The Perfect Desktop - Debian Lenny

Version 1.0
Author: Falko Timme
Last edited 02/18/2009

This tutorial shows how you can set up a Debian Lenny desktop that is a full-fledged replacement for a Windows desktop, i.e. that has all the software that people need to do the things they do on their Windows desktops. The advantages are clear: you get a secure system without DRM restrictions that works even on old hardware, and the best thing is: all software comes free of charge.

I want to say first that this is not the only way of setting up such a system. There are many ways of achieving this goal but this is the way I take. I do not issue any guarantee that this will work for you!


1 Preliminary Note

To fully replace a Windows desktop, I want the Debian Lenny desktop to have the following software installed:


  • The GIMP - free software replacement for Adobe Photoshop
  • F-Spot - full-featured personal photo management application for the GNOME desktop
  • Google Picasa - application for organizing and editing digital photos


  • Firefox/Iceweasel
  • Opera
  • Flash Player 10
  • FileZilla - multithreaded FTP client
  • Thunderbird/Icedove - email and news client
  • Evolution - combines e-mail, calendar, address book, and task list management functions
  • aMule - P2P file sharing application
  • Transmission BitTorrent Client - BitTorrent client
  • Azureus/Vuze - Java Bittorrent client
  • Pidgin - multi-platform instant messaging client
  • Skype
  • Google Earth
  • Xchat IRC - IRC client


  • OpenOffice Writer - replacement for Microsoft Word
  • OpenOffice Calc - replacement for Microsoft Excel
  • Adobe Reader
  • GnuCash - double-entry book-keeping personal finance system, similar to Quicken
  • Scribus - open source desktop publishing (DTP) application

Sound & Video:

  • Amarok - audio player
  • Audacity - free, open source, cross platform digital audio editor
  • Banshee - audio player, can encode/decode various formats and synchronize music with Apple iPods
  • MPlayer - media player (video/audio), supports WMA
  • Rhythmbox Music Player - audio player, similar to Apple's iTunes, with support for iPods
  • gtkPod - software similar to Apple's iTunes, supports iPod, iPod nano, iPod shuffle, iPod photo, and iPod mini
  • XMMS - audio player similar to Winamp
  • dvd::rip - full featured DVD copy program
  • Kino - free digital video editor
  • Sound Juicer CD Extractor - CD ripping tool, supports various audio codecs
  • VLC Media Player - media player (video/audio)
  • Real Player
  • Totem - media player (video/audio)
  • Xine - media player, supports various formats; can play DVDs
  • Brasero - CD/DVD burning program
  • K3B - CD/DVD burning program
  • Multimedia Codecs


  • KompoZer - WYSIWYG HTML editor, similar to Macromedia Dreamweaver, but not as feature-rich (yet)
  • Bluefish - text editor, suitable for many programming and markup languages
  • Quanta Plus - web development environment, including a WYSIWYG editor


  • VMware Server - lets you run your old Windows desktop as a virtual machine under your Linux desktop, so you don't have to entirely abandon Windows
  • TrueType fonts
  • Java
  • Read-/Write support for NTFS partitions

Lots of our desired applications are available in the Debian repositories.

As you might have noticed, a few applications are redundant, for example there are two CD/DVD burning applications in my list (Brasero, K3B). If you know which one you like best, you obviously don't need to install the other applications, however if you like choice, then of course you can install both. The same goes for music players like Amarok, Banshee, Rhythmbox, XMMS or browsers (Firefox/Iceweasel, Opera).

I will use the username falko in this tutorial, and I will download all necessary files to falko's desktop which is equivalent to the directory /home/falko/Desktop. If you use another username (which you most probably do ;-)), please replace falko with your own username. So when I use a command like

cd /home/falko/Desktop

you must replace falko.


2 Installing The Base System

Download the Debian Lenny netinstall iso image (available here: (i386) or (x86_64)) , burn it onto a CD, and boot your computer from it. Select Graphical install:

Choose your language:

Then select your location:

Choose a keyboard layout:

The installer checks the installation CD, your hardware, and configures the network with DHCP if there is a DHCP server in the network:

Since this is a desktop, you can accept the default hostname...

... and domain:

Now you have to partition your hard disk. