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Re: Desktop productivity with Debian GNU/LINUX

On Wednesday 22 January 2003 01:33 am, Karsten M. Self wrote:
> on Tue, Jan 21, 2003 at 01:52:40AM -0500, Hal Vaughan 
(hal@thresholddigital.com) wrote:
> > On Tuesday 21 January 2003 12:31 am, Kent West wrote:
> > > John & Peg Pickard wrote:
> >
> > I would STRONGLY recommend trying Mandrake.  While I have not had any
> > problems with Mandrake 9.0, I have heard of some people who have.  I
> > found Mandrake 8.2 to be solid and stable.  It's basically your choice
> > -- I would think either one would work fine.  One nice addition or
> > change to Mandrake 9.0 is that it does not require the user to
> > mount/umount cd-roms when they are put in or removed from a drive.
> autofs?
>     $ apt-get install autofs
> No, it's not configured by default in Debian.  Yes, it's a nice touch
> that Mandrake provides autofs (or an equivalent) by default.  Yes, it's
> possible for a consumer-oriented Debian distro to do similarly.
> Compelling reason to switch distros?  No, IMO.

No, it isn't a compelling reason to switch.  I'll be honest, it was a rotten 
example.  My point was how Mandrake is focused on making everything as easy 
as possible to install and use -- so it's possible for the "average Joe" to 
go to Best Buy, or any other store that sells Mandrake, buy a box, take it 
home, install it quickly and easily, and sit down and do something 
productive, like writing, or working with Gimp, or any of a million other 
things people use computers to do so they can make a living -- or any of a 
million other things people do for hobbies.

This is NOT one of Debian's strengths.

> It would be interesting to see a list of features of Mandrake you feel
> increase useability.  There was a long (and heated) discussion of Gentoo
> on d-d a few weeks ago.  One point of these discussions:  competition,
> and different approaches, are *good*.  Debian's packaging is pushing the
> RPM distros hard.  Gentoo's "build from source" has inspired Debian's
> apt-src (unstable only).  Knoppix's HW autodetect is likely to influence
> the next generation of GNU/Linux installers.  This is a Good Thing[tm].

I agree fully.  RPM is pathetic.  When I'm installing some packages and 
everything works fine, it's great, but once I get to one conflice, it's 
impossible.  It's possible to get some programs that one just can't install 
w/out getting the source code and compiling.  At that point RPM is terrible 
and definately NOT for newbies.  My experience, though, is that a large part 
of what most people need is easily available and easily installable in 

I hope Knoppix's hardware detection is assimilated into Debian's installer.  
I've experimented with Sorcerer, which seems to be a great distro.  (And this 
source based distro was easier to install than Debian, IMHO.)  In e-mail 
discussions with the creator of Sorcerer, he said that other distros are 
looking into how Sorcerer installs/adds new programs.  That's good, since it 
is easy to add programs in Sorcerer.  (I'd likely covert a few boxes to it if 
spells were already written for all the programs I'd need to install.)

> So...if Mandrake manages to make the new-user experience better, count
> the ways.

Easy install.  Good hardware detection and broad hardware database.  Easy 
package selection -- you can either just select a group (like Games), or pick 
programs one by one.  They've already done a good job at figuring out which 
packages are most likely to be needed/wanted in each category.  Easy desktop 
setup -- just install and when it restarts, you get the desktop manager and 
log in to a wizard that helps you select what desktop to use (also easy to 
circumvent if you want more than what you're offered).  Management/config 
tools have been unified in the Mandrake Control Center.  No need to create 
mount points and edit /etc/fstab to get it to read extra devices (like 2nd 
CD-ROM).  (Actually, inlcude no need to even KNOW about fstab if you're a 
newbie.)  Ability to use console OR GUI tools -- depending on level of 
experience, current situation, or preference.  Wizards that set up networking 
quickly and easily.  Even wizards to set up Samba or NFS.

