An Honest Debian / Ubuntu Question

Originally posted on Diaspora, where it got responses like “Good question!” and “Ubuntu takes from Debian and gives nothing back” – which doesn’t even try to answer this honest question – and “X is better than Y because,” I offer it here:

An Honest Debian/Ubuntu Question

This is not one of those stupid #Debian – vs – #Ubuntu “which one is better” kind of posts, but an honest question based on direct personal observation. Before I ask it I must give grateful appreciation to #Debian, the great grandaddy of a zillion other distros including #Ubuntu and all of it’s derivatives. Debian, you totally rock the universe and all the users of hundreds of other Debian-derived distros owe you respect and thanks. All hail Debian! But now here’s my issue:

I have an ancient old relic, basically one step up from an abacus. With a 2.5 GHz Celeron processor and a paltry little 512 MB of RAM, #Linux has kept this trusty old hand-me-down dinosaur out of the landfill for four years since I switched from WindowsXP to Linux. Earlier editions of my first distro, “Linux for Human Beings®,” ran adequately, but I found myself shopping for “lightweight” distros starting with version 10.04.

The conventional wisdom goes like this:

  • Speed-vs-ease is a trade-off. The price of Ubuntu’s simplicity and ease of use is speed and efficiency, so for older hardware Debian is better;
  • Ubuntu is slower than Debian because it “adds extra weight” to Debian;
  • Debian + Xfce should be twelve zillion times faster than even minimal Ubuntu + Xfce, because Debian is the Source of all Ubuntu, and free of all the “dirt” Ubuntu accumulates on it’s way “downstream” from the Source.

My own experience suggests that exactly the opposite is true.

I experimented with lightweight editions of both Debian (including #Debian itself, #Crunchbang, #AntiX, #SalineOS, #MX-14) and Ubuntu ( #Xubuntu, #Lubuntu, #Mint-Xfce-13, #Bodhi, and #LXLE), as well as a wonderful little #Slackware derivative callled #SalixOS, and #PCLinuxOS‘ Xfce, LXDE, and Enlightenment spins.

They’re all wonderful in their own way, and it’s nice to have so many to choose from! But here’s the rub (finally):

The Ubuntu derivatives consistently (and I mean over the course of the last four years) boot faster and run faster on my hardware (your mileage may vary) than any others – including a “bare bones” Debian with only #Openbox to provide a graphical interface.

WHY?!?

Is the conventional wisdom simply wrong, as my experience for four years definitely suggests? What exactly is the difference between Debian and her daughter Ubuntu that makes the latter so much more freakin’ wonderfully fast on old hardware like mine?

Which Begs a Second Question:

Whatever Ubuntu has done “downstream” to make the Debian system so much faster as well as more elegant (on the desktop), why doesn’t Debian adopt it for the desktop?

Really, just honest, positive questions; not fanboyism, not complaining. Just genuine curiosity because my experience flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, which even Ubuntu users have believed and passed along in their own publications and forums.

I’d really be grateful for something to explain why the “conventional wisdom” is so wrong in my own experience. Thanks.

********************************

Some replies from the Diaspora community included these little gems:

You could always compile your own kernel, it’s definitely am interesting experience!

My reply:

dr marcus in terror

Another person offered:

Debian has a strict policy to only include free software, so adopting proprietary software from Canonical would restrict the use of the system. I think the success of Debian and it’s fork projects is due to the “Debian social contract” (see link). I feel like Debian is ment to be the source, the foundation to build upon, until we have a more open and free world. The software included is not the most cutting edge, but it is free to use for everyone.

Proprietary software from Canonical? NOT “from Canonical.” This is non-free firmware, and even Debian offers it as an option. Neither distro includes it by default, and none has been in use on my computer since I dumped Windows®. Sorry, that doesn’t answer the question. The difference in speed has nothing to do with “proprietary software.” I wonder if it’s something that the folks at Canonical do to the kernel.  I know they are now different enough from each other to be practically incompatible (they can’t share repositories).

One important difference between Debian and Ubuntu ist that Ubuntu uses Upstart instead of SysV-Init for booting. Upstart allows for parallel starts of system services while SysV-Init is strictly serial. This would explain faster boot times, but not faster system behavior after boot.

Definitely not system behavior after boot-up for sure!  But it’s useful!  I wonder if it’s actually better or just different.

I have many Ubuntu and plain Debian servers and my experience is that plain Debian is many times faster than Ubuntu. If I had a choice, I’d use plain Debian on every system, but I’m forced to use Ubuntu because it’s the only distribution I can find that offers some of the more off-the-wall proprietary (non-free) drivers for unique hardware. Ubuntu will ship you non free software like that (not caring if it’s illegal) but Debian (out of the box) will not.

Okay, so his experience – on servers, by the way, not desktops – is the opposite of mine. Too bad he’s unaware that he can get all the non-free drivers he needs from the Debian non-free repositories. So he is “forced” to use Ubuntu on some of his systems? Ignorance doesn’t count, and it doesn’t answer the question.

Okay look… Both distros share many of the same developers! And as for that frequently-heard complaint that “Ubuntu takes from Debian and gives nothing back,” I simply call

bsflag

Ubuntu offers a lot to Debian which Debian refuses to accept, given their lofty “standards.” IMO, those standards may be making the so-called “universal operating system®” only suitable for servers, not desktops.  Unless they start making desktop and laptop computers that don’t require non-free firmware to even function. And that, I think, is unlikely.

Here’s another good one:

The last company I worked at started hiring devs and managers fleeing from Canonical. I pointed out to the CEO and CTO that maybe having a Canonical reunion tour was not an ideal path for the company to follow, but I was ignored. I’m not a fan of Canonical. At all.

So he tried to prevent some people from keeping their jobs because he doesn’t like their former employer?!  Okay that doesn’t answer the question either, but it does say quite a bit about the bitter person who wrote it.

I would still like to know.  But I guess I never will.

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