The missing ingredient in commercial desktop OS options; a package management system

Having spent the better part of two days provisioning my new MacBook Pro’s OS X, Debian, and Windows XP instances, I am keenly aware of how much the Debian distribution’s package management system and its volume of packages have spoiled me. In that two days, the amount of time required to provision Debian was negligible, even though it is configured to completely match my Lifebook’s Debian Sid instance. In fact, the sum total of time to set up Debian, including every application I use, was about 45 minutes of my involvement. Those who know Debian (and Ubuntu, Linspire, Xandros, Mepis, or any other Debian derivative) are coolly nodding their heads, while others are probably thinking I am a lying, biased Linux zealot.

It’s no lie; here are the steps I had to take:

    • Run the Debian Installer business card image and perform a stock Sid installation, choosing Desktop and Standard System options in the task selection step. If you weren’t wanting to run Sid, the netinstall image would be fine as well.
    • Generate a package list on the current Debian installation via # dpkg --get-selections > dpkg-selections.txt
    • Copy the package list file to the new installation; I have copied it to my home directory in this example.
    • Set the package selections for the new installation via # dpkg --set-selections < ~/dpkg-selections.txt
    • Run aptitude or synaptic and choose the install action, then go do something else. Thousands, literally thousands of software packages are being installed for you. Everything from your email client to your office suite to your software development tools are being pulled down from package mirrors. In my case, this was over 850MB of compressed package files.
    • After the package download, answer any configuration questions aptitude (or synaptic) poses.
    • Copy your /home directory contents to the new installation.

 

Compare that to what it takes with either Mac OS X or Windows XP to get all of your applications installed and configured. Even if you don’t know a thing about Linux or even the more technical side of those operating systems, you can tell from the brevity of that set of steps that the Debian setup is remarkably simple.

Now, some will already be keying in their comment posts with exclamations of “Hey! There’s DarwinPorts/Fink/Cygwin!” Yeah, each of those is a nice start; however, they pale in comparison. Fink at least has the robust apt/dpkg foundation, but even it has a relatively meager package selection. I am sure I’ll be writing more on life with Fink and DarwinPorts in the near future.

I still don’t have half the stuff installed on XP that I plan to use. I get tired just thinking about the installs. 8^)