Aptosid: A walk on the wild side

Debian GNU/Linux has three development branches: Stable (currently Lenny), Testing (currently Squeeze) and Unstable (allways called Sid). Late in 2006 an attempt to build a stable distribution using Sid as its base was born and baptised Sidux. The Sidux project has recently been renamed to become Aptosid.

Aptosid is a rolling distro which brings you the latest kernel and packages Debian has to offer. The small community behind the project tends to be knowledgeable and helpful and the documentation is pretty good. If you like Debian derivatives and feel like living at the edge, Aptosid may be suitable for you.

I installed Aptosid in my laptop for the first time a few months ago and was pretty happy with it. However, my sound card (ALC883) is not well supported by kernels above 2.26.32 (crackling issues) and therefore I decided to stick for a while to Debian testing.

In order to test btrfs before trying it in my workstation, today I decided to install Aptosid on my old laptop. Of course, there are easier ways to test btrfs, but I like Debian…

I downloaded Aptosid Κῆρες (2010.02) liveCD in its Xfce amd64 version and burned it to a CD. First I tried a USB pendrive but the kernel panicked upon booting. Booting from the liveCD, however, was uneventful.

In order to set up encrypted LVM I followed these instructions. I just created a few more logical volumes and formated them as btrfs instead of ext3. The first boot did not work and I needed to fix a couple of issues from the liveCD before being able to boot to the newly installed system (namely rerunning “update-initramfs -u -k all” from chroot and checking /media/aptosid/etc/initramfs-tools/conf.d/cryptroot). The second boot, even if successful, was slow and messy. The third boot was nearly normal except for a complaint about missing fsck.btrfs that showed up.

It is clear that Aptosid does not indend to be an OS for the masses. It does not use the (quite flexible) Debian installer. The Aptosid installer is correct but rather rigid and limited. For instance, you cannot define custom mount points for your partitions (you need to manually edit /etc/fstab after the installation, but, well, I had to do it anyway to add the btrfs filesystem type).

Aesthetics are clearly not the strong point of the Aptosid team. Aptosid art-work is rather ugly and the default Xfce desktop is dull. Then, of course, you have to configure a few things by hand such as the wireless network, but there the execellent and well organised project documentation is really helpful.

However, once you have your system configured, you end up with one of the most up-to-date distros out there. The effort is far less than that you have to invest in other rolling distributions such as Arch Linux and the performance is noticeable superior to that of its cousin Ubuntu.

Of course, with a cutting-edge rolling distro you need to be a bit more careful than you would be with Debian Stable or even Testing. It is better to edit your apt sources by hand (do not let Synaptic do it for you) and you should be careful with dist-upgrades, namely, before proceeding, check the project website to see if they are likely to break your system and read carefully to know exactly what the upgrade is going to install and (specially!) remove. Never use the autoremove option.

In summary, Aptosid is a great distro for those who want to live at the edge or just try the wild side. Congratulations to the Aptosid team, they have done an amazing work to stabilise an intrinsically unstable beast.

Yet, if some one has a clue on how to workaround the issues with my sound card, please, let me know so that I will be willing to test Aptosid for a longer time.