Practical Technology

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The new Debian Linux: Irrelevant?

Once upon a time, a new Debian Linux release was a big deal in Linux circles. It still is, but its child, Ubuntu Linux, is the Linux distribution that gets all the headlines. There’s a reason for that. Over the years, Debian has become more and more a Linux just for Linux fanatics while the rest of the Linux family has become more end-user friendly.

As I look over the features in the latest Debian, I can see why Debian, while still popular as a building block for other Linux distributions, is no longer as important as it once was. For example, the default Debian distributions won’t include any proprietary firmware binary files. While that will be popular with die-hard free software fans, users who just want to use their Wi-Fi hardware and to get the most from their graphics cards won’t be happy.

If, as is likely if you’re using a laptop or a PC with high-end graphics and you find you’re running into hardware problems, the Debian installation program should alert you the problem. That’s fine as far as it goes, but the installation routine won’t automatically download the missing firmware from the Web. Instead, you’ll need to pause the installation while you fetch the missing in action firmware from either the Debian non-free firmware ftp site or the vendor’s site.

OK, that’s doable if you’re a power user. If you’re not, it’s a confusing pain-in-the-rump.

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