In this post, we will finally talk about individual distros. After reading this chapter, you can dive right in and download any of these to try them out. Chapter B4 is the first part of the list of distros and here, we will compile a list of the Debian-based distros we think you should know. Debian is by far the largest family of similar Linux distros. Ubuntu, Linux Mint and many more are members of this family. It is a heterogeneous group, since the distros look and feel different, but they all use the DEB package format and are compatible to some extent.
Some very popular Debian-based Linux distributions we would like to introduce are:
Lineage: → Debian
We will first talk about Debian itself. It is not only a blueprint for other distros, but can also be installed itself. Debian is a very popular OS, which is installed on 15% of Linux personal computers (source), second only to Ubuntu. Debian features great server support, the software runs on a large number of such machines, around 31% of Linux servers, and is incredibly stable and secure. It can, for example, be used on web, print and SSH servers.
There are of course also desktop focused editions. They are in general easy-to-use and the documentation is good, but it could give a bit more information on classical desktop installations. We find that the documentation is very focused on server support. Debian has over 60.000 software packages to choose from. These are also available for Debian derivatives like the Ubuntu family. Although Debian is frequently used as a base for derivatives, the actual Debian OS that you can download and install is very good. It is probably one of the best distros in terms of pre-installed software. You can get to work immediately after installation. Important programs like LibreOffice, Firefox, Evolution mail, the K3b disc burner, VLC, GIMP and the Evince document viewer are waiting for you.
This OS is highly portable and the developers offer versions for many CPU architechtures, including amd64 (64-bit PCs), arm64, armel, armhf, i386 (32-bit PCs), mips, mips64el, mipsel, ppc64el, s390x and also the source code repositories, which are around 70GB in size. Many of the downloads on the website contain 3 disk images, only the first one is needed for the OS installation, the other 2 give you additional software packages and can be used if you need them. There are also network installers with minimal CD images and cloud images for business deployments and virtual servers. With a network installer, you only download the core of the OS and choose packages and DEs during the installation, which are then downloaded.
While many other distros require you to download a different disk image to choose another desktop environment, Debian lets you choose during the installation. On DVD images, you can select GNOME (default); KDE Plasma, Xfce, LXDE, MATE and Cinnamon. CD images use Xfce, but you can always change the DE later. The DEs have different hardware requirements.
Debian is one of the few distros that get localisation right. The installer is available in 73 languages and the translations of the OS itself are well made. The developers officially list the level of support for languages and they concentrate on making good localised versions, instead of mindlessly translating it into as many languages as possible. They focus on major languages, so you can expect flawless English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Dutch and German versions. For those languages, there are completely translated package descriptions, configuration messages, a documentation and the debian.org website. The documentation is fantastic for beginners as well as advanced users and gives detailed instructions for installing Debian on different CPU architectures. It is available on the Debian website.
Lineage: → Debian → Deepin
Deepin is a Chinese Linux distribution based on Debian stable. Deepin looks quite polished and has its own desktop environment, also called Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE). Like Lubuntu’s DE LXQt, DDE is based on the widget toolkit Qt (pronounced “cute”), which gives it a very sleek and modern look. Additionally, a part of the KDE window manager, dde-kwin, makes this distro even more aesthetically pleasing. dde-kwin is a tool to configure the Deepin DE and adds styles and effects.
Something that is really great is that you can get DDE for other distros, including Arch, Manjaro and Fedora. There are 2 modes available, one with a macOS look and one with a Windows 10 look. Within these modes, you can customize icons, windows, cursors and fonts.
What really tells Deepin apart from most other derivatives is that it has a lot of proprietary software like Google Chrome and WPS Office. Other included programs are Thunderbird, WPS PDF Reader, Spotify, Steam, GParted and CodeWeavers’ CrossOver to run Windows software. Most distros limit themselves to open-source software and only use proprietary device drivers if there is no open-source alternative. The software centre is called App Store and has a wide range of proprietary, as well as open-source programs, which makes it easy for beginners to get started. Installing software you download from websites is also a breeze. The basic software, like the image viewer and the video player, come from the developers themselves.
Something we did not like about it is that some of the software is not kept up-to-date, so the LibreOffice download from the App Store is still version 5 and we had to download 6.2 from the website. The update system is also flawed. Deepin has been criticized for user tracking on the App Store, but that practice was abolished in July 2018 (source), due to the backlash. Still, a bit of scepticism remains, since they tracked a lot of statistics in the past.
The developers made some very smart design choices. The settings menu “Control Centre” is a transparent sidebar on the desktop and offers many customization options. For example, you can scale the screen in small steps (steps of factor 0.25), instead of directly scaling it to 200% or 300% like in Ubuntu. It is somewhat similar to Cinnamon or KDE in that regard.
Deepin belongs to a trend that we appreciate, which is basing new distros directly on Debian to avoid Ubuntu’s restrictions.
This chapter is part of our series on^Linux distros. You can also read the other posts at: