Sidux, a Great Alternative to Ubuntu, Part 2

Tuesday Jul 15th 2008 by Carla Schroder

Last week we introduced ourselves to Sidux, which makes Debian Sid implementation a bit friendlier. Although there were a number of reasons why a user might prefer Sidux to Debian Sid, or Ubuntu, or some other Debian derivative, they apparently were not clear to a number of readers.

Last week we introduced ourselves to Sidux, the excellent Debian Sid implementation that makes Debian Sid a bit friendlier. Even though I thought I gave a number of reasons why a user might prefer Sidux to Debian Sid, or Ubuntu, or some other Debian derivative, they apparently were not clear to a number of readers. So here they are in nice bullet-pointed lists:

Why Sid Users Might Prefer Sidux

  • LiveCD
  • Direct Sid installation, instead of having to dist-upgrade from Testing or Stable
  • Excellent, super-fast fast installer with all choices at the beginning
  • Default installation includes only Free Software, with lots of help for users who also want non-Free packages

Why Ubuntu, or other Debian-derivative Users Might Prefer Sidux

  • 100% compatible with Debian
  • Not heavily modified, just plain old Sid under the hood, and plain old KDE on top
  • Fluxbox option, and a good XFCE implementation
  • Excellent, well-organized user manual
Sidux is fast. I'm afraid I didn't take the time to do any benchmarking, which would have been a good test of both Sidux and the Phoronix Test Suite. So when I say "fast" I am speaking mostly subjectively. However I can compare to Kubuntu Hardy, which was the operating system that Sidux replaced on my Thinkpad T61, which is a modern dual-core machine that should perform at rocket speeds. In Sidux I can open a lot of applications and get a lot of things going, and the system remains responsive. In Kubuntu it would get bogged down and I would have to wait a lot. Apparently this is configurable behavior, perhaps at the kernel level. (Con Zymaris devoted considerable time and energy to improving desktop Linux performance; see Why I quit: kernel developer Con Kolivas for a clear, understandable explanation of why "Computers of today may be 1,000 times faster than they were a decade ago, yet the things that matter are slower.")

The Sidux user's manual is a wonderful experience. I don't say that often; usually I'm complaining about documentation. One of the reasons I write so many computer howtos is so I will have some decent documentation for myself. It comes in 13 languages, and it is available both locally and online. It does one thing that I especially like, and that is draw a clear line between Sidux-specific commands and features, and things that are Debian or generic Linux. It does another thing that is dear to my heart, and that is zero in the things that users really want to know. It gets to the point, is specific, and does not waste your time. I'm not claiming that it is perfect, or that it will answer every question. But it's very helpful, and other distributions would do well to imitate it.

The Sidux manual gives you all of the boot cheat codes in three tables: for the LiveCD only, generic Linux, and hexadecimal VGA codes. Believe it or not, in this new millennium you may still need to know the darned VGA hex codes, and here they are. I don't know of any other Linux distribution that does this. Typically you can hit the Fn keys after booting an installation disk to learn your boot codes, but they're spread out over several screens, and often you don't get a complete list, or any explanations of what they are for. Boot codes can be entered permanently in your GRUB menu, or run per-session from the GRUB command line.

Even though networking is not configured by the installer, it's a fast and easy post-installation chore. Because Sidux defaults to Free Software only, you will probably have to jump some extra hoops to install wireless firmwares and NVidia drivers. There are excellent instructions on what to do. You will need a wired network interface so you can install your wireless firmware, if it's not Free enough to be included. ceni is a great graphical network interface configurator than runs both in the console and in any X session, and it even has a launcher in the Internet menu.

The smxi (sidux-maintenance) script is an optional add-on you might try. It eases kernel installations and removals, has a font-fixer, a graphics installer, and a lot of other useful tweaks and options. Of course there are other ways to do all of these tasks; smxi gives you a friendlier interface for a lot of common post-installation chores.

There isn't much I don't like about Sidux. The KDE menus are a bit chaotic- redundant and not as well-organized as they could be. Or maybe I'm spoiled by Kubuntu, which I think does a great job of tidying up KDE.

Don't forget that Sidux is Debian Sid under the hood, which means you don't get security updates, and you may encounter problems with using bleeding-edge packages.

There is a fromiso boot option, which means you can boot directly from the Sidux ISO image on your hard drive, instead of burning it a CD. This is a very fast way to run Sidux without installing it. There are also instructions for installing it to a USB device, and for VirtualBox and QEMU.

The Sidux community is active and growing, with lots of support and good energy. In a couple of weeks of hard use I haven't found any showstoppers, so I give Sidux a big thumbs-up.


Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the newly-released Linux Networking Cookbook, and is a regular contributor to LinuxPlanet.

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