Lenny in the Lab

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2009-02-26 Print this article Print


I tested the x86 version of Debian 5.0 running on a few virtual machines atop Sun Microsystems' VirtualBox. I also had it running bare on my Lenovo Thinkpad T60 notebook. Debian 5 supported my Thinkpad T60 hardware without issue, including the sometimes troublesome suspend-to-disk and suspend-to-RAM functions. Also on the power management front, Lenny supported processor frequency scaling out of the box.

On one of my virtual Debian test instances, I set out to test an in-place upgrade scenario involving Debian 4-aka Etch-and a running Mediawiki/Apache/MySQL installation. Support for in-place upgrades of production machines is one the capabilities that the Debian project has long touted, and, for the most part, my experience upgrading my Etch server to Lenny did run smoothly.

As instructed by the project's extensive upgrade documentation, I modified my test system's software source configuration to seek out the new set of packages that comprise Lenny, and proceeded by upgrading first my system's software tools, and then upgrading the rest of the system. When I rebooted into my new Lenny system, however, my Mediawiki instance was inaccessible until I figured out and executed a needed Apache config file change.

Considering that I'd drawn my entire Mediawiki installation from Debian's repositories, it would have been nice if the system could have handled the configuration change as part of the upgrade. I also would like to have seen the system roll the update script required to upgrade the Mediawiki database into the process. Mediawiki version 1.7 shipped with Etch, and Lenny ships with version 1.12.

Considering the complexity of application level upgrades-particularly ones that involve a chorus of components, as Mediawiki does-it would be great to see the Debian project take on the goal of packaging and offering installation options for entire software appliances, perhaps in a future Debian version.

Live Free, or Not

When it comes to promoting and ensuring the ideals of free software in the applications and components it distributes, the Debian project is among the most strict. For instance, Debian ships rebranded versions of the Firefox Web browser (branded "Iceweasel" in Debian). Also, debate raged among Debian developers whether to excise software encumbered by proprietary firmware from the system.

For all its reputed free-zealotry, however, Debian makes it fairly easy to arrive at a working-if not philosophically pure-Linux installation. For instance, when I installed Lenny on my Thinkpad T60, the installer pointed out that I would need a particular binary firmware file to make my Intel 3945ABG Wi-Fi adapter function. The system told me the name of the required file, and offered me the option of inserting a USB drive from which to load that firmware-which I did, after plucking it from a nearby Ubuntu machine.

Along similar lines, once I'd completed my Lenny installation, I found that a USB hard drive formatted with Microsoft's NTFS file system did not mount automatically, as it does in other Linux distributions. Undaunted, I opened Debian's software installation application, searched for the term "ntfs," and installed the package ntfs-3g. Once the package had installed, an icon for my NTFS drive popped up on my desktop.

Debian 5 ships with the open-source Swfdec Flash player, which worked well for me when playing Youtube videos and viewing Flash-based Web site advertisements. Swfdec didn't handle all the Flash content I encountered-the music player at Pandora.com being one example. However, I could install Adobe's own non-free Flash player easily enough by clicking the non-free box in the system's Software Sources utility, and installing the player through the system's regular software tools.

Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at jbrooks@eweek.com.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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