Review of Debian GNU/Linux

Abstract

This article reviews Debian GNU/Linux from the perspective of its adoption by the author. It compares Debian GNU/Linux with Microsoft Windows and with other Linux distributions. The article ends with a forecast on the adoption of GNU/Linux by the general public.

Introduction

Debian GNU/Linux is a Linux distribution. However, it is not possible to review any Linux distribution thoroughly. And I can only report about my experience and judgements, where the latter is based on limited knowledge.

My experience

My experience with Linux began when I started reading a few books about Unix in a university bookshop, back in 1983. After reading for more than half an hour in those books, I looked up and started gazing at nothing in particular. I concluded that Unix realizes three ingenious ideas that together seem supernatural. The first ingenious idea is that everything is regarded as a file. Files, but also directories, hard disks, keyboards, monitors, everything. Everything is required to communicate as a file. The second ingenious idea is that every file (and everything that is regarded as a file) has three permissions set for three identities. The permissions are read, write and execute permission, and the three identities are the owner of the file, the group the owner belongs to, and other people. The third ingenious idea is that the command interpreter executes most commands as child processes and even starts another copy of itself as a child process to interpret any group of commands. I also noted that the hierarchical structure of the file system, the scheme of file permissions, and the facilities to communicate with other users that are logged in on the system – one to one and broadcast – all resemble the way in which real-world societies are organized, are secured and function. My conclusion that remained since was that Unix is a superb operating system and not likely to be surpassed in its basic design within 100 years by mankind.

When I leafed through a book about Linux commands in 2000 or so, it was immediately clear that Linux is effectively Unix. In 2010 I decided to build a desktop computer by myself and to install only Linux on it. I installed openSuse 11.2 from a DVD. I had much difficulty in getting it installed because of instability. I chose to use the K desktop environment (KDE) first, but I did not like it because it was difficult to find the most simple things. Then I chose the GNOME desktop environment, which was a relief from KDE. Because I continued to suffer from instability, I soon started looking for a Linux distribution that has stability as priority. After thorough research I chose the Stable branch of Debian GNU/Linux. I have used Debian GNU/Linux Stable ever since. This did not solve the instability of my computer however. It took me two years of misery, a futile replacement of my motherboard, a lot of reading, stress-testing and experimenting to find out that my AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition processor was not stable at its default settings. Only after increasing the voltage on its cores, the processor remained stable under heavy load. Shortly after finding this out, I found out that the processor could be easily overclocked and that even a third core could be unlocked and used.

This is a very large picture of the GNOME 3 desktop environment, running on Debian Jessie. The picture shows a black panel of little height across the top, a small black panel on the left and a medium sized black panel on the right. The centre and bottom of the picture shows a large panel that is black with blue-green bursting and fading from the centre. The top panel has the word 'Activities' on the left, the day and time at the centre, the language setting, desktop clearing, volume control and power control on the right. The left panel has a column with the icons of some applications. The centre panel shows, next to each other, the window of a file manager, the window of LibreOffice Writer and the window of the browser Iceweasel. The centre panel also has a search field at the top. The right panel has a column with two virtual desktops, but there is room for at least four more. It is apparent that the top virtual desktop has the same content as the large centre panel has, and the bottom one is empty.
Picture 1. Debian Jessie with the GNOME 3 desktop environment, which is Debian’s default.

The first Debian GNU/Linux distribution that I used was Squeeze. I used the GNOME 2 desktop environment. Later on, I upgraded to Wheezy, which had the GNOME 3 desktop environment. However, I experienced the shouting and rocking design of GNOME 3 as an insult. Fortunately, GNOME 3 could be set to classic mode, which resembles GNOME 2. Last year Jessie was released as the new Stable distribution, but I still use Wheezy on my desktop computer. This year I replaced Windows 7 Starter with Jessie on my small laptop computer. I use the MATE desktop environment on that computer, which aims to further develop GNOME 2.

This is a very large picture of the MATE desktop environment, as it is supported by Debian Jessie. The picture shows a light grey panel across the top and a light grey panel across the bottom. The centre of the picture shows a large panel that has a colour continuum from blue at the top to green at the bottom. The top panel has the words 'Applications', 'Locations' and 'System' on the left and a signal strength indicator, a battery charge indicator and the date on the right. The centre panel has four icons on the left: one for the computer, one for the home folder, one for a hard disk and one for the garbage folder. It also has three windows: one for a file manager, one for information about MATE and one for a terminal. The bottom panel has a tab for each of the windows on the left and a desktop switcher on the right.
Picture 2. The MATE desktop environment, as it is supported by Debian Jessie. The window that is on top is a terminal window.

Today, I consider myself as an advanced user of Linux. In the past six years I have gained a lot of experience in using Linux and solved many problems too. I do not consider myself as an expert though. There are many people who know much more about Linux.

Since I built a desktop computer in 2010, I also follow many computer magazines that are on sale in The Netherlands, including C’t Magazine, Computer Totaal, PCM, and Linux Magazine. I have good knowledge of what these magazines have written about Linux over the years. Furthermore, I have used the Internet as a source of detailed information countless times.

My judgements

Microsoft Windows is the operating system that is running on more than 80% of all desktop computers in the world [1]. It is the operating system most people are familiar with. The familiarity of most people with Windows is an important cause of the continuing high use of the operating system, but in my opinion it is not the most important cause. This is illustrated by the fact that shops immediately offer computers with the new version of Windows after Microsoft has released a new version, regardless of how different the new version is. The most important cause of the high use of Windows is that it is always pre-installed.

