I used to be quite the Linux enthusiast, trying new distributions almost daily, keeping up to date with news and software versions, just generally participating in the whole scene, though as a technical know-nothing really. I kinda got tired of it after a while and decided to settle on one distribution that would be low on bandwidth needs, extremely stable, and able to do all the things, admittedly a rather limited array of things, that I need it to do. I had been playing with Debian GNU/Linux’s Wheezy iteration (yes, they use “Toy Story” character names) since late 2011, when it was still the “testing” version, and noticed after a year or so that it was in a frozen state, largely set for final release, which ultimately happened, in typical molasses-slow Debian fashion, in early May of 2013. So I guess I’ve been using it as my one and only OS for the better part of two years, rarely if ever booting into any of the dozen or so other distributions I still have installed or into Windows 7. I have it fine tuned to my liking and it does every single thing I need it to do. It’s been reliable and stable, exactly as expected.
Why did I settle on Debian? Many reasons really, but a big one is their philosophy of freedom. Free is a big thing in the Linux world, and it doesn’t just mean free of cost. It means liberty and lack of constraint. I firmly believe in this notion as it relates to software, and most things really, even when it leads to some oddities like not being allowed to use Firefox because the logo isn’t quite free enough for the folks at Debian. Who, by the way, are a world wide group of developers almost a thousand strong, collaborating in a highly organized and structured manner. They strive for stability in the officially released version, and at all times there are four versions out there for the world to use, ranging from oldstable to stable to testing to unstable, each with their own charming Toy Story character name. I went with the then frozen testing version, knowing that this would soon be the flagship stable version, supported for like a decade or two once released. Only a slight exaggeration. They don’t move quickly, these Debian people. Stable can become really really outdated by its end of life. But I liked what I saw in Wheezy and went with it, mainly due to the KDE version being mildly current at the time. It’s now out of date by a lot, but still perfectly functional and not lacking any important features. I’m also very familiar with Debian style package management - used by all the Ubuntu variants and other distributions, using both the command line apt-get and the graphical Synaptic Package Manager. So anyway, I went with Wheezy. No, I am not George Jefferson.
I built this install of Debian from a fairly pared down core, letting the net install do its thing and then adding my preferred Desktop Environment, KDE, on top, along with the rather limited number of applications and drivers required for my needs. I should note at this point that this is all on my main desktop machine, on which the majority of my home computer time is spent. The laptop and netbook also run Debian, but I find that no matter what I do I can’t squeeze enough battery life out of any Linux version to make it competitive with Windows 7 for day to day unplugged usage. Anyway, this main PC is an aging Compaq SR 5510F (Athlon dual core 5000+ processor), with 4GB RAM, an Nvidia GT 240 video card added, and an extra hard drive or 8 attached via USB (actually one extra is internal). Also in the mix is a Brother laser printer. It’s a pretty vanilla setup, handled well by virtually any flavor of Linux. I can summarize the hardware handling in one word: flawless. The biggest challenge was finding the printer driver, which was easy, and every so often I manually upgrade the proprietary driver for the video card (I know - not free, but I’m not as big a stickler as some), but mainly it all just works, and has from day one. I use a pretty Linux friendly USB-connected wireless doohickey, an Atheros AR9170 thing made by TP-Link, which works out of the box with just about anything these days. Not as easy an install as, say, Mint or Ubuntu, but not hard.
It’s been so long since I did the install that I can’t really even recall if I had any issues at first. Probably not if I was so certain that this was what I wanted to stay with long term. My repository setup is pretty standard, the usual main, contrib and non-free stuff enabled, and the Mozilla repo being the only non-Debian part of the equation, so as to keep current with Iceweasel, which is of course the uber-free Debian version of Firefox. I do recall that at one time I had to sorta manually grab the Iceweasel updates rather than apt-get automatically doing it, but that’s not been an issue for a while now. I may have just been doing it wrong earlier. Anyway, now I can pretty much just fire up Synaptic, still the best graphical package manager around for my money (or lack thereof), and do the periodic update thing there. I even let it do the kernel and other innards updating, and it’s never once gone pear shaped on me. Just the occasional reinstall of the Nvidia driver if I notice that desktop effects aren’t working after a particularly aggressive kernel update. But even that hasn’t been a problem for a while. Honestly not sure why…
So in short, all the hardware and related software updating works insanely well, even better than at first, which wasn’t bad at all anyway with a minimal amount of research. Easier and far less time (and bandwidth) consuming than Windows with its constant reboot, check for more updates, reboot again, ad infinitum thing, not to mention having to update all the non-native software separately in a piecemeal manner. With Debian (or any Linux really) I can leave the machine running for months, and do, with no issues at all, updating all throughout that uptime. Maybe I’ll reboot for a kernel update just to see if the video driver thing’s been mildly futzed, but as I said, even that’s not been happening for months and months now. It’s rock solid stable and reliable.
