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Debian works

After many months of using Novell’s SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 on my T43p as my work operating system, I gave into temptation and swapped my Hitachi 100GB drive for a Western Digital 160GB 7,200 speed drive on which I have installed Debian Testing – also known as Lenny.

SLED is a good distro but it is deliberately restricted to make life easy for business users. Essentially it’s OpenSuSE 10.1 with readily available Novell applications such as GroupWise and GroupWise Messenger. It is just about the only distribution which works well with the Linux NetWare client – certainly an advantage when connecting to my work servers, which still run NetWare 6.5.

However there are disadvantages to running a SuSE distro, especially one that has been restricted.

Being RPM based, system updates and installations take an age.
Package dependency hell can be frequent.
Automatic on line updates hog the processor for up to an hour at a time.
While you can add additional software repositories, checking these also be tedious and time consuming, not to mention often being unreliable.
There are not that many packages “officially” sanctioned for SLED, with less and less as time passes given that OpenSUSE is a fast moving distro and constantly being updated, SLED is falling behind. While SLED is still Linux and you can do whatever you want, but installing from goodness knows where will void your support and most likely break key services.

I should point out that even with these disadvantages, compared to Windows SLED is still a joy to use and maintain.

What pushed me away from SLED was an analysis of what I used daily in my work.

Most of my time is spent in GroupWise and with OpenOffice files. I am normally attached to a terminal server maintaining my NetWare servers, as ConsoleOne on SLED can be flaky. I’m found browsing the web and playing PokerStars under Wine at Lunchtime. The advantage of having a distro which can work with the NetWare client has recently been negated as the client fails to allow me to access drives I KNOW I have rights to and reports volumes’ free space with wild inaccuracy. A recent spate of my wireless connection dropping out at home and the office, when I know it works fine in other distros and under Windows, tipped me over the edge.

I installed Debian Testing using a net-install CD, which installs a base system to get you running. You then download additional packages from the net to give you a full system. The final step is then to use Synaptic package manager to install all of the applications you require in one go. Synaptic doesn’t take four hours to do nothing. It does reference the repositories you specify. It does resolve dependencies. It does work.

After some jiggery pokery with the official Sun version of the JRE and VM I had GroupWise Beta 8 running nicely. I installed a couple of packages for wi-fi, installed my card’s firware and “bingo” the card connected first time to my home network and DIDN’T drop.

I’m very pleased with Debian, I have all of the apps I want working well, the system is a lot faster and more responsive, it’s up to date, I have 18,000 official Debian packages available plus an awful lot more and I can upgrade without straining my processor and waiting an age. The one thing I need to play with to get going is Compiz and the 3D desktop but that can wait for a rainy afternoon.

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