I spend a significant portion of my life installing and testing distributions of Linux-based systems. It’s really rather ridiculous.
Even obscure ones—ones that never stand a chance of being listed on the likes of DistroWatch—find their way onto my drives. I can’t help it. It’s an addiction.
But you know which one I haven’t installed in a long, long while? Debian. Not some Debian-derived system, like the ones that get a lion’s share of the media attention, but pure Debian. I haven’t loaded it in eons.
I know, weird, right?
So, I installed it. Debian Stable. Code-name “Jessie.” Originally released as version 8.0 in April 2015—then given the ole’ “point-5” update to 8.5 in June 2016.
First of all, I chose to do a net install (you know—minimal CD, most packages download at install time). But, of course, the Debian net install ISO image didn’t support my Wi-Fi chipset. So, I grabbed an unofficial (but hosted by the Debian project) ISO, which includes support for non-free firmware. That did the trick and supported my Wi-Fi with no tweaking.
The installation process was nice and easy. (The download speed wasn’t stellar for grabbing all those packages, but I probably just hit it during a busy time of day.) I opted to go with MATE as the desktop environment. The last time I ran Debian for any length of time was back in the GNOME 2.x days, so MATE—being the living incarnation of GNOME 2.x—seemed like the right way to go. It tugged at the nostalgia-based heart strings a bit.
Install finished, and I logged in to the desktop and—well…
Remember what Ubuntu was like in the early days? You know, back before Unity. Super fast and responsive. A classic, but nice-looking, desktop experience. The combination of traits that led Ubuntu from “never heard of it” to “most popular desktop Linux” in no time flat.
That’s what Debian 8.5 is like with MATE. I put this on a Lenovo 11e Thinkpad laptop. It was fast (even on this less-than-super-powerful hardware)—felt peppier and more responsive than modern-day Ubuntu running on far more expensive hardware.
I ended up keeping Debian on this laptop for an extra week just because it ran so gosh-darned, cotton-pickin’ good. Close the lid, it sleeps. Performance is good. Never hit a single error or package issue. The battery life is even a little better (an extra 20 to 30 minutes) over what I got when running Ubuntu MATE on the same system.
This is just straight-up a really great system. I struggle to come up with a reason not to recommend it to most people.
(I say that as a huge fan—and board member—of openSUSE, which I also can’t think of any reason to not recommend. But that’s a different article.)
I know resource usage and user experience can vary wildly between desktop environments, so my Debian/MATE experience may not reflect the experience with Debian/Plasma. But the Debian/MATE combo is seriously choice.
The old-school-ness of it is absolutely delightful. It feels like your operating system is from 2006, but with software and hardware from 2016. There’s nothing I can’t run—and without the slowness problems of some of the more modern environments. Both the base system and the desktop environment lend to that.
Debian Stable is great, but not my cup of tea
The packages in the Debian Stable repository aren’t the newest in the world, but they’re also not ancient. If I’m looking for a system with cutting-edge packages, I’d go with a rolling release like Arch or Tumbleweed. The version of LibreOffice in the default Debian Stable repository, for example, is back at version 4.3.x—roughly 2 years old.
OK. Now that I’m looking at it, the packages are a bit on the stale side in a lot of cases. Not earth-shatteringly stale, but still—not exactly fresh. Though, with the speed and stability on display, maybe that’s not such a bad trade-off.
Will I continue running Debian Stable? No. It’s great, stable and fast, but it’s not exactly my cup of tea. Still, if you were an Ubuntu user back in the pre-Unity times, I recommend giving Debian Stable a spin.
That is, if you haven’t already—but you probably have because it’s Debian, and I’m assuming everyone has used it more recently than me.