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Sidux: A live CD for Debian unstable

By Preston St. Pierre on March 07, 2007 (8:00:00 AM)

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Sidux aims to be the best Debian sid-based live CD -- and it succeeds. It offers a clean, easy hard disk install and a fast release cycle.

It's a rare distribution that impresses me before I've even tried it, but sidux did just that when, a few hours after I'd downloaded and burned a two-day-old preview release, the project announced that the next release was available for download. Clearly the sidux team intends to live up to its fast release philosophy. While I was downloading the new release I checked the forums, and found they were practically exploding with activity. That indicates a high level of popularity for a distribution that is only a few months old and has yet to reach its first final release.

The live CD's hardware detection worked well on several systems I tried, and the hard disk installation was an easy step-by-step process that walked me through partitioning, formatting, base package installation, configuration, updating the system, and installing additional software. The installation routine lets users choose Xfce, fluxbox, or fvwm-crystal as a window manager instead of the default KDE. The installer itself did most of the work -- I got a cup of coffee. The meta-package installation, which downloaded optional additional packages, took almost three times as long as the base installation, for a total of about 45 minutes.

The main problem I saw with the install was that, while installing the additional packages through APT, the user is required to press "y" each time a new package comes up. This meant that through the latter part of the install I had to sit and watch the computer. I didn't mind, though, because while I waited, I used the sidux IRC shortcut on the desktop to join a very active, friendly chat room. There were plenty of questions and answers being thrown around in various languages, the main two I saw being German and English.

Using the live CD to install isn't the only way to get sidux, however. I was informed in a chat about a script called "h2's script" after the creator that allows you to upgrade your current Kanotix or Debian installations to sidux by removing the current sources and pointing to sidux sources, and by installing sidux keyrings. The support for upgrading from Kanotix is slated to be dropped in later versions, though, so if you want to upgrade you should do it now. If you have any problems, post a message in the sidux forums, which are as bursting with activity as the IRC channels.

Once my new sidux system was up, I ran into a few snares. For philosophical reasons the distribution provides no CSS decoding or Flash player, and there are no non-free fonts or media codecs included with the default system. The sidux team leaves them out because they wish to use only completely free software. I found it a hassle to install the missing pieces manually, but I respect the developers' viewpoint enough to not hold it against them. For non-free software from the repository, including drivers, you must edit the APT sources file.

sidux
sidux - click to enlarge
In keeping with the free software philosophy, all work on sidux is volunteer. All donations go toward infrastructure, bandwidth, and testing equipment.

You might wonder, "If they hold so much in common with Debian, why choose them over pure Debian?" I asked some sidux users that very question, and the main answer I got was ease of use. The installation is much easier, and the hardware detection is excellent. I'm a big fan of Debian, but its installer doesn't match the user-friendliness and quick setup that sidux offers. I was informed by one user that sidux was the only distro he'd found that would properly detect the hardware on his Athlon64 system. Other users told me that wireless support is a strong point, and that sidux makes a good laptop distribution. The developers also boasted of a new ISO-creation process that allows them to create custom flavors of their distribution in minutes, which they plan to use in later versions to create special-purpose editions.

With sidux you get more than an up-to-date, easy-to-use system, however. Although it is not officially supported, many sidux users have enjoyed Beryl on sidux. If a 3-D desktop isn't your style, you still have plenty of customized artwork to choose from to make your sidux box look spiffy.

While I didn't encounter any problems with sidux, it is cutting-edge software, so you can probably expect to run into a few problems. That is the price you pay for having constant upgrades as soon as possible. Yet sidux is easy to use, fast, and for the most part it just works. It is more true to the Debian way than Ubuntu is, and it retains compatibility with Debian where Ubuntu does not. There is an active community to provide support, and the documentation is available in many languages. All around, sidux is an excellent distribution.

Preston St. Pierre is a computer information systems student at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada.

Preston St. Pierre is a computer information systems student at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada.

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on Sidux: A live CD for Debian unstable

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uses Kde--not 4 me!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 12:34 AM
Sidux should've got latest GNOME too included..but this fellas are more into kde business<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:(

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Re:uses Kde--not 4 me!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 03:20 PM
The Debian unstable based live cd with GNOME is called Ubuntu.

