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Art: Debian Spiral Fun

Congratulations on Debian 12!

I’ve been using Debian longer than any other operating system. The Linux landscape has changed a lot since I first used it, but it continues to improve.

Some day in the future I’ll switch to using Wayland (still using X11). The day may come when I use more flatpacks or some alternative packaging system than distribution-provided packages, but so far that’s not happened.

Using Debian sparks joy, if that’s what they call it. I can run all this great software and configure it how I want. I feel like I own the experience unlike other systems and platforms. Thank you!

Adding Memtest to a Debian Install USB Drive and Menu

I wanted to add Memtest86+ to my debian installer thumb drive, so I am documenting how.

This is meant to work with a USB drive or other bootable media containing the boot.img.gz contents for the Debian Installer. You might be able to shoehorn it in other of the various ways to set up Debian installation media, but this is the simplest.

It’s actually very easy to add Memtest86+ to an existing drive with this setup.

  1. Copy the Memtest86+ kernel over (I named it memtest for simplicity):

    $ cp memtest86+-5.01.bin /media/user/usbdrive/memtest
    
  2. Add a new config (I used memtest.cfg) for Memtest86+:

    label memtest  
        menu label ^Memtest  
        kernel memtest  
    
  3. Include your config in the menu.cfg (I put mine at the bottom):

    include memtest.cfg
    

That’s it. Despite not coming with Memtest86+, it can be easily added to the menu and it works fine.

Some of the other installation media seem to be hostile to this small addition. They have locked partitions or do not have easily-amended menu configurations. That said, maybe Debian Installer will eventually include Memtest86+ by default.

Debian’s init Options

A look at the choice that Debian faces in choosing a new init system and process.

The Debian Project will choose a new default init system for its next major release (codename Jessie). The debate details (Debian Wiki: Debates: initsystem) include the following proposals:

  1. sysvinit (status quo)
  2. systemd
  3. upstart
  4. openrc
  5. One of the above for Linux, other(s) on non-Linux
  6. Multiple on Linux, at least one for every other kernel

The chief goal in switching? Bring modern boot functionality (speed and lower resource use). Others include lowering the bar for packaging and maintenance, and taking advantage of newer kernel features.

The matter of choosing an init system mainly deals with the amount of work and amount of benefit available. Unfortunately, some aspects of this debate must focus on other things.

The main contenders, systemd and upstart, both have at least one strike against them:

  • systemd looks technologically superior, but that superiority makes it a non-option for at least some non-Linux kernels (owing to using Linux-specific features), and support for other kernels would require much effort. It also takes a different approach to being pid 1, namely rolling in some functionality that has long been outside of init‘s domain.
  • upstart can be supported more readily, but similar if slightly less effort would be required for non-Linux. Worse, Ubuntu’s stewardship of upstart hampers it with the Canonical Contributor License Agreement problem.

A Contributor License Agreement basically states that by signing it, you grant rights of your contributions to the project maintainer. But the Canonical CLA goes a step beyond, in claiming for Canonical the right to relicense the contributions in a non-free manner.

In the Free/Open Source world that makes it as attractive as poison ivy. Also important, some who contribute as part of their work may actively be barred from participation. A company that sees benefit in open source will probably see hostility in their employee’s work being tied into a CLA of this sort (or any sort).

It all adds up to one difficult decision. The fact that both major contenders do not reduce Debian’s workload means the decision will boil down to technical merits. That makes systemd more likely.

What of non-Linux, then? openrc or sticking with sysvinit both seem plausible. Debian likely will not abandon their work with other kernels, so they will likely bite their tongues. Debian will put up with the extra work of dual systems for now. That will also mean that their Linux decision will remain a technical hybrid for the time being.

But not forever. Post-Jessie, I expect Debian will re-evaluate and hopefully find a more useful option to shed some of the extra weight they will take on in the short-term, whether that means configuration conversion tools, or something else.

The main reason that upstart seems unlikely, Ubuntu and Canonical never took the time to lead the way on non-Linux and while some Debian packages might have easier times adopting upstart configurations, the feature set of systemd seems to be a bit more powerful.