Install and configure Debian 9.1 as your main desktop system.

Submitted by alexandru on Fri, 12/08/2017 - 15:48
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This is an important milestone in my career, as given some specific professional circumstances, I need to completely focus on Debian/GNU Linux and its derivatives such as Ubuntu, Mint or Kali (this meaning that there will be no more openSUSE stuff for a while on this blog). This is particularly a good thing, as I am already used to Ubuntu as I'm running it since 2010 on some of my systems. But I felt like I needed a change and thus decided to go to the source and use the rock solid Debian 9 Stretch for my main systems.


The short list.

Ubuntu is running through major changes till the next LTS that will surface on April next year, and the present LTS is kind of outdated and has Unity which is cool in its own way, but kind of slow for me and crashes a lot lately. I kept using LTS versions only since 10.04, so I am interested in those particularly, as they are stable enough for my needs. Linux Mint is OK, but I was never really interested in using it on a large scale. I donated couple of times and used the Xfce version on an old netbook, but that was it. Oh, my wife uses it on her laptop now. Kali Linux I only used once, on a laptop doing some testing on a particular job.


How it happened.

Since today, I only tried Debian once, and it was Jessie that ran on one of my laptops, but no more than one week, then I got back to Ubuntu on that particular machine. But I have to say that I was really biased by how smooth it ran, no issues, no crashes, it was rock solid. As I am also used to openSUSE Leap, which was my main operating system for one year and a half now, I needed something that was comparable to it, and none of the above listed distros made the cut, except Debian. Kali was also the second choice, but it is a very particular incarnation of Debian that will not suite a day by day regular use. At least not for normal tasks. Ubuntu was too plain and did not manage to give me any special interest anymore. I got bored with it, sort to say. Thus, here I am, starting a new journey with Debian 9 Stretch. Actually, it is version 9.1 to be specific.  

What got me started.

A few days ago I was reading a Debian vs. Ubuntu discussion on hashnode, and at one point, I ran into this great comparison:

"Ubuntu is to Debian, as your local restaurant is to the local farmer's market. Chef Ubuntu goes to the Debian farmer's market periodically, finds the best fresh ingredients, mixes them with his own special blend, and produces food for his intended audience. For people who enjoy cooking, they can, and do, just go down to the market and get what they need."

(by user Andy, on 6th November 2016) It was a brilliant comparison. No need to say that I actually love cooking and thus said, what the heck, lets become a great chef myself by using what the local farmer's market provides. This is the best way to learn and do great things.  

Some bumps on the road.

I have installed Debian on a Intel NUC that I use as my primary desktop. The ride was not smooth, but it wasn't that bad. The first bump was with regard to the wifi firmware. The installer asked me for firmware files, but I decided to installed them afterwards, as I already had my cable connection active. After this, the installation process was smooth and clean. It asked for a root password, but I did not provide any. You should do the same. Leave the password text box empty. Proceed to the next step and enter the name of a new regular user and provide a password for that user. Thus, you will be able to use sudo with the user you created. Bare in mind that if you provide a root password during installation, you will no longer be able to use sudo the way you were used to in Ubuntu or Mint and then you will have to do a lot of workarounds for it to work. Check out this post for more info. If you remember this, everything will be just great. After installation, all you have to do is to run the command:

sudo passwd root

and thus set a password for the root user. You will need this particularly for several tasks where you will not be able to use sudo - for example while installing a new printer using the HPLIP Toolbox in GUI mode.  

Are we there yet?

After installation, you will be required to reboot your system. Do that and then you will be able to log into your first Debian setup with the username and password that you provided during the installation process. But you are not there yet, as you still need to do some extra work to reach a fully working system. As I have my cable connection working, I can install the needed packages, including wifi firmware ones, from the repositories. First, edit your package sources. To do that, you need to open the file /etc/apt/sources.list. If you like vim, as I do, first you need to install it by using the command:

sudo apt install vim

After you install vim, you can edit the file using the command:

sudo vim /etc/apt/sources.list

Inside the file, you will have to add the contrib and non-free repository addresses in order to download necessary extra files and apps. Thus, enter the following lines, or edit the existing ones to look like those:

deb stretch main contrib non-free
deb-src stretch main contrib non-free

deb stretch-updates main contrib non-free
deb-src stretch-updates main contrib non-free

deb stretch/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src stretch/updates main contrib non-free

After this, save the changes you made to the file and exit vim. Then run:

sudo apt update

to refresh your repository addresses. 

There is still a way of doing this using the GUI. You have to enter activities (by moving your mouse pointer to the upper left corner of the screen, or hit the Windows key) and start typing software & updates. Click the specific icon and open the software and updates window. Here you can check the main, contrib and non-free check boxes, together with the sources one. Then click on the Close button. An update will refresh the repositories now.  

First step is to install the wifi firmware files by using the commands:

sudo apt update

sudo apt install firmware-iwlwifi

A restart will be required after this. When you log back in, the wireless should be working. Mine did work. After that, I installed the Microsoft core fonts, that I use for editing files that I share with my colleagues at school. For this, I used the command:

sudo apt install ttf-mscorefonts-installer

You will probably need flashplayer, to watch video content online, but you are out of luck if you plan on using the flashplugin-nonfree package is not available yet in the non-free or contrib repository. Even though the Debian Wiki page shows you how to install it, it is not yet updated for Debian 9 Stretch. But fear not, as Firefox is able to run video content out of the box in Debian 9. Your second chance is to use Chromium or Chrome for the task you need. To install Chromium, which is the open-source base of Chrome, you will need to use the command:

sudo apt install chromium

Sound is working out of the box too, no need to do anything else for that. One more thing I did was to install Dropbox and the HPLIP Toolbox, as Gimp and Inkscape, two applications that I frequently use, are already installed. The commands I used were:

sudo apt install nautilus-dropbox


sudo apt install hplip-gui

When you will be adding and setting up your printer, you will have to use the root password that you set up at the beginning. If you plan on using commands like ifconfig or netstat, you must know that those are not provided by default in Debian 9 Stretch. Therefore, you will have to install the net-tools package using the command:

sudo apt install net-tools

In a following post I will describe how to set up Debian 9.1 as your web server operating system.  

Reaching your destination.

Now, you have a working system that you can use as your primary one. It is stable and has relatively new packages. But what makes it the best choice now it that it will be supported for 5 years, similar to an LTS release, up until June 2022. In this respect, I should remind you that Debian 7 is supported until May 2018 and Debian 8 until April 2020. This will make some great server side operating systems that you can rely on. Enjoy your Debian 9 Stretch! 

Later edit!

As a second try, I decided to install Debian 9.1 on one of my notebooks, a small and a little bit underpowered Lenovo Ideapad Flex 10. It has an Intel Celeron N2806 and 2 Gigs of RAM, wifi and bluetooth, but no Ethernet connection. So, in order for the Internet to work out of the box, I decided to use the unofficial non-free installer that can be downloaded from here. By using this installer, you will make sure that everything works fine on your systems that do not have an Ethernet port available. So far, I enjoy using Debian 9.1. It is snappy, no clutter and has most of the software I use available right after install. The GNOME desktop environment is much quicker than the Unity from Ubuntu 16.04. In this regard, I must say that I am looking forward for the next Ubuntu LTS release, which will be using GNOME too. Until then, is Debian 9 all the way. Who knows, maybe I will like it so much that I will not go back to Ubuntu again...