Debian? Sounds good to me!

Back at the start of October, I decided to use Debian Squeeze to fill an empty partition on my laptop hard drive. Since then, I've been seeing a lot of Ubuntu news that makes me consider using Debian instead of Ubuntu for future Linux installations.

Ubuntu is not Free

I understand that Ubuntu has made compromises so that e.g., people who own nvidia-chipset video can get high performance OpenGL. However, that compromise was supposed to be clearly marked, e.g., by the "restricted drivers" icon.

When I installed Debian, my Intel 3945 wireless didn't work. I found that Debian had categorized the firmware files as non-free. It was a moderate inconvenience to use a wired connection to obtain the firmware files, but more importantly I am now aware that I can't study the firmware, I can't adapt the firmware, and I can't release my improvements to the public. From the debian firmware-iwlwifi/copyright: No reverse engineering, decompilation, or disassembly of this software is permitted.

Ubuntu should have placed this driver behind the "restricted drivers" UI so that users understand they are using non-free software. Of course, I'll go on using my wireless card with the non-free firmware, but I'll no longer go around telling my friends how much more Free the Intel wireless chips are compared to the other choices out there.

Update: Since then, I have learned that separating out non-free firmwares is one of the things the Debian project has done during the 6.0 'squeeze' development cycle. An older version of Debian would apparently have included these firmware images, just as Ubuntu did. Let's see whether Ubuntu follows Debian and puts wireless firmwares behind the "restricted drivers" icon.

Ubuntu communicates poorly with Unity

I don't have a dog in the Unity vs Gnome Shell race, but it's presented yet another occasion where the message we seem to hear from Ubuntu is: we don't care to work with existing projects to improve them. The other message is of course: What Mark Shuttleworth wants, he gets.

…and again with Wayland

Is Ubuntu making bad decisions again? Are they just communicating badly? Is Wayland a dessert topping, or is it a floor wax? People who actually know X Server architecture like Keith Packard have been saying for years that the X server should be layered on top of OpenGL. If that's the kind of dessert topping that Wayland is, I'm in favor of it too.

On the other hand, a lot of the talk about Wayland implies that X will be an optional or emulated part of Wayland, with the default API/transport being local-only. Does anybody working on Wayland actually have a coherent criticism of X? This article from the 1990s might as well be about Wayland Brand Floor Wax.

This (pdf) is what a thoughtful criticism of X might look like. If you want to talk about why Xlib and the X protocol should be dropped, talk about something like this. If it's about "pixel perfection", then show us why it's not possible with the Xlib API or the X wire protocol. If it's about performance, show us where X falls short of Wayland. Don't treat it as Received Truth that X is bad and needs to be replaced. Update, circa 2013: Turns out Wayland bad, Mir good. OK, whatever. Knock yourself out.

Or you can try just frothing at the mouth. It was funny in the 90s, and it's still funny 16 years later. Well, at least until somebody reads it, doesn't understand it's tongue-in-cheek, mentions it to Mark Shuttleworth at UDS, and suddenly the order comes down from on high: replace X with software that's not even written yet.

Changelogs? We don't need no stinkin' changelogs

This morning I read that Ubuntu has started deliberately stripping changelog information from binary packages. As far as I can tell there's no easy way to get a changelog (e.g., an apt-get changelog that gets the information from the network). You could download a source package, but do that a few times and suddenly you're talking about serious network bandwidth, much more than the two dozen megabytes that this reportedly saves on an Ubuntu CD. Update, 9 Nov 2010: According to this blog entry, there will not only be a apt-changelog program, but packages will also include the latest 10 changelog entries. This seems like a pretty good compromise to me, but it's too bad there had to be a minor flap on the internet before it happened.

Ubuntu features paid items ever more prominently

Ubuntu has a music store. Ubuntu ties in with Ubuntu One, a paid storage service. Ubuntu will show paid apps in the Software Center. These are not features I want in my Free Software operating system.

Mark Shuttleworth: peddling non-free to Debian since the 90s

I read on Wikipedia that Shuttleworth had been a member of the Debian project since the 90s. What did he do for Debian before we all heard of Shuttleworth the Space Tourist or Shuttleworth the Ubuntu Decider? In 1997, he tried to peddle some non-Free crypto solution to Debian.

Serious Unix suffers under Ubuntu

Back in the days of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, I set up a small non-profit's computer system. I used NFS for filesharing (including home directories) and NIS for login information. When I replaced all the hardware last year, I upgraded the OS to 9.10 and later to 10.04 LTS. Unfortunately, there are glaring bugs in the startup process that make NFS unusable without hacks. Upstart, or rather the incomplete conversion of packages to use upstart, seems to be the cause of this problem. Yes, by all means choose a new technology when it's better than the old one (Debian will also choose upstart), but don't make it the default before substantially all packages work properly with it. And when you find out you've missed one, and it's a "5y"-supported package like nfs-utils, maybe consider fixing it in the first year or so after it's reported.

What Ubuntu value-add have I missed in Debian?

Only one so far. I miss the ability to control the volume of different applications separately. I think I could have it back if I installed pulseaudio.

Entry first conceived on 7 November 2010, 14:09 UTC, last modified on 27 June 2013, 20:08 UTC
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