Debian Sid

Story: Designing The Ultimate Grandmother-Ready ComputerTotal Replies: 16
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Dec 31, 2010
4:56 PM EDT
My mother, who happens to be Great Grandmother to some dozen kids by now, uses Debian Sid.

But with one very important difference from any of my other installations: I don't mess with it.

I got her laptop working, with Java for, with flash for YouTube, Firefox for browsing, enough graphics viewing software and the like for her to show off photos of her kids and watch rented DVDs, and then I left it entirely alone.

It works. Don't mess with it.

Which really is the secret of setting up a machine for Grandma (like this one, who bought me my TRS-80 Mod 1 for Christmas 1978): Leave it alone.

It pains me that it's running KDE4, which was what I put on it at the time to see if it was going to work. It did, and she said in no uncertain terms, "Leave it alone!"

Dec 31, 2010
5:37 PM EDT
Maybe Grandma has time on her hands. In that case, Gentoo or Crux are probably better choices.

Dec 31, 2010
5:41 PM EDT
@Bob_Robertson, I very strongly agree with "Leave it alone !" My wife isn't exactly computer literate, but she knows which options or icons to select in order to operate a dual boot system of WinXP and openSUSE 10.3 running KDE3.5 and I know she is very happy with what she has. Her software is "antique", but it works, and to quote the motto of Lord Vetinari in Terry Pratchett's diskworld: "Si non confectus, non reficiat." - If it ain't broke, don't repair it............Apart from minor time corrections, I leave it strictly alone because her computer is not attached to the internet.

When my wife decides she wants to use the internet is when I shall do a major upgrade for her which will be to move the computer to openSUSE 11.3 and KDE4..4........because I know exactly what to do to give her the facilities she has now and keep it as simple as possible.'ve got me really, really curious......Why does KDE4 pain you that much ? My recent work on KDE4 suggests you definitely can get it to run quite well and right now, with my present settings to give a KDE3.5 situation, KDE4.4.4 is one of the most stable and generally simple desktops I have used. This isn't a fan-wave for KDE4 by the way, just that I'd really like to get your reasons so I can check them out for myself.

Dec 31, 2010
6:07 PM EDT
>'ve got me really, really curious......Why does KDE4 pain you that much ?

The real point is that it pains _me_, not her.

She adapts to it, while I would try to adapt KDE4 to me and it cannot be made to do so. The endless KDE4 arguments should be sufficient grist for why I don't like 4.

Dec 31, 2010
6:12 PM EDT
@Bob_Robertson........Okay, I had hoped for specifics, but fair enough.

Dec 31, 2010
6:35 PM EDT
> I had hoped for specifics

Seriously, haven't there been enough discussions on this already?

Dec 31, 2010
7:38 PM EDT
@Bob_Robertson.......Indeed there have been more than enough discussions and that's not what I was asking for. Another discussion would, in my opinion, produce nothing more than another set of general gripes and I personally don't want to see your thread develop that way because it would get nowhere.

Because I have written two articles on getting KDE4 to behave in a manner to which I would like to become accustomed, and that I think that I pretty well succeeded, and additionally that I am currently looking at other aspects of the KDE4 software in order to "tame" the stuff, I am always very keen to know of specific problems when someone says it "pains them". Not the general stuff, but rather what makes YOU in particular turn off.....Even if it is only one or two specific problems. But specific, not general disaster area type descriptions. It might be possible to solve them.

For instance, it would help if I knew if you used and were happy with KDE3.5. In any event, I have no idea on whether or not I could give you a solution, and I am most definitely not a KDE4 guru or fanatic, it was sheer interest. I really, really, really, really, don't want to get into another huge wrangle over KDE4 and quite honestly, I'll back out of this thread right now rather than see it erupt again.

Dec 31, 2010
8:01 PM EDT
> I am always very keen to know of specific problems when someone says it "pains them". Not the general stuff, but rather what makes YOU in particular turn off.

We must not be reading the same "KDE4 sucks" threads. I saw lots of specifics.

> For instance, it would help if I knew if you used and were happy with KDE3.5.

We really have not been reading the same threads.

