Ubuntu Have No Idea How Debian I Am On Freshness

I spent some time Saturday night nerding out by upgrading my laptop’s OS from Ubuntu 9.04 to Debian Testing (Squeeze).

I say “upgrade” because moving to Debian is a major step up from Ubuntu. Canonical, Inc., the company that publishes Ubuntu, essentially takes a snapshot of the entire Debian project and all its software packages and over the span of a few months sorts out which packages are worthy of going into the next Ubuntu release, and which ones are too incomplete to make the cut. Meaning that by the time a Ubuntu version is released, the software within, especially from the active projects, is at least a few months old.

If you’re one of those late adopters, like me, by the time the dust settles after a release and you finally decide to install the new version, you could easily be trying to tolerate software that’s over a year old. And if you’re using one of the LTS (Long Term Support) versions, like I am on my desktop, then you’re looking at 2 years with no functionality improvements; nothing but security updates. That’s unacceptable.

The straw that broke the camel’s back is the crappy bluetooth stack that was packaged with Ubuntu 9.04. They froze the BlueZ package during a time when the project was undergoing a major push in improvement, so the version that got frozen was largely incomplete and had gaping holes in its functionality and stability. Again, this was largely unacceptable, because the best versions were posted, available for installation, right on the project’s website and was available as a package on Debian Testing, but nowhere to be found on Ubuntu.

See, I come from the Windows world, which to me means I can grab any piece of software, no matter how fresh or stale, and install it for use at any time. I’m used to that paradigm. But that kind of capability isn’t part of the Ubuntu/Debian package management ethos, and it sticks in my craw. Case in point, my desktop system is saddled with Firefox version 3.0.16 — the latest is 3.5. All I’ve gotten for the past 2 years is security updates. On any other OS, I could be rocking with the latest version’s bells and whistles. But not Ubuntu. This is weak sauce.

Hopefully sticking with the Testing branch of Debian will help me get the freshest packages; once any project publishes a new version with bugfixes and functionality improvements, Debian picks it up, does some essential testing during the Unstable phase, and then pushes it upstream to Testing. Following this track means taking some measured risk; in trying to keep up with the newest stuff, breaking something fundamental to the system’s function is a possibility (incompatible libraries being the biggest risk). It also means more frequent updates are required to stay current. But, right now, I feel it’s a worthwhile gamble.

Ubuntu’s coup de grâce is that they take the bother of finding the right drivers for most hardware and package them into their distribution media so most computer systems function right out of the box. This is their strength. They also take the hassle of putting together a cohesively-matched set of packages that work well together with hardly any configuration necessary. A beginner can throw Ubuntu on a box and within the evening be doing their thing with almost no effort. That’s commendable. Contrast that with the driver confusion I experienced (video and wireless drivers weren’t loaded so automatically), and you can understand why people who say “Yeah, I need to learn Linux” try Ubuntu first.

But I’ve already taken that class. Now it’s time for my bluetooth mouse and I to graduate.

Published by Shawn

He's just this guy, you know?