Debian 11: Moving forward while standing still

Jack Wallen tests Debian 11 and isn't surprised to find out the developers have released another version that is unmatched in stability.

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Image: Debian

Debian is the mother of all Linux distributions. Well, the mother of all Debian-based distributions (of which there are countless). One of the main reasons so many flavors of Linux are based on Debian is because it is one of the single most stable operating systems on the planet. You would be hard-pressed to find a more rock-solid platform. End of discussion on that.

That incredible stability comes with a price. Said price is that you won't find anything bleeding edge in Debian. Debian's first and foremost directive is stability. To that end, packages (even in newer releases) often seem like they are out of date. And because Debian releases are so infrequent, this can feel a bit exacerbated by time.

And, to be honest, that's really a good thing. 

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Having a stable operating system, with a stable kernel, and stable software leads to—you guessed it—stability. So when the newest version of Debian is released (in this case, version 11—a.k.a. Bullseye) it should come as no surprise that a lot of the software falls behind that found in other distribution releases. 

Take, for instance, GNOME. Debian 11 ships with GNOME 3.38. Debian 10 shipped with GNOME 3.30. However, Pop!_OS 21.04 ships with GNOME 3.38.5, so Debian 11 is in good company. As for the kernel, Bullseye includes 5.10, which is an upgrade from Debian 10's 4.19. 

I downloaded and installed Debian 11 with both GNOME and KDE, so I could get a good feel for how the desktop distribution performed and functioned. And just like with every iteration of Debian I've tried, I came away with a smile on my face. Why? Because Debian does the desktop right. No, it's not packed to the brim with shiny, new objects. It's not going to blow you away with anything unique or features that no other distribution has to offer. What Debian does now is what Debian has done from the start - provide the most stable environment for you to get things done.

There is one area where Debian 11 has greatly improved over 10. 

Debian 11's performance

To be fair, the majority of the performance boost in Debian 11 (over Debian 10) comes by way of the newer kernel. Where the operating system gets that performance boost doesn't matter nearly as much as how it performs in production. 

Debian 11 performance is noticeably improved. It's fast. And when you combine such an increase in performance with the level of stability gained with Debian, you have the makings of a remarkable experience. Once installed, you have the choice to run one of the desktops you've chosen, and you'll find you can run GNOME on either the aging X11 or Wayland (the default). Running GNOME on Wayland is another reason why Debian has enjoyed a boost in performance. I found GNOME on Debian 11 performed flawlessly but opted to quickly change over to KDE Plasma, as I find myself not giving that desktop enough attention lately. 

On Debian 11, KDE Plasma 5.20 is unbelievably impressive. KDE has made massive strides in performance and reliability over the past couple of years and this combination really shows that off. In fact, KDE Plasma outperforms GNOME on Debian 11. That's something I wasn't sure I'd ever say, but there you have it. I found KDE to not only be as stable as GNOME (which is saying something), but it feels faster and smoother. Applications open almost instantly and without the same feeling of instability that once haunted KDE. To be fair, KDE has been quite stable for some time, but having Debian 11 at the wheel hits this home. And a quick switch to the KDE Plasma Air style makes the desktop even more beautiful than it already was (Figure A).

Figure A

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KDE Plasma 5.20 running on Debian 11 is a thing of stable beauty.

Who is Debian 11 for?

The answer to this question is simple. Debian 11 is for anyone who prefers stability over shiny and new. And by stability, I mean the most stable desktop operating system on the planet. To me, Debian is the Honda of operating systems. It might not be the flashiest or sexiest, but it will always come through for you. In the end, isn't that what an operating system should be about? 

I've always found Debian to be an island among a swirling sea of newness. Sure, I like to swim out into that ocean to see what's what, but every so often you have to come ashore and stand on solid ground. That's Debian. 

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For those who are new to Linux, I'd love to be able to recommend Debian 11 to you. However, because the installation isn't nearly as simple as is that of, say, Ubuntu, you'd be best served either having someone with more experience install Debian for you, or wait it out until you have a bit more familiarity with Linux under your belt. Although you won't be asked to manually partition your drive, there are questions about mirrors and domains that could easily trip you up. So if you're new to Linux and you insist on experiencing the remarkable stability that is Debian 11, I'd suggest you do a bit of research into the Debian installer before you do. 

However, you shouldn't let that warning put you off. Even those without any Linux experience could muddle their way through installation, I'd hate for someone new to Linux to be turned away because the Debian installation isn't a two- or three-click process. So if you are new to Linux, grab a friend who has installed Linux and let them walk you through the process.

Trust me, Debian 11 is worth the smallest bit of extra effort you might have to go through to complete the installation. It's that good. In fact, it's one of the few instances where I can say a Linux distribution moves forward while standing firmly in place.

Download your copy of Debian 11 now.

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