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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 1°there was no script doing make initrd during the installation process 2°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....

I tried several distros and even got to run OpenSolaris on my laptop (I felt cool and absolutely geeky), Slackware thanks to its official SLAX live CD ,
Kanotix and Berry Linux .

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 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!



Debian Etch is Testing, and


Debian Etch is Testing, and you would be better off running Sid, or unstable, than testing. You run testing if you want to report bugs. You run Sid if you want to be bleeding edge. You run Sarge if you want stable. So, what brought you to Fedora instead of Ubuntu?

you had bad information about suse


I've been using apt on redhat and suse for years -

suse ships with apt now - too bad you dropped suse because you thought you could only use yast...

As someone who used to use


As someone who used to use Fedora, I can say it's a very good distro, especially if you want bleeding edge Xen or SELinux support, but it comes at a price. Fedora Legacy is virtually nonexistent after a few months of the new release (at least as when I left, Fedora Core 3), and external repository support is geared towards the latest and greatest, so there's a good deal of pressure to upgrade to the latest and greatest not long after it gets released. I prefer a more leasurely pace. I also didn't have much luck with version upgrades. I switched over to Ubuntu (Debian's version of Fedora) and found that support after the next release was out was pretty good so I could upgrade whenever I wanted to. I was also able to upgrade from Warty to Breezy and bypass Hoary with only one (documented) hitch that was easy to take care of. Overall, I'm happy for making the switch and would not look back. If you need bleeding edge Xen or SELinux support or you work in a Red Hat standardized company, Fedora is the distro for you. But otherwise, you might be better off with Ubuntu.

Three things for you to think about


1) Suse 10.1 has a longer support timeframe than Fedora. This may or may not matter to you. It matters to me a great deal.

2) Suse 10.1 integrates beagle, which I doubt fedora is going to do. A searchable desktop is a requirement in 2006.

3) I work with RHES at work. While you may not like Suse's Yast, Fedora's and Red Hat's system-config tools are miles away from Suse's yast, particularly Yast ncurses interface that can be used over an ssh dial-up line.

My experiences were similar


My experiences were similar to yours, though I do not yet have a functional Debian server installation. I will really miss my old Debian Testing & Unstable (just a few packages or the latter), since it was the best Linux desktop I have used (other than the Fedora Core 3 on my IBM T-30 laptop - more later). I really do not want to give up apt and dpkg, hence, I am writing this from an Ubuntu 05.10 installation that I have customized with newer packages. While I was really impressed with FC-3, particularly after the broken mess I had on it using Mandrake 9.1 Pro, I will at best upgrade only the laptop to FC-5. Nonetheless, the Fedora community and the quality of the package is impressive I am not yet ready to leave the Debian path fully.

Good luck with your move, I can understand your frustration. In my case I thought it was completely my fault, because until recently my experiences with Debian Testing and even Unstable had been excellent.

Berry linux


I read your excellent article on Berry Linux, and burned the iso
for Berry live. Looks good, however, I never could connect to the
internet using Berry scripts for "netconfig", and all of the other
ways as root with dhclient, ifconfig, dhcpcd and so on? How did you
connect to the internet? I have tried numerous distros and usually
can connect, but Berry refuses with my system.

Slackware Packages


> and besides, I don't see myself compiling on my laptop...

Eh? Just go to, search for OpenOffice, download the precompiled package, and install it with installpkg. Most of the packages you'll want can be found there.

James Dixon

Vector Linux?


Did you consider Vector Linux? Based off of Slackware, but definitely more user friendly. I have to agree with you on the live CD idea, it's a great way to test drive a ditro before you commit.

The only thing I didn't like about SuSE 10.0 was that it did not seem to support my wifi (on my notebook), though I did not play with it long, because I knew Ubuntu did support my wifi.

I started with Mandrake (7.2 on up to 8.x) then to RH 8.0 (hated it) and then Fedora Core 3 (primary distro for a while) but then fell in love with Ubuntu, but after seeing the Live CD of Vector, it's got my interest.

Dropping Debian?...


I cut my teeth in the Linux world with RedHat 5.0, through version nine before switching over to the Core and has upgraded by every other version; One, three and five-test 3.

However, the guys at Fedora has broken OpenOffice, when OOo went from v1.95 to v2.0. The replace tab under the AutoCorrect function is not there, and apart from compiling OOo, I am at a lost as what to do. Consequently, I have been experimenting with other distributions, looking for the right fit: Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, WBEL, SuSE, MEPIS and PCLinuxOS to name a few BUT I still find myself being drawn back to Fedora.

