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Forked Debian Beta Is Rough Around the Edges

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
May 17, 2016 3:54 PM PT

Forked Debian Beta Is Rough Around the Edges

The Devuan GNU/Linux community's much-awaited Devuan Linux Jessie 1.0 beta release is available.

It took two years for disgruntled Debian community members to make good on their promise of a systemd-free Debian distro. They rejected a Linux-wide trend to replace older init processes such as Upstart and System V with systemd.

The process of forking Debian into Devuan took much longer than the Devuan leadership expected, according to Devuan.org. Despite that delay, caused in part by the developers not wanting to miss any details, Devuan Jessie is a safe upgrade path from Debian Wheezy.

The init -- short for initialization -- is a background process that starts when the computer boots and runs until the computer shuts down. It oversees all other running processes. Debian developers in 2014 mandated the adoption of systemd as the init process.

When that mandate solidified the init debate, some Debian developers took their marbles -- er, coding skills -- and went home to build a Debian GNU/Linux fork they dubbed "Devuan Linux." The beta release marks a milestone toward the sustainability and the continuation of Devuan as an universal base distribution.

Switching from Debian Jessie avoids most of the problems introduced by systemd, according to Devuan.org. The forked Linux distro was financed by US$10,000 in donations over the two-year period.

First Impressions

The goal of Linux Picks and Pans is to highlight new developments in Linux distros. When the technically new Linux distro called "Devuan" reached its beta stage, I naturally was anxious to see how it might differ from other Linux offerings.

The focus of attention for this Devuan release is, did the breakaway community succeed in creating the promised systemd-free Debian-based distro? I am not a programmer, so my view is based solely on being an informed Linux user with a continuing hands-on experience with a variety of distros and Linux desktop environments.

Our purpose here is not to pass judgment on the technical merits of the init controversy. From my view, the question is simply, does the Devuan beta release work or does it need more finessing?

Yes and Yes

The answer to both questions is yes it does! The init process is under the hood. It does not get in the way. Devuan Jessie 1.0 beta installed and worked out of the box.

Because it's a beta release, of course the developers have more work to do. As a user, however, I am pleased with Devuan's performance and await the kind of improvements and polishing I would expect of any Linux distro.

My only disappointment with my first look at Devuan is its monochromatic offering. One of the first screens in the installation process noted that only the core system is installed, but a list of additional modules and a checklist was presented on the screen.

desktop view of
Devuan Jessie 1.0 beta
The desktop view of Devuan Jessie 1.0 beta uses the classic Xfce with little or no tweaking. Its plain-Jane appearance serves as little more than a proof of concept for what may be offered in the first nonbeta release.

It appeared that Devuan has the option of grabbing a choice of seven desktops. Despite what I checked, Devuan gave me only plain vanilla.

Installing It

The desktop options presented on the installation screen were the Devuan desktop environment, GNOME, Xfce, KDE, Cinnamon, MATE and LXDE.

The options also included Web and print servers, SSH servers and standard system utilities. The installation succeeded with the print server and standard system utilities, but I also selected the Devuan desktop environment.

Devuan delivered only the Xfce desktop. That was a disappointment. I was very curious about what the new Devuan desktop was all about.

Devuan installation screen
The start of the Devuan Linux installation of the Jessie 1.0 beta is a big tease. It dangles a variety of desktop environments but only installs the Xfce desktop.

No doubt the additional elements were not yet ready for this beta release. Everything else worked out of the box.

Devuan Desktop Developing

I did some digging and found that a Devuan desktop package does exist. It is maintained by Daniel Reurich.

The Devuan beta release does not yet have an installed distro repository or built-in community-based package manager for system updates or package add-ons. All software shipped with Devuan is free software. The Devuan developers maintain individual package pages with links to the package git repository and the upstream source code.

So I installed the .deb package installer with Synaptic Package Manager. I downloaded the Devuan desktop package.

I tried to open the Devuan desktop package I downloaded, but that generated a series of error messages noting that the format could not be read or the permissions prevented installation.

The latter appears to be the culprit. I tried installing it using sudo apt in a terminal window. I received additional permissions error messages, so apparently the additional packages are restricted to assigned users.

I remained disappointed -- but now I have something to look forward to trying in the next Devuan release.

Bottom Line

You can get the Devuan Jessie beta download and all installers.

The Xfce desktop is a perfectly fine environment. In combination with the installed base, Xfce worked fine with the Devuan beta release.

More polish and growth of the Jessie version is needed, however, before Devuan can succeed as an independent Linux distro in its own right. Until then, the beta and what may follow are an interesting footnote in yet another Linux family line.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you'd like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please email your ideas to me, and I'll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.


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