I wanted to see Linux in action in 64 bits. It seems there are only a few choices, Ubuntu and Debian were the only distributions I found using 64 bit software. I thought I would give Debian a go first planning on installing Ubuntu afterwards. Ubuntu is/was derived from Debian, and many programs could be interchanged between repositories without issue.
Debian Linux is unique in Debian only uses software that meets certain licensing requirements. In general this is software that is not proprietary, or restricted. If you are curious you go to the Debian website, as the explanation tends to get a little convoluted and I do not wish to give the wrong explanation.
Going to Debian’s home page is always an experience. Debian home page is no frills, and makes no claim to being simple to use, with hordes of people ready to help you if you have problems. Debian’s web site tells you about Debian and directs you to options you may choose concerning Debian.
Selecting ‘Getting Debian’ brought me to a page of download and installation options. I chose to download the small image file and copy it off to cd. This option downloads and installs most needed programs via internet connection. One caveat about this install, it does not support a wireless connection for the install.
The installation other than being hard wired to the net is about the same as any other installation. You need to have free space on your hard drive if you are going to dual boot. You need to create partitions. I use three partitions, Root, Home, and Swap. Debian installed painlessly, taking about twenty minutes or so, which is about average for an install.
I now had a usable Debian install with a basic Gnome desktop. I could not see or hear an online video, listen to an mp3, or watch some other videos. I did not yet have a wireless connection according to the installation documentation I read.
This brought me to the interesting part of using Debian. Using Debian as general users use computers, you need to hunt down what you need, and sometimes it is not apparent what you need, or where to find it. While Debian’s website has excellent documentation, it assumes that the reader knows what they are looking for.
My wireless connection is a good example. To get the drivers and programs needed to set up my wireless card, I needed to know exactly what my laptop wireless card is. Knowing what connection types it supports, or who makes it is not enough, an exact model number is required.
Finding this information means going to the manufacturer website and searching for my a parts list. I was fortunate in I found my wireless card listed, some computers are not that simple because the manufacturer uses whatever works for that day, and may not be consistent week to week with parts it uses.
I had my wireless card information. Now I had to locate new repositories to download drivers and programs from to enable my wireless. The documentation I found directed me to specific Ubuntu repositories. I added the repositories (another few steps using a root terminal or Synaptic), and installed the programs. A quick reboot and I had a wireless connection.
What I know as Windows codecs is about the same process. My web cam was another trip into the documentation and guessing what kind of camera it was. My laptop manufacturer was in a cost savings mode for web cams, and only admitted to using a usb web cam. I located and installed more drivers and programs. Using a program named Cheese, it works. For other uses, I do not not know yet.
Debian 64 bit appears to boot and shutdown faster than what I have experienced with 32 bit versions. All the software I need or want is available. After a number of shutdowns and reboots, everything works as advertised.
Debian has always been a rock solid Linux. Two of Debian’s ongoing criticisms are lack of friendliness for new users, and the difficulty of finding what you need for general computer use that does not fit Debian’s licensing requirements. These two criticisms deserved or not, have not changed for the 64 bit version of Debian.
If you want a Linux Distribution where you pop in the CD and sit back, Debian is not for you. If you want a solid system having some control over what is on it, and you don’t mind doing a little searching, Debian is a good choice. Debian gives you freedom to tweak, change, add and subtract as much or as little as you choose. With thousands of packages in the repositories, your options are endless.