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17 February 2009, 09:47

We put Debian 5.0 (Lenny) through its paces

Mirko Dölle

After nearly two years of work the the Debian development team have published Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 (Lenny). Our trials show what you can expect from Lenny.

Almost two years since the appearance of version 4.0, aka Etch, the Debian development team have released version 5.0 (Lenny). The Debian project had aimed to release on February 14th, and made that date, by posting the release announcement from the US/Samoa time zone which meant for much of the world, it was already February the 15th.

Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 (Lenny)
Zoom Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 (Lenny)
For the first time in a stable release, the graphical Debian Installer is included in the distribution. This is likely to prove particularly appealing to Linux beginners, who are put off by the standard text mode installer. Text mode remains the default mode though and users preferring to use the graphical version must explicitly select it in the boot menu.

Don't expect too much from the graphical Debian Installer – it's little more than a mouse-driven version of the text mode programme, spruced up with a few graphical elements. The hard drive partitioning function is just as spartan and as unclear as the text version. The Debian Installer does not include the kind of user-friendly dialogues, or graphical overviews found in, for example, the Debian derived Ubuntu distributions. Bootloader installation is unnecessarily cryptic under Debian Lenny. If you wish to save Grub into the boot sector of the root partition, you have to enter the installation path in Grub notation, which, due to its particular way of counting, can be a challenge, even for experienced Linux users. According to the release notes for Debian Lenny, Grub no longer uses the device name to assign the root partition, but instead the UUID of the file system – in fact it is the disk ID (disk by ID) which is entered. This means that if a restore is performed following a hard drive error, it is necessary to re-edit the Grub configuration before Lenny is able to reboot. On the plus side, the Debian Installer is able to configure software RAID; RAID configuration in Ubuntu 8.10 still requires the user to utilise the text mode installer.

The partition manager in the Debian Installer is not particularly user-friendly
Zoom The partition manager in the Debian Installer is not particularly user-friendly

Hardware detection during installation is good, although, thanks to the Debian decision to make the core distribution truly free and open source, firmware files for Wifi and various network adaptors are missing from the installation CD. These files are to be found in the non-free repository on the internet. For systems which use these interfaces to establish their internet connections, this becomes something of a chicken and egg situation. System administrators in particular, who are apt to turn to Debian netinstall CDs in an emergency, are advised to check how far Lenny remains suitable for their purposes.

[pagelink Friendly Linux]Next: User-friendly desktop Linux[/pagelink]

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