Debian unstable (codenamed Sid) is not called "unstable" for nothing.
It doesn't receive security updates, it contains bleeding edge packages
which may break the system, and occasionally the system might break very
badly. Although we don't have any statistics to refer to, there is
probably no Debian unstable user who has never ended up with their sleeves
rolled up fixing some serious problem which came up after a system
upgrade. That's why the Debian project is very clear about it:
"Use it at your own risk!"
Sid is a challenge for some, and it's quite clear that it isn't the
perfect choice for non-advanced GNU/Linux users. Nevertheless, for those
up for the challenge, Debian unstable has potential. Taking advantage of
that potential is a matter of preference. Debian polishes the unstable
packages until they reach "testing", and continues to polish them until
"testing" becomes the next stable release at some point. On the other
hand, Ubuntu uses snapshots of Sid's codebase, recompiling and polishing
the packages to build its stable releases. Sidux takes another approach by
giving more love to the vanilla Debian unstable so it becomes capable for
everyday desktop use.
Sidux was founded by Stefan
Lippers-Hollmann (slh), an ex-Kanotix (a KNOPPIX derivative) developer. He
resigned from his position in the Kanotix team after two years of activity,
due to "technical and personal disagreements". Among the
issues Lippers-Hollmann found unacceptable was a strategy change towards
more stable Debian branches as a base for Kanotix. While Kanotix looked
for more stability, SLH decided to stick to unstable, which resulted with
founding of Sidux - "the best Debian Sid based live distro", according
to the Sidux declaration. For more details about the issue jump into
the LWN time machine and read this article
from December 2006.
Three years after the initial announcement, the Sidux team has released
11 versions. The current stable release is 2009-03,
codenamed Momos (Μωμος).
Sidux is primarily a KDE distribution, with an optional XFCE ISO. The
Lite variant provides a minimal KDE installation, available in ISOs for 32
or 64 bit machines. "KDE full" is a DVD image which ships the complete KDE
suite with several additional applications like OpenOffice.org and
The Sidux installer offers a painless installation interface, which
transfers the system to hard drive in a matter of minutes. It's user
friendly, with an interface divided into tabs (tabs are changed by clicking
the "Forward" button). The Ext3 filesystem is a default, with Ext4
available. Besides an option for hard drive installs, Sidux offers an
"install-sidux-to-usb" interface which installs the system to a USB stick.
Apparently a bug appeared during the testing of this feature, since it
didn't work for me with the default empty root password.
The first, and one of the most important differences between Debian Sid
and Sidux is the kernel. While the Debian kernel is a bit conservative
regarding desktop settings (preemption, etc.), Sidux uses a custom kernel
which is tuned for maximum performance. In addition, there is a long list
of included firmware. The goal is to make the best out-of-the-box
functionality as possible. A good example of this was the Intel 4965
wireless controller on the test machine. The installer offered firmware
installation and it was usable after the first boot.
The majority of Sidux software is installed from the Debian Sid
repository. It's used alongside the Sidux repository which contains custom
packages and updates/fixes for some of the Sid packages. For example,
OpenOffice.org will be installed from Debian, but Kaffeine (the default
media player) is built by the Sidux team and stored in the Sidux
repository. Most of the custom packages contain the kernel, firmware,
Sidux tools and other customizations like artwork and documentation.
Version 2009-03, is very fresh. It's running on top of Linux 2.6.32,
Xorg 7.4, with KDE 4.3.4. A deeper look at the Sidux repository reveals
Kaffeine 1.0 pre2 and Lirc 0.8.3 SVN build, together with a qemu-kvm
package update, among others. The rest of the software is basically the
same as Debian sid.
Besides the goal of being fast, and to recognize and make functional as
much hardware as possible, Sidux ships several configuration tools. They
are wrapped together into the command line interface called Sidux Control
Siduxcc offers network interface configuration through Ceni (the network
card configuration tool) and the hostname settings. Service
activation/deactivation is available through rcconf for runlevels, or a
custom interface per service (Apache, Cups, etc.). The X server settings
offer a proprietary driver installation option for Nvidia/ATI chips,
together with the usual graphical subsystem settings like resolution, color
depth or compositing. Apt dist-upgrade and kernel updates are also
possible to manage from Siduxcc.
The artwork has been customized for Sidux. It seems that the Sidux team
takes appearances seriously since the overall look of 2009-03 showed quite
a lot of energy invested into it. There is a custom font too, available in
the Sidux repository. Speaking of repositories and artwork, the Sidux art development team maintains a separate
repository which contains Inkscape and MyPaint packages built from SVN,
which are used for the distribution's graphics production.
Sidux performed very well on the test machine, showing that kernel
optimizations do their job. The snappy KDE 4 was a real pleasure, with all
the goodies Debian has provided for years. Potentially the most
complicated task for a regular user, proprietary Nvidia driver
installation, is handled in a relatively easy way. It is managed with a
command line interface, but truth to be told, it's as easy to use the arrow
and enter keys rather than moving the mouse and clicking.
With everything taken into account, it's hard to make a concise
conclusion about Sidux. The reason is simple though: it's a desktop
optimized, easy to use and configure distribution, which relies on the
Debian unstable branch. Despite the fact that it runs very well in
terms of performance and stability, it is still built on top of a package
base which can seriously break at some point. Ordinary users should not
have to deal with potential Debian Sid troubles.
Therefore, Sidux might be great for the users who are able to handle
somewhat complex situations, with no time (or will) to make Debian Sid a
decent desktop distribution. If one desires a Debian/KDE based
distribution with fresh software Sidux is worth a try.
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