I have used Debian for years on and off… probably more off than on… but when I had some odd hardware to install Linux, Debian is always the go to distribution. In my mind, Debian is known for old packages and a crusty installer. For many applications, old packages are fine and a crusty installer is not a big deal, after all, my early Linux experience did include installing Debian Linux on HP PA RISC systems. It wasn’t a cake walk but it wasn’t exactly difficult. The Debian installer works well if you are willing to read what is on the screen.
This is my biased review of Debian 10 from an extremely entrenched openSUSE user. I am perfectly happy where I am and have no intention on switching to any other distribution. I will be looking at the KDE Plasma Desktop on Debian and comparing it to my regular home of the KDE Plasma Desktop on openSUSE Tumbleweed.
The bottom line, up front, Debian is great. It is a pure and sterile experience, not much emphasis is put onto the look and feel but it is very apparent that they put their effort into the technical underpinnings. If I had to choose between an artistic piece or a technically sound technology, I will go for the technical merits and do the last mile of polish to satisfy my needs. I can highly recommend Debian to any intermediate user.
Installation was pretty straight forward. I went with the graphical installation tool and being familiar with the text installer, this was much the same but with more “modern” graphics.
The installer will start off by asking you to select a language and your country.
Next you need to select the keyboard map. The installer will then load components. This takes just a bit.
Next you will set the host name and the domain name. These are each on different screens. I think they could have consolidated this to one screen but that is just my opinion.
Your first “account stop” is setting up the root password with a well written instruction and precautions about setting up the root user. You are also notified that if you leave the password empty, the root account will be disabled and the initial user will be given the power to become root using the sudo command.
You will then be prompted for a Full Name followed by the Username. This too could have probably been put on a single screen but stepping through one at a time has its merits.
After you enter your password for your user account, you’ll be prompted to set the timezone of the system clock.
The partition setup of the system will be next, for the purposes of this installation, I chose the guided – use entire disk and the virtual disk presented itself on the next screen.
For the Partition disks setting, I chose the option recommended for new users and that is all files in one partition. This is seemingly more and more common now. Next you are given a breakdown of the automatic partition screen and a final sanity check before committing the changes to disk.
Base system will install. When complete, you will then be asked if there is any other CD or DVD media you want the system to scan for additional media. In this case, I do not have such a thing and I find it interesting that this is even an option. I am struggling a bit to find the use case for it but I am sure there is one.
The package manager will need to be configured. In order to pull the packages from a mirror closer to you, you are asked to choose a country. Then you are given an option of mirrors. I chose the default highlighted deb.debian.org. I didn’t have to configure an http proxy so I left that blank.
After the package manager configures apt, you will be asked if you want to supply the developers with statistics about your system. This will run once a week and send the packages to the distribution developers. If you are okay with that, select yes.
The options you are given for desktop environment is pretty fantastic. You can even choose no desktop environment! Right out of the gate you can choose between GNOME, Xfce, KDE Plasma, MATE, LXDE and LXQt. Interestingly, they are not presented in alphabetical order. It actually baffles me a bit why GNOME would be at the top when clearly, the best desktop is KDE Plasma.
The next step is to install the GRUB bootloader on the drive. Should you select, Yes you will be given a list of drives or to enter a device manually.
GRUB is the last step, you will be notified that the installation is complete and you can boot into your freshly installed system, which, undoubtedly will have the new car smell.
First Run and Impressions
The GRUB bootloader looked pretty typical an I saw my “GNU/Linux” option sitting right there so a quick tap of the Enter key began the loading of the operating system. I was unpleasantly surprised by the login / greeter… blah, not sure what display manager that is but, blah. It certainly does not go well with a Plasma Desktop.
I shouldn’t complain, it does the job, it just looks… Xfce…
The splash screen was the default Plasma splash and you are presented with a vanilla KDE Plasma 5 Desktop with the not-so-fantastic Application Launcher. That is easily enough fixed.
The default theme is the Breeze So-bright-it-burns-your-retina but that is also easily fixed with the more comfortable Breeze Dark theme. I also played around with some other settings, the region settings is all wrong for my preference and I wanted to see how the Info Center presented the operating system. It didn’t pull a Debian Logo, not a big deal. I also went there to check the Plasma version 5.14.5. Just a bit older but not a big deal. Still better than not having Plasma.
I was interested in checking out the default applications in Debian. It was pretty sparse, but had the basics. I would call it a pretty lean installation. Thankfully, by default this Plasma installation does have the GTK widget style module installed. Not sure if it is even an option to not install but I do remember, once upon a time, that this was not an automatic thing.
Firefox, after tweaking the GTK theme, looked great, and looked great going into the Big Daddy Linux discourse page. No complaints there.
Here is a little bonus with the Debian KDE Plasma, Discover works and works very well. I do believe it is the best Discover experience I have ever had. I was not able to find Discord but Telegram was there.
I wanted to check to see if I could install Kdenlive and indeed it was available. It was version 18.12.3, so a bit behind but seemingly worked well enough. I was just surprised it was even available. Should I be surprised?
I truly enjoyed using Plasma on Debian. It far exceeded my expectations and although I don’t intend on moving from my happy place called openSUSE, this was a great place to visit.
What I Like
Pure experience, no distribution specific influence almost in a kind of sterile hospital feel. That might sound like a negative but having no “cruft” as it were does have its merits.
Discover works great in Debian 10. Not that this should be on my top “what I like” list but it is great to see Discover working and working well.
The package selection in Debian is pretty robust. If it is not in the repository, getting the package elsewhere is almost a trivial process. Everyone builds a deb package.
What I Don’t Like
System configuration tools are a bit light. Being used to having a tool like YaST, navigating Debian can be a bit daunting. If you have experience with Linux and you know what tools you need this is not a problem
The Default Display Manager was almost jarring as I was expecting the wonderfully polished, silky smooth SDDM as my greeter. I know that I can change this but at this stage, I am just a bit too lazy to do so.
What I’m Not Sure About
There is this option to send the developers statistics from your system. This Debian popularity contest package statistics is run on a weekly basis and sent up, I don’t know how I feel about it running weekly. I like giving developers information but I am just unsure about the frequency.
Some distributions focus on technical merit, others on creating a visual experience. Debian is very much a technical merits distribution. You can polish it up to your own personal tastes, and frankly, this is what I am used to. The other reality is, Plasma doesn’t need much work to make look good, Breeze Dark and it looks great.
Debian popularity contest package statistics is a bit dubious to me but I am glad it is there… I think… The jury is still out on that one.
Overall, Debian is a fantastically stable, but sterile experience. I see this is a great place to go to support multiple hardware platforms and something you can count on. I highly recommend dipping your toes in Debian.