem is, in fact, the graphical drivers and accompanying software.  If you are using all graphical administration tools and the graphical environment itself fails during an update or replacement of the environment, you can potentially be left without any working graphical user interface, and that's what these projects try to avoid, by instead encouraging the use of command-based administration tools.

Today, for example, when I updated the siduction packages, I found that the graphical display server was modified.  Using the command based administration tool, smxi, not directly provided by siduction, but familiar to many community members, I was able to easily install the appropriate X server software, then start up my graphical user environment without any problem.

I may have been able to do that even if I had a graphical administration environment, but I almost certainly would have had to resort to the use of commands anyway to reinstall and restart the graphical environment, and that is why the developers of siduction prefer the use of commands.  The main forum administrators are still not too keen on the use of smxi; they think it promotes laziness and does not teach what's needed to administrate and configure the system properly.

I take a different approach:  I can figure out how to configure what's needed, but only when it's truly needed.  Most of the time, I want convenience, but I do want access to the lower level tools, too, to get the job done.  I prefer to make those choices available, and personally, I go out and get the tools that I want and I use them, regardless of what others prefer or recommend.  For me, the key is to have the choice, and at least, I have those choices in this environment.

siduction 11.1 - what will it seduce?

siduction is a fork from the derivatives of Debian Sid.  Originally starting with the Kanotix project, the sidux project forked in 2006, but within three years, there was dissension, and the aptosid project was formed.  The software was good; the community was not, and that was the reason for forking yet again, creating siduction.

The aim of siduction is to build and regain a distribution that has the "feel" and similar software to what the sidux project once had, but with much more community involvement and guidance in what is produced.

It's not really a beginner-oriented system.  For those types, something like Ubuntu, or one of its derivatives, such as Linux Mint, may be more appropriate.

What siduction provides is an easy way to install and maintain software that comes from the Debian Sid repositories.  The siduction distribution, however, includes more rapidly changing Linux kernels, highly compressed ISO distribution images (that's what you can "burn" onto a CD, DVD, or other media), and packaging conveniences that many community members appreciate.

For someone who may already be using Debian Sid, I can't see that it offers much, other than the custom kernels, that provide much incremental value to existing Sid users, but for those who want to install a new system, it is a little more convenient than installing Sid, but otherwise is more similar to Sid in the software you actually use than something completely unique and different.

If you do like to try out a lot of Linux distributions, though, this is one of the more interesting ones to try out, if you already have a fair amount of experience, especially if a lot of it is Debian-based experience.

Don't expect anything earth shattering, but do expect a system that is easy to install and configure, a development and user community that is more helpful than its ancestors, and an overall experience that is likely to work well.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Using my customized antiX core system this evening

One of the operating system distributions that I talk about and write about a lot is the Debian distribution.  Central to well over half of the Linux-based software used today, Debian packages form the core of major well-known distributions like Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu Studio, Linux Mint, Peppermint, as well as SimplyMEPIS and much lesser-known systems like ZevenOS, Snow Linux, Semplice, aptosid, siduction, and numerous others.

One of my favorite distributions is, in fact, Debian.  I especially like the Debian Sid distribution, and my current, every day system is one I built myself.  A couple of years ago now, I took an installable Debian Live daily build, specified a handful of extra packages to add to the custom system, had it custom built on the Debian Live server, and then had the Web page link, containing the location of the customized image mailed to me.

I downloaded that image, installed it, then further customized it, changing the default Debian repository from Testing to Sid (Unstable), then, over time, added more software to suit my specific needs.

Before creating this system, I backed up the entire image of the system I was replacing, plus I also backed up my home directory and the directories beneath it, so that I could use them to build my custom system.  I backed up the previous image in case my experiment failed.  (It was a great success, and I still use it today).

Once I had that custom system in place, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to build when other customization opportunities became available, and that is where antiX core comes in.  The antiX distribution is a relatively small distribution.  Started in 2006, it was originally conceived to provide a smaller, lighter derivative of SimplyMEPIS, a modest, simple, but full featured desktop Linux system, which is also based on Debian software.  SimplyMEPIS uses the most stable Debian software from the Debian Stable archive.  The antiX distribution, by default, uses the Debian Testing archive, but lists the names of all three Debian archives, stable, testing, and unstable in the package configuration files, allowing you to select which ones you want to use, and to comment out the others.

As antiX developed and evolved, within a few years, a second antiX derivative emerged, one called "Base", which still provided a system kernel, the core Linux software utilities, packaging tools, and a basic graphical environment, but few software applications.  From this "Base", you could quickly and easily build your own custom desktop system.  I've used and customized several of these "Base" distributions, and I recently created another one, based on the current antiX M12.0 Test 2 development.

There is another one though.  Now a couple of years into its development, antiX core is even more fundamental.  The core distribution provides a system kernel, essential software packaging utilities, and that's it.  It is quite similar in concept to what Arch Linux has done with its packaging, but very different than Arch because it is based on Debian (and to a very limited extent, SimplyMEPIS).

The latest versions of antiX Full, Base, and Core, now include their own antiX Linux 3.3 series kernel.  Recently, I took my already existing antiX core setup and installed the latest antiX 3.3.1 kernel, then upgraded the Debian Sid-based software.  It has continued to remain solid, fast, flexible, and exactly what I built it to do, and that is, provide me with a light, custom system that I use mostly for Web-based writing and research.  For that specific purpose, I am hard-pressed to find anything that does a better job.  After all, I used excellent building materials, then assembled them precisely the way that I want them.  The result is highly satisfying.

For those who want their own custom system (which certainly can vary considerably in both appearance and function than the one that I created for myself), antiX core is one of the best ways to go, but if you want just a little bit more of a jump start, then antiX Base is also an excellent alternative, and antiX Full is an excellent, lightweight, but complete system.

Try them all out, if you have never done so before.  You can find out more about them at - the antiX forum, at to get at least some documentation and help on previously released versions, at to get help in the MEPIS Lovers' Forum for antiX, at DistroWatch to get not only the software, but a variety of reviews of it.  The USALUG, Desktop Linux Reviews Forum, and the Newbies Linux Forum are a few of the places I visit, and I would be glad to discuss antiX or help you with it if you are interested.

You may also want to review one of my earlier blog entries in this blog, at Creating your very own antiX core system from scratch if you want to try it out.  Some of the information may be slightly out of date, but following the essence of the work will help you get on your way, if you are serious about trying to build your own custom system.  I hope you try it; if you do, be sure to let me know!

Spending a little time with Sabayon

Sabayon has quietly started to emerge - to use a term that Gentoo Linux uses as the name of its system packaging update utility - as one of the more solid "rolling release" systems.  The term "rolling release" in Linux software refers to the ability to continually (or occasionally) perform software upgrades, without having to install a new release.

Over the past year or so, Sabayon has really refined this technique.  They get the absolute newest software from Gentoo Linux, and their primary developer, Fabio Erculiani, also participates in Gentoo Linux development, so he has a good understanding of how Gentoo Linux works, its advantages, and also some of its shortcomings.  He has created Sabayon Linux as a convenient way to either update from the actual Gentoo Linux source code, or to update using already compiled and tested code, that he packages in the form of weekly updates.

I have found his approach to work very well.  The only thing I'd like to see work better are the mirror sites.  Only one of them performs well for me, and it's not always available to me.  Fortunately, it is available to me today, and so I am taking the opportunity to upgrade my Sabayon system and work with it for a while.

So far, that has been proceeding quite nicely, and in fact, a rather large upgrade just finished.  I am going to refresh the package cache, see if any other new packages have arrived, then check out the resulting system.