Why I switched from Ubuntu to Debian: Exiting the shopping mall

There’s a lot of free software out there. And it comes in a lot of shapes and sizes. Most notably there’s free as in free beer and free as in free speech. These past months I’ve thought a lot about this distinction.

It culminated with me shelling out for a XPS 13 laptop with Ubuntu preinstalled. To the extent I can vote with my wallet, I wanted to vote for more high-end GNU/Linux laptops. I literally want to see GNU/Linux succeed on the desktop for the sake of end-users.

The laptop arrived and it proved stellar. Everything about the GNU/Linux experience worked flawlessly out of the box. However, there were some things about the Ubuntu operating system that bothered me.

  1. This wouldn’t bother many people, but I was certainly bothered by the Google Chrome and Amazon logos prominently displayed on the desktop. They had included the open-source Chromium browser there for good measure, but that almost felt like a move to soften the blow. Naturally, it wasn’t hard to promptly remove them and install Firefox.
  2. I then noticed the presence of the Canonical Livepatch service. It wasn’t activated, it was just there offering a free service in exchange for me signing up for Canonical’s service.
  3. When I set out to search for software to install I noticed that I was offered a lot of snap packages created by all sorts of people. Snap packages certainly have security features but many packages do not use them. No problem you might say, just don’t install packages that request too many permissions. I was curious about what the Debian community thought of snap packages so I did a search on their mailing list. I read through this e-mail thread and found this interesting critique of Snap packages.

These arguably minor details, but to me these details matter. Together, these details started giving me the experience of spending my time within a operating system hell bent on selling me something, be it snap packages, this Livepatch service or other corporate controlled solutions like Google Chrome. To top it off they included the tax-evasion king itself, Amazon.com.

Incidentally, I noticed on Twitter that Debian Buster (version 10) had just been released. I noticed how the community of volunteers had organized release parties across the globe. And I got curious about what all the fuss was about.

For those who doesn’t know Debian is the stable base upon which many GNU/Linux distributions are built including Ubuntu. Thanks to this competition we are spoiled for choice when it comes to operating systems to use.

Whatever curious need you would have from the operating system chances are someone will have already asked and researched it for you. Like, there was already a solid wiki on how to install Debian on XPS 13 9380. The Debian community puts a lot of care into creating multi-lingual documentation.

After some careful trial and error I was able to install Debian 10. And when I booted up Debian and logged into the desktop it felt like a breath of fresh air.

No longer did it feel like walking aimlessly in a shopping mall. Instead it felt like walking around in some village built by a friendly community. And in that village there’s space for me to plant roots without worrying that someone would sell the village land and introduce advertisements at every bus stop.

So, yeah. I’m an optimistic Debian newcomer. I’m looking forward to investing more time into this software and community. It doesn’t bother me that some packages might not be of the latest version, instead I’m looking forward to software not changing underneath my feet.

Truthfully I see my time as finite. And if I’m going to invest my free time into some software I want it to be for software owned and governed by an open community not corporations.