With the recent release of Semplice Linux 3.0.0 at the beginning of the year, I was curious and decided to take a short look at the 3 active Linux distributions that use the “sid” unstable Debian repository for their sources. If you have any interest in a bleeding-edge distro, but want to stick with Debian, these are your best options. For people new to Linux, Debian is one of the oldest active versions, and has a huge set of programs and applications which are stored in a central location, called a repository. This trusted server is where you normally obtain most or all of the programs you use in your day to day life. Debian has the largest repository of any distribution, containing over 30,000 programs and libraries. Debian maintains 3 sets of these files: the most tested are called the “stable” set (called “squeeze” after one of the characters from the movie Toy Story) and are used to run servers or other important concerns. Then there is “testing” (known as “wheezy”) which are more recent versions, with most bugs fixed and perfectly suited for desktop use. Most of the best known Debian based Linux distributions are based on this branch.
Finally there is “sid”. sid is named for the evil kid in the original Toy Story movie. This is the group of new files which have only undergone a few days of tests. They are the newest possible versions of your software, but since they have the occasional potential to break something that worked before, caution is advised and they stay in unstable for a few weeks before being moved to the testing branch.
I installed the 64-bit version of each of these 3 distributions into a virtual machine and took a look around. The discussion below should not be considered as reviews, but rather a “first look” to give you an idea of what to expect from each. Beginners to Linux really should not start with one of these distributions – there are plenty of Debian based ones that are based on the “testing” branch which provide an excellent initial set of applications.
Openbox is the only installed option for a desktop, but unlike in Crunchbang Linux, the menus automatically update when installing or removing programs (Crunchbang can be tweaked to provide the same feature, but it isn’t set up by default).
Semplice, like Ubuntu, uses “sudo” and the main account has root powers. It offers the option to disable sudo and have a separate root account, but discourages this.
Synaptic (the graphical package installer/remover) is included in the installation. The applications you get include a Bluetooth manager, Gnu paint, Mirage (an image viewer), the Chromium web browser, gFTP for file downloading, Pidgin and Xchat for communication, the Claws email client, Abiword (word processor), Gnumeric (spreadsheet program), a pdf reader, the Gnome mplayer for videos and music, 3 terminals, and a task manager. There is also a simple printer wizard. The forums and wiki are just a click away, and there is a “Help” menu.
I installed the Xfce edition, but you have a choice of desktops – KDE full, KDE lite (just a very minimal KDE install), Razr-qt, and Xfce. All available in both 32- and 64-bit. Both aptosid and Siduction ask if you want nonfree and contrib sources added to your list, with an appropriate warning about no longer conforming to the DFSG (Debian Free Software Guidelines). Iceweasel is initially set to open aptosid’s home page.
Applications include a Print wizard, a document viewer, an image viewer, the Ristretto viewer, the Xsane scanner app, Iceweasel browser (Firefox), the Transmission torrent client, Xchat, Brasero Cd burner, Gxine, Xfburn, Abiword (word processor), Gnumeric (spreadsheet app), Orage calendar, and the usual system apps.
siduction is a fork of aptosid. There are quite a few similarities between these 2 distros, including the fact that the installation routine is driven thru the Iceweasel browser and forces you to set up partitions before continuing. Available desktops are KDE, LXDE, Razr-qt, and Xfce, with a brand new developer release featuring Gnome 3.
The applications in siduction appear to be identical to those in aptosid, with perhaps a few different system programs available. Neither siduction nor aptosid include a graphical add/remove programs manager, and in fact they strongly discourage its use. The recommended way to add or remove programs is only by using the apt-get command in a purely command line setting (you’ll have to log in as root, issue an “init 3″ to exit the X Windowing system, then proceed).
The Xfce version had a bug (fixable) whereby you couldn’t start the browser until you go into the .config folder in your /home directory and delete a SingletonLock file. This bug did not appear in the LXDE edition.
All three of these distributions have graphical installations, and fit on a CD. They provide a minimal but not bare bones set of applications to get you started, including python 2.7 and the GCC compiler, as well as a few other programming tools. None of them come with media codecs pre-installed, so you won’t be watching Youtube videos or listening to mp3s immediately. However, both aptosid and siduction allow you to add extra repositories that include the media codecs and more programs; you just will need to install them separately after the main installation routine.
Because they are based on the unstable branch of Debian, using this in any production environment is definitely not recommended. I also would not install these to a computer that you absolutely rely upon. But for a secondary laptop or desktop, they do provide a decent system with full access to the wide variety in Debian’s repositories. Make sure you read the manuals and keep up to date with any warnings and forum news.