Fri, 29 Dec 2006

From Ubuntu to Debian.

For the last year, I have been installing Ubuntu on my machines although I kept a number of Debian machines around because I couldn't be bothered to making the Debian to Ubuntu transition. My main working machine, a Dell Latitude X1 laptop had been running Ubuntu Dapper until about 4 weeks ago.

That was when I ran into a problem with Dapper. I wanted to use a recent version of a Python library (python-ctypes which was required by pyglet) and due to previous bad experiences attempting to replace part of Python I wasn't keen to try and build my own backport of the python-ctypes library.

Instead I upgraded from Dapper to Ubuntu Edgy. I was well aware of the fact that Edgy is effectively an unstable version but from my experiences with Debian Unstable, I didn't expect to be hit as hard with problems as I was. First and foremost, OpenGL which was mostly working in Dapper didn't work at all in Edgy and one of the main reasons I upgraded was to use OpenGL from Python using the pyglet library. In addition, I was having a bunch of X11 stability issues and the installed version of Haskell was also a problem.

So after running Ubuntu Edgy for two weeks and needing to fix the OpenGL and X11 issues, I took a look at Debian Testing and noticed that it had more recent versions of Haskell, Xorg and python-ctypes. I therefore decided to blow away the Ubuntu install and replaced it with Debian.

Installing Debian on the laptop was significantly more difficult than installing Ubuntu on the same machine. I had a number of tricky problems with booting the installed kernel as well as some other problems which I think were related to the net installation crapping out due to the Debian repository being in a partially synchronised state. I did manage to work through the problems but it took time.

It was when I finally had Debian running that I remembered why Ubuntu had been so easy. Post install, Ubuntu was basically ready to go, while for me, Debian requires a bunch of tweaking. The first step was to disable a number of unneeded open ports (auth, lprng, statd etc) which were never enabled under Ubuntu. Next step was get nice looking fonts by installing every damn western font package "apt-cache search" could find. Then I needed to add the repository to get mplayer working.

There are still a couple more minor issues I need to fix to get the same level of functionality I had with Ubuntu but on the whole, despite the number of hours it took to get this working and tweaked, I still think moving back to Debian was the right thing to do.

Debian works for me because I'm familiar enough with the low-level nuts and bolts to make it work the way I need it to. As a developer, Ubuntu is not quite cutting edge enough, but for people like my father and my mother-in-law, I think Ubuntu is a good fit (yes, they use Ubuntu Dapper). I'll also continue to use Ubuntu for an embedded project at work where we will be sticking to Dapper until the next stable Ubuntu version is released.

Posted at: 20:51 | Category: Tech | Permalink