But I had no idea which system would share the leadership with Xubuntu. All the candidates were actually decent Operating Systems, each with points pro and con.
Have you seen the results? If not, they are here.
Xubuntu actually came to the top, followed by Linux Mint XFCE.
Mint XFCE is the distribution I have written a lot about. Mostly about my love: how it rose and how it had fallen apart.
Debian XFCE! It was a surprise to me. Of course, I know what Debian is, but I was under impression that the majority of people prefer “classical” Debian with GNOME2. And then… Debian with XFCE. Unbelievable mix, but…
I have already written about Debian a lot. Mostly about how to install it, not to install it and re-install it, based on my own experience. Yes, I do love Debian. But this love came through fire, water, and copper pipes.
I have also written about Debian KDE Live. And I liked this distribution.
Having the contest results in hand, I had no other choice but to give Debian XFCE a try. As usual, I prefer a Live version where possible. There is a Live Debian XFCE, as part of the Debian Live project.
The ISO image of Debian XFCE Live weighs 835 MB. As in Debian KDE, there are 2 versions of the ISO available: one for CD and one for USB drives. I downloaded the second one, because the BIOS of my laptop Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 does not support booting from CD ISOs on a USB stick.
The latest release of Debian XFCE Live has the index 6.0.3 and was published on the 14th of October 2011. Once the image was downloaded, I dd'ed it to my 8 Gb USB stick.
The flash drive is in the port. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!
Booting upThe first screen was about the selection of run mode of Debian XFCE. There are 2 types of Live mode: one for old processors (I guess 486) and one for 686 and higher. My choice was for the second one (686), because my laptop has an Intel Centrino dual core processor, definitely higher than 686. Other than the Live run, the first menu offers an option to go straight to the installation in simple or expert, text or graphical modes.
The boot time of Debian XFCE Live is really, really quick. It seemed to stop for a few seconds when I thought that nothing was happening, but then it fired up the ready-to-use desktop.
Once booted, I was in Debian XFCE Live running Linux kernel 2.6.32-5 with XFCE 4.6.2 on top. Both kernel and Desktop Environment versions are not the most recent, and they were not such even at the date of release back in October 2011. But that is the essence of Debian: this operating system only uses well-tested and stable packages. If you want to be on the bleeding edge, you need to go somewhere else, for example to Debian Sid, Crunchbang or Aptosid.
Coming back to Debian XFCE Live: once it was booted, I checked memory usage. It is hard to believe, but my eyebrows went up when I saw the results in the Taskmanager window. All that the Operating System took was... 118 Mb of memory! See the screenshot! This number already included Taskmanager itself - about 10 Mb and screenshot utility - 2 Mb. If we take these out, the result would be even more impressive: Debian Live XFCE runs in 106 Mb of memory! Amazing!
And that’s not the limit! If you want to tweak even more, you could probably remove some applications from autostart, for example the print queue applet, if you don't have a printer.
That’s Debian. That’s XFCE.
Network configurationI was well aware that Debian XFCE Live won't run immediately on my laptop's wireless network card Intel 3945 ABG. I have this experience based on both Debian KDE Live and Debian GNOME installations. That's why I tried to use the same approach as I used during the Live KDE run, i.e. copy firmware from the existing Debian installation into the Live filesystem. Unfortunately, the sequence of commands
sudo mkdir /debian
sudo mount -t auto /dev/sda8 /debian
sudo cp /debian/lib/firmware/iwlwifi-3945-* /lib/firmware/
sudo modprobe iwl3945
did not work. I spent a good 10 minutes, or even more, trying to figure out what was going wrong. The solution was in proper configuration of the Wicd network manager. It did not have wlan0 as the wireless network interface name. Once the corresponding field in Wicd's Preferences was populated, I was able to see available networks, including my own home network.
A few more usual steps to configure security details, and I am connected.
Of course, you are unlikely to use the same approach. In most cases you'll need to download firmware from Debian repositories. But I still think that fixing the interface name is an important step to go through.
DesktopThe freshly booted system launches a Tips&Tricks window. That’s the only window you see on the screen.
The default desktop wallpaper in Debian Live XFCE is the same as in any other Debian Squeeze spins I've tried so far. It is a space-themed image with the Debian spiral logo on it.
There is one panel at the bottom, where you can find the usual items.
The menu button with the XFCE logo is in the left bottom corner. Next to it are shortcuts to Terminal, file manager (Thunar) and browser (Iceweasel). In the central part of the panel is the taskbar, as usual. The notification area with network and battery status icons is on the right. The desktop switching icons for the 4 default virtual desktops is next to the notification area. It is followed by a "show desktop" button and clocks. And finally, the right-bottom corner is occupied by the Quit button. As you can see, everything is more or less standard. I would actually move the Show Desktop button to the left, next to the Menu button, but that’s a question of taste and can be adjusted easily.
Desktop effects are off by default in Debian XFCE Live, but I was able to switch on compositing in the Windows Manager Tweaks part of the Settings panel. They worked. As expected. Period.
SoftwareIceweasel 3.5.16 is the default browser in the Debian Live XFCE. There are no more network tools in the menu, apart from the Wicd network manager. If you need to add anything else, you need to use the package manager.
