De­bian 9 Is a Great OS, but Not for a Per­for­mance PC

YOU WANT STA­BIL­ITY if you’re fly­ing com­mer­cial or pas­sen­ger jets, but if you want fighter-like high per­for­mance, it can hold you back. It’s the same for soft­ware: De­bian 9 is that pas­sen­ger plane.

Maximum PC - - QUICKSTART - Alex Camp­bell is a Linux geek who en­joys learn­ing about com­puter se­cu­rity. Alex Camp­bell

As I was tak­ing a look at the new re­lease of De­bian 9 “Stretch” soon af­ter its re­lease, I be­gan think­ing of some­thing be­yond the OS I was test­ing. Sure, De­bian’s struc­ture is the tech­ni­cal ba­sis for Ubuntu, but De­bian rep­re­sents much more. It rep­re­sents sta­bil­ity and reli­a­bil­ity in the Linux space. And be­ing a van­guard of sta­bil­ity is great for com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial Linux, but is it great for desk­top users?

In the years I’ve been us­ing them, Linux OSes have been in­no­vat­ing and get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day. While Linux can do lots of things that Windows and Mac can’t, it’s also per­pet­u­ally try­ing to catch up with things such as driv­ers and soft­ware avail­abil­ity. For the desk­top user, that means if you want to get the most out of your GPU or shiny new CPU, you have to get the lat­est ker­nel and driv­ers pronto.

The thing is, those new driv­ers may be full of bugs. And some of those bugs make your sys­tem un­sta­ble. Few things in­duce more headaches than up­dat­ing a graph­ics driver only to find on the next re­boot that the X server won’t start. Or that a ker­nel driver won’t load. Or (in the case of self-com­piled Nvidia driv­ers) that your driver isn’t com­piled against the new ker­nel you just up­dated to.

These an­noy­ances have driven me to yell, curse, and lose sleep as I try to fig­ure out what’s gone wrong and how to fix it. Nev­er­the­less, I still run Arch Linux on my per­sonal ma­chines to get the lat­est fea­tures as they ap­pear. Ev­ery time I per­form a full up­grade of the soft­ware on my sys­tem, I have to take it on faith that my PC will still work as in­tended.

That’s not what op­er­at­ing sys­tems like De­bian and Red Hat En­ter­prise Linux do. These OSes are geared for sta­bil­ity. Their re­pos gen­er­ally don’t con­tain soft­ware that will break your sys­tem, and rig­or­ous test­ing en­sures that a sys­tem will keep run­ning with­out is­sue. That’s im­por­tant, be­cause out­side of the desk­top, Linux is the dom­i­nant OS on this planet. Your smart ther­mo­stat, most in­ter­net servers, and driver­less cars all use Linux. In each of these cases, sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity are para­mount. Af­ter all, if a driver­less car seg­faults while mov­ing at 60mph, it can kill peo­ple. In com­par­i­son, hav­ing to re­com­pile a video driver on a PC isn’t such a big deal.

If you’re look­ing to try Linux for the first time, I still rec­om­mend OSes like Fe­dora or Ubuntu. Why? Be­cause they strike a good bal­ance be­tween sta­bil­ity and agility. De­bian can feel a bit dra­co­nian af­ter Ubuntu, as you may end up us­ing older soft­ware than you would find in a com­par­a­tive Ubuntu re­lease. Ubuntu 17.04 shipped with ker­nel 4.10, while De­bian 9— re­leased two months later—shipped with ker­nel 4.9, for ex­am­ple.

If you’ve built a PC with per­for­mance in mind, chances are that you’re not ex­actly play­ing it safe when it comes to sta­bil­ity. (Over­clock­ers, I’m look­ing at you.) For folks who like to push the en­ve­lope, run­ning a more sta­ble dis­tri­bu­tion could serve as a hin­drance. In those cases, learn­ing on Fe­dora or Ubuntu, and then go­ing to some­thing more bleed­ing-edge, such as Arch, Gen­too, or openSUSE Tum­ble­weed, will of­fer the lat­est soft­ware soon­est. Af­ter all, if you’re try­ing to get the most out of your PC, there’s a good chance you’re will­ing to put in the time and ef­fort if some­thing goes wrong.

De­bian 9 has a num­ber of desk­top en­vi­ron­ment op­tions, in­clud­ing GNOME, KDE, Cin­na­mon, and MATE.

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