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Re:uses Kde--not 4 me!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 05:56 PM
That is not quiet right! Ubuntu does NOT use unstable, it uses testing (etch), which is near the stable state!

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Some thoughts about Sidux vs. pure Debian

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 07, 2007 11:53 PM
Tracking Debian "unstable"/Sid is *not* something that regular users should do on a daily basis! Sid is the development version of Debian -- it has occasional breakages and especially after the next stable Debian version "etch" is released, Sid will become *very* unstable.

Sidux appears to be a nice way to install an up-to-date snapshot of Debian but after the installation I would recommend users to edit<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/etc/apt/sources.list and start tracking Debian's "testing" branch. Debian's "testing" and "unstable" versions can be also combined using a technique called "apt-pinning". Continual work is done in Debian in order to make Debian "testing" more reliable for regular users (e.g. "testing" has now its own security team) and I'm a bit sad that the Sidux project doesn't want to help in this work.
<a href="http://wiki.debian.org/DebianTesting" title="debian.org">http://wiki.debian.org/DebianTesting</a debian.org>
<a href="http://secure-testing-master.debian.net/" title="debian.net">http://secure-testing-master.debian.net/</a debian.net>
<a href="http://wiki.debian.org/AptPinning" title="debian.org">http://wiki.debian.org/AptPinning</a debian.org>

Sidux users who helped the reviewer are probably right in saying that Sidux is better suited for laptop users than Debian proper and that Sidux has better support for new hardware. Also the Sidux installer is apparently simpler but Debian's installer has improved a lot lately and it has many powerful features that Sidux lacks. The new Debian "etch" installer RC2 is scheduled to be released in 19.3.2007. Debian also has its own live-CD project and there are plans to integrate the Debian installer with the live-CD in the future.
<a href="http://lists.debian.org/debian-boot/2007/03/msg00115.html" title="debian.org">http://lists.debian.org/debian-boot/2007/03/msg00<nobr>1<wbr></nobr> 15.html</a debian.org>
<a href="http://www.debianadmin.com/debian-etch-beta3-graphical-mode-installation-with-screenshots.html" title="debianadmin.com">http://www.debianadmin.com/debian-etch-beta3-grap<nobr>h<wbr></nobr> ical-mode-installation-with-screenshots.html</a debianadmin.com>
<a href="http://debian-live.alioth.debian.org/" title="debian.org">http://debian-live.alioth.debian.org/</a debian.org>

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uses Kde--not 4 me!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 12:34 AM
Sidux should've got latest GNOME too included..but this fellas are more into kde business<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:(

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Re:uses Kde--not 4 me! - bigger fish to fry

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 09:58 PM
Are there not bigger issues than arguing over an X window manager? This "I love Gnome and you all suck" vs "I love KDE and you all suck" crap is complete BS.

Besides, if you have enough knowledge of Linux to complain about indavidual components of it, I bet your also comfortable enough to rip KDE out and replace it with Gnome or whatever X manager you like.

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I'm a GNOME man myself

Posted by: Administrator on March 08, 2007 03:26 AM
Since this is a Debian based distro which retains compatibility with Debian and uses the Debian repositories as well its very easy to install GNOME:

apt-get install gnome-desktop

Yes, I'm sure. Yes, I'd like to use GDM. Reboot. GNOME. So if thats whats stopping you from trying out sidux, you should give it a go.

*Posted from GNOME on sidux*

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Editors, this is the kind of article we need to C

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 12:48 AM
Good job to the author. He has actually given me some useful info that I might be able to benefit from.

Unlike some people that write about Universitys switching from NT, how am I gonna benefit from that and why would I wanna read it...

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Re:Editors, this is the kind of article we need to

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 02:51 AM
Some thoughts about Sidux vs. pure Debian (Neutral)
By Anonymous Reader on 2007.03.07 10:53 (#96871)

That has to be the worst advice I have seen yet.

Sidux is fantastic and made me leave both Ubuntu & Etch which are just old snapshots.Ubuntu is basically for windows users.Sidux is the REAL DEAL

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I actually liked reading about the University

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 10:11 PM
With this comment being as applicable to the article as your own, I was actually quite interested to hear about the Universities decision to switch even though it didnt' effect me direct in any way. Of course, you couldn't simply have not read the article and moved on with your life.