Why is Windows always pre-installed? It is not because the computer manufacturers want this, it is because the retailers want this. And why do the retailers want this? It is because Microsoft Windows is the most layman-friendly operating system. In particular, it is a system that excels in helping users to solve problems on their own. Therefore, Windows excels in preventing users to contact the retailers to solve problems. And that is exactly what retailers want. They only want to make a profit on sales. They do not want customers to come to them with their problems. For that costs retailers time and in the worst case customers want their money back.

I think that the layman-friendliness of Windows is not a coincidence but is part of the strategy of Microsoft. Every other aspect of the operating system is subordinate to layman-friendliness – including safety, speed and random access memory use. Because Windows is always pre-installed, people always start using Windows. When people start using Windows, they learn the most important aspect of the system first: it works. When people start using an operating system that works, people keep using it. Furthermore, operating systems are so complicated that getting to know them well takes much time. When people have become familiar with an operating system, they are attached to it. Therefore, it is difficult to value criticism about Microsoft Windows if you successfully use it, and it is even more difficult to replace it.

That changes when one has made the transition to Linux and one looks back on the past:

Some five years ago I read in a mainstream computer magazine that Linux is suitable for computer hobbyists, Mac OS X is suitable for people who are artistically inclined and Microsoft Windows is suitable for anyone else. However, from then on, Linux was mentioned more and more often in Dutch computer magazines. Time after time Ubuntu Linux was presented as an alternative to Windows for those who dared to try it. In those years Linux was synonymous to Ubuntu. This changed after Ubuntu got criticized for leaking user’s search terms to Canonical. Most magazines then changed their preference to Linux Mint. In the meantime the frequency of articles about Linux kept rising. After Microsoft had announced that security updates for Windows XP were to end, the articles in which Linux was mentioned as an alternative became even more frequent. Eventually, there was an article about Linux in one or the other mainstream magazine each month. Lately, a landmark comment on Linux was made. It was stated that Linux is suitable for anyone. The author meant Linux Mint.

In my opinion, the opinion of those who professionally write for mainstream computer magazines should be respected well. They advise Linux Mint or Ubuntu to beginners. I suspect that Debian GNU/Linux is more difficult for beginners. There are probably more choices to be made during the installation. There is also the larger probability that not everything works immediately.

Someone has said on YouTube that Debian GNU/Linux is not suitable for anyone, but that you could choose it as a beginner nevertheless. I agree with that. In relation to Debian GNU/Linux, I agree with an opinion that I came across many years ago. That opinion is that when you decide to install Linux, you should be mentally prepared for problems ahead, and when you are faced with a problem, you need to know for certain, because you have been told in advance by someone with experience, that you need perseverance.

Articles in magazines that discuss Linux distributions often report extensively about superficialities. They often report whether a standard installation went smooth and how new the versions of the included software are. They also often explain to Windows users what equivalent application software is available on a Linux system.

As mentioned above, my choice of Debian GNU/Linux Stable was primarily based on its stability. Today, there are several more reasons why I continue to use Debian and not another Linux distribution:

Currently, there are more than 250 Linux distributions that are maintained. That is not a problem of Linux in my opinion. There are more than 250 types of cars and that does not hamper the popularity of cars.

The future

Someone has ever written that Linux will eventually beat Windows as an avalanche [2]. I think that this is possible, but I also think that this is not likely. I have noticed that Linux is adopted slowly but steadily in the most information intensive organisations and in the biggest organisations: Google, the French automotive industry, the French police, the city administration of Munich and the London Stock Exchange. It is likely that this will go on and that smaller organisations will then follow. Therefore, I think that Linux will beat Windows, but gradually.

Linux is used on 100% of the 500 most powerful supercomputers already. It is also used on 96.5% of the top one million of webservers and on 70% of the top ten million of webservers, when webservers are ranked for traffic [3]. The workstations of large companies, institutions and administrations are next in the row.

External links

References

  1. http://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/desktop/worldwide/#monthly-201805-201805-bar
  2. Someone wrote on 17 July 2008: ‘I am an IT professional who designs computing environments for large and small businesses. I have always felt that Linux will one day rip the rug from under Windows like a 10.0 earthquake, no warning and devastating. [...]’. It was a posted comment on the article ‘Overview of the ten major Linux distributions’ by Clement Lefebvre, posted at Linux Forums on 1 April 2006. The article was retrieved on 24 August 2010.
  3. https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/linux-market-share/

Date

12 May 2016

On 14 and 18 May 2016 linguistic improvements were made.

On 7 January 2017 small improvements were made.

On 23 August 2017 two pictures with captions were added.

On 15 and 16 February 2018 the two pictures with their captions were moved.

On 19 June 2018 corrections and additions were made.

On 15 July 2018 alternative descriptions were added to the pictures and the link to the list of Linux adopters was added.

On 23 and 24 July 2018 small improvements were made.

On 9, 10 and 25 November 2018 small improvements were made.

On 16 December 2018 the pictures were resized.

On 15 and 17 November 2019 the presentation was strongly improved: automatic text centreing, colouring of background and headers, and caption restyling.

Attributions

Picture 1 was downloaded from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADebian_8.2_GNOME_desktop.png. The picture was made by Rprpr. Because the picture contains artwork of different origins, several licences are involved. These are GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html), MPL 2 (https://www.mozilla.org/MPL/) and CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0).

Picture 2 was downloaded from https://mate-desktop.org/gallery/1.8/mate-terminal.png. The copyright owner is The MATE Team. The copyright owner made the picture available under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/).

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