In terms of what I need this PC to do, it’s extremely simple. Web browsing (which also takes in my simple email needs - I’m a Gmail guy) is the vast majority of it, with a fair amount of music listening, video viewing, (I use VLC for both, with occasional Clementine used for cataloging and searching within a huge music collection - over 100,000 files) and some light use of LibreOffice on occasion. Actually I find that KDE’s own Kwrite does most of what I need for word processing, which is not much. It has spell-check, so that’s really it unless I’m working on something complex, which is rare. I don’t do much that’s out of the ordinary with spreadsheets or the other parts of any office suite, but when I do have a need I’m able to get it done in LibreOffice without issue. I should mention here that Debian is not exactly current with this kind of thing. If you need some esoteric new feature of almost any software, you’re probably better off with another distribution. But for basic (my) needs, it all works and works well.
The printer works flawlessly when needed, I can connect and disconnect the various USB hard drives or flash drives without problems, I can use Unetbootin to make bootable flash drives or KDE’s K3B to make bootable CD’s or DVD’s for use in the field, I can backup one drive to another easily, I can rip or burn DVD’s or CD’s, use the GIMP or KDE’s very nice Gwenview for image manipulation needs, etc… In short I can do every single thing I need to do, and really comfortably now. I’ve got all my tool bars in Dolphin (KDE’s fabulous multi-tabbed file manager on steroids) and other programs set to my liking, I have VLC’s equalizer massaged to my preferences, shortcuts to commonly used locations scattered everywhere, Iceweasel tabs set to the 18 I like, etc… It’s like a comfy chair, always there and contoured to my liking. I’m lost for a moment when I have to use other machines that I haven’t used before! Getting home to my own settings and preferences is a welcoming thing.
This piece is probably useless for most folks. My normal readers (both of you!) will find the topic completely uninteresting, even more so than usual, and hard core Linux people will find it lacking in hard data or specifics. Well, too bad. I just sorta wanted to write something about how much I’ve enjoyed using Debian for so long. Again, I was an inveterate distro-hopper until settling on Debian, and at first it really did feel like I was settling. Gone were the days of GB’s of updates to the latest and greatest versions of everything, like on Arch. Gone was the geeky joy of compiling KDE every few weeks anew on Gentoo. Gone was the rapt bliss of staring at a marginally new version of Ubuntu or Mint or Fedora or openSUSE every 6-8 months, with virtually no noticeable changes and yet another round of taming it into everyday usability. But as I got over the addiction to distro-hopping and got down to simply doing things besides configuring an OS to my liking, I found myself thoroughly smitten by the insane stability and robustness of the Debian experience. It just freakin’ works, once you get it installed. It stays out of your way and it won’t eat up your bandwidth cap in a week with updates. There’s a truly staggering amount of software, albeit often in not the latest versions, at one’s disposal. For my needs, it’s perfect.
I’ll just take a final few moments to mention how much I love KDE. Many Linux people find it too heavy and/or similar to Windows, which is a valid criticism. My experience however is that KDE can be pared down to using minimal system resources and RAM if you care to do so. I remember getting it down to well under 200MB of memory used at idle under Gentoo. The thing is, you probably won’t notice much of a difference unless you’re using a truly ancient and/or slow PC. I mean, mine was bought in 2008 and is no speed demon, and I have no problems at all with using KDE with almost all desktop effects enabled and a pretty heavy collection of stuff installed. I did disable all the semantic desktop and akonadi server crap, but even that doesn’t really add much overhead all things considered. I’ve run KDE on old netbooks with 1GB of memory without problems. It’s not that big a thing! I’ll always wonder at some hard core Linux users’ insistence on using bare bones Desktop Environments or Window Managers, if they deign to use even that much. Do you really save all that much time? Isn’t it just as hard/time consuming to learn all those keyboard shortcuts and stuff? Personally, I LIKE the convenience of a well-muscled DE that can be configured to within an inch of its life. KDE is that in spades.
Plus, KDE comes with (or at least can, if you get the whole shebang) an insanely large amount of its own software, everything from a large and really pretty great set of games to esoteric things like Japanese language tutors and periodic table learning aids. No other DE on earth comes with a Mr. Potato Head clone if you want it! I personally love Kbreakout, one of those paddle and ball games where you break the blocks and get stuff that falls down. My record is 109,083. There’s a nice bunch of card games, and several others that even I haven’t had a chance to explore yet. Basically, if it doesn’t come with KDE (in its full form) you may not need it at all. I like VLC and LibreOffice, but yes, there are KDE equivalents that are not that much worse (well, maybe they are - haven’t really used ‘em much).
This got much longer than I anticipated, with lots of repetition, so I’ll cut it short by concluding that I’ve found Debian, the now stable version known as Wheezy, to be a joy to use. Solid as a rock, reliable and unchanging, able to do everything I need. What more could anyone want, aside from better battery life on laptops? And it’s Linux, so it’s inherently more secure, less prone to a myriad of issues, and less irksome in general principle than Windows or the Mac. Just one idiot’s experience, your mileage may vary.