Official website for Linux User & Developer

Debian 6 Squeeze review – nearly, but not quite…

by Koen Vervloesem

Debian Squeeze lives up to its name as the “universal operating system”: with the big number of supported architectures, the experimental FreeBSD architecture and its completely free kernel, this distribution keeps standing out from the crowd. It’s not plain sailing, though, as Koen Vervloesem discovers…

This article is due to appear in issue 100 of Linux User & Developer magazine.Debian 6 Squeeze review - nearly, but not quite... Subscribe and save more than 30% and receive our exclusive money back guarantee – click here to find out more.

Pros: Debian Squeeze has become much more user-friendly, is booting faster and has added a lot of new packages.
The 2.6.32 kernel and the KDE 4.4 release in Debian Squeeze are a bit too old and there’s no auxiliary program to install the right non-free firmware packages.

You don’t choose Debian if you fancy the newest software, but if you long for stability and you don’t want to upgrade each 6 months, Debian is definitely for you. The fact that Debian Squeeze’s freeze has lasted for six months, which is as long as Ubuntu’s complete release cycle, can give you an idea about the attention to stability that the Debian developers invest. Moreover, according to Debian’s security policy you get security updates for about one year after the next stable distribution has been released, which is as good as you get from an Ubuntu LTS release.

Of course Debian’s conservative approach has the consequence that the available software packages are rather dated. Take a look at some of the key packages: a 2.6.32 kernel, X.Org 7.5, Gnome 2.30, KDE 4.4, Xfce 4.6, 3.2, Gimp 2.6.10 and Iceweasel 3.5.16. For some users, there could be showstoppers. For instance, if you want to run Debian on a system with an SSD, it’s a pity that you don’t get the automatic TRIM functionality that appeared in the 2.6.33 kernel, so you’ll have to manually trim your SSD with the hdparm wiper script if you don’t want to lose performance on an intensively used SSD.

Debian 6 Squeeze review - nearly, but not quite...

Another hallmark of Debian is that it really deserves its name of “universal operating system”. There are official CD and DVD images for various architectures: amd64, armel, i386, ia64, mips, mipsel, powerpc, sparc, and s390. So if you have an old Mac with a PowerPC processor lying around, you can give it a new life with Debian, or if you want to install a full Linux distro on your NAS with an ARM processor, chances are that Debian supports it. The Squeeze release even has for the first time two non-Linux architectures: kfreebsd-i386 and kfreebsd-amd64, which give you a complete Debian system on top of a FreeBSD 8 kernel, which is nice if you want features like the ZFS file system.

This is the first Debian release that distributes a completely free kernel. What does this mean in practice? If you have a wireless network card that requires non-free firmware files, you won’t find them in Squeeze’s kernel. However, Debian doesn’t forbid you to use those: the installer detects whether your hardware needs non-free firmware files to operate and kindly asks you if it should load the missing firmware from a CD or a USB stick. So you can download a tarball with the firmware and unpack them on a USB stick, and there are even (unofficial) netinstall ISO images that include the non-free firmware.

Debian 6 Squeeze review - nearly, but not quite...

Of course you can also add the non-free and contrib repositories after installation and search for the needed packages: the packages have not been dropped from the distribution but just moved from the main to the non-free part of the repositories (so don’t forget to enable this repository). A disadvantage is that there’s no auxiliary program like in Ubuntu that helps you find and install the right firmware, so you’ll have to guess, google and consult Debian’s online documentation.

Although Debian Squeeze doesn’t use Upstart like the latest Ubuntu release, it boots surprisingly fast, because the developers have parallelized the init scripts as much as possible. This clearly shows that distributions don’t need to throw away the old init system to get decent boot performance. And finally, GRUB 2 is now used as the default bootloader, and Debian Squeeze has a lot of new packages, including Google’s web browser Chromium and Ubuntu’s Software Centre.

Verdict: 3/5
Debian Squeeze is a good choice if you want to run a server or a desktop with stable packages and a couple of years of security patches, even more if your hardware is from an exotic architecture. The downside of this stability is that some packages are a bit too old: especially the kernel – it’s not a good fit for SSDs, for example. But compared to Debian Lenny, the newest release is faster, more user-friendly and more universal. We’d award it an extra half-mark if we could.

Click here for our full screenshot gallery

Click here to win a 12 month Linux VPS Enterprise Package worth £500 / $850!

Linux User & Developer is the magazine for the GNU Generation
Click here to try 3 issues for £1

Return to the homepage
See what features in issue 98

twitter follow us

Pages: 1 2
  • Tell a Friend
  • Follow our Twitter to find out about all the latest Linux news, reviews, previews, interviews, features and a whole more.
    • Debianero

      ‘there’s no auxiliary program to install the right non-free firmware packages.’

      That’s not exactly so, just make available non-free in your /etc/apt/sources.list, update and use your favorite ‘auxiliary program’ like apt-get, aptitude or synaptic ;-)

      Version numbers in Debian are not exactly the same than versions numbers in vanilla packages because Debian patches its packages with a lot of up above mainstream stuff.

    • Pingback: Interesting Linux News for the Day – March 31, 2011 « Linux Rants()

    • sergio

      Also changing kernels is very easy.

