Debian Unstable (aka Debian Sid or Debian Thermite) Review

Here we go with a review of Debian Unstable.

I’ve been running Debian Unstable for about 2-3 weeks now as my main desktop OS and i have to say….I love it. From what i hear, things do occasionally horribly break (example, if grep breaks, you can’t boot and you have to know how to fix that, if pam breaks, you can’t login and you have to know how to fix that) and other horrible situations. This only happens about once a year and if you’re careful about upgrading packages, you can avoid that. The big advantage to why people install Unstable and have to occasionally deal with major and minor breakages alike is that it’s still quite stable for desktop use and it’s reasonably bleeding-edge. For example, about 2 weeks ago, Banshee Media Player released version 0.13.1. 2 days after the project released it, it was in Unstable. It wouldn’t have hit Testing for at least a month and it would probably never hit the current iteration of Debian Stable (Etch). Now, before you go out and download an ISO snapshot of it and install it, there are a few things i should warn about it:

1. It’s not nearly as stable as Etch or Testing. If you’re running a server, router, firewall, etc, I would NOT recommend Unstable.

2. As i said earlier, there can possibly be major breakages and the Debian community assumes you know how to fix them otherwise you shouldn’t be running Unstable.

After all this, if you’re still ready to run Unstable, i have 4 recommendations about new packages.Depending on how many packages you have installed, you’ll probably see 5-20 updates a day, this is how to sort of prevent problems:

1. Install apt-listbugs. With this, everytime you install or upgrade a package, it’ll warn you if there are any serious or grave bugs and from there you can decide if it’s worth it or not (if there’s a bug for the hppa arch. of a package, and you’re using i386, you can safely not worry about it).

2. Subscribe to the debian-devel-changes mailing list. It’s massively high-volume, but it’s a great tool so that you can easily see a changelog of what’s new with packages. If it’s just a minor bugfix, you’re more than likely to be fine, but if it’s a big code re-write or something, i’d personally suggest to wait a few days for bug reports and possible fixes to pop up.

3. Read the #debian-devel topic. You can join that channel on OFTC or read the topic here: http://wiki.debian.org/TopicDebianDevel Usually if there are massive breakages, the topic changes so that’s quite useful.

4. Be smart. If there’s an upgrade to some minor library or package you don’t use, it’s pretty safe to upgrade and if there are bugs, you really don’t have to worry too much. If there’s a kernel upgrade or something that could possibly hurt your system (sysvinit, pam, grep, etc), i suggest to hold back on them for a day or 2 till people start putting in bug reports so you can see if they’ll hurt you at all.

Pros of Debian Unstable

1. bleeding-edge packages

2. decently stable for a desktop environment

3. bugs are fix quicker than in any other release

Cons of Debian Unstable

1. Possible massive breakages that can cause your system to be unusable.

2. Times when upgrades can be a bit…wonky.

3. Occasional minor breakages.

From all that, it’s up to you if you’d like to run it. I personally love it because it’s bleeding-edge software and i can fix and i know how to work around if there are any issues.

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