More than anything else, I like the feel of the Core. It reminds me somewhat of Windows2000 -loose enough to get the job done; tight enough not to be easily broken- and for upgrades; simply add Dag Wieers to the yum.conf file.

I understand your frustrations with the numerous GNU/Linux distrbutions; wished they would all agree on a common basis and all that good stuff but... oh well!

Enough rant!

Wished Fedora would provide an easy path for upgrading...

Replying to all

thanks all for your input! OK, SuSE deserves a look, definitely. I'll have to investigate what Yast can do outside the gui (but to me it could only do some stuff related to Red Carpet, like "rug -install" and "rug -remove" or something.
Why I don't install Ubuntu: Because even if I put my political views and critics towards Canonical aside, I know that some Ubuntu users were affected exactly by the same problem with udev and the kernel update. I know this, as one Ubuntu user is sitting right in front of me in the office. That's why I chose to drop any Debian-related distro, and did this with some pain, actually.

Thanks for letting me know the availability of packages on Slackware. I don't think it'll go on my laptop; I really don't master my system that much, unless you can prove me that it's really not that hard. I will install it one day, that you can be sure of!



Weird indeed. I have a dhcp connection that ultimately is a DSL router but I don't bother with that. Network worked immediately.
Did you try, as root:
"pump" ?

Hope it helps...



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?

This is what happens when development gets faster: there are more bugs and broken dependencies. Debian is now upgrading lots of packages in testing for the next stable release that is planned by the end of 2006. Ubuntu is not to blame, because only Debian developers have the right to upload packages to Debian archives. Hopefully you'll have better luck with Fedora. Personally I've been pretty impressed with Frugalware.



I have used many distributions. By far my favorites have always been Gentoo, Debian and Slackware. I was a big fan of Gentoo until I got tired of installing on slower computers that took days to compile, so I got into debian and fell in love with the package management and that is what I used for a while until I discovered Arch Linux.

Arch uses pacman, which is in my opinion the best package manager out there ... with the exception of portage of course (best binary). It installs packages flawlessly as well as provide a recursive remove feature. With debian, it was hard to clean my system if say, I wanted to go on a KDE binge to see what that world was like. Sure I could use debfoster, but this tool is limited. In pacman I just recursively remove kde and all of the dependencies go away too. Recursively removing QT ensured that all kde programs get removed also. With pacman im not too afraid of going on a kde binge when a new version comes out. I just install kde and a crapload of kde apps to test them ... and when I realize I dont like kde I can have all of those kde apps go away. The system works VERY well.

OH, and for your first concern, I installed the latest arch kernel using pacman (pacman -S kernel26) and it installed the kernel AND performed mkinitrd for me to created the initrd image. It was pretty much flawless. They also have a nice configuration file that allows you to EASILY trim your modules when mkinitrd is run so you ONLY get what is required to boot your system in the image. Makes for a tidy boot.

So when you get the chance, review Arch Linux at This is by far one of the BEST distributions out there, and for me ... has trumped my previous favorites.

OH and did I mention that the entire distribution is build around the 686 architecture so that everything is somewhat optimized? Moreso than debian, slacware, suse or your beloved Fedora Core anyway.

Debian Etch

I use Debian Etch, I have some problems, but those was fixed. I don't have real problems because I make backups of my installations. I don't make a apt-get dist-upgrade without review the actions will be taken. I review the bug list to see if any applies to me.

Debian is a community distro, If you need click and work, buy a commercial distro.

You are free to choice, IMHO fedora is a blending edge distro. Debian Sid too.


Looking for stability.


I understand where you are coming from. I ran RedHat for years. When RedHat changed their busness I switched over to Fedora. I used RedHat 6.5, 7.0, 7.3, and 9... Fedora 1, skipped F2, and used F3. I think that my favorite was RedHat 7.3 with the Ximian Desktop. By that time I was tired of upgrading my boxes. The Fedora 1 to 3 upgrade didn't work so I ended up wipping the box and reinstalling. (big pain in the neck as I had to buy an extra hard disk to save everything to.)

I deceided that I wanted a distro that would be supported for a long time so when F3 started to get old I installed Mepis. Since Mepis is based on Debian I figured that I would be good for the lifetime of the machine. Debian is supported for years. Mepis was good and I was happy with it but as time went on and I started upgrading and installing things from Debian it started to get flaky. Linux boxes should not have to be rebooted to fix frozen X.

