Aptosid - An Overview

aptosid might sound like a package management tool, but it's actually a desktop-orientated (KDE4 or XFCE) Debian derived Linux distro. It's more than a mere respin of Debian, but does it have what it takes to distinguish it from all of the other desktop distros?

Looking at the approach that aptosid (lower case only, the name is a portmanteau of the Latin word for adapt and the name of the Debian unstable branch) takes, it's clear that it is a distant cousin of Ubuntu. Both distros are desktop orientated, fairly simple to install and based on Debian. The major differences are that aptosid offers rolling updates and only comes in KDE4 and XFCE flavors. It features enhancements over and above pure Debian in order to broaden hardware support. However, as it conforms to the Debian definition of free software, non-free codecs are installed by adding the non-free Debian archives.

Booting from the live ISO image is the first stage of carrying out an aptosid installation. Being a KDE man, I tried out the KDE4 edition, and the first thing that hit me upon booting was the wacky custom artwork that is paired with a dark theme. Garish or an acquired taste, it certainly lends this distro a distinctive atmosphere. Even when booting the ISO image inside a VirtualBox VM, things are fast and stripped down, a good sign.

The aptosid desktop. Shades aren't supplied with the download. Apart from the radical custom art, it's a pretty standard KDE4 desktop.

Installing aptosid isn't quite as idiot proof as a standard Ubuntu install. For example, the user has to manually partition the hard disk using a choice of tools including Gparted. Beyond that, the options, which are selected before beginning the installation, are fairly minimal. The link on the backdrop that takes you straight to the Aptosid IRC channel is a welcome touch that more and more distros have begun to include.

The relative speediness of the live CD was, thankfully, carried over to the fully installed desktop. Restricting the VirtualBox VM to 512MB, the desktop was still very responsive, which has to be good stuff considering that it's KDE4 that we're talking about here. I'm not going to list the default applications, as the website already does that, but suffice to say that an up-to-date Iceweasel build (Firefox by another name) is the web browser and the other applications are the standard ones that you'd expect to find on a KDE4 desktop.

Aptosid provides something that is comparable to Ubuntu and its variants but it takes a slightly different approach. On the one hand, a problem with Ubuntu is that it tends not to be cutting edge in its package versions, particularly by the time that a release is starting to get old. However, Ubuntu creator Canonical acknowledged this and offered up a remedy in the form of PPAs which cover most of the big applications, and they are the main problem area for most users. Users who need an updated version of one of the smaller packages are probably the type who could fetch, build (if necessary) and install it. Major system components are the area that is usually fiddly to manually update on a running Ubuntu installation.

The distro itself works well, and subjectively, it feels a bit faster than Kubuntu 11.04. Thanks to extensive documentation on the website, the low level customizations and the freaky artwork, this is more than a mere respin of Debian. The adherence to Debian's take on what constitutes truly free software will be either an attractive feature or something that has to be worked around, depending on your belief system.

If you have used a distro that relied on periodic rather than rolling upgrades, you're basically a desktop cat and you found yourself having to do a lot of manual updating, aptosid may be what you're looking for.

The aptosid website.


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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I've been using aptosid/sidux

hightime's picture

I've been using aptosid/sidux for several years on my desktop. I have found it to be very stable. I don't think I've ever had any serious breakage. You do have to watch what's going on and pay attention to what apt-get wants to remove. This is especially true when a lot of new stuff is coming into sid.

I tried it on my laptop a couple of times, but the WIFI setup for a laptop just wasn't suitable. I also loaded it on my Asus netbook. It didn't even see the wireless adapter. Debian stable worked just fine on the same netbook. Go figure.

But on my desktop it's been great.

Installation aptosid is not a

alex96's picture

Installation aptosid is not a standard Ubuntu install is idiot proof. Users of tools, including the gparted choose to manually partition the hard drive you straight Aptosid IRC channel against the backdrop of the link, it will be a welcome touch, a growing number of releases has begun.

Technically sound, but community is a trainwreck

David Smith (dsmithhfx)'s picture

I used "Aptosid" for a few years, back when it used be called "sidux" and it's quite an interesting distro. One is trading off access to latest-everything updates against more frequent upgrade problems that require good command-line familiarity. If you really want to learn the command line, Aptosid is sink or swim or you won't even make it back to a graphical desktop.

However, there's a pretty serious, chronic people skills problem among the developers, that keeps rearing its ugly head. One only need to read their forums for an inkling of what I'm referring to.

This has hampered the growth of this distro but, to be honest, I don't think the developers much care about that. Fair enough. Unfortunately, though, in order to recover your installation from upgrades-gone-south, you will sooner or later cross paths (and possibly swords) with said developers. Suffice to say, it can get real unpleasant, real fast.


Randy Kramer's picture

"Orientated" hurts my eyes and ears. "Oriented" is so much easier on them.

omg, i hate to be pedantic,

Anonymous's picture

omg, i hate to be pedantic, but you're so right on this one. the use of "orientated" vs the correct "oriented" really fires me up for some reason.

