Exploring Debian Etch

Hi, and welcome back to my blog. Where we last left off, we had successfully installed Debian Linux on our computers. Now let’s learn how to use it. By default, Debian has a ton of quality software available for you to use free of cost, and is a very stable OS. After selecting your new Debian installation in GRUB, shortly, you should see your log in screen. In put your user name and password you created during installation.

Upon successfully logging in to Debian, you’ll be greeted with the default Debian desktop enironment, GNOME. GNOME is one of the most popular Linux desktop environments. (More than one you ask? Oh yeah, there’s quite a few. The most popular are Gnome and KDE, while others like XFCE, Fluxbox, IceWM, and TWM enjoy their share of popularity. I personally like Gnome and Fluxbox, but it’s up to you. I urge you to try as many as you’d like). Gnome features 2 bars, 1 at the top housing your links to Applications, Places, and System, while the bottom bar is like the task bar is a task bar, just like what many of us have become familiar with in Windows. Gnome, like most open source software, is very configurable. If you’d prefer these bars to switch places, or have them on the sides, or only have one, or whatever, you can do that with only a few clicks. Let’s look at What we find in the top bar.

If we click the “Applications” button on the top bar, we see installed software in catagories of “Accessories”, “Education”, “Games”, “Graphics”, “Internet, “Office”, “Sound/Video”, and “System Tools”. Aside from the normal types of software you’d find in a fresh install of Windows (text editor, web browser, audio player, and Solitaire), you have a lot. It comes with plenty of 2d games to boot, a dictionary, a handful of educational games/apps, an image scanning app, photo viewer, an IP softphone, 2 fully featured web browsers, RSS feed reader, instant messaging client, terminal server client, a mail program, CD/DVD burning utility, music player, Cd player, video player, CD ripping app, and several system utilities. That isn’t just what’s available; that’s what installed from the get-go! And yes, for free.

Now let us check out the Places button. For “Places” we see our “Home Folder”, “Desktop”, “CD/DVD” creator (if you have a burner/writer drive in your system), “Network”, “Connect To Server…”, “Search for Files”, and “Recent Documents”.

Under the next button, labeled System, we have our “Preferences”, “Administration”, “Help”, “About Gnome”, “Lock Screen”, “Log Out”, and “Shutdown”. Under the “Preferences” section, you can control things like desktop themes and backgrounds, and adjust mouse settings, map keyboard shortcuts, etc. Your “Administration” section will feature GUI (graphical user interface) programs for managing network connections, printers, logins, shared folder, users/groups, etc.

These “Applications”, “Places”, and “System” buttons are all located at the top, left of our desktop. Other things worth noting for the default GNOME desktop would be the bottom left corner of the screen where we’ll see a button that will minimize all open windows, leaving a blank desktop. Nifty, huh? Another neat feature in GNOME is located at the bottom, right corner of our desktop, and these are alternate desktops. Let’s say you’re working on a few different projects, and don’t want to confuse this window with this project, etc. You can move some windows to other desktops. By default, Gnome has 4 desktops, but you configure up to 20! Talk about multitasking…

This is all great, and you have a lot of the applications, but what else is there? Let’s talk a bit about the included applications. If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time online. Debian comes with 2 web browsers, and neither are firefox. Don’t fret. It seems that Firefox chose to include a patch or piece of code that wasn’t techincally open-source, so Debian included a firefox-ish project called iceweasel. The name sounds a bit wierd, but it has all the same functionality as FF, and is just as much a joy to use. The other browser is Ephiphany. This is actually the default web browser for the system. Epiphany isn’t based on anything else, and is a great web browser, in my opinion. It’s not quite as configurable as FF, but it’s definitely a step up from MS Internet Explorer. Another great application included with Debian is Rythmbox. It’s an amazingly easy to use music player. It recognized my 16Gbs of music much better than many other players. On a Windows system, I’ve always used Windows Media Player 10. Rythmbox is the only music app I can easily use. Just tell it which file to search for your music in, and you’re set.

To get a better feel for your new Linux system, I urge you to play around with some of the different applications. You’ll probably find it amazing how such awesome software can be simply given away.



One Response to Exploring Debian Etch

  1. James says:

    The firefox/iceweasel thing is well documented. “It seems that Firefox chose to include a patch or piece of code that wasn’t techincally open-source, so Debian included a firefox-ish project called iceweasel” is not really correct, although technically if you consider the logo a piece of code… Hmm.

    Essentially, Debian is loathe to change software versions in it’s stable and oldstable distributions. So to follow this policy, the Debian Firefox maintainers wanted to backport security & bug fixes to older versions of Firefox (i.e. 1.0.4 in Sarge, or 1.5.7 in Sarge backports).

    The Mozilla Foundation said that they would prefer that Debian just follow along and package the latest versions like everyone else does. They felt that Debian’s policy of keeping older versions of Firefox out there and just patching them would lead to user confusion and different user experiences. There was much discussion about this online, and Mozilla stuck to their guns. They want everyone who uses “FireFox” to be running the same, or at least similar, software.

    It came down to Mozilla’s trademark control over the name “Firefox” and the logo. They said that a heavily patched 1.0.4 was not actually Firefox anymore, so Debian could not use the name or logo. Debian eventually agreed and that’s where we get IceWeasel from. It is the same code base, but is not “FireFox.” That compromise allows the Debian maintainers to backport security fixes if they need to without worrying about crossing up Mozilla’s trademark concerns.

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