Light Debian Linux for Family and Friends

A friend of yours tells you one day he’s heard so much about Linux and he’s decided to install it on his Windows machine. His computer is already a few years old, a Windows 7 or maybe a Windows XP, and he’s come to you for advice. Could you please help him to install it? No problem, happy to oblige!

The only concern I would have is the RAM memory. It is virtually impossible to persuade anybody to add more memory to an old box, we better make sure the desktop environment we chose will not be slower than his Windows. A memory comparison of various Debian desktop environments helps in this moment:

Debian 7 Memory (MB)

Debian 7 Memory (MB)

I usually install for them Debian because it is rock solid, and it will more than tamper with some of the bad habits they accumulated as Microsoft users. Once Debian installed, using it is as easy as using Ubuntu. Installation is no different once you go trough it once or twice.

Installing Debian 7 LXDE

I start with a simple Debian 7 network install: two logical partitions, one for swap, another one for everything else, making sure not to wipe out the resident Windows. Soon after, the computer starts in a regular Debian server console. To keep the adrenaline flowing, it helps to mention in this moment this setup goes directly in the webserver top. I follow trough with X11 and LXDE install:

# apt-get install lxde

Once LXDE installed, I reboot the computer and the magic happens:

Debian wheezy LXDE desktop

Debian 7 default LXDE desktop


No need to fight it, some distros like openSUSE do it by default. Just add a new user account and set the password:

# adduser chuknorris
# passwd chuknorris

Open /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf in a text editor and add the following line in [SeatDefaults] section:


The next reboot will login the user automatically.

The Internet

It is time to get serious and install a web browser. In Debian 7 Firefox is called Iceweasel and it is a pretty old version. However, Debian Mozilla Team makes available two newer versions labeled beta (latest Mozilla release) and aurora (Mozilla development version). As I always go for beta, I need to add the following entry in /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb wheezy-backports iceweasel-beta

followed by apt-get install:

# apt-get update
# apt-get install -t wheezy-backports iceweasel

It is also a good idea to install a global spell-checker. It will be used by Mozilla and also by a large number of text editors:

# apt-get install hunspell hunspell-en-us

As BitTorrent client I install transmission-gtk:

# apt-get install transmission-gtk

For email I usually send them to open a free web account, however if they insist the solution is

# apt-get install icedove

Sound and fireworks

But can it play my music collection? Yes, “it knows” mp3 and any video file you might happen to have. It is supported directly by the regular Debian software repositories, no need to mess around. For media player I usually install VideoLAN client, chances are your friend is already using it on Windows.

# apt-get install vlc libavcodec-extra-53
# apt-get install pulseaudio paprefs pulseaudio-module-jack \
pavucontrol paman alsa-tools-gui

With the software installed, we need to add the user to pulse groups:

# usermod -a -G pulse,pulse-access chucknorris

After another reboot to start pulseaudio server, it is time to install the Flash Player. Add contrib non-free in your /etc/apt/sources.list file:

deb wheezy main contrib non-free

and install the flash player:

# apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree
Flash player

Flash player

Additional software

It is always a good idea to show your friend how to install additional programs. There are plenty to chose from, in fact more than 30,000 in Debian repositories. Here are some ideas:

Text editors:
$ sudo apt-get install vim emacs gedit 

Graphic editors:
$ sudo apt-get install gimp inkscape

Photo organizer:
$ sudo apt-get install shotwell

Office software:
$ sudo apt-get install libreoffice

PDF viewer:
$ sudo apt-get install evince xpdf

Remote desktop:
$ sudo apt-get install xtightvncviewer tightvncserver tscient

$ sudo apt-get install openarena extremetuxracer 0ad simutrans

$ sudo apt-get install tuxpaint tuxtype tuxmath supertux frozen-bubble
Debian 7 LXDE desktop

Debian 7 LXDE desktop


People sometimes ask me to help them with their Windows computers and I tell them that I use Linux and have very little Windows experience. For a number of reasons such as cost, features, security, maintenance, it is worth switching to Linux. It is a more pleasant experience for the user, and less trouble to keep it running.

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18 thoughts on “Light Debian Linux for Family and Friends

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  2. redditor

    i’d recommend you to install emacs-nox, this way you avoid the X dependencies since i doubt any /regular/ family member would use emacs to take simple nots 🙂

    1. Aditya Pareek

      he already installed most of the GTK stuff thats a dependency for emacs , however have a figurative upvote for cli advocacy 🙂

  3. ReliefAshama

    “For a number of reasons such as cost, features, security, maintenance, it is worth switching to Linux. It is a more pleasant experience for the user, and less trouble to keep it running.”

    That’s a good sentence.

  4. Pingback: Light Debian Linux for Family and Friends | Hallow Demon

  5. druwa

    You should also definitely check out the super-lightweight Debian-derived Crunchbang Linux, . Wonder how much #!’s Openbox memory performance compares to that of even Fluxbox? 4Sure Openbox is lighter than LXDE and you can do all the same things with #! using the standard repositories as you can using Debian Wheezy 7.x!!

    1. CFWhitman

      I would expect that with a panel running, like in Crunchbang, Openbox would have very similar usage to Fluxbox without an extra panel (Fluxbox includes a panel-like toolbar). This is no insult to Crunchbang. I have it running on a couple of machines. Also, it’s hard to find a Fluxbox optimized version of a distribution. Generally, if you want to use Fluxbox, you have to do it yourself.

  6. lloydsmart

    This was a great article, until you recommended adding the non-free repository, and flash player. You should encourage newbies to ditch flash. You don’t need it for Youtube (can use HTML5), and installing it kinda defeats the purpose of using a free-software distro like Debian.

    1. netblue30 Post author

      Thanks for your comment. HTML5 has a long way to go, youtube says it is an opt-in trial. Maybe the day when we can get rid of flash will come.

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