Thursday, January 05, 2012

Debian Wheezy to Sid--Are You Sure It Won't Blow Up?

Yesterday's post reporting a successful switch to KDE was a bit premature, at least on my desktop machine. The laptop is still OK (I hope).

After a few days, all the "Desktop Effects" quit abruptly, perhaps after an update. (I was running Debian testing, which has daily updates.) I tweaked and adjusted, and eventually some of them started working again, perhaps because I switched compositing type from OpenGL to XRender. This change is located:

System Settings > Desktop Effects > Advanced

KDE has changed so much since I last used it that I have much frustration in locating these sorts of things.

More updates, including a kernel update, ensued, and I had a flashback to my Mysterious Errors and kernel panics of a year ago. Restarting the computer produced either a grub rescue > prompt, a "can't find the file" message after selecting the kernel on the grub menu, or a kernel panic. In every case, I was able to boot from a Debian net install disk using "rescue mode," re-install grub thus:

# grub-install followed by #update-grub

I could then remove the CD and reboot successfully once. Every time I restarted the computer, I had to go through this song and dance. As I said last January,

After I...powered up, the little darlin' booted right up....I really hate it when I don't know what was wrong, or why it's running now. Did something reset while it was powered down? Did jiggling the cables do the trick? Was it dust? And what's with all the update-grub/reboot iterations? Why do I always have to do that over and over again? And why does none of this ever happen with my Linux laptop?

Last year, the problem mysteriously resolved after a few tries, but this time, I started getting more and different error messages that I couldn't figure out. Googling showed me that I wasn't alone in my troubles, but I couldn't find a solution that worked for me. I made two fresh back-ups of my home directories, and resolved to choose "Install" rather than "Rescue Mode" at the next reboot.

The re-install ran without any problems, and, while I'll have to reconfigure my localhost installations of Wordpress and Drupal (they needed work anyway), this fresh install is now scoured clean of all the Gnome, XFCE, icewm, sawfish, awesome, metacity, etc. libraries and programs, which I'm not using but which require updates anyway.

Last time I installed testing, I tried without success to upgrade to sid, that is, Debian unstable. This time, it worked for me, and I am now typing on cutting edge Debian. The Debian GNU/Linux FAQ--Choosing a Debian distribution recommends sid over testing:

There is no perfect answer but only a "wise guess" could be made while deciding between unstable and testing. My personal order of preference is Stable, Unstable and Testing. The issue is like this:

  • Stable is rock solid. It does not break.
  • Testing breaks less often than Unstable. But when it breaks, it takes a long time for things to get rectified. Sometimes this could be days and it could be months at times.
  • Unstable changes a lot, and it can break at any point. However, fixes get
    rectified in many occasions in a couple of days and it always has the latest
    releases of software packaged for Debian.

Raphael Hertzog also reassures me that "Unstable is a quickly moving target and it's not for everybody. But you can use it and your computer won't explode" in his blog post 5 reasons why Debian Unstable does not deserve its name

Now, it's back to fiddling with my brave new Debian. I wonder how long before I break it?


Goose said...

I've been using unstable at work now for about a year, updating it every day, and am pleased to say, I've not had any serious problems with it.

A couple of times I've gotten updates that were part of a big upstream transition (like the perl version was changing, and 10-20 perl packages were rebuilt and updated before I got the new perl version installed), but usually those are easy to avoid by not updating daily.

All in all, this is the happiest I've been with any distro. It's a really good balance of having-the-latest-stuff and stability, pretty impressive really. Also I like the rolling nature- I no longer do "upgrades" per se, just a daily update of 1-10 packages.

Rebecca Clayton said...

It sounds like unstable might be less trouble than testing, then. That's good to hear!