Dec 31, 2010
8:25 PM EDT
@Bob_Roberston........Okay Bob, you win......My request for one or two specifics from *you personally* has not been answered. I have no idea what threads we have both read or been in and that really doesn't matter - call it my need for an update if you like. However, this is me logging out of this thread. In any event, Happy New Year :-)

Dec 31, 2010
8:47 PM EDT
> My request for one or two specifics from *you personally* has not been answered.

Funny, I've seen him post in those same threads he says he hasn't seen....

Jan 01, 2011
8:43 PM EDT
Just noted our forum doesn't have 'search' capability.

Could it be some people adapt software to fit their behaviour while others adapt their behaviour to fit the software?

Anyway, back on the Debian-topic, here's a question:

I've read some things about Debian and its versions, and my shared server (VPS) runs Lenny, which is known as 'stable'. I heard "Sid" is some weird messed-up character from Toy Story, so therefore the "unstable" version of Debian was named after it.

Then, I'm pretty surprised you'd let somebody run Sid; is "unstable" really useful / bugfree enough for everyday use? If so, then why is it called "unstable"? I'm sorry I still don't understand even if people explained it before, but to me the naming of the versions doesn't make much sense. I think it boils down to a difference in understanding of the word 'unstable'.

In my opinion / experience, "unstable" is something that segfaults often, gives circular dependency problems and compile/configuration errors once in a while, some programs don't start because of missing libraries / wrong version, sometimes a program (like Firefox) or even whole Xorg crashes for no apparent reason, some programs give configuration errors all the time (like Akonadi in KDE4), some modules may not work for no apparent reason (like some new versions of nvidia-drivers once in a while), sometimes parts / modules of programs are missing; i.e. no help available or not working is a problem I experience quite often.

I think, if "Debian unstable" was like the above, you'd probably not install such a system for your mother, unless she can take care of maintenance herself. So I think "unstable" in the Debian-dictionary means something else, but I'm not sure what.

And I thought Gnome is Debian's default desktop, does that mean you installed 'bare' Debian and added KDE from there? And - probably a hard question - how does KDE on Debian compare to other distro's, like say OpenSuse or Mandriva? Does the Debian team put lots of efforts in making KDE work well? Does your mother run into problems, like the dreaded Akonadi/MySQL-errors? Or are those not happening in Sid?

The first time I had a Debian desktop-system (on KVM), I fooled up because I wanted to mix 'unstable' parts on my 'stable' system, so I had to do a dist-upgrade or something, and it went all wrong, apt-get presented me with solutions with a score below zero and then it didn't boot anymore and I didn't know how to revert. Most of it can be blamed on my lack of preparation, reading up on the topic and assuming Debian was just like Gentoo. Because on Gentoo it's quite common to put 'unstable/untested' software on a 'stable' system, but resolving issues is mostly done by the user and not by the package manager, but in Debian it was apt-get doing a long list of things without me understanding anything of what was going on, nor knowing where to read logs about what happened and maybe some warnings which were saved to a file. Guess I experienced the "don't mess with it" myself!

I have to say Lenny works like a charm though, I'm very pleased with it. Updating goes really fast (of course it does when you're used to compiling all stuff), because Debian has a team focused at security I think my system is pretty secure if I update often enough, and the most important thing in my opinion, is it's so easy to find HOWTO's / tutorials of how to do things on Debian; like on HowToForge for example.

Jan 02, 2011
11:36 AM EDT
Hk, indeed, "unstable" is not referring to the programs themselves.

I'm running "unstable" on all 5 systems now, since I gave up on clinging to KDE3. Before that I ran "unstable" from 2000 to when Lenny came out, when Debian dropped KDE3 from "unstable" due to the lack of upstream development.

What Debian calls "unstable" is very, very stable and workable and usable, there just isn't the expectation of unchanging predictability which most people find comforting in their computers. There's likely 50 to 100 MB in packages that change every week, for instance OpenOffice and VLC were updated today likely for changes so slight I will never know what they were. Most people just don't want to deal with that or waste the bandwidth when what they have works just fine.

First the name: Sid is the boy next door who "breaks all his toys". The continuously changing repository is named Sid for that reason, because there is no guarantee that anything that is in it today will be in it tomorrow.

However, that's because the selection of packages is what is unstable, not the packages themselves. Before any application gets into Sid, it's allready been checked for compatibility, for "playing nice with others", for library and other dependencies, reliability of build, etc, by the Debian developer(s) who maintain it and the package has some time spent in the "experimental" branch where mere humans fear to tread.

