Three boring weeks with Debian 7

Debian 7.1 is boring. There, I said it and I meant it. Now, you have to understand that in my day job I do surgery, taking animals to a plane of existence not far from death, and boring is good. Very good. Sudden and unexplained jumps or drops in heart rate, drops in blood pressure, crashes of any kind are bad, very bad. Boring is what I want in the surgery suite, and, thanks to Debian I am discovering it is also what I want from my computing experience. In three weeks with Debian 7.1 I have yet to experience a crash, an application lock up, just works. Boring may just be the highest compliment any Linux distro or any OS can receive.

The Universal Operating System indeed.

I liked my boring Debian PowerPC experience so much that I decided to put Debian 7.1 on a old Dell laptop I had a end of life version of Linux Mint on, and discovered Debian can be all exciting and crashy, if you have a weird exotic hardware configuration, as the Dell does. This is a PowerPC blog so I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say early 2000 Dells with Pentium M's present some unique challenges.

Now....for the ultimate question, can it play youtube? It's still amazing to me that now, above all else watching funny cat videos is the litmus test for any computer in 2013. I am happy to report that yes, I can play youtube on this old Powermac. Firstly, all of the cross platform alternatives detailed so eloquently by the ppcluddite here work. My preferred method he describes is the Youtube EZ Download/Open With method. Why? Well, you can hand the video off to mplayer, and in the preferences for Open With you can add some of the luddites' mplayer arguments and thereby get good playback without issue. For some people however this seems to be a right click to far, and they have to be able to watch youtube inside the bloody browser. I am happy to say even that is easy peasy, with the Greasemonkey script Viewtube. Now, in the past I've tried using Totem and mplayers mozilla plugins with this method on other PowerPC Linux distros and it does not work, period. But VLC's plugin works well for me, and has a couple advantages to boot.

If you haven't already done so, install Greasemonkey in Iceweasel from the add ons (under tools, just like Firefox, cause it is Firefox) and head over to You have two options there, either plain old vanilla Viewtube or Viewtube_VLC. In regular Viewtube you select the VLC plugin from the drop down menu at the top of the player window that says "Auto". Viewtube_VLC will only use VLC's plugin, so that step is already done for you. You of course need to install the VLC plugin by firing up a terminal and typing at the prompt (assuming you have added yourself to the sudoers file, otherwise you will need to do this as root):

sudo apt-get install mozilla-plugin-vlc

I have not bothered with mplayer or Totem's plugin due to past experience, but if you are willing to install them and report back in the comments I'd appreciate knowing if the past issues are sorted and they work for you.

Advantages? Unlike Totem and mplayer plugins which, if they work, insist on loading upwards of 20% of the video into cache before they play, VLC's pretty much starts playing the video immediately. Also, search ahead works (doesn't in either of the above plugins, on any platform), which is quite nice. The VLC plugin controls are limited, but with Viewtube's controls you have all of the control you need over the video. The fake fullscreen feature (it's the plus button on the right hand side) in viewtube also works well. Basically its all good.

Other options for youtube playback on Debian are minitube or smtube. Current versions of both are in the experimental (Sid) repositories. I have not tried either as I personally have no desire to descend into the fires of dependency hell. Minitube uses ffmpeg and gstreamer, and in my experience loading experimental versions of both will absolutely, positvely break something. Recall that I want my Debian boring. Speaking of which, below are some incredibly boring screenshots of applications on Debian 7.1 in action on my Powermac G4.

Next up for the dr., loading Debian 7 onto a Tangerine ibook with a couple compact flash cards to replace the ancient, tiny and loud stock HD. I suspect that this endeavour will not be boring, at all.


  1. Great article, Dave!

    Boring is a very good thing. Not only because it's stable but it keeps your mind on the task at hand rather than care about anything else.

    Debian has always been boring in a very very good way. All they know or care about is code correctness, and being an OS that you could trust with your life if need be.

  2. Thanks!

    I actually experienced my first app crash in Debian today, Firefox suddenly quit while in the middle of typing an email. I was momentarily stunned, convinced I had just inadvertently switched desktops. Nope, genuine crash.

    I relaunched Firefox and all my tabs and windows were restored, even my email had been saved. Back to boredom.

  3. i can only say that in more than a month using Debian only on the powerbook i find it much more stable than Lubuntu (it was great too) and very fast in all my task. The main problem for me to move to Debian on all my powermacs is that i need ati cards, cause i cant go over the problem booting with nvidia geforce.

    also i need mac osx on my ppc server cause i cant find an alternative for itunes to share music and timemachine for my backup.

    anyway Debian is more than i was expecting.

  4. Alberto, agreed...I always chuckled at the joke "Ubuntu; An African word for "Can't configure Debian", but truth be told it really isn't hard to config to your liking at all. Then again I stand on the shoulders of giants, namely the luddite and the zen master. Definitely install firmware-linux-non free from a non free repository when you get ATI cards, my glxgears fps went through the roof after I did.

    I will still use Lubuntu PPC, but I've finally moved on from OS X. I just don't do anything that absolutely requires OS X, as I've moved all my music over to Rhythmbox. Which is not perfect, but fine for my modest needs. A future step is to get a Linux friendly MP3 player, I have yet to find any linux program that my ipod classic will play nice with.