Debian 12 'Bookworm' is the excitement-free Linux you've been waiting for

If Ubuntu is getting you down, check out its grandad

Debian 12 "Bookworm" should arrive in a little over a week from now, with a raft of updated components – and no nasty surprises.

Debian 12, code-named Bookworm after one of the more obscure Toy Story characters, is scheduled for release on June 10. The developers have put out Release Candidate 4 of the new version's installation medium, and it seems to be working pretty well, so at this point there shouldn't be any big changes before the ship date.

Generally, around the time that a new Linux distribution ships, we try to do a preview story which highlights some of the exciting new features in the forthcoming version. Unfortunately for us, that approach doesn't work so well for Debian, because "exciting" is not really what Debian does.

As we've already covered, a couple of the flagship features in this version are the inclusion of non-free firmware on the installation medium as standard, which ought to simplify the installation process – especially for new users. In turn, that's resulted in a new version of the APT packaging tool, but that's only a point release and should make little to no visible difference.

Under the covers, this version will look at the value returned by the vendor_id field of the data in /proc/cpuinfo, and if it recognizes a GenuinIntel or AuthenticAMD processor, it will automatically load the appropriate microcode. (At this point, we would like to register our objection to the intrusion of marketing teams into microprocessor descriptions, which are redolent of a quality that Douglas Adams described as "quoyness" in The Meaning of Liff.) The chances of this making any discernible difference in performance are minimal, but it might make systems very slightly more robust against future sideband security exploits.

Debian 12 will come with kernel 6.1, which is the current long-term support version of the kernel and will get updates for years to come. That's a welcome change: distributions with a faster release cycle often include short-term releases of the kernel, leaving users dependent on the vendor to backport security fixes – possibly after that kernel version's end of life. Potentially less welcome will be the inclusion of systemd version 252.6.

Most of the various desktops that Debian supports come in new versions, including KDE Plasma 5.27, Cinnamon 5.6, XFCE 4.18, LXQt 1.20, MATE 1.26 and so on. The only prominent desktop which will not have the latest version is GNOME, whose version 44 came along too late to be included – so you'll get GNOME 43 instead.

Bookworm does, however, default to using the Pipewire audio server – which in our test installation was the single component which didn't work correctly, and left us without working sound. Another almost shocking inclusion is the proprietary Nvidia driver, version 525.89.

Bundled applications will include LibreOffice 7.4, Vim 9.0, and Emacs 28.2. Generally speaking, Debian favors stable or slow-moving versions over the latest development branches. If you want to know any particular component version, the release notes have a good, comprehensive list.

If you want the latest and greatest versions of pretty much anything, this is not the distribution for you. If you want components which are six months old or less, or you want the very latest hardware driver support, Ubuntu's interim releases may be just the thing for you. If you want bleeding-edge versions, consider Fedora.

If the keywords that you prefer are terms like boring, staid, predictable, and reliable, if you don't have the patience for flim-flam such as rapidly changing cross-platform packaging tools, and if in general you're getting a bit frustrated with Ubuntu, then you might be a prospective Debian user. By default, Debian includes neither Flatpak nor Snap.

It's nearly two years since Debian 11 "Bullseye" came out, although there have been regular point releases since then, and at the time of writing 11.7 is current. In fact, it tends to be so small-c conservative in its choice of components that this can irritate upstream software authors.

Debian is not the sort of distribution which tries to attract users from other distros. It doesn't go out of its way to achieve great ease of use, and its installation program is downright old school. Saying that, though, the project does now offer live media images with a variety of desktop environments, which are an easy way to install the OS as well as being convenient tools for various troubleshooting and system recovery tasks. It's also one of the last major distributions which still supports 32-bit x86 computers as well as 64-bit, alongside three variants of Arm, 32-bit and 64-bit MIPS, 64-bit PowerPC in little-endian mode, and IBM System Z.

Now, with the inclusion of non-free firmware and drivers right in the default installation media, it's less work than ever to get it up and running. This may prove to be an extinction-level event for quite a few of the alternative Debian remixes out there, many of which have thrived simply by including more drivers and offering an easier installation experience. That edge is getting eroded fast. We suspect the Debian remixes are going to have to come up with more innovative improvements in order to maintain their differentiation from the upstream distro – such as using snapshots to offer transactional installation and rollback, as found in Spiral Linux and siduction, coupled with tracking the unstable or testing branches, in order to deliver an experience to rival rolling-release distros such as Arch Linux.

In the experience of The Reg FOSS desk, Debian users are generally politely mystified as to what appeal people see in Ubuntu, and downright baffled that anybody would ever use a Red Hat family distribution by choice. If you feel that you've maybe outgrown Ubuntu, are getting annoyed with the fun and games it brings to packaging systems, web browsers, and amusing little messages from the packaging tools, then Debian is a solid alternative. A lot of the improved fit and finish that Ubuntu has gradually brought to the Debian family has now worked its way upstream.

As for the inclusion of systemd not being to everyone's taste? In theory, it's possible to remove it post-install and replace it with a different init system, but that's not a trivial exercise or one for the faint of heart. That remains a last key point of differentiation between Debian remixes such as Devuan, antiX or MX Linux, all of which are systemd-free while still being based on Debian. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like