"Experimental" is actually where things break on a daily basis, it's the Debian category that most of the outside world never sees or even knows exists.

Like the Three Billy Goats Gruff, each looks big and tough only until you've seen the NEXT one. Then they seem tame in comparison.

So here it goes:

Debian Stable: The bunny slope. Groomed, gentle rise, maybe a well marked little jump or two. Rescue Hut clearly marked, coaching staff everywhere.

Debian Testing: The ungroomed slope, presently being worked on, might change but not much. No Rescue Hut in sight, but it's well patrolled anyway.

Debian Unstable: Marked "expert only" to keep the riffraff out, but the skiiers in the know know it's lots of fun and any accidents are likely their own fault anyway.

Debian Experimental: Black Diamond. Widowmaker. Not even marked on the map.


Jan 02, 2011
11:44 AM EDT
Oh, one more thing.

Upgrading in Sid is not guaranteed. Grub to Grub2, Xf86 to Xorg, 2.4 to 2.6, for examples, caused problems. The upgrade path is one of those things that are being thrashed out in Sid before being ready for the Real World.

Always, ALWAYS, examine what apt is going to change before saying "Yes" when you're running Sid. Subscribe to Debian-user and watch for "Something Is Broken In Sid" or "Why Isn't This Working Any More?" kinds of posts.

Still, except for those three particular instances, I used Sid for years between problems, far longer than people who think they have to reinstall Ubuntu because a new version is out. And any time I wanted stability, I just didn't upgrade for a while.

A bumpy ride, but bumps can be fun!

Jan 03, 2011
12:15 AM EDT
Quoting:the selection of packages is what is unstable, not the packages themselves.

Such a great comment, I wonder why I didn't find this info at the Debian website?

And I didn't find out about 'experimental' IIRC, it's not listed in their FAQ.

only 1 line in the "also" selection over here in the Wiki

the process of 'package propagation' is listed here.

and some info about experimental branch is here.

Sad there isn't just one page with all the info about releases and maybe some graphic or animation to explain, though I figured the Debian-people are not very fond of images on their website. Probably old skool Lynx users!

I think I got the hang of it now, "Experimental" is Alpha, "Testing" is some kind of release candidate, Unstable is the rolling release in between and a bit like beta and then there's stable, which is a snapshot which only receives security updates. The last is a great idea in my opinion! Not sure when this idea was invented, maybe decades ago in the pre-GNU-era, but still smart!

Of course, if you're used to a three-stage-only scheme and rolling release-only, the above might be (and to me is) confusing. I'm used to the "stable/testing/corrupt, unstable or worse" scheme. Though officially there's a fourth 'untested' level but it's about the same as the second and I don't encounter it too often.

I have to confess I never went down slopes, apart from Tuxracer, but I think I understand what you mean.

On my system, one could consider all those four Debian-branches being mixed up - until some apps disappeared from "experimental" (the -9999 SVN-version of Chromium ceased to be available) and I ditched KDE-SVN, so there's no experimental stuff via the package manager on this system anymore. Apart from the manually installed FF4.0b8.

Which reminds me, even if the distro for your mother is supposed to be "don't touch whilst it works", FF4b is still much faster and more stable than FF3 in my opinion! Definitely worth the upgrade, though there are some hassles as I didn't find out how to move my passwords from 3 to 4 and can't find it on the net. Since a few months only, I'm finally able to watch Youtube without Firefox 'hanging' after some minutes (though this also goes for FF3 now) and opening lots of tabs of sites full of JS is also less of a problem now.

Jan 03, 2011
1:19 AM EDT
> I didn't find out how to move my passwords from 3 to 4 and can't find it on the net.

Hans, a real password manager is worth it's weight in gold. Get one and use it, not the one in Firefox. There are a number to choose from, but two I've tried and seem to work OK are Password Gorilla and Secret Squirrel.

Jan 03, 2011
11:05 AM EDT
> Hans, a real password manager is worth it's weight in gold.

Do they import existing ones from what is inside FF/IceWeasel?

Jan 03, 2011
2:17 PM EDT
> Do they import existing ones from what is inside FF/IceWeasel?

Not that I'm aware of. But this article:

indicates that it's possible to import them into at least such program. So perhaps that should be one of the criteria used in evaluating them.

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