Devuan Chimaera - Back to the future, forward to the past

Updated: November 12, 2021

Over the years, I've never had much luck with pure Debian. While I did manage to use, even rather quite successfully, a whole range of Debian-derived distros, the vanilla origin always felt weird and awkward to me. This is why, years back, I decided not to test it anymore, because it would only lead to a pointless rant on my side. But then, I read a bit more about Devuan. And here we are.

Devuan is Debian sans systemd. Now, as you are probably aware, systemd is this thing that manages the Linux system startup, and it comes with lots of parts and components, and it's complex and ... mostly unnecessary. But how can one demonstrate that? One tries a distro that uses init, the old boot and startup tooling! I figured it could be a nice little exercise to put my hands on Devuan, and see if and how this distro can prove its simple value in the world of overcomplicated technology. After me.

Hello 1998!

I decided to spare Devuan no mercy. I booted it on my new test laptop, which comes with AMD Ryzen, VEGA graphics and UEFI. It started fine, and it didn't complain about the hardware. Predictably though, I do have to complain. The desktop just looks awful. It would make early 2000s desktops look modern. Really.

Live session

Looks

The colors are washed out. The fonts are blurry and pale, with low contrast. The desktop layout is crude. I don't mind the old stuff, but the system menu isn't invoked with the Super key, and if you want to log out or reboot, Xfce sends out a powerful beep through your speakers. Plugging in the power cord made the screen dim completely. By default, text files open in LibreOffice. Truly, there was nothing functionally redeeming here that would make me stay, init or no init, innit. However, much like Debian, it lets you install KDE, which you can do with a convenient meta package called task-kde-desktop. So I decided to suffer for a bit, and install the distro.

The installation, wowzers

If I thought the desktop was bad, the installer made me cringe. A combination of terminal windows, ugly popups, and disjointed information. Yes, you can make progress, and yes, you can install this thing. But there is no reason, whatsoever, in 2021, why anyone would want to have to use this wizard, or why there can't be simple and friendly tools to take care of the installation process. For that matter, why even offer a would-be GUI tool? Why not just command-line all the way? The attempt at would-be friendliness is pointless.

Partition warning

Install options

Partition selection

Timezone selection

At some point, the semi-modern wizard switches into full ncurses mode. Why? Dunno.

The installation was phenomenally fast. Two minutes done, all of it. Really cool. You get a chance to configure your user, plus bootloader, and all that. Sounds all right. I rebooted, and ... GRUB command-line. For whatever reason, Devuan couldn't properly load the boot menu. All right. Since the installation didn't take that long, I tried the entire process one more time. Live session. Installation. Bootloader config. Check. Reboot. No go.

Conclusion

The most frustrating thing about this whole deal is that I wasn't able to get to the point where init matters, to see how it fares and compares to systemd. But then, the live system started in only about 20 seconds from an ancient USB2.0 stick, not different from any other distro. It was blazing fast in the live session. Ugly but fast. Then, I remembered. MX Linux. There's a Debian-based distro, which is fast, simple, elegant AND uses init. And it boots fast and true. So I can relax.

Back to Devuan. The experience is quite similar to Debian. It's not meant for home use unless you're willing to invest a lot of energy getting everything sorted out nicely. But then, at that point, you might as well use a derivative distro that has been polished, tweaked and made practical by someone else. On top of that, Devuan wouldn't even boot after the installation, so there's very little else for me to say. Until the next time.

Cheers.

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