2010-01-31

Helping out a Debianite!

The week started out busy and stayed that way.  Sunday afternoon, I spent my time helping out a good friend Renee with her Debian desktop.  Years ago, she and her beau (now husband, IIRC) had been pinched for cash and tired of the BSoD's.  Carl, an old co-worker of mine, and I suggested Debian as an alternative.  About once every two or three years, they ask for a tune-up, and Sunday just happened to be that day.  She was having issues playing sound and installing fonts.  Usually easy things to fix, I spent the better part of the afternoon debugging the sound issues.

Carl and I apparently weren't very thorough with our initial setup.  With the Gnome desktop, there is a nice little utility called gksu that prompts the user for either the root password of the system, or ties in to sudo, which apparently I mis-pronounce as "pseudo" rather than sue-doo, to allow a privileged user to enter their own password.  This is the same type of setup that Apple's Mac OS X uses.  Renee and Chris couldn't find the root password (easy enough to change), and gksu wasn't configured to use sudo!  Awkward.  As a result, over 460 packages needed to be updated for security or usability reasons since the release of Debian 5.0 (Lenny).

The second mis-step in our setup was forgetting to assign Renee's account to all the right local hardware access groups, such as "audio", "video", etc.  Sound setup in Lenny was a bit weird anyway, so I downloaded and installed the PulseAudio packages.  Took me a bit of hoop jumping and research to figure out all the right things to do -- turned out that it was a simple answer of adding Renee and Chris to two groups rather than one.  Only took me a couple hours to find that one.

Lastly, of course, was trying to get Flash 10 working in Lenny.  I found "The Perfect Desktop - Debian Lenny" to be extremely helpful.  The difficulty with Debian in general continues to be its strict adherence to what it considers free.  Adobe's Flash Player is definitely not free, and thereby does not warrant support. However, your browsing experience is seriously impinged upon if you do not include the latest Flash and Shockwave language.  Free software has a natural latency to this level of support, it's always behind when trying to provide compatible variants to otherwise restricted rights software.

I can only think of one acceptable alternative to Debian, though: Ubuntu.  Being a Debian-bigot, it's a natural fit for me.  For the average user, not the monkey-wrenching geek like me, Ubuntu has all the benefits of the Debian operating system with the polish and support you would like to see in a desktop operating system.  Ubuntu package selection is a bit more strategic than Debian's when it comes to "fitting in" to the current computing environment.  This has earned Ubuntu the "black sheep" stigma from some hard-core Free Software pundits, one that is undeserved in my honest opinion.  (I can guarantee you that it isn't on Richard Stallman's Top 10 list of Linux derivatives.)

Ubuntu would be a great fit for Renee and Chris.  I'm using it on my laptop and my work-desktop right now!  Works great!  Perhaps the next time they need a tune-up, I'll convince them to switch over.  Wulfgar, if you're reading this and tired of the BSoD's, look to Ubuntu!

Chad