Sure, It could have gone into more technical detail. It was still an interesting business case of why one company (University is a manufacturing business, make no mistake) chose to turn away from Redmond and anything that helps that decision is good news.

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Some updates / corrections

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 05:49 AM
I'm the maintainer of the du-fixes (aka h2) script. I just want to clarify a few things the review said. All Kanotix conversion support was officially dropped March 1, 2007. All conversion repositories were taken off-line, and conversions are no longer either practical, possible, or supported. Sidux maintained this conversion support for 3 months, and thousands of Kanotix users took the opportunity to vote for Debian Sid and the Sidux style. But that support is very hard to maintain, so it's now over.

The kanotix conversion option was just a module of the main du-fixes script, whose primary purpose is to make running sidux / sid even easier than it already is. That means kernel installs, dist-upgrade warnings delivered live, in real time, smoothed apt-get handling via warnings, logging, error handling, key ring etc installs, driver installs, and miscellaneous other options.

As for sidux, whose name comes from Debian Sid, running testing, do not do that. Sidux, as the name says, uses Debian sid, and only sid. Mepis tried running Testing for a long time and finally gave up. The stated goal of sidux is to make running Debian sid a viable option. That goal has been achieved, and can be empirically verified. Thousands of people have kept their sid based systems running now, including the switch from kanotix, with very few problems. So the dream of running a solid Debian Sid based desktop has long since stopped being theoretical, it's being done now. It does require ongoing maintainance to do that, so users have to decide for themselves if the benefits of not having to ever reinstall outweigh the maintainance and dist-upgrades required.

Everyone is free to decide for themselves, but the one thing sidux does not support is switching to testing sources. Users who do that are on their own, and can expect their systems to fail if the past is any reasonable indicator of the future.

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Re:Some updates / corrections

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 07:43 AM
So, if Sidux users track Debian Sid, how do the Sidux developers plan to prevent their users' systems from breaking when (that's *when*, not if) Sid breaks? (Not arguing, just curious.) Right now Debian Sid is mostly safe and sound because the Debian developers are afraid of disturbing the upcoming Etch release with too many changes in Sid. But once Etch is out the door, things are going to get more turbulent in Sid.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;-)

BTW, Mepis didn't give up Debian Testing because it broke too often but, instead, because Testing was changing too fast for Mepis to follow. This is, at least, what Warren Woodford has said.
<a href="http://os.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=06/02/09/159207" title="newsforge.com">http://os.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=06/02/09/1<nobr>5<wbr></nobr> 9207</a newsforge.com>

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Re:Some updates / corrections

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 08:06 AM
Sidux developers will handle it pretty much the same way they handled it when it was kanotix. What people who think you can't run sid don't realize is that sid has been run safely for close to 2 years now in kanotix.

And after the 2005-04 release of kanotix, which fixed a lot of future upgrade issues, there has not been any need at all to reinstall. I still use my upgraded 2005-04 install, converted of course to sidux.

And believe me, last year was as bumpy as you'd like. The core team members, for example, had the broken xorg packages fixed and in the repositories long before either Debian or Ubuntu did.

Sid per se does not break, that's a myth, a package in sid may break, or a small group of packages. That's handled in one of several ways: if it's really bad, warnings are posted for users, du-fixes is usually the first place you'll see those warnings, for example. If it's a serious break, and patchable, the fix will be put into sidux repositories and will be installed automatically when the user does a dist-upgrade. Sometimes patches will be released, users can either install them manually or they are automated in du-fixes.

Again, this is now old news, nothing about this process is a secret, and it's been done successfully for some years now. And sidux is even better, since it's adheres even more closely to the Debian systems and methods than Kanotix did.

In fact, fixes from sidux can and do filter back into sid, and form the new package that fixes the issue.

Believe me, what it takes to stabilize sid is not nearly as much as people think. It takes a community, like sidux, to help spot problems, and then get fixes out, that's already proven to work very well.

Re Mepis: 'changes too fast' is just a polite way of saying: breaks too often. The question of using testing has come up now and then, and I have not seen any convincing argument put out in its favor yet. Sidux will be sid based as long as it exists.

The requirements of a Commercially oriented distro like Mepis are not the same as a community based distro like Sidux or Debian.

