Getting Your New Debian 7 “Wheezy” Box up to Speed
In Part One we learned that installing Debian 7 definitely isn’t rocket science–anybody can do it! Now that we have our Debian system installed and our computer is booting into the world of Debian Linux, let’s take a look and discover our new computing environment.
The default desktop environment in Debian 7 is GNOME version 3.4. Although it’s a pretty simple to learn interface, it might be a little confusing at first for new users used to working only in Windows. Let’s take a look at the major aspects of the GNOME screen, to help you learn your way around.
In the upper left corner is an “Activities” button which will bring-up a menu. Running vertically along the left side of your screen is a row of applications, headed by IceWeasel, which is Debian’s customised version of Mozilla’s Firefox.
Also included is Libre Office, an open source office productivity suite. If you’re moving from Windows and you’re not familiar with Libre Office, you’ll be glad to know this program will handily take the place of MS Office and should be able to open your already existing Office files with no problems. It’s also very intuitive and you should easily master the basics of its use on your own. However, it’s a very powerful tool, so I’d suggest that you search for articles on how to use its more advanced features more effectively.
At the right side of your screen is a search bar to search for programs. You can also click the “Applications” text to bring-up a view to see all of your preinstalled programs. The bar on the right side shows thumbnail images of your desktops. In Linux you can have multiple desktops, called virtual desktops, and switch between them. You’ll find this feature will greatly enhance your workflow as you learn how to take advantage of them.
In the upper right corner you’ll see your user-name, plus system settings such as log-off and shutdown. This is also where you’ll find icons for your Internet connection, your battery if you’re on a laptop and for getting help.
In Part One I mentioned there’s a good chance with Debian that your Wi-Fi drivers might not be included with the default installation and you might have to get them on your own. Search for them on Google or any other search engine, using the manufacturers name and the model number of your Wi-Fi card as your search terms. In my experience, if you add “Debian 7” to the search, you should be able to find a “DEB” file, which is what you’ll want.
Download the file to your Downloads directory. Afterwards, go to the GNOME menu by clicking the “Activities” button in the upper left corner of your screen and choose “files.” When you find the DEB file you just downloaded, right-click on it and choose to install it.
Another option, if you’d like to get your feet wet on the command line, would be to again click “Activities” after downloading the DEB file, then type “terminal” in the search field to the right. This will bring up a terminal, which is a command line interface. The terminal will start you in your home folder, so type “cd Downloads” to switch to your Downloads directory (note that unlike MS-DOS, commands are case sensitive in Linux). At this point, you’ll need to be root, so type “su” and enter your root password at the prompt. After that type “dpkg -i wifi-driver.deb” with wifi-driver being the filename. All commands used in the terminal should be typed without the quotation marks.
Now that you’ve got your Wi-Fi up and running, you’re probably going to want to get set-up to watch some YouTube videos, which will require the installation of a Flash plugin for your browser, which isn’t included with the Debian install because of its non-free status. “Non-free” doesn’t mean you’ll have to pay for it, but refers to the software’s proprietary license.
To get your YouTube operational, return to the terminal as described above and use “su” again with your root password, then type “apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree”. Usually I also install the VLC Media Player. For that, just type “apt-get install vlc”, again as root (su).
After you’ve finished with your installations as root, be sure to type “exit” and leave the root account. You should only be logged-in as root for installations or other modifications which require root. Otherwise you should be logged-in under your regular username (the user you created during installation) for safety and security reasons.
Now that you’re up and running, let me give you a bit of a rundown of the pros and cons of Debian as I see them.
PROs of Debian 7:
- It´s PRISM free, no one is spying on you and you´re using free and open software which even YOU can help to develop further.
- It has “multiarch,” meaning both 32bit and 64bit applications will run when using a 64bit system.
- It has a free office suite.
- A lot of multimedia codecs have been included for this version.
- Very secure and stable with thoroughly tested software.
- There´s a big community on the internet.
- In some ways it’s behind other Linux distributions which use more recent software versions and have more hardware support.
- GNOME can be upgraded to the latest version and so can the Linux kernel with some help through Google, but that´s not recommended for new users.
All in all Debian 7 offers a great system with endless possibilities and is for everyone, even the beginner who has never ever even used a Linux system before.
Well, that’s about it for this brief introduction to the world of Debian 7. As you explore your new GNU/Linux computer, you’ll discover that the learning curve isn’t going to be as difficult as you might’ve heard. Remember, when you need help, and we all need help at one time or another, you’ll find plenty of people willing to come to your aid on the numerous Linux forums. As a Debian user, the first place you might turn would be to the Debian support site or to the Debian User Forums.
Gustav Fridell is a self-described “hard working family man” who resides in Stockholm, Sweden. He has been using Linux since August, 2010 and enjoys testing different distros.