16 Apr 2000 JB318   » (Apprentice)

I've gotten frustrated with Red Hat recently, so I'm set to move to Debian.

The RPM package format isn't as flexible as I'd like. I like Debian's idea of "recommended packages", and the fact that they represent capabilities (such as "www-browser") within the package management system.

It's hard to find out what dependencies a Red Hat package has before downloading it. When attempting to download 6.2beta and later 6.2 itself (and previous upgrades from 5.0 upwards, for that matter), I found it difficult to figure out just what packages I need to download to get one particular package, or a list of packages (e.g. "everything installed on my machine"), installed/upgraded properly. Being a programmer I've managed to invent plenty of workarounds, many of them involving iterative use of rpm --test -U and wget, but that just makes me an enabler--and I prefer to avoid being in a codependent relationship with my operating system. I know there are rpmfind and other such tools, but either they never worked for me or they didn't do what I really want to do, and at any rate they weren't part of standard Red Hat.

I like Red Hat's recent move toward RDF for externally-accessible meta-information, but AFAIK it's only available on redhat.com, and not on any of the mirrors (my touchstone of ubiquity is ftp.tux.org), whereas Debian's Packages.gz is everywhere.

It seems that the RPM designers assume that you'll be doing large upgrades by some means other than downloading selected RPMs from the local mirror at 56K--by CD, or perhaps corporate LAN, or at any rate by downloading most everything in the bundle rather than trying to pick and choose what you download. (The anti-commercial anti-corporate-behemoth Red Hat bashers really ought to latch onto this, as it's a ploy to boost CD-ROM sales by making upgrades by Internet unnecessarily difficult :) .)

In short, I'd rather switch than fight. So I'm switching to Debian. I ordered the CDs today, and I also picked up a RH6.2 CD or three, just in case. I intend to keep Red Hat until after the Big Move(TM), so I'll see a little use out of that 6.2 CD, to get the rest of my system upgraded (in case my workarounds managed to miss a package, and/or I want to install something new). But once I'm moved and the rest of my life is stable (ha!), I'll make the switch to Debian.

I tried Debian once before--back in my younger Linux days, back when Hamm was the stable dist du jour, back when it wasn't a big deal for me to reinstall everything--just to see what it would be like. I'd only ever tried Red Hat before (or since), and I didn't much care for Debian at the time, mostly because I was put off by its insistence that while installing I have to configure installed packages right now! (I pray that that's improved over time. I shouldn't have to configure a package before I know what I'm wanting to do with it and what my options are. I do like to RTFM...) There were other nits that I had, but mostly they owed to the fact that it wasn't Red Hat, and Red Hat is what I was used to. I was much more impressed with dselect than I was with what Red Hat had to offer on the RPM front, though.

I'm wishing for a way to download packages using dselect and apt without actually having Debian installed. That way I could pick out what I want and download it during my slow times now, and be ready to actually install once I'm moved (or another suitable milestone has passed such that I won't object if I accidentally wipe out the wrong thing). I had some nice Vim macros and Perl scripts for going through Contents.gz and picking out what I want and what I didn't. I got maybe halfway through the list, making decisions on each package, before giving up, since I'd probably have to go through it all again with dselect anyhow. Oh, well, since I finally broke down and bought the CDs...

BTW, am I the only one who thinks that 50% of the software in the Debian package manifest is of no interest to the vast majority of potential Debian users? Or maybe it just feels like there are too many ham radio and scientific packages. Still, I wonder if the software I'd be honestly interested in couldn't fit on just one CD instead of the standard two. OK, CDs are cheap, but still...

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