Taking a Walk With Debian Jessie

It's about that time in Debian's release cycle again where Testing enters a feature-freeze and all of Debian's worker bees hunker down and concentrate on bug squashing for their next stable release (yes, my metaphors are terrible). Also, they've recently come out with Jessie Installer Beta 2, so what better time to check out how Jessie's coming along and see if it'll crush our dreams or not?

In order to do this, I wanted to do a clean install instead of upgrading from Wheezy and having the safety valve of falling back on the old kernel. No safety nets here! Also, it's on a testing machine. I'm not gonna risk my stable install for you people. So onto the exercise. How does Jessie measure up?

The installer itself remains very familiar. It's only toward the end where it throws in something new: fresh choices for the desktop environment. In addition to the usual Gnome, KDE, LXDE, and XFCE, they also have options for Cinnamon and Mate. Good to know, but I was in a hurry and deferred installing a desktop environment for later.

To get a GUI up and running quick, I installed Openbox over the base system along with Xorg and LightDM and rebooted. It didn't take long for things to go wrong. For some reason LightDM didn't want to start up, so I replaced it with Slim, which is what I should've done in the beginning since it's much faster, and tried again. This time I got past the login screen but quickly found there's an issue with the radeon driver. This G3 iBook has an ATI card in it, so I need the radeon driver to give me at least 2D desktop acceleration, but I'm getting kicked back to the fbdev driver instead. Either the radeon driver is broken or it stopped supporting another slew of cards. I'm not sure which.

So to get an acceptable picture, i.e. without psychedelic colors, with the fbdev driver, I had to enter the yaboot parameter "Linux video=radeonfb:1024x768-32@60" at boot. This gives me a usable desktop, though video playback is unacceptably slow. So there's showstopper number one.

Showstopper number two is sound. As in, I have no sound. This bug has been around and reported on for over a year now and still isn't fixed. Basically, in many iBook models and some Powerbooks and perhaps others, the machine ID isn't read correctly so the sound card isn't seen. Patches have been proposed, but still no fix. Worrying.

At this point, do I have to say suspend is broken? Didn't think so.

As for new and exciting things Jessie offers, one is Mpv, an Mplayer fork that supports https streaming. Also there's Compton, a compositor that expands on xcompmgr, adding window and menu transparency and many bug fixes. Also, I saw Abiword is now at version 3.0, so just for laughs I decided to install it and see if it was any less awful than my previous experiences with it. And it was not quite as awful. I would put it around 80% as awful, so keep up the good work!

If you used Wheezy when it was in testing and were impressed by its stability and lack of bugs, Jessie is sure to be a letdown. There are major problems with video and sound, even this late in the development cycle. Some people can get around the radeon issue by disabling the radeon framebuffer and enabling KMS, but KMS for me is too unstable so it's not an option. Downgrading the radeon driver to the Wheezy version drags you into dependency hell and is probably unwise, so of course that's what I'm gonna do. I still don't know what I'll do about sound, though. Compile a new kernel? Or to be more accurate: learn how to compile a new kernel and then compile a new kernel? Or maybe I can try my "ignore it until it goes away" approach to problems. It doesn't always work, but when it does it's a thing of beauty.


  1. Great first post, Dan.

    I have a feeling that Jessie will certainly spend longer in testing than Wheezy did. I have played with it a bit, and noticed a few issues myself.

    They will get it right. History tells us that they never relent.

    1. I just worry that Xorg developers are moving on and whether Debian maintainers can do much about it. Time will tell.

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us! I thought about giving Jessie a shot on a PowerPC Mac mini. Now I know more or less what to expect.

    1. The Mac Mini is in a category with the iMac G4, and that category is hardest Apple systems (at least PowerPC) to install Linux on. Be prepared for a challenge.

    2. Don't underestimate the mini. I'm sure it'll have some surprises in store for you :)

    3. I am happy to post from my mini, running Jessie.

      I will start with video. I did have the same initial issues with lightdm. SSH made the trial and error easier. Thanks to Dan's Debian guide, I knew what to tinker with. Installing firmware-linux-nonfree and adding the radeonfb:off radeon.modeset=1 yaboot parameters gave me unstable hardware acceleration. I was excited to see picture with millions of colors. I could sign in and get to the desktop but as soon as I moved a window the GUI would lock up. My final append line in yaboot.conf wound up being video=radeonfb:off video=offb:off radeon.modeset=1 radeon.agpmode=-1. I have had sustained hardware acceleration with the final parameters.

      For sound I had to add the following lines to /etc/modules

      So far so good. I'll comment if I hit anymore quirks.

    4. ...and do not forget i2c-dev in /etc/modules too to activate the keyboard lights and backlight lid feature... at least on powerbook G4.
      No mention about fw43 apple airport firmware... ;-)
      Anyway it works good. I hoped to have some more speedup into Xorg section, but I will love to find why and what (xcompmgr or radeon driver?)

  3. '"ignore it until it goes away" approach'
    "it" as in the problem, or as in the powerbook? ;)

    Wheezy performed flawlessly on my Tibook, so testing Jessie now this very moment and wittnessing all the problems is seriously depresssing. Perhaps, I will give free- and openbsd a try, but I'll most likely return to wheezy and stay until it breaks. Sadly, the new debian lts initiative does not include ppc...