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Re: Considering Debian (currently using Red Hat)

Looks like everyone else has had their say, and I agree with all of it. But, I'll throw in my
two cents.

> Hi Everyone,
> I'd like to get some of your thoughts on a few things relating to the
> possibility of our company switching distributions from Red Hat to
> Debian.  As most folks already know, Red Hat has drastically changed
> their strategy, and we ultimately must make *some* relatively drastic
> changes no matter what.  And, we intend not to switch to RHEL (though
> not for financial reasons).  This gives us the opportunity, welcome or
> not, to consider other distributions.  And even other OS's -- we're
> frankly not closed to the idea of ultimately switching platforms
> entirely to BSD or Solaris.  So with this in mind,
> 1.)  One of the biggest reasons we went with Red Hat many years ago was
> RPM.  Of course I know that Debian has a package system, and there're
> constant arguments about which is better, if either.  What I wonder,
> though, is how they compare for the purposes of security checking.  On a
> Red Hat system, practically any file or directory outside of /home can
> be found within the RPM database.  We can check each and every file, its
> MD5 hash, etc.  It's like having a built-in Tripwire installation so
> long as you trust the RPM database.  We've modified the RPM installation
> such that we can trust it more than we trust Tripwire.  Do Debian
> packages have similar security built-in?
Others have covered this.

> 2.)  A related reason we used Red Hat was that practically anything you
> could want to use was pre-packaged in a simple to install RPM.  And they
> were typically pretty high quality RPM's, and very often well
> maintained.  Do admins typically find that they're able to find Debian
> packages for most software they're typically interested in using?  I
> realise this varries greatly between markets, but I guess what I'm
> asking is do you usually find 70% of the packages you're interested in
> in Debian package format, and well maintained?  80%?  Just a general idea.

I run a small IPP. I believe, there is only one package I use that is not available via
Debian, RT from bestpractical.com (it may be there, but I haven't found it). I do not recall
any other packages I use that are not available from the standard distro.

> 3.)  I read quite a bit of the Web site, and see that in general,
> releases seem to be very far and few between.  This is advantageous to
> ISP's, of course, because we want things to just "work".  Is my
> perception correct in that releases are far apart?  When is the next
> release expected?  How significant is the difference from, say, 3.0 and
> 3.1.  Can you just install a bunch of packages and call it an upgrade,
> or do you have to go through a whole ordeal as you do between Red Hat .X
> versions?

One of the reasons I use Debian is the policy of "We'll release it when it's ready." No big
push to get a release out the door because a competitor has this feature or that. As far as
I'm concerned, Debian Stable is just that, stable. I have to watch what hardware I buy, and I
don't use it as a gaming computer (though I'm sure some do), but I do build servers that last
longer than the hardware (says something about the cheap hardware I use, I guess). One server,
our main web server which hosts 40-50 clients (not many, I know) was installed and three years
later, when the power supply died, had been down exactly three times. Once for a hard disk
installation, once for a physical move to another part of the NOC, and once when I wanted to
change kernels. And, I had kept it upgraded during that time.
> 4.)  How long are previous versions maintainaned with patches and such?
> Or to restate this, how long after a new version is released are you
> FORCED to upgrade in order to maintain security?  How drastic are the
> changes in between minor version increments (say, 3.0 to 3.1)?  For
> example, Red Hat has tended to make significant kernel upgrades and
> glibc upgrades in minor version changes, and has caused significant
> incompatibilities that have caught us by surprise.
> 5.)  Of course we'll be testing it extensively ourselves, but what would
> you say the most significant differences, both from a user and an admin
> perspective, are between Debian and <Brand X> Linux?  Or, maybe better
> stated, why Debian?  I know that's a religeously charged question, but
> at the moment our only position is "not RHL."  We're open to being
> converted ;-)

>From an admin perspective: Again, I use Debian because it is stable. I don't, like many, use
it for a workstation. I use SuSE or Mandrake or something. But, I don't want to mess with my
servers, especially since some of them are across town in a NOC. I am an anal retentive
control freak, so I do my security updates manually instead of scripting it in, but I have
never had an upgrade problem with stable. My personal opinion is that RH is the equivilent or
unstable or testing (haven't decided yet, and that may be too harsh). I've maintained RH
servers, and don't like them. Almost rather do a Win2k server (ok, that is definitely too
harsh, sorry).

>From a user perspective: Unless you enjoy tinkering, don't mess with it for a workstation. I
rebuild workstations on a regular basis, so I don't mind the other releases that have problems
every once-in-a-while. I just want the installer to autodetect all my hardware, and give me
the latest versions of X, JBuilder, Perl, Quanta, Bluefish and bzFlag. So, for me, Debian is
not what I use in a workstation.

> 6.)  And finally, if you care to toss in any ideas or info, I'm very
> glad and excited to hear it.  For instance, if you were going to switch
> all your systems within the next year, would you choose something else?
> A BSD port?  Go back to Solaris?  Novell?  SCO?  Just kidding.

I have no intentions of leaving Debian in the near future. It would be nice to use the same
distro for workstations and servers, but I'll survive without.

One thing I would point out (as others have). Debian does not have the most up-to-date
versions of packages (in stable). I needed the newer version of MySQL not too long ago, and
all I did was go to http://www.backports.org, and set up the server to use it for MySQL. Very
clean, and I was able to use the features in 4.x like I wanted. So, if you have these needs,
find the backports around. There is no backport for the newer Perl versions (necessary for the
latest version of RT), so I downgraded to the older version of RT. Laziness on my part.
Several people in this newsgroup covered how to upgrade Perl, but I am just too lazy to do it.

If I were going to switch all my systems in the next year, I'd upgrade to the new release of
Debian when it comes out :)

> Thanks very much!
>     -Fred Whipple
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