As I had a spare partition on my laptop, I loaded Debian Squeeze (so the laptop can dual boot Debian Squeeze or Ubuntu Lucid on it and have been using it. Having spent a while getting the bulk of the things I use loaded - only a little bit longer than with Ubuntu since my set up doesn't look very much like the default configurations of either - my Squeeze desktop looks identical to my Lucid one. Well the obvious differences are the Debian rather than Ubuntu logo on the main menu entry and the different waste bin (aka trash can) icon on the panel. Actually this shouldn't really be much of a surprise to anyone, Ubuntu is built on Debian so everything is basically the same. Also of course all my filestore is a mounted partition and so is the same whichever operating system I boot. So what are the real differences?
Perhaps the single biggest issue is that with Ubuntu the Flash plugin works on Galeon, Epiphany, Firefox and Chromium whereas with Debian, the Flash plugin isn't available and won't load. Why is this an issue? The free replacement for Flash used by Debian does not emulate Flash and the BBC website explicitly checks the version of Flash being used before it allows you to do anything with any of its dynamic content -- such as cricket scoreboards. Cricket fans everywhere will appreciate that there is nothing more important in the universe than having the continuously updated scoreboard on your desktop and match commentary coming out of the speakers. OK, so the core of the problem is that the BBC is mandating Flash v10 or higher, but this really does mean that Ubuntu got it right and Debian got it wrong :-(
Of course on the downside for Ubuntu, they have not only removed Galeon from main, they have ejected it from universe and even multiverse. Aggressive or what? I know Galeon is ancient and totally untrendy in these days of more and more flaming vulpes and shinier and shinier reflective metal stuff, but I like it. Actually what I really like is having four different browsers so that I can use different ones for different categories of browsing. Oh well, down to three now. Of course Squeeze has an analogous problem, Chromium hasn't been allowed into Squeeze from Sid yet, so isn't available. So 3-3 on that score.
Huge irritant with Squeeze is that Python is still 2.5 by default. This really, really sucks. Fortunately 2.6 is available, but you have to manually hack the symbolic links because Python is not part of the alternatives system. Hopefully 2.6 will become the default in Squeeze soon.
Apart from Python, most of the versions of things in Squeeze are a bit more up-to-date that in Lucid, and haven't been tinkered with to be biased towards the default Ubuntu look and feel. Examples are the on screen display which in Squeeze obeys the GTK theme and is graphically rooted to the icon of the generating item, whereas on Lucid it is always black and always somewhere you don't expect it. Stupidly, it is trivia like this that end up leading to decisions. For example:
- pdfjam is v2 in Squeeze and v1 in Lucid. This causes me real pain as the scripts got changed such that all the options to commands are different so all my scripts now have to know whether they are running on Lucid or Squeeze :-(
- The power applet in the notification area tells me the percentage full my battery is on Squeeze but not on Lucid. Of course Ubuntu is abandoning the notification area in favour of indicators. Lucid is a transition for this but when I tried using their indicator area rather than notification area for the applications I used the spacing of the icons was ridiculously large and unchangeable. The Ubuntu team have a strong model of the applications you will use and how you will use them, and are not entirely keen on worrying about the applications that some of us really use. Hopefully they don't get too Apple-like in their user interface fascism.
On the upside, setting up Squeeze with my home directory on a filestore shared with Lucid has fixed most of the Compiz problems I was having with Lucid! There are lots of bug reports on Launchpad about problems with configuration of Compiz and lack of storing of options from session to session. Well the solution is: load Squeeze.
In other news: Network Manager works much better on Squeeze than on Lucid, at least for me. When I plug in or unplug the Ethernet wire, the routing tables are properly updated: Ubuntu seems to assume you will either use wired or wireless Internet but not mix both in a single session.
So, apart from the Flash problem, Squeeze is the winner of the competition for which distribution I am going to use for the foreseeable future. But note it's basically the trivial things that are the decision making points. Also I might change my mind -- flexibility over dogma I think.