linux  

Apr 29, 2015 • Michael Chen

Both Ubuntu and Linux Mint are popular desktop Linux distros. They are famous for their simplicity and serviceability. Debian is their common ancestor. Besides, according to DistroWatch.com, there are more than 100 Debian derivated Linux distributions, serving various purposes. Debian is notable for its stability and reliability, suitable for a server or workstation. However, is Debian itself appropiate for desktop use?

Hardware Compatibility

The hardware compatibility of Linux has improved over years. More peripheral hardware vendors are willing to develop drivers or kernel modules for Linux. Besides, many Linux distributions include scripts to automatically detect and boot drivable hardwares. It’s still better to check hardware compability before buying new computer or hardware. For example, view the spec documents and check the manufacturer websites for information about their supports on Linux. Debian Hardware Portal may also help on this issue. Although there are no offical hardware compatibility tests dedicated for Debian, Ubuntu website keeps a list of Ubuntu certified hardwares and these hardwares may work on Debian as well.

Desktop Environment

Unlike Windows or Mac OS X, a desktop environment of Linux is not a integrated part of Linux, but a swappable software. There are many desktop environments available for Debian. Among them, GNOME and KDE are most popular. If you are disappointed with GNOME shell of GNOME 3, GNOME in Debian now provides GNOME classic mode, more like traditional GNOME 2 desktop. There are also more lightweight alternatives like Xfce or LXDE. Besides, Cinnamon and Mate are forks from GNOME. Although they are not included the official Debian installation media, you may get them post-installation. There are also some more exotic desktop enviroments or window managers like IceWM, WMaker, Enlightenment, etc. You may check them as well.

Applications

There are almost 800 Linux distributions, for different CPU archetectures, either active or inactive, based on the statistics of DistroWatch.com. Nevertheless, their kernels and applications come from the same upstream source code. In ideal situation, what you get from A distro can be available in B distro as well. In fact, the efforts needed to manage software in different Linux distro vary. Debian comes with more than 37,500 pre-built packages, bundled up in a nice format for easy installation on your machine. Many open source or commercial software can be easily installed on Debian.

Make a list of your situations and find out possible solutions. Since most Linux desktop environment are either Qt-based (KDE) or GTK-based (GNOME, Xfce, LXDE, etc), you may check software according to your preferred desktop environment. But it’s fine to mix applications from different origins. Here is a supposed list:

SituationSolution
Surfing the NetIceweasel (rebranded Firefox), Firefox, Chrome, or Opera
Receiving e-mailsIcedove (rebranded Thunderbird), Thunderbird, Evolution
CalenderGnome Calender or KOrganizer
BBSPCManX (BBS forum is still popular among Taiwan youth.)
VideoMPlayer, Totem, VLC or Amarok
AudioAudicious or KMPlayer
Office softwareLibreOffice
TypesettingTeXLive
Image editingGimp and Inkscape
Ebook readerEvince or Okular for PDF, Calibre for EPUB and MOBI

More and more commercial software, either open-source or proprietary, support Linux. Ubuntu and Debian are usually in the list of supported distributions. Besides, there are many Web-based applications available, many of which in the form of Chrome apps. You may check them as well. For a list of Web-based solutions on Chrome, see my previous post, in the section of “Applications”.

However, application versions are a issue in Debian. Due to the policy of Debian, the versions of applications in Debian often lag about one to two years. If what your want is a stable desktop environment, Debian suits you well. However, if you need state-of-the-art applications, you may consider testing or unstable distributions of Debian, which are less stable and occationally buggy. You may consider backporting software to stable distribution. However, backporting applications doesn’t always succeed and sometimes, inevitably, you still need to upgrade part of your system to testing or unstable distributions.

System Management

Although there are many GUI configuration tools in Debian, Debian is not designed to configure everything from GUI. Sometimes some interactions with CLI are necessary. On the other hand, configuring system from CLI is more flexible. Besides, Debian doesn’t tweak system too much and most configuration files in CLI work as expected.

Verdict

Debian itself can serve as a desktop as well. But some knowledge toward Linux is needed. If you want a stable desktop and don’t mind the versions of applications, you may consider Debian.