Sidux, a Great Alternative to Ubuntu

Monday Jul 7th 2008 by Carla Schroder
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Sidux announced a brand-new release on June 26, Sidux 2008-02, so we're going to kick the tires and take it for a drive, and see what sets it apart from other children of Debian.

Sidux is a new Debian derivative that's still just a baby, born in January 2007. Sidux announced a brand-new release on June 26, Sidux 2008-02, so we're going to kick the tires and take it for a drive, and see what sets it apart from other children of Debian. Currently it offers a choice of the KDE or Fluxbox desktop, and it supports both 32-bit i686 and AMD64. There is also an XFCE variant. Before trying it out for yourself, be sure to read the Quick Start section in the excellent and exceptionally helpful Sidux manual before burning it to a CD.

Today I'll report first impressions, and next week dig into its guts. In a nutshell, I think Sidux is a great choice for Debian fans who want Debian Sid in a nice polished package, and who want it as plain vanilla as possible, rather than heavily-modified as so many Debian derivatives (such as Ubuntu) like to do.

I think all Linux distributions are wonderful, and I have a special fondness for Debian and Debian derivatives. You can't beat the depth and breadth of the Debian software repositories, which at 18,000 packages and counting are by far the largest of all. Debian's package management system is superb, and it is easy to control what goes on your system- you can go for 100% Free software by simply choosing the repos that contain only Free software, or you can choose non-Free repositories to get things like Nvidia and ATI drivers, Broadcom drivers, and multimedia codecs. Debian supports more hardware platforms than any other distribution. It's rare that you'll ever need to compile a program from source code; it would have to be very new, obscure, or not compiled with the options that you want.

You also have the option of choosing the maturity level of your software: Experimental, Unstable, Testing, or Stable. Hardy souls can even mix-and-match, though this can lead to dependency conflicts. A well-maintained Debian system can be upgraded indefinitely without ever requiring a reinstallation.

So if Debian is so wonderful, why isn't it more popular? Actually it is popular, and has been almost from its inception in 1993. It doesn't have a flashy turbo-charged marketing engine behind it like the Ubuntu family, but it's consistently in the top 10 on Distrowatch, and keeps chugging along year after year, and keeps spawning good derivatives like Ubuntu, Mint, Mepis, Knoppix, Dreamlinux, and many more.

Debian unstable is always code-named Sid, for the rotten kid in "Toy Story" that broke the other kid's toys. Sidux is based on Debian Sid. While it may sound scary using "unstable" packages, Sid isn't really all that unstable. The main thing you need to know about Sid is it doesn't get security updates. On a desktop system with no public services this presents a small risk; don't even think about using it on servers. Desktop users typically want Sid so they can get current versions of software. Stable tends to age over time to the point that it's not very attractive to a desktop user, though it's rock-solid for servers. You can't directly install Debian Sid, but must first install Testing or Stable and then upgrade.

The developers of Sidux offer a nicely-polished Sid-based LiveCD that includes a hard drive installer, and sleek custom installation scripts. By default it includes only Free software, as defined by the Debian Free Software Guidelines, but it also provides detailed instructions and easy methods for installing non-Free software. So just like Debian, you can easily choose and control what goes on your system.

I tried Sidux on my Thinkpad T61, which has the Intel 3945ABG wireless chipset, GM965/GL960 graphics controller, and 8256MM Gigabit Ethernet. These were pretty new and not well-supported when the Thinkpad was new back in September of last year, and some Linux distributions still struggle with them. Sidux detected all of these except the wireless without a problem, and I'll go into detail on that next week. It even configured video correctly, which is still a chronic problem on many Linux distributions.

Networking and sound are not configured by default. Open a root shell (sux with no password) and run ceni to configure networking. Sound is turned on with Settings -- Sound and Multimedia. When you're done giggling at sux, you'll notice that it allows you to run graphical applications as root. Plain old su won't.

Unlike Kubuntu and other derivatives, Sidux presents a KDE 3.5.9 desktop that has not been extensively modified, so it's nice and familiar with everything where it's supposed to be. It is 100% compatible with Debian Sid, so you should be able to track Sid and stay current without any problems. Except for native Sid problems, which do occur on occasion.

This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.

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