Since my laptop has been running SuSE 9.1 with no problems for a couple of years I deceided to try SuSE 10 on my desktop. So far so good. SuSE found all of my hardware with no problems and it has been rock solid. We shall see how it goes. I have been trying really hard to force myself to only install things from the official SuSE repositories.

My opinion


First things first: nice post, enjoyable reading (including the answers).

Related to the topic, I am a Debian user for about three years now, when I decided to try out what Linux was...

Apart from the initial problems related to graphs and first installs, I have never run into problems with Debian with just a couple of exceptions:

  • Transition from Gnome 2.6 to Gnome 2.8.
  • Upgrade from XFree86 to XOrg. (Related to kernel and udev)

I am running Debian unstable, and I have learnt a couple of things since:

  • Never do any upgrade if you see any dependencies problem (from the initial problems)
  • Take some time before upgrading Gnome. About a week or two is usually a good timeframe.
  • Be extremely careful when upgrading Debian right after a stable version has been released: all the new packages which had been "on hold" will make their way into unstable... even at the same time! Obviously this is the most unstable moment in the release cicle :-)
    (gcc 4.0, Xorg, Gnome 2.12, Kde 3.5, JAVA related packages such as tomcat, Eclipse, ant, and many others...)

And the most important thing: never upgrade anything that might break if you don't have the time to solve possible problems! Never upgrade on a hurry! :-)

Following this "rules" I never had any serious problem, and could always be "on the edge".

Apart from this, I like the idea of evaluating alternatives, and choosing the one that best fits you.

Best luck with your move, but don't discard switching back to Debian in a future: lots of good changes are expected for Etch's release, even if they might still break sometimes now! ;-)

Fedora also integrates beagle

read the subject.

Why etch instead of sarge ?


First I would like to thank you for this story that is very interesting and raises many good questions. However, I think that something important is missing here : I would like to know what are the reasons you choose to use etch instead of sarge. I'm a Debian user and I think that reasons why people choose a specific version of Debian are very important because it's those reasons that describes what the user is looking for and trying to find in Debian.

Re: Why etch instead of sarge ?

I wanted to have something that was more up to date than Sarge, and more stable than Sid. So I chose testing, and I believe many Debian *desktop* users choose etch/testing as well for the same reasons.


I use graphical synaptic, but Im sure you can use the same procedure with apt-get. First of all I have installed apt-listbugs which will fetch bug reports for all packages I want to install, so I can see if there are some bugs which might bite me.

Secondly I have got accustomed to reload the package list in synaptic (this is probably the same as apt-get update) on a certain day and then wait for a day or two before I actually mark and apply the packages which can be updated (probably this is what you do with apt-get upgrade). This way if someone else discovers a bug apt-listbugs will find the bug report and warn me before I install a package which will render my system useless.

This way I can avoid beeing bitten by critical bugs on the systems I use daily, yet am able to use the newer software available in testing compared to stable. I do this especially for "critical" parts (like kernel, X-Server, KDE) while for less important software (e.g. gaim) I sometimes install them right away without waiting for others to find the bugs, I can always file a bug report myself and wait for a fix if those things break.

Fedora's upgrade

thank you for your comments that are all very interesting. I have one question though that I'd like to ask: while most of you are keen on praising Debian and Fedora, some of you imply that Fedora's upgrade process (from FC3 to FC4 for instance) is shaky; could you be a little bit more specific?

etch is good, fedora is okay


I too have had issues in etch, but I expect them. Sarge was in testing so long, it became to me the best version(Testing) to run in the debian release "stack". I usually upgrade from the stable snapshot to the developer/testing versions in time (slightly delayed) with newer GNOME releases. I'll use a Ubuntu Live Cd sometimes to get my jollys on the new GNOME goodies.

I cut my teeth on Linux with RedHat 6.0 and used it up until Fedora 1. It seemed that Red Hat peaked during the 7.x series.

Around Red Hat 8, the distro really lost it's flair and was inconstant from release to release. So, I started flirting with Debian and Slackware around the RH 8 days.

I lost money paying for RH 9 and the never released "RH 10", another unpleasant experience. I loaded FC 1, which was broken out of the box, I could take no more, I dropped RH/FC like a rock and picked up Debian as my primary.

I would try the FC releases, but it always failed in the simplest ways, namely a working update tool. Yeah, yeah, YUM and apt....

