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Debian 6: Have your Debian and eat your Ubuntu too

GNOME, KDE, and beyond

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Review A new version of Debian was once cause for celebration in Linux circles - no doubt it still is in some quarters. Debian's offspring Ubuntu, though, has managed to steal much of the thunder lately.

Of course without Debian, Ubuntu would cease to exist. Part of the reason Ubuntu has been able to focus on polishing the Linux desktop is that Debian provides the core packages Ubuntu relies on. No Debian, no Ubuntu.

Ubuntu's polish of the Debian core used to mean it was a much easier distro for Linux newcomers to install and use. But with Debian 6, two-years in development and available here, that's really not true anymore.

Debian 6 - and arguably its predecessor as well - is no more difficult to install than Ubuntu and it "just works" right out of the box on every piece of hardware I've tested it on. Given the wide range of hardware support Debian boasts - ARM, PowerPC, Itanium, IBM S/390, along with the usual x86 chips - you'd be hard pressed to find somewhere Debian doesn't work.

Part of the reason for Debian's wide variety of support hardware is the distro has become a mainstay of servers and embedded devices, but the venerable distro makes a fine option for a no-nonsense desktop as well.

With Ubuntu making some questionable decisions regarding its future - like abandoning GNOME 3 in favor of the Unity Desktop - some Ubuntu fans might want to take another look at Ubuntu's parent.

In some cases you can even have your Debian and eat Ubuntu too. For example, Debian now includes Ubuntu's Software Center app, which means you can enjoy the same polished graphical interface for installing software as you would in Ubuntu.

The default GNOME desktop - what you get if you opt for the simplest installation options - has a new theme that adds a bit more splash to the interface. It's not as slick as Ubuntu, but it can hold its own with Fedora.

Where downstream distros based on Debian have been obsessing over the details of the user experience, Debian has been focusing on what has long been its hallmark - stability. If you want bleeding edge packages then go with Ubuntu, if you want a rock solid desktop or server then Debian is for you.

Debian 6 builds on that reputation with a more conservative list of updates than you might find in Ubuntu or Fedora's releases. GNOME is at version 2.30 - a couple versions behind the current release 2.32 - while KDE is as 4.4.5, a bit behind KDE 4.6. The other Debian desktops similarly lag a bit behind.

That doesn't mean there's nothing new in Debian 6, though. In fact there are more than 10,000 new software packages, ranging from the Chromium web browser - the open source version of Google Chrome - to a new network manager.

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