Dropping Debian etch in favor of Fedora: my reasons
As announced on my blog , I will soon move from my beloved Debian etch (or testing) to the upcoming Fedora Core 5.
How did I come to take such a decision?
I love several things in Debian. I run a Debian etch on my laptop, my old PC runs a Windows 2000 unconnected to the Net and is used for gaming; my company's servers run on Debian sarge except for the webserver, hosted somewhere else that run a nicely tuned Free BSD. Debian to me means the experience of one of the most authentic GNU and Free Software systems and in some sense, lifestyle.
To me, Debian has advantages such as its package and system management features; I'm addicted to apt-get and DebConf. Also, I can enjoy through Debian the greatest variety of Debian packages, and, until recently, Debian etch also meant quality. Don't get me wrong: Debian still means quality to me, yet only in its stable releases. Besides, I am generally a great fan of the Debian community and its efforts to survive and strifle in an increasinly linux distribution-complex world.
To set the things straight, I shall describe briefly the hardware my system runs on and the former distros I tried.
My laptop is an Asus L35000D, dubbed "L3" by Asus. It is a little over 2 years old now, features an Athlon XP-Mobile 2000, intel soundcard, and SiS motherboard and graphic card. It has several plugs and bays that are very convenient; the only thing that is really problematic is the SiS grahic card.
This card doesn't even feature a full 3D acceleration under Windows and on Linux you have to use the drivers of Thomas Winschoeffer and go through the tedious process of installing and configuring them.
Aside of this particular drawback, the hardware is running smoothly. 2 years ago however, not every distribution out there was compatible with my laptop. I first ran a Mandrake Linux; that was easy given the fact that I worked for Mandrake at that time and had plenty of support if necessary.
In the mean time I was also able to work with several flavours of SuSE, and the thing with SuSE is that I used to describe at that time SuSE as being a "Mandrake Linux with QA". It was both mean to Mandrake and SuSE; today things are different; I was priviledged enough to use the latest flavours of SuSE 10 and can tell that they've gone way over Mandrake in terms of usability, UI, usage consistency and user-friendliness.
So to go back to my hassles, I dropped Mandrake pretty quickly as it had some real QA problems and that my hardware didn't run well at all. One of my friend installed Debian unstable from the Net; but the config didn't last very long so I installed a Knoppix that I debianized over time.
Lately however, I noticed that not only the changes brought to the testing archive of Debian were bigger and implied deeper changes, but the quality of the entire stack of the testing distribution of Debian was affected as well. Could there be a relation between the increasing upstream changes and the worsening testing archive? Could this be because of Ubuntu uploading their *.debs to unstable so much everyday that the first QA filters of the Debian project could be overwhelmed by this incoming flow of packages and updates? Possibly, but it doesn't mean that it's the fault of Ubuntu. Let's not get us started on this point.
Anyway, what happened was that my Gnome went broke during the transition from 2.10 to 2.12 because of some python package mismatch; then the udev package broke because I had to install a kernel 2.6.13 (or newer) while I had a 2.6.8 Debian-patched kernel; and on top of that, the package "initscripts" was uninstallable because of some broken pipe error. I'm not an engineer, just a power user, and although I can't tell what's really wrong with this initscripts package, I clearly understood that while some packages were broken because of my actual configuration, this one was broken in the archive. What's bad is to have a package of this importance that finds its way to a testing archive. Fortunately, I had some configuration backup (from Knoppix mainly) so my system did not crash; but then two things happened.
First the apt-get, and more generally, the whole logic standing behind any APM (Advanced Package Manager) showed its limits; I could have installed the Debian ready 2.6.15 kernel, but it could not work because 1Ã‚Â°there was no script doing make initrd during the installation process 2Ã‚Â°it could not work because it needed the udev package that was broken.
Certainly the SMART package manager could help here. Anyway, when I tried to compile a pristine kernel from the source, I got weird messages and could not configure it despite having verified the requirements.
All this left me with a taste of frustration and a longing for a better-polished system. I thence started to investigate alternatives. Live-CDs are the best way to investigate new distributions. I would have loved to try Frugalware a Hungarian distro that combines Fedora hardware recognition, Slackware-like filesystems and trees, and the pacman package manager, but they didn't have any live CD....
OpenSolaris was great, but well, it's OpenSolaris and since I want to have a production system, I just won't install it on my laptop. Kanotix is really the same as Knoppix and I didn't want to go back to Debian. Slax was interesting. Or more exactly, the live CD was the fastest, most polished live CD I have ever seen. I started to read about the Slackware essentials but once again I wanted a system that I can easily master without loosing fun and a system with consistency that I can use "in production". Slackware is of course one of the most stable, if not the most stable distro out there.
However, I do not know it enough to run it on a daily basis; and besides, I don't see myself compiling OpenOffice.org on my laptop... I promess though that I'll go back to Slack one day.
I then had to choose between SuSE and Fedora. The choice was tough. I have already used SuSE and although it was a very usable system, several things keep bothering me. It may not be important for some of you, but obviously you can't use a decent command line package manager on it. Yast, Yast, Yast, that's all there is for a religion and I did use Yast in the past. It is a very impressive tool, but it's just not my style. Besides, I have the feeling that SuSE as a distribution needs to mature a little bit in the hands of Novell; and for the moment, I know that both (Novell and Suse) need to know each other a bit better.
Fedora was hence the only remaining option. And I could already see so many advantages to it! To summarize them, Fedora has:
-excellent hardware compatibility
-a very large number of package
-Gnome desktop as default (I'm a gnome user primarily)
-apt-get if I don't like yum
-overall good quality according to what I read here and there
-community support and no obligation to buy new CDs every 6 months
All in all, it seems to be a winner. I looked for a live CD and found the japanese Berry Linux. Berry Linux is a live CD based on Fedora Core 4 with more advanced software such as a 2.6.15 kernel and a more recent version of KDE, its default desktop. I burnt its latest ISO image (0.67) and ran it on my machine. Gee! This was a breeze! Everything ran fine; the hardware, for the first time (except with Slackware) ran exactly as it should, every necessary module was loaded and I saw no error messages. In fact, even the live CD was well thought; ever since the boot a screen welcomes you and show you the direct way to install Berry Linux on your system.
I didn't do it yet, and am waiting for the release of the Fedora Core 5. I will tell you more about my experiences when I migrate to it. Meanwhile, you can maybe change the title of this article; feel free to persuade me to try another distribution and I will maybe change my mind!