Fedora 5 betas have impressed me, but I'm so ingrained in Debian, that I'm not planning on leaving it. It just has that sweet spot I like in Linux. I had the same feeling with Slackware, but THE slackware dude got sick and I needed something that had large support behind it.

I use Debian stable for production, testing (Etch) for uhem testing with some security and Sid to see how it's all going. Unstable occasionally just yorks, but always seems to work from a fresh install, same with testing.

If there is an issue with a program in testing I'll just dpkg it from the unstable branch onto my testing machine and most times this works just fine, eg Anjuta. And as a previous poster added and I 'm sure you know, never go to testing right after the new release snapshot.

But hey, I'm debating on loading Ubuntu or Fedora 5 for my parents. Not sure yet, but I'm thinking Ubuntu.

Good Luck and have fun, use Linux.

Suse 10.1 integrates beagle,


Suse 10.1 integrates beagle, which I doubt fedora is going to do. A searchable desktop is a requirement in 2006

What?! Requirement for whom? I certainly don't have so much stuff on my Linux box that I need a fancy search tool in order to find stuff, regardless of the date.

While you may not like Suse's Yast, Fedora's and Red Hat's system-config tools are miles away from Suse's yast

Or you could use a text editor, but on SUSE you have to be careful that YAST doesn't clobber your changes...

You could actually add the


You could actually add the unstable repository to your /etc/apt/sources.list and then use /etc/apt/preferences to give a high priority to packages from testing and low priority to packages from unstable. This way you don't have to manually download packages from the repositories and install them with dpkg. If you want the unstable version of a package, you can install it like "apt-get install package/unstable". That's what i use to conveniently get packages from experimental.

Your /etc/apt/preferences would look like this:

Package: *
Pin: release o=Debian,a=unstable
Pin-Priority: 300

Package: *
Pin: release o=Debian,a=testing
Pin-Priority: 550

This preferences file is actually very powerfull and also allows you to 'pin' certain software to certain versions. If you've been using Debian for some time and like it, it's really worthwhile to learn more about these things. It allows you to use "unstable" packages for a select number of packages, while using "testing" packages for everything else.

As you can guess... I use Debian and for me this is simply the best linux distro. Their package management is actually very powerfull and is also very fast in use. I've used Gentoo before and still use it, and that distro also has quite powerfull package management, but it is slow, both in updating or searching the package database and this makes it almost unusable on older hardware.

2) Suse 10.1 integrates


2) Suse 10.1 integrates beagle, which I doubt fedora is going to do. A searchable desktop is a requirement in 2006.

Sounds like more useless bloat for the Linux desktops, find & grep are more than sufficient IMO.

I wanted to have something


I wanted to have something that was more up to date than Sarge, and more stable than Sid. So I chose testing, and I believe many Debian *desktop* users choose etch/testing as well for the same reasons.

If want you want is X.Org, firefox 1.5, and up to date Gnome/KDE then you could run sarge with backports from That is what I presonally do. Sarge+backports is a very stable and up to date platform and much better IMO than running testing/sid. Ubuntu is also a good alternative for an up to date Debian but I prefer Sarge+backports because I do not use Gnome/KDE and I am a long time user of Debian.

You might also want to look at this site for some software that is needed for desktop use:

This is almost the way I do


This is almost the way I do upgrades too. But I use cron-apt and apt-get instead of synaptic.

cron-apt (automatic "apt-get update" from cron)
apt-listbugs (lists bugs before installing)
apt-listchanges (lists changes before installing)

If some component is critical I wait a few days for bugreports and if there are bugs open I simply wait until they're closed.

Why not gentoo ?


I've been running gentoo for a number of years under a rather old system (a pentium 3 800 don't have enough money for something better) and I really like it...

Recently I've had to use a fedora and a debian distribution at work...
I almost in despair after a few days of using fedora because the package system is one of the worst ever when you want to do something a bit out of the ordinary like installing ruby on rails with rmagick for image manipulation...

With debian I had some problem doing the transition between an old stable box we had that we wanted to be etch (mainly problems because of the change between xfree86 and xorg...)

Gentoo of course takes some time compiling softwares but frankly that's only mostly for the big blobs like gnome, kde, open office and such and well you don't really need to recompile them everyday... So it's just a matter of leaving the computer on overnight sometimes and that's all...
And well after running the exact same gentoo distribution for 3 years straight (I just copied my old hard disk partitions to my new computer when I changed laptop) and having no major problems, I think it stands the test of time

Anyway try it if you can...

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