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.