Shell Person Help me keep the shell people alive.


Moving from Ubuntu to Debian


I get the impression that most people are migrating the other direction, from Debian to Ubuntu.  Or actually, from lots of other Linux distributions to Ubuntu (but Debian is significant because it's Ubuntu's parent distribution).

I have only good things to say about Ubuntu -- it's the distribution that allowed me to switch to Linux.  It's the first distribution to correctly configure my wireless card during installation (a task that both Windows XP and Vista fail at), which allowed me to get my questions answered online.  I started using Ubuntu Dapper Drake, and have since installed each new release.  I even convinced my Mom to switch to Ubuntu from Windows.  However, since installing Debian Unstable (Sid) a few months ago, I've come to prefer Debian.

Ubuntu is still a relatively young distribution, which, combined with the aggressive new release schedule (every six months), means that it's changing very quickly.  In general, I think this is a good thing.  Each release becomes increasingly user friendly.  But, it turns out that I don't really need a distribution that is that user friendly.  I'm a pretty quick learner, and I've gotten used to editing configuration text files instead of clicking buttons in an Options menu.  I think I became acclimated to how a Linux system works, and Ubuntu in particular, around the Fiesty Fawn release (maybe it was Gutsy Gibbon).  Ubuntu does a fair amount of hand-holding for inexperienced Linux users, but once I got enough experience, I found that I could work more quickly and more precisely without many of the GUI tools.  As I installed newer releases, I found myself disabling many of the new features.  As I was setting up and customizing the new Hardy Heron release, I noticed that the xorg.conf configuration file was no longer in use, and I no longer knew how to set things up the way I liked them.  (The xorg.conf file may be an odd thing to miss, as it is often the first truly confusing thing a new user comes across).  So, hoping to find something more like I was used to (Fiesty Fawn), I tried Debian.

Debian was exactly what I was looking for.  It had the same underlying system I learned on (specifically the APT system, which is awesome), but in less-shiny packaging.  I would describe it as a more transparent distribution than Ubuntu.  Debian doesn't hide as many of the available options (which is often the root of complexity) as Ubuntu, and consequently it's probably not as user-friendly.  While maybe daunting to a new user, it was refreshing for me.

I first installed Debian Stable (Etch) (stable sounds good, right? at least it sounds better than unstable).  Debian Stable is just that.  The trade-off, though, is that the software is not very cutting-edge.  Since I was already spoiled by always having new releases of Ubuntu, I knew I would have to upgrade to Unstable or go back to Ubuntu.  During the upgrade process, I discovered that Ubuntu's popularity is very nice when it comes to finding answers online.  It's not quite as easy to find the answer to a Debian question, but I survived.  Unstable seems to run software that's just as new as the new Ubuntu release, if not newer.  And, despite its name, I have had no problems at all with instability -- everything's worked great.  So now I have a system that works in similar ways as my old Ubuntu system, with newer or just-as-new software, but that preserves a bit more of the classic linux structure.  I'm pleased.

Another benefit of Debian is that it seems easier to have a minimalist installation.  I felt like Ubuntu was getting slower with each new release, perhaps because it increasingly attempted to be everything to everyone.  That definitely has its place, and I can see how it's helpful for Windows converts, but it's not for me.  Also, although I'll miss the excitement of a new Ubuntu release every six months, I might actually get a bit more done if I'm not installing a new release twice a year.

Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. This is an older post but I just came across it. It is still very true today. I don’t hate Ubuntu. It is good for what it is and what it’s goals are. Anyone that wants to use Linux without having to think too much about it could be well served by Ubuntu.

    However, anyone that takes an interest in the OS that they are running will probably start to be annoyed with Ubuntu. Ubuntu continues on it’s coarse to keep the user and the inner works of the system separate. They also like to change things a lot and I am not just talking about the features they are always adding.

    I started using Ubuntu in version 6.06. I still have the CD floating around somewhere. I liked it more back in those days when it was ‘Debian made easy’. These days Debian is actually very easy to install and run. The only extra effort can come into play if you need non-free drivers, but this is still easy if you can follow directions.

