Joachim Breitner

Can one recommend Debian stable to Desktop users?

Published 2014-11-01 in sections English, Debian.

My significant other is running Debian stable on her laptop, and it has worked fine for quite a while. But since a week or two, she could not access her University IMAP account via Evolution. Obviously quite a showstopper!

Today I had a closer look, and my suspicion was that the University changed their SSL configuration due to the recent POODLE attack and that Evolution was incompatible with that. After some more searching, I found that Ubuntu had applied a patch, originally from Fedora, two weeks ago. For Debian, there is a bug report but no sign of action.

So I fetched the sources, applied the patch, built the package, installed it and things were working again. Yay for that! But this is obviously not the best way to handle such issues.

I know that Debian is volunteer driven and we often lack the manpower for certain things, so I don’t want to rant about this particular issue. I also continue to be a happy user of Debian unstable on my laptop, and Debian stable on my servers. But I seriously wonder: Can I really recommend Debian stable to users, for their laptops and desktops? If not, what are the alternatives? Ubuntu obviously comes to mind, having some full-time staff for such issues... But that would be giving up on promoting Debian as the universal operating system.

Update (2010-11-3): Laney just uploaded a fixed package. Thanks!


TESTING! Almost perfekt. After many years of using unstable I’m running testing since a while now.

#1 Thomas Breitner am 2014-11-01

Like you, I cannot recommend Debian stable to anyone. I do think this is unfortunate.

I also cannot recommend Ubuntu. Their LTS releases are as problematic as Debian stable and the Ubuntu development releases break systems badly on a 6 monthly basis.

What I can however recommend is:

  • A Debian testing/unstable mix with pinning to make testing the default.
  • Apticron configured to run weekly and email me (or rather you) with the results.
  • Me running apt-get update/upgrade on a regular basis.

I find Debian testing breaks far, far less often than the Ubuntu development releases, but is still close enough to the cutting edge to fix most problems like the one you mentioned.

I do also speak from experience. I have supported Debian testing for my wife, my father and my mother-in-law for a number of years. All of them were at one time running Ubuntu and I switched them to Debian one-by-one.

#2 Erik de Castro Lopo am 2014-11-02

You don't need pinning when running both testing and sid. The easiest way is to put a line saying

APT::Default-Release "testing";

in apt.conf.

#3 djib am 2014-11-02

I would recommend Debian testing.

I personally use Debian testing on my main computer and stable on all others (servers, laptop, ...)

#4 djib am 2014-11-01

I'm using Debian stable versions on my desktop since years, and it's far better than the RHEL-based "OpenClient" I'm using at work. My brother now also runs "Wheezy" (formerly an Ubuntu user), while my wife prefers Ubuntu.

Looking forward to the "Jessie" freeze in the coming week. I've tested it in the past already, and it will be wonderful as well, even if the latest RawTherapee won't make it until then.

In fact, for beginners or for people who just want their desktops to work, there's hardly an alternative. I haven't tried Arch or other distros, since I much prefer .debs and apt.

Most devs I met are using "Sid" of course, and at that time I also had a "Sid" partition for making packages.

#5 Wolfgang Lonien am 2014-11-02

We can only recommend Debian stable if we act when we detect problems: in this case, why haven't you uploaded your fix to stable-proposed-updates? You had it built and tested…

It sure ain't easy to always be on the front for these issues, but if we don't do it when we can, who will?

#6 Didier 'OdyX' Raboud am 2014-11-03

At the time of writing, my fix was built, not yet properly tested. Plus I wouldn’t just upload random packages from other maintainers to stable-proposed-updates.

But you are right, I should at least mention my results at the bug report... Ah, no need! Laney just uploaded a fixed package :-)

#7 Joachim Breitner am 2014-11-03

The straight answer to your question is: sure! Matter of fact I am so sure about it that I have tried to spread my vision about it. I have published a small project on sourceforge where I provided an iso (build with Debian Live) which is my Debian Stable Desktop. You can check on it at

#8 Valerio Pincini am 2014-11-03


For people who want their desktop/laptop to just work (wether they are experienced users or new to computing), Debian stable is a rock solid distribution. Other choices are of course possible, but that depends on your ability and willingness to deal with the occasional breakage.

This bug history looks quite unfortunate, but I willing to bet it is an outlier (maybe freeze-time frenzy?).

#9 Francesco Ariis am 2014-11-04

Have something to say? You can post a comment by sending an e-Mail to me at <>, and I will include it here.