    • Pingback: Debian 6 Squeeze review – nearly, but not quite… | - Your one stop for news about Debian()

    • Not only are non-free software packages available through a simple change to the sources.list file, it’s also asked during the install if the user wants “non-free” packages, and it’s added automatically.

      There is also for quickly changing applications, backports for more up-to-the-minute applications, and as Sergio states, changing kernels is just about as easy as it is possible to get, if the one you want isn’t already in backports.

      So no, not 3 of 5.

    • Leslie Satenstein

      I have some accolades for Squeeze, in that it is stable. As a seasoned user of Fedora, and Gnome, I find the functionality about the same. I did however force Debian to use EXT4, while Squeeze’s standard is Ext3.

      I still cannot play my music, or videos, or make compiz work, as my ATI video card is not supported.

      Sigh, I would like to find the iso version which includes the non-free stuff built-in

    • Steve

      YAPRR (Yet another Poorly Researched Review)

      This is what happens when a reviewer fails to adequately experience, or research, the distro.

      That said, this review was slightly better than most reviews.

      Have a great day

    • Hello, Leslie
      Alternative iso images containing non-free firmware could be found at:

      Good luck.
      Andre Felipe

    • Hello, Leslie
      You do not have to reinstall Debian system.
      You only has to enable non-free repositories to get access to the required ATI proprietary drivers.

      If the libre ones (radeon, radeonhd or even vesa) are not supporting your specific ATI card:

      1- enable non-free repository section.
      2- update package info (apt-get update on command line or use your graphic tool)
      3- install fglrx-driver (apt-get install fglrx-driver on command line). It may bring more dependencies.
      4- reboot

      Good luck
      Andre Felipe

    • Pingback: Niche Website Templates : Cars Blog | Everything You should Know … – website templates()

    • R S Chakravarti

      As the article says, include contrib and non-free in /etc/apt/sources.list.
      Then install the package firmware-linux which depends on firmware-linux-free and firmware-linux-nonfree).
      My ATI card requires some firmware.
      More firmware is available: find out with synaptic.
      Also visit the apt site which has lots of goodies.

    • Bruno Lonx

      It is not true that debian default kernel does not offer automatic TRIM. I have Debian Squeeze installed in a OCZ Vertex 2 and TRIM is performed without any user intervention, after you edit your fstab to add the option discard in your mount options. TRIM has been backported to kernel several months ago.

      Debian is fast and dependable, some people value more this than having the latest bleeding edge apps. Even for those people that want this, you can run Debian Testing and have a rolling release SO.

    • Neil Youngman

      The author says “The downside of this stability is that some packages are a bit too old: especially the kernel – it’s not a good fit for SSDs, for example. But compared to Debian Lenny, the newest release is faster, more user-friendly and more universal.”

      That certainly wasn’t my experience. Running a 3 year old dual core system with 1GB of RAM and using KDE as my desktop, Lenny was responsive, reliable and easy to use. In contrast Squeeze Is painfully slow, KDE 4.4 is buggy and the usability is poor. Fortunately my work have supplied a more modern laptop and I am using Linux Mint Debian Edition on that, As a long time KDE user I have to say that the GNOME interface on LMDE is much more user friendly than KDE 4, although it lacks a few nice shortcuts from KDE3.

      At some point I will be trying out the Trinity Desktop Environment on my old desktop, but I haven’t yet found the time to install it.

    • HappyFace

      Huh, old Kernel???? I just installed it and got 2.6.39, latest of the 2.x versions and the option to get 3.0.

      Stop using dated releases and standard repositories, use the software the way it should be used.

    • HappyFace

      Forgot to mention, why are you using the Ubuntu software center in Debian.. Silly Ubuntu user. =\

    • Spanky

      As is posted, TRIM functions have been back-ported, so you don’t even need to compile a fit, into your Debian Stable install. Also, a newer version of Firefox, a’la Iceweasel, with security updates, is readily available, as an easy to install back-port.

      Ubuntu converts, would want to change the installer to ext4. I second that decision. Foundational decisions are critically important. However, you can always reinstall, but with Debian, you don’t have to reinstall (and tweak again).

      You can even install Plymouth, and nicer Plymouth Themes (for Debian).

      Mainly, the smxi script, and the exoodles script, makes all manner of non-free add-ons, a one-click affair, for Ubuntu/Mint, and LMDE converts. Thus, and IMHO, better than Ubuntu(s), or Linux Mints(s).

      Copy and paste:

      aptitude update && aptitude install unzip
      cd /usr/local/bin && wget -Nc && unzip && smxi

      …and review it for your needs. Save it as a file. Make it executable, and run it.

      Google them, if these links change.

    • Spanky

      Do, just start with the stable version of Debian. Only back-port, what you need.

      You can start with a LIVE Debian CD; with installer:

      BTW: The “LIVE” Debian CD’s, work with the multi-distro, USB-drive installers, such as MULTISYSTEM; (for Ubuntu), or various other Windows based, mutli-USB-boot, installers:

      Also, for Plymouth, start-up animations, see:

    • Pingback: Debian 6.0 – Linuxuser »