Actually, the wizards are so easy and quick, I've found that even though I 
started by configuring all the files by hand, I often use a wizard instead.  
If I'm in X and using the console window, and have to set up something with 
directories (say, finding a Samba share), it is easier to run MCC, select 
mount points, and browse the network to get the exact directory and set it up 
through the wizard.

If you want more reasons, I'll see what I can come up with.

> Debian _does_ aim more toward the technical user.  This doesn't mean
> newbies can't use it (the number of people I meet who've run no
> GNU/Linux _but_ Debian continues to amaze me).  And there are some
> compelling reasons to use Debian, specifically policy and package
> management.

I wonder -- are the people that start with Debian people who are new to Linux, 
but used to Unix or sys admin/programming on other systems, or are they just 
at the "user" (or just above) level?

> I've also tried to reaquaint myself with the legacy MS Windows user
> world.  I attended a local PC user group meeting a few weeks back...and,
> if we really _do_ want to bring the great unwashed masses aboard the
> GNU/Linux wagon, there's a tremendous effort required.



But you have a good point, and I never miss a chance to advocate for Linux or 
OSS.  I also make sure I'm not obnoxious.  Just yesterday I was in the sauna, 
cooling off after a hard workout, and ended up talking to an IP lawyer and 
someone in a small business and, by the time we left, they were both VERY 
interested in looking into Linux and, especially, OpenOffice.org.

> Still, it's possible to poach the bright, enlightened, curious, and
> disillusioned, of whom I've seen many.  Too, cherry-picking the clueful
> to GNU/Linux is a way of spreading the meme, increasing the support load
> on legacy MS Windows, and may help build a reputation of GNU/Linux
> having fewer problems (our users are smarter....), at least in theory.
> Remember as well, GNU/Linux is about choice, including the choice of
> distro to run, or the choice *not* to run GNU/Linux -- there's the
> *BSDs, MacOS, and, yes, MS Windows.

You're right.  It is about choice.  And one thing I love is the choice of 

> > I have seen HUGE strides forward in desktop Linux in the time since
> > I've been working with Linux (which was somewhere around mid 2000).
> > Mandrake, especially, has changed and improved quite a bit.  While I
> > hate to say this on a Debian mailing list, Debian still has quite far
> > to go before I would consider recommending it to anyone who does not
> > work with computer professionally.
> Most of us here won't view this as a criticism.  The only "zero thought
> install" GNU/Linux I'm aware of (Knoppix) is based on Debian.  I tend to
> view Debian as more a meta-distribution -- the packages, infrastructure,
> and tools necessary to assemble the specific ocnfiguration you want,
> whether this is for a single install or an entire sub-distribution --
> than as a distribution in the strict sense.  And there are derived
> versions -- Libranet, Xandros -- which *are* aimed at the ease-of-use
> space.  You'll find these are 99.99% identical to a vanilla Debian
> system.  That extra bit of chrome and polish _does_ go a long ways
> though.

There's also one called Virtual Linux (CD based only).  I think it's based on 
Mandrake and I don't think there's an isntall-to-HD setup in it.

I think you have a good point about it being a "meta" distro.  And the chrome 
and polish does help -- Debian is easy to maintain.  I think so many 
Debian-ites have not needed to install for such a long time that they've 
forgotten what it is like.  Perhaps that's why the installer is so bare 

> It's about choice.  If you like what you find here, great.  If you
> don't, happy trails.  I _would_ encourage you to understand what it is
> that Debian brings to the table, and to realize that there are variants
> (compatible with the main Debian project) which do offer what you're
> looking for.

I do see what it brings to the table.  My basic points, at least in this 
thread, are that this person who asked about distros should not be told to 
buzz off and wait.  It's best to try to help him, not tell him he's not at a 
high enough level (the ultimate in snotty self-elitism).  The other point was 
that I would NOT recommend Debian to a person like that.  I would recommend 
Mandrake, Redhat, or perhaps Knoppix (I had some issues once it was on my 
hard drive).

Thanks for a well thought out and helpful reply!


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