I’ve recently installed Debian on an old PC to give it a second life, while keeping Ubuntu on my main computer. Here are my feelings for both of them:
To put it simply: what a shame! I was greatly disappointed by Ubuntu 11.04. I first upgraded from 10.10, but found out the Linux 2.6.38 kernel had not been installed and I still had the 2.6.35. Thus, I reinstalled it from scratch after making lengthy documents saves. At first sight, nothing really changed… until I logged in and saw this.
That’s it, Ubuntu’s new graphical interface, the long-awaited Unity. Quickly playing up with it, it reveals to be a mess and a precocious project — surely not suitable for such a distro. Even though some will love it, Canonical (if you didn’t know it, it’s the firm which owns Ubuntu) took an enormous risk to ship Unity at an early step of its development. It has still got to ‘grow up’ — but it’s very similar to GNOME 3, the newest version, although it was not used in Ubuntu 11.04 because of Canonical’s disagreement with this project (they wanted to add their touch). I’m confident Unity can be good, but it’s not ready yet.
This aside, a few applications were replaced (we’ll note the switch to LibreOffice), but new features are lacking. I somehow had the feeling Ubuntu has ceased a larger place to proprietary softwares in this new release.
As a conclusion, I’d say Ubuntu 11.04 didn’t deserve all the ‘buzz’ it was surrounded with but should rather keep it quiet for a bit, until Canonical comes with something more acceptable.
Debian was the huge surprise to me. I thought I’d quickly try it, but it now reigns as a king on my old PC. It’s simple, fast and efficient, and doesn’t come with a ton of useless apps, as Ubuntu does. Although it looks modest, Debian is yet powerful and gives the user many ways to use it: though it is a bit harsh for newcomers to GNU/Linux, someone with a bit of experience can run it perfectly.
Squeeze comes with Linux kernel 2.6.32, GNOME 2, basic apps installed but no programming tools whatsoever — you have to install GCC and other utilities yourself. Even though the kernel looks a bit old (for those who desperately want the 200 ‘magic’ code lines in the 2.6.38), it is really easy to compile a new one and install it; this is what I did. Debian’s repositories are constantly updated and provide you lots of new apps, which avoids compiling -lots- of programs.
Also, let’s not forget Debian has a huge community with lots of developers and users.
Ubuntu comes as an acceptable distribution for newcomers to GNU/Linux, but if you do have any previous experience, you should definitely try Debian, if you have not already. It is really worth the try and shouldn’t be missed. No wonder Ubuntu’s a Debian-based distribution!