Is setting up Debian hard?

Recently, there has been some discussion amongst some of my associates about if Debian really is as difficult as others make it out to be. One of the reasons for this discussion is the popularity of the Mint and Ubuntu distributions by the few people who I do know outside of SX who use Linux and their expressed fear of Debian being "too difficult." Personally however, I saw that after doing the initial setup work for a Linux server that it may not be as hard as many people think. As such, I decided to do two different methods of installing Debian to see how well it would work.

The first method in question was installing Debian with the desktop environment built in. This would allow for the GUI and most aspects of the system to be available immediately. This is good for users not familar with Debian and Linux, but does not give the best setup. First, the default for this is gnome, which does bother me a bit as I have a stronger preference for enlightenment. A more troubling development though is the usage of Pulseaudio, which upon further research found that real-time schedule handling introduces security issues and sometimes didn't work with programs such as Wine correctly. Overall, for somebody who has some knowledge of Linux, the desktop environment packages are not suitable for you.

The second method was installing Debian with nothing but the basic system utilities. This pretty much means that you have a command line to work from. While this does scare away many users, the reality is that learning to use the BASH shell can make productivity actually faster and more efficient than relying on GUI based work. The most effective example of this can be seen when running servers from Linux as running Xorg would merely consume resources that could otherwise be used to accomdate other users. As such, I would recommend users learn the basics about working from the command line, with a particular focus on learning to use apt-get effectively. One nice trick in particular is apt-get cache "searchterm" where searchterm is the desired search result. This helped me find the necessary patch loader for my Sound Blaster Audigy 4 so the card would work in ALSA correctly. (I know, that card is eight years old now, but honestly I haven't been able to justify upgrading to a newer card yet.)

Another issue was to setup xorg. A simple apt-get install xorg gets the majority of packages, and I pulled e17 from the experimental side of things. (Which isn't recommended by Debian due to stability) However, the launcher must be changed so that it knows to start enlightenment appropriately from the .xinitrc file. As I have an Nvidia card, Nouveau was installed and everything worked straight out of the gate. However, I also opted to change my card to the Nvidia binary drivers for performance reasons so I had to update my repository to state that it could use repositories marked non-free and contrib. (More information can be found on doing this via Debian's wiki.)

After getting this up, I threw on synaptic to speed up searching for repositories to install, but most of the time I will use apt-get as it does make life generally better should any unforeseen issues happen such as broken packages. Now that everything is up and running to my liking, I can say that when compared to the desktop environment I feel that handling setup myself for many aspects of Linux was not as painful as some thought and at the same time did improve my overall knowledge of many of the things that are often taken for granted. This also shows me a rather horrifying reality with people from within my own Computer Science department.

The basic reality is that I can count on one hand the number of people who use Linux at the university I attend. What is even more distressing is that I am probably the only undergrad who has taken the time and effort to learn to setup some of these programs instead of relying on a pre-installed desktop environment. The reality is that this is not necessary if somebody knows how to use nano at the very least. With this in mind, I do think that countless people in my department would benefit heavily from such a experience and would be better off learning other operating systems instead of just relying on Windows or Mac. (I loathe Windows, and Mac is indeed a great OS, but stepping out of that comfort zone can be rewarding.)