[lug] RFI Debian vs. Slackware

J. Wayde Allen wallen at its.bldrdoc.gov
Thu Oct 5 03:18:17 MDT 2000

On Thu, 5 Oct 2000, B O'Fallon wrote:

> What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Debian over Slackware
> and vice-versa?

Hi ... I'm Wayde and I'm a Debian user ...

Actually let's see, I've used SLS, Slackware, Debian, KRUD, and
SuSE.  Like most distributions each has its good and bad points.

Probably the biggest difference between most of these systems is the way
that they treat software installation and management (package management).  
Slackware is based on the traditional gziped and tar'ed approach.  If you
want to install a package you find the package.tgz source, uncompress it
and install it yourself.  That gives you the ultimate control over the
location of each package in your system.  It is also up to you to install
any software or libraries that the program you want to use depends on.  
Basically, beyond the very base installation, the rest is completely up to

Kevin's Red Hat Ueber Distribution (KRUD), Red Hat, SuSE, and Debian 
have package management systems.  The idea is that a supposed
"guru" somewhere creates a "package" which basically consists of the
software you want to install, along with configuration information that
tells the system how to build the software, where to install it in your
file system, and what other software it depends on.  This can simplify your
life since installing a new piece of software means you just select the
package and tell the system to install it.  It eliminates the need for you
to find the source code and compile and install it by hand.

The package managers are:

    YAST - SuSE's (Yet another Software Tool?)
    rpm  - Red Hat Package Manager
    dpkg/dselect - Debian Package

This is a bit confusing though since there are really only two packaging
schemes (.rmp and .deb).  I guess you could say there are three if you
consider the gzipped tarball to be a package.  The tools used to unpackage
these two formats are rpm for the .rpm files and dpkg for the .deb files.  
Yast is kind of a shell that gives you a graphical interface to the rpm
engine, and dselect is the graphical interface to the dpkg unpacker in
Debian.  I've never really seen an interface like Yast or dselect for the
Red Hat system, but it seems like there should be one.  I'll let the Red
Hat users update us on this.

The thing I particularly like about Debian is the dselect feature.  This
is a network based system that synchronizes a local package database with
a remote repository.  The result is an outline representation of available
software showing what is installed, what is not installed, as well as
version information with indications on what is up-to-date and what is
not.  Red Hat and SuSe's systems tend more towards giving you the choice
to select categories such as do you want to install X-windows or
not.  Debian's dselect breaks this down like:

        Up to date installed packages    
          Up-to-date Required packages      
            Up-to-date Required packages in section base        
 *** Req base     adduser      3.11.1      3.11.1      Add users and groups
 *** Req base     ae           962-26      962-26      Anthony's Editor

The categories at the top of this listing can be selected to install or
uninstall everything in the category or the individual packages can be
worked on.  You can also get detailed information about just what the
package is for and what it depends upon.  Of course if you choose to
install a package that has dependencies dselect then provides a screen
showing these dependencies and how it recommends fixing them.  You can
either accept its recommendations or adjust things manually as you see

I personally like the Debian package management system better than the rpm
based systems.  Perhaps simply because I'm more familiar with it.  You do
need to keep in mind though, that there are probably more packages that
are created in .rpm format than .deb.  Getting a Red Hat CD also seems
easier to me than getting a good Debian CD.  For this reason, I tend to
think that Debian shines when you have a good network connection and can
make use of the repository at <http://www.debian.org>.  If you are on a
machine that is less well connected to the net, the availability of the
Red Hat, SuSE, and KRUD CD's make these attractive possibilities.

Finally, keep in mind that Linux is only the Kernel.  The distribution is
just someone's idea as to what the directory structure should be, what
software they think makes the most useful system, and a mechanism for
tying it all together using the rc scripts.  Package managers can be
useful but you are never restricted to using them.  On any of these
systems you can always resort to the traditional .tgz source code and
compile by hand.  As far as that goes, you can get the kernel, pick the
software you want, and create your own custom distribution.  It is this
kind of freedom and flexibility that makes Linux so unique.

- Wayde
  (wallen at its.bldrdoc.gov)

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