Migration to Debian 5, aka, Lenny

Ryan Weal

March 09, 2009

Todays post is a quick review of the upgrade process to get your existing Debian system up-to-date with version 5. For those who are unfamiliar with Linux, Debian is a variation of the free computer operating system that is well suited for server usage. It also happens to strip out most of the branding you would find in other Linux distributions which is one of the reasons I like it.

The Upgrade Process

Moving up to the new version of Debian was as simple as running the distribution update command:

apt-get install dist-upgrade

... except for the fact that my OS partition is now getting quite full. So eventually it would stop, complain about disk space and ask me to resume later. Apparently Lenny, the codename for Debian 5, requires more space. Go figure.

apt-get clean

Ok, we've dumped all the installer files for these packages that have been installed. Resume installation. Everything goes pretty smoothly from here.

At the end I need to run Lilo and I really need a new Kernel (I had been shamefully running an ancient Kernel on this box - over a year old at least). So I asked the system for a new kernel and got it.

One blip: the video driver. I have a strange Intel-based motherbord - the IntelD201GLY - which has an integrated SIS graphics card with little/no support anywhere to be found. I had to compile the drivers myself... (against the new kernel of course) and now having done this process twice I will be more diligent about kernel updates because it really doesn't take that long to fix.

The User Experience

The difference in performance was profound. The combination of a new kernel, a more modern browser (Firefox 3 - packaged as Iceweasel 3) and the vast array of other updates have made the first few minutes an amazingly refreshing adventure. The few hours I spent debugging were well worth the effort.

The icons changed, themes changed, and in some cases syntax changed (which of course means fixing a variety of scripts). Overall the system feels more integrated, nicer to look at and less invasive. I can see myself getting very comfortable with this.

The Missing Link

The one change that did catch me really off guard is the disappearance of the original Xmms. I had been using it for years as a secondary player and I apprecaited the support it had for changing output devices on the fly. No other gui player seems to have that feature implemented as far as I have been able to tell. Why not just use Xmms2 you ask? As far as I am concerned Xmms2 is a nightmare.

With Xmms2 it seems the developers wanted to make a server-based player. Fair enough, but I already use Moosic for this and it does a good job. I wanted to drag and drop from Nautilus - no more. Of all the gui interfaces to Xmms2 none of them seem to support drag and drop from external apps. Further to this, Gxmms2 can't seem to load the queue with files from within it's own interface. Abraca is the same. Esperanza will load the files into the list but runs the KDE interface - the only app on my desktop that does.

The main issue I have with Xmms2 is the lack of support for changing devices in the gui apps. I have to run commands to update text files. Frustrating! The volume controls do not seem to want to associate with the proper device no matter what I try and no features other than the bare minimum are documented. What seems to have happened here is that Xmms2 became a radio streaming program and lost sight of why it was created in the first place. I don't mean to be harsh - I'm sure I will like all those new features when I get to them... but in the meantime, how do I listen to tunes on my second audio card without a bunch of hassle? Suggestions?

Last Word

Debian 5 is a nice update to a great OS. There are small improvements everywhere and it makes my old desktop a lot more fun to use. Hardware support seems to be gradually improving over time and this is a good thing. I was thinking about jumping ship to Ubuntu a few months ago but it was worth the wait. I use Debian on the desktop and the server so the consistency is a huge advantage to me.