    I also run Debian Sid as my main OS. This is what Ubuntu is based on, yet I find Sid to be more stable and less buggy than Ubuntu. I still keep Ubuntu around, usually the most recent LTS, but Debian Sid is my preferred OS.

  2. I have been using Ubuntu LTS for about 4 years now. I recently had a motherboard failure on my primary computer and while waiting to get it back in working order I resurrected an older computer with a cannibalized power supply and decided to try out some leaner Linux distros. I tried Puppy Linux which is lean and fast but missed the great software resources of Ubuntu. I kicked it up a notch to Debian because using Ubuntu I knew I’d be familiar with the system. Also I have a rotund ZERO USE for that bloated UNITY interface Ubuntu continues to foist on it’s users since version 11 or thereabout. Anyway, after some time with Debian I will be switching to it permanently once I get my main system cooking again. I like the default interface of Debian and by most accounts it is more conservative with it’s updates. The bottom line for me is that Ubuntu is getting like Windows in that it tries to force the user into it’s way of doing things which I find unsatisfactory. Particularly when with each iteration of the system it is more bloated and slower also not unlike MS.

  3. Just found this post after searching the string ‘switch from ubuntu to debian’.

    I’ve been leaning on Ubuntu’s LTS since 8.04. It’s been a great ride and I’m even comfortable with Unity at this point.

    But… but… recent decisions by Canonical (Unity Dash search, Mir, etc) and their response to criticisms remind me that Ubuntu’s not the only game in town. Thanks to FOSS.

    Anyway, informative blog post, thanks. You’ve reminded me of a few other reasons to look forward to moving back to Debian.

  4. I may move from Ubuntu to Debian. I am being held back by the relative complexity of a Debian install, especially on my Thinkpad X1 Carbon, which I suspect will have need for a lot of non-free drivers. I am concerned that the dynamic function/shortcut keys may/will not work.

    Otherwise I prefer to live as far upstream as possible, and moving to Debian does feel like the right choice.

  5. I know that this is a (very) old post. But the issue seems to be still “an issue” – it seems to draw a stream of comments since the beginning.

    I’ve also switched from Debian to Ubuntu and back in the past. I happen to have 4 computers, one for myself and three for my kids. Two have currently Kubuntu installed, one is Debian and my computer is Linux Mint. So you see that we’re all “debian based” folks.

    To all people that want to move away from Ubuntu to Debian: I understand your issues as I was thinking exactly the same way.

    Let me first address your high hopes in Debian.

    To say that Debian-stable is not cutting edge is a major understatement. Expect the stable packages to be one year or older. Also the name “stable” is an understatement. Even with stable, it happened more often than not that I had an unbootable system after a dist-upgrade. Well, you think that there are sid, testing or even unstable… I have tried them all. With unstable you have to expect an unbootable system every other month. Testing is significantly more stable and seems to be a better compromise here, but the packages are again far away from cutting-edge. You will *not* have latest wine or mesa.
    Even if you try to install cutting-edge software on debian you can’t! Well, there *is* actually one way: install from source. But why are you using debian in that case?

    Ubuntu on the other hand…

    I’m also quite p…d by the way Canonical behaves. Unity, Mir, Upstart and the other slacks are such a drag. Fortunately, you do not have to follow them all. If you do not like Unity, switch to Gnome or use one of the ubuntu derivates like Kubuntu (which is based on KDE) or Lubuntu (which is based on LXDE). With Kubuntu there is also no danger of being “infected with Mir”.
    The best feature of the “ubuntu universe” are the ppa’s. There is no match for this on the debian side. Although technically you can do the same tricks, but you will inevitably end up with a broken system if you try to do this with debian.
    With ubuntu you have your stable base system and you can add your own selection of bleeding-edge ppa’s! So you actually get both: A stable base system *and* bleeding/cutting-edge software.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.