Sunday, May 16, 2010

Debian + Backports is Better than the Latest Ubuntu

Debian Stable has a bad reputation of being little obsolete. It's never able to catch up with time. For example, at the time of writing this post, Debian 5.0.4, Lenny is still sticking to the old Iceweasel 3, OpenOffice 2.4, 2.6.26 kernel line and some other vital packages, whereas the package versions are greatly updated in the so called popular Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSuse. Some critics even say that this late-to-party nature of Debian is the reason for Ubuntu to show up in the Linux crowd.

But I don't buy to the view that Debian Stable is outdated. If you are running a server this much older packages and slow updates are a blessing. Moreover, you can catchup to the latest and greatest packages even on desktop. All you need is to add debian-backports to your /etc/apt/sources.list. A mix of Debian stable and Debian Backports will bring you all the popular packages. Here is the content of my sources.list

manmath@debian:~$ cat /etc/apt/sources.list
deb lenny main contrib non-free
deb lenny/updates main contrib
deb lenny main non-free
deb lenny-backports main contrib non-free

With the above repo list I am able to run Debian stable and work on OpenOffice 3.2, Iceweasel 3.5, Pidgin 2.6.6, Kernel 2.6.32 and many other packages. Besides, Debian stable is supported by Google Chrome, Skype and a majority of other linux software vendors such as Softmaker and Codeweavers. The only caution you should take is to pick out single backports which fits your needs, and not to use all the packages from backports repo.

For example, if you need to install the latest iceweasel from backports just enter:

apt-get -t lenny-backports install iceweasel

I've always found Debian Stable+Backports to be more stable than the latest Ubuntu. What's more, with backports configured you can get the latest versions of popular packages.


Ggarron said...

Hi, with all respect, I have written my thoughts about this post at:

Anonymous said...

Hi, with all respect, I have written my thoughts about this post at:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Good Article

Anonymous said...

Debian and slackware are my favorites distributions!
Good post to show how to make debian up-to-date without using the unstable branch. Congrats.

Anonymous said...

Your still missing the point about Ubuntu. Yes Ubuntu has more updated packages but that is not why Ubuntu is popular. It's popular because it sets up the bling for you. Sure you can use Debian stable, but whose gonna setup compiz for you. Take 10.04, it has all kinds of fancy applets and other bling. On Debian you would spend hours setting up what Ubuntu has done already for the user.

Here's an idea for Debian, have 2 meta packages called bling-free and bling-non-free. Users could install one of those 2 packages and reboot and presto a desktop as good as or better than Ubuntu.

miksuh said...

I have used Debian on desktop since 1998 and I have always used stable releases. I have been wery happy with Debian stable. I'm currently using Debian 5.0 'Lenny' which was released in fenruary 2009. When Debian Squeeze is released later this year I'll upgrade to it, but I have no need at all to switch to testing now.

In my opinion desktop sysrem has to be well tested and rock solid, Debian stable is everything like that. I don't really want latest application versions, those are usually too damn buggy. I want to work with my computer, I don't want to use all my time fighting with strange problems caused by poorly tested and buggy latest sopftware versions. So for me Debian stable is perfect on desktop and eg. using buggy distro like ubuntu is out of the question.

I'm a software developer and I'm using my computers both for hobby and work. it would be annoying as hell if my d3sktop system would not be as stable as it is now. It woyuld also cost me money and time.

And eg. version 1.1 of application XYZ does not suddenly became useless when version 1.2 is released.

Anonymous said...

How exactly do you keep the Update Manager from automatically upgrading all the packages to those found in backports? that's the issue that I had and caused my Debian Stable system to go on the fritz.

I have to say that Debian Stable on it's own is an excellent all-around OS and that the few applications that have had major functionality changes (particularly Firefox) are easy to install outside of the package manager and run very comfortably from your home directory.

If you want bleeding edge go for Sid (from which each new version of Ubuntu is forked), if you want a compromise go for either backports or testing (from which each Ubuntu Long Term Support release is forked).

Harry Sufehmi said...

Been there, done that - and what a mess it (debian + backport) was. It wasn't possible to upgrade the computer when new version of debian came out.

We need to upgrade it, but since it's a server, we had to do it very, very carefully, so to minimize downtime.
The upgrade process took days to complete, and we still experience downtimes.
Needless to say, I've learned my lesson.

If you still need to use backports, here's a piece of advice : setup / and /home in separate partition. It'll help lessen the pain when the time to upgrade has come.

Anonymous said...

@betazed: You use apt-pinning.

Example /etc/apt/preferences:

Package: *
Pin: release a=lenny-backports
Pin-Priority: 605

Package: *
Pin: release a=stable
Pin-Priority: 610

Debianuser said...

Debian testing apt-pinned with unstable as well as with experimental(with low priority value) ,is the best solution for Debian Desktop Users.
Debian Stable is Oriented as a Server Distribution.
As Regarding Ubuntu ,It Full fills What Debian Desktop Users(Amateur) Longing For Almost 2 Decades.

Debian Needs to Allow a Desktop Team Who Can Pull Out Latest Versions of Available Programs.

venkain said...


Xyzzy said...

Horrible instability even with fresh installs is a huge part of why I gave up on Ubuntu recently... I thought I'd miss having all of the latest programs as a SimplyMEPIS user, but I rarely notice, and the speed & stability letting me actually use the software reliably are more than enough to make up for the supposed loss.

Nathaniel -- Yes, bling is important for bringing in new users... However, like many end-users, I didn't find it an issue: get a glimpse of Compiz in action, check forum for info, and follow the very basic instructions. If the person installed Linux, they'll be capable of that much; if they didn't, then their tech can do it.

manmath sahu said...

Thanks for dropping by. I liked your thoughts! However, if any body is really serious of his/her desktop, Debian Stable + Backports still make a good choice.

Here I would agree more with Xyzzy. Adding those bells and whistles to a default Debian install is not painful at all.

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