by August 4, 2005 0 comments

After a long gap of three years, the Debian project has finally released its new stable version of Debian 3.1 codenamed ‘Sarge’. It’s an open-source OS, which includes the latest KDE 3.3, GNOME 2.8 and GNUstep desktop environments and can support eleven different processor architectures. This edition of Debian has a new installer, which integrates hardware detection and unattended installation with the installer runtime.

Debian 3.1 supports Linux kernel versions 2.4.27 and 2.6.8, either of which can be selected after installation. Of course the biggest challenge for anybody would be to download this package from, as it’s a whopping 8 GB. You’ll find both the CD and DVD versions for it. Besides using the usual HTTP/FTP sites for downloading it, you can also use Bittorrent and Jigdo clients to get the ISO images. Debian 3.1 uses the new, improved Xfree86 4.3 graphical subsystem, which now supports more display cards and has better hardware auto-detection. It has even improved support for Xinerama and 3D acceleration.

Debian has a text-based installer that takes lesser time to do a base install compared to many other Linux distributions. Besides conventional partitioning, it also has XFS, soft-RAID and LVM (Logical Volume Manager) file systems. LVM allows you to modify partitions on a running system. During installation, the installer reads all packages from all CDs or DVDs and then does the final installation. This particular process consumes most of the time. Rest is smooth and easy. Like other Linux distros, it asks you to select a language, time zone, the root password and packages. The good part is that the installer will automatically check for package dependencies and download them along with the latest security updates from Debian’s site.

The software
Debian 3.1 Sarge comes with 15,386 free and open-source packages, which is more than what any other package offers. Moreover, on a typical desktop, it installs 900 of these. You can install them using the ‘Synaptic Package Manager’, which neatly categorizes all applications into different groups. Installing any application is equally simple. You just have to click on the application once to get a drop-down menu, and select ‘Mark for Installation’. 

Debian 3.1 provides all the office productivity applications one needs, including Open Office 1.1.3 and Koffice. For browsing and e-mail, it has Firefox 1.0.4, Mozilla 1.7.8, Galeon 1.3.20, Mozilla Thunderbird 1.0.2 and many others. Calendaring and contact-management software are also included, such as KOrganizer that stores your contacts and lets you organize your meeting schedules.

For graphics designers, it comes with DIA (diagram and chart editor), besides the usual GIMP 2.2.6 and KPaint. Even some advanced graphics applications and tools are also thrown in such as the Blender (a 3D-animation software) and SANE (scanner software). 

Configuring Internet access in Debian 3.1 is simple too, whether it’s a dial-up or DSL broadband connection. The configuration process is wizard driven, which automatically detects your ADSL connection. Multimedia enthusiasts will also love Debian 3.1, as it has everything from allowing you to listen to music to ripping audio/video formats. There’s even a DVD authoring package, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a GUI. Everything is command-line based. There is a GUI front end available for it from the Net though. 

Security features
Most Linux distros come with some kind of firewalling system (such as IPTables) built into the kernel. Unfortunately to configure a firewall using IPTables is really painful, because it’s totally command-line based. Thankfully Debian comes with a wizard-driven, easy-to-use GUI front end to configure its firewall, called Firestarter. Another one is FwBuilder, which lets you build a firewall around your server setup. To protect your machine from virus attacks, it comes with two anti-virus solutions ClamAV and F-Prot.

Compared to NDL (Novell Desktop Linux), which is based on SUSE, this one is still not as easy to use, mainly because of NDL’s powerful YaST engine. But Debian 3.1 takes less time to do its base install compared to NLD, despite being double the size. 

Bottom Line: If you are looking for a free Linux distro, with all the software you can dream of having, then get Debian Sarge 3.1. 

Sanjay Majumder

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