It's the British spelling. In

Michael Reed's picture

It's the British spelling. In all fairness, I do usually set LyX to American English when writing for this for this site, but I must have forgotten.

UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.

Thanks for the information!

Randy Kramer's picture

I had looked them up before and knew that both orient and orientate are acceptable, but I didn't realize orientate was British.

Hear, hear

dick's picture

You are so right.

Pure Sid with Extras?

rttnsmschn's picture

Compared to *buntu aptosid is 100% Debian Sid, so you could install the latter instead. Choose aptosid if you want very detailed documentation (the manual) and sid-upgrade-warnings (the forum), as well as good hardware recognition. The forum furthermore gives lots of hints handling sid-based distributions, although the tone is sometimes, well, you all know fora.
Needing a wired connection at first install to pull in firmware for wifi (some cards only) should not be a showstopper and is documented in the manual. One of the first things i would get rid off is the (this time) very ugly artwork.

If one isn't able -before

Anonymous's picture

If one isn't able -before installing aptosid- to download his needed firmware files to bring up his WLAN after and should really need a "wifi enabled (better?) aptosid" one should stay with ubuntu or similar systems. A little thinking and reading and most hardware is running fine. No need for any "remastered" releases from maybe unknown and therefore unsecure places.

You can always get the WLAN

Anonymous's picture

You can always get the WLAN firmware by downloading the appropriate firmware as listed by fw-detect command and placing the firmware image onto a USB stick and then after booting livecd you then place the firmware into /lib/firmware then reloading the wifi driver in question. You should then be able to configure the connection via ceni.

Hope that helps!

Bad Advice

Anonymous's picture

This is the most convoluted and useless advice I've ever heard.

LiveCDs are intended for mere mortals, not for geeks who know what to download, how to download and then where to uncompress to. Geeks can create their own LiveCDs and don't f*ck up with intricacies of a given LiveCD.

LiveCD must work out of the box, otherwise it's a useless piece of sh*t. You are free not to use the custom respin offered in the first comment of this thread though. I've verified it - it only contains genuine Debian SID software - no binary files have been tampered with :)

Aptosid Identity

emariz's picture

I prefer Debian, but you didn't mention its kernel, which is built from upstream sources; its aversion to Gnome and Aptitude; Ceni, a simple and handy network manager; and its very useful scripts, like that one for firmware detection, another one to upgrade video drivers, other to burn an installer image, etc.

APTOSID - An Overview

Glenn Thigpen's picture

I tried linuxmint Debian Edition and really like it. I have never really liked Ubuntu. I do not know why they reinvent the wheel so that many of their packages are not compatible with stock Debian.
I am using aptosid XFCE as my default distro right now. I had to do very little tweaking to get it the way I want, but I have that option. Of course I have to be a bit careful about dist-upgrades because they sometimes break something, but that is the price that one pays with a bleeding-edge distribution. And the fun.
The great thing about linux is that I do have my options. Go with the popular, go with the stable, go with the off the wall, or what ever, I have the choices. And they will always be available because most of the distributions do not depend upon a commercial enterprise to keep them afloat.



laoguy's picture

aptosid is one persons take on debian sid. And over the years it's becoming an increasingly eccentric one at that. I have enjoyed using it in the past but now there is just too much missing from the cut down KDE it has become just an annoyance. By the time you have adjusted everything to suit yourself and cleaned out the developers defaults it would have been better to just download debian net install and do it yourself, much quicker. You'll still wake up in the morning with no X from time to time, big deal, anyone on sid expects this. aptosid hasn't stagnated, it's just totally lost.


Anonymous's picture

This sounds like another of those superficial Vbox or VMWare based reviews. First off, to even use aptosid and Ubuntu in the same sentence is absurd. Ubuntu is derived from Debian while aptosid is pure Debian Sid. Very distant relatives to be sure...Ubuntu is really a separate fork from the Debian tree.

I don't have the latest aptosid release on hand but aptosid has always, in the past, found and handled all my hardware much better than ANY other distro I have tried, especially Ubuntu. The live disk has always found my ethernet NIC card and been ready for work as soon as booting was finished. You will need to us the excellent console based "ceni" to configure your ethernet once you do a hard disk install. Wifi is another story and don't blame that on the aptosid developers, rather the hardware mfgrs who provide only w$ based drivers. Frankly, if you are too much of a newbie to deal with getting and loading the correct driver, aptosid wasn't developed for you. Try Mint or Ubuntu or salineOS which is a very nice adaptation of Debian Squeeze. Don't expect much handholding from the forum for raw noobs...they expect you to read the superb manual that they provide. It is probably the best and most detailed Debian reference around.

A better WiFi enabled AptoSID

Anonymous's picture

On the surface AptoSID may look nice, but load it on your laptop and you'll suddenly discover that neither your WiFi, nor your NIC works - after all AptoSID developers are obsessed with "freedom" thus they intentionally don't include the relevant firmware files which are crucial for many computers components [functioning].

You can download a working WiFi enabled AptoSID release here.