Why Debian is always going to be better than Ubuntu

I had troubles with gnome-shell and ATI drivers on both my computers running Debian Squeeze. Whatever I tried I just couldn’t get it to work. I was dejected and defeated that I couldn’t try out the next big thing.

I’ve always preferred to have the latest testing but my girlfriend hates using Linux at the best of times and the last straw for her was not being able to click on flash in Compiz. So I decided to change to the just released Ubuntu 9.10 hoping that a stable release would keep the hounds (her) at bay.

Sure enough 9.10 worked quite well out of the box and I tried out gnome-shell making it my primary desktop. I had just installed Ubuntu over my trusty Debian install that had been with me since Etch was Released. I was thinking about doing this anyway so I could move to EXT4 and start afresh.

Immediately I regretted the decision because of one simple fact; EVERY x.10 release of Ubuntu is broken.

It’s like they take a snapshot of the worst possible Sid and just run with it for six months. I have never had trouble installing Ubuntu which is always easy for anyone who’s installed Linux before but the task of using Ubuntu for longer than a live cd session is painful and annoying. Updates constantly break things or things have just never worked.

Then there were the new features of 9.10 all of which are useless in their own way:

  • I was intruiged by Ubuntu One but it’s just useless, dropbox seems way better to me in every way especially more configurable but useless for me.
  • I was intruiged by the Ubuntu Software Centre but it is in no way aimed at anyone besides pushing Canonical crapware. gnome-app-install is the same thing and synaptic/aptitude is still the best way to do anything.
  • I was interested in using the restricted drivers utility as installing ATI drivers was a crap shoot at the best of times, but then I found out radeonHD was good enough to use so it’s irrelevant to me again.
  • I liked notify-osd but since using gnome-shell from Git it’s added the message tray which is less annoying to boot, so I don’t even need that.
  • Firefox in Ubuntu is crap. I have no idea what it is about Firefox lately (even Iceweasel isn’t too flash) but i’ve moved to google-chrome and back to epiphany.
  • mono-runtime is installed. While I agree with the Debian project on this in that I don’t care about mono’s existence. I have yet to see a program based on mono that was worth putting in the default install of anything. Banshee, F-spot, Tomboy aren’t killer apps.

Gnome 2.28’s biggest feature for me was including gnome-shell, sure enough I fell in love and I can’t wait for it to replace metacity and panels. This was the biggest reason I switched to 9.10 but it ended up being the stupidest.

After I followed development at;


And started using the Git repository to get the latest versions:

curl -O http://git.gnome.org/browse/gnome-shell/plain/tools/build/gnome-shell-build-setup.sh
sh gnome-shell-build-setup.sh
jhbuild build

I realised that things were way ahead of where I was and made gnome-shell-git (the name I gave the link) my primary desktop. The current state of gnome-shell is awesome and is a lot more usable as far as features go.

So back to the initial reason I wanted to leave Debian and look at other things was because gnome-shell was unusable. Try as I might I couldn’t work out why. I eventually filed a bug on bugs.debian.org and a week later I received my answer from Gustavo Noronha Silva:


I installed Squeeze back on my laptop and sure enough it fixed my problem. I felt so glad to have Debian back. I realise that bugs.debian.org should have been my first port of call when thinking about jumping ship but I was too desperate to try something new.

In the two months of using Ubuntu again I remember the reasons why I chose Debian over Ubuntu and Windows to become my only operating system on my computers since 2005:

  1. Debian Testing isn’t always stable but major transitions aside I’ve had less problems with Etch Testing, Lenny Testing and Squeeze Testing  than any Ubuntu Release from 4-9.
  2. Releasing every 6 months has made one of the most unstable, ‘stable’ distro’s around. The freeze in Lenny was 6 months while Ubuntu has released with unfinished and broken software for years.
  3. Debian gives you everything you want, nothing you don’t want and doesn’t tell you how to use it. It’s gotten a lot bigger over the years but still installs less crap by default.
  4. Ubuntu effectively creating a 4th branch of Debian doesn’t help Debian as much as it helps Ubuntu. This isn’t a bad thing for either but I would rather see contribute to Debian.
  5. I say “I use Debian” before I say Linux. I have obviously chosen my favourite distro and after years of tinkering with settings and staring at Clearlooks windows I’ve never felt more comfortable with my computer.

I apologise Debian, I was wrong to think that you weren’t the right one for me. Thanks for taking me back.