Iceweasel behaved strangely on my own blog. It randomly gave me artefacts in the left top corner of some pages. I am not sure, but it may be linked to incorrect processing of scripts from the advertising network. If you’re using Iceweasel right now, do you notice anything unusual? Please leave your comments about this.
The office part of the Debian XFCE Live menu contains full set of OpenOffice.org applications, including Draw and Base, and is OO.o version 3.2.1. It is definitely not the freshest version, but still reliable and functional. What I have noticed – or to be precise did not notice – was the logo of Oracle on OO.o splash screen. It is not there. ePDF Viewer, Dictionary and Orage calendar complete the Office section.
Multimedia tools include Xfburn and Brasero disk burning applications, Quod Libet and VLC players, Ex Falso mass tag editing application, Aumix and Mixer applications. I was surprised to see that some functions were duplicated in Debian Live XFCE. Why would you need Xfburn and Brasero at the same time? The same can be said for mixing tools.
The Graphics section of the menu contains GIMP, OO.o Draw, Ristretto image viewer and a scanning tool. Not the widest selection ever, but who would complain about lack of functionality if you have GIMP? Maybe some people would need Inkscape too, but it is easily reachable in repositories. There is no screenshot tool in the Graphics menu, but it is presented in Accessories.
Apart from the Screenshot tool, Accessories contains Notes, Terminal, Squeeze archive manager, Taskmanager, Mousepad text editor and some other simple and useful applications.
Some of the same applications are also listed in the System menu: Thunar, Terminal, and Taskmanager. At the same time, System includes other items like Reportbug, Debian installer, Printing and others.
I tried to run Debian installer from the Live-686 session and got an error in a CLI-style window that the kernel versions of the installer and the current system did not match. Despite this message, the next screen took me into the graphical installer. This behaviour confused me very much.
I have not found any package manager in the menu. Neither Synaptic, nor anything similar is there. Of course, Synaptic was only one sudo apt-get install away, but why not include it by default? It is quite strange to have a Linux Operating System without a package manager tool. Actually, this is the same behaviour as in Debian KDE, so I should not be surprised so much.
Also, there was no partitioning tool in Debian Live XFCE.
I think these two tools (Synaptic and GParted or their equivalents) are very useful, aren't they?
As long as Debian Live XFCE uses the same repositories as any other Debian Squeeze, I won't list all the available (and unavailable) applications here.
I tried to install Google Chrome from the official site. The downloaded package was not associated with any application. That’s why I used the aptitude install command. It found some missing dependencies, installed it, but threw an error at the end. Eventually (but not immediately) the Google Chrome icon appeared in the menu… and it worked! I was baffled.
Debian Live XFCE shows inconsistency between icons for the same application in different parts of the system. For example, Thunar has different icons in the “Accessories” and "Favourites" sections of the menu. The same is valid for the Iceweasel browser. I think the reason for this is that “Favourites” and “Shortcut” sections don’t link directly to a specific application, but rather call up default applications for the purpose (file management or Internet browsing). As opposed to this, the menu items link directly to specific programs: Iceweasel, Thunar. If you install Google Chrome or any other browser and make it the default, then items on the shortcuts panel should call Chrome, not Iceweasel. I tried this idea, and an initial test confirmed it.
Keyboard layoutThe default keyboard layout in Debian XFCE Live is English US. Of course, I needed to change it to something more appropriate for me: a combination of English UK and Russian with Ctrl-Shift as the switch hotkey.
Configuration of the keyboard layout was an easy task. As usual in XFCE, you need to start from the end. Add the Keyboard Layout indicator on the panel, and then configure available layouts and hotkeys in the Preferences of this indicator. Nothing unexpected there, everything is in its usual place.
On the negative side, the touchpad did not support the scrolling function. There is nothing about it in XFCE mouse settings either. Am I right to blame XFCE 4.6 in this? I had a different experience with XFCE 4.8 in Xubuntu.
MultimediaFlash is included in Debian Live XFCE by default. I was able to watch YouTube videos almost immediately. The only stopping point was... volume! Yes, there was an issue. Volume control for the laptop speakers was taken to the minimum in the default Mixer settings.
|Debian Live XFCE|
supports MP3 and Flash out of the box
Once the partition was mounted via sudo mount -t cifs //remote/partition /mountpoint -o guest,nolinux command, VLC and Quod Libet had no issues with opening MP3 files from there.
ConclusionWhat is Debian XFCE Live and how does it compare on the market?
This is a distribution that we need to respect, because it is stable, universal and reliable. This is valid for anything in the Debian Stable branch, which is currently Squeeze.
But usage of the XFCE Desktop Environment on top of Debian Squeeze has its own points, positive and negative.
Unfortunately, I need to admit that the list of applications in Debian XFCE Live is pretty Spartan. Some necessary applications are missing from it. In contrast, some functions have duplicated applications. It is not explainable by disk image size since it had overgrown the CD size, but remained far below the DVD size.
The unexpected issue with the wlan0 interface name in Wicd adds some negative points onto the scorecard too.
Otherwise, Debian Live XFCE is pretty much a stable, predictable and responsive system. A few tweaks, and the installed version of it would fit even low-end computers.
Generally speaking, Debian Live XFCE deserves the high appreciation which it got from users who voted in the poll.