Rather than ask, just look at kanotix.com, and sidux.com, problems arise, they are solved, and things go on, it's really not as big a deal as it might appear from the threads, I have several non tech savy friends running sidux and they have no problems at all, all the rough edges are smoothed over for them, all they see is that it 'just works'.

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Re:Some updates / corrections

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 10:44 AM
All-righty then. More Sidux/Sid users who actively report bugs means safer Debian for us Testing users.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;-)

More on Mepis: Mepis used Sid before switching to Testing -- there's probably a good reason why Mepis preferred Testing. Debian Testing changing too fast sounds like a problem that can only bother developers of Debian-based distros, not end-users.

I've tracked Debian Testing (with also Sid enabled in sources.list) since the Sarge release with no problems whatsoever. Before that, I tracked Sid and experienced quite a few problems. Hopefully this explains my scepticism. Anyway, good luck with Sidux!

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Re:Some updates / corrections

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 08:13 AM
Same way it was done with kanotix when sarge came out

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Re:Some updates / corrections

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 13, 2007 08:56 PM
I was a Kanotix user with a 14 month installation; I dist-upgraded daily and the installation didn't 'break' even though it was primarily based on sid. I converted my kanotix install to sidux in November 2006 and again have had no 'breaks' with a daily dist-upgrade. The main reason for this 'stability' is checking the Upgrade Warnings in the sidux forum before upgrading; generally any issues are quickly 'fixed' by the active, worldwide team. These fixes are usually included in h2's script (along with warnings) which provides a safety net. sidux just works on the systems I've checked it out on. I've now had a completely stable desktop for 18 months based on kanotix / sidux sid and am glad I left Windows behind two days after my first linux installation.

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Re:I'm a GNOME man myself

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 08:14 AM
Apparently, Gnome maintainers have a habit of throwing badly broken gnome packages into sid, instead of into experimental where they belong, so using gnome is not advised with Sid.

In fact, I suspect one reason that Debian users, who tend to use Gnome as their desktop, think that sid is not safe to use may be because gnome is broken so often in sid.

So use Gnome at your own risk with sid and sidux.

I don't think running both KDE and gnome is a good idea in any case, just increases the chance of problems. KDE maintainers tend to be very good about testing their stuff decently well before placing it in sid.

Currently etch is freezing sid so things appear more calm than they would normally be. You're best off choosing one Desktop Manager like KDE, then if you want a nice lightweight one, use something like XFCE, once 4.4 comes into sid, it's going to be really nice. Or any other lighter Desktop. But sidux uses and supports kde, it doesn't really support gnome, so you won't get much support or problem resolutions if gnome breaks.

I'm a big KDE fan, I like a rich, full featured desktop, and for light weight stuff, I prefer XFCE any day.

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Re:I'm a GNOME man myself

Posted by: Administrator on March 08, 2007 04:33 PM
I agree in some ways. I like XFCE when I can't get GNOME. I'll use KDE when I can't get either. If GNOME breaks on me, so be it. As much as some people may not like it (and my own views are against Ubuntu) I have an Ubuntu install as a "stable" install and a sidux install as an "everyday use" distro. Mainly I dislike KDE because the default behavior reminds me of Windows. I'll admit that this isn't a good reason, but GNOME works well for me.

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Re:I'm a GNOME man myself

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 08, 2007 10:07 PM
For me, loosing screen space to a top and bottom bar detracts from X so I go KDE though I like taking the time to cusomize it rather than stick to the defaults.

Doesn't really make a difference as long as everyone has an X manager they like.

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Multimedia entry for your sources.list file

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.68.192.11] on August 06, 2007 02:40 AM
Add the appropriate entry for debian-multimedia.org to your sources.list file for the (ahem) controversial multimedia software, codec packages, etc for Debian.
Sidux does not include these for the standard legal reasons other Debian-based distros leave them out.
Do not mention this on the actual Sidux forums as they do not want it discussed there for legal reasons. debian-multimedia.org and Sidux are not affiliated, and I am not affiliated with either. I'm just a happy former Kanotix user migrated to Sidux.
"so users have to decide for themselves if the benefits of not having to ever reinstall outweigh the maintainance and dist-upgrades required." Installation is insanely easy though. Thanks to all Sidux maintainers! I e-genuflect in your direction. :)

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Sidux: A live CD for Debian unstable

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