An Unbiased Review of Debian 3.0 was an article that was featured on Slashdot yesterday, which was largely a big rant about the suckitude of the Debian installer. Reading the review, I had mixed feelings. Personally, I’ve never had good luck with Debian. I know lots of people love it, and bully for them, but I have never been able to get a Debian system up and running to my satisfaction. I believed this was a personal failure until I succeeded two times with Gentoo, which is to Debian as Alaska is to Montana, in terms of frontier cred. Anyway, I agree that things that are dumb about the Debian installer could be improved, but I disagree with the article’s larger argument, which is that Debian should have an installer that my Mom could navigate (a la Red Hat).
As everyone knows, Debian is maintained by an organization of volunteers. When people working on the distribution support users, it takes away from the time that they could be spending to improve the distribution. Therefore, it makes sense for them to not make Debian open for anybody to install. If someone can’t make it through an installer that requires some attention and knowledge on the part of the user, then they should probably be using a commercial distribution that offers support for money or whatever. That’s one of the things I like best about Gentoo’s root shell installer. It immediately gets rid of people that are intimidated by that sort of thing, and prevents them from sucking up tons of attention on mailing lists or forums. The difficulty of the installer should be like those little signs in front of rides at amusement parks: “You must be this tall to ride.”
The target audience of Debian doesn’t need a graphical installer, so there’s really no reason to put one in. If you want the easy graphical installer, perhaps you should ask yourself why you chose Debian in the first place. Besides, with distributions like Debian and Gentoo, using the installer is more likely than not a one time thing, because you can upgrade the version of your operating system without bothering with the installer. I’m all for installer improvements that save time for the core users of a distribution, but revising the installer to open the distribution to a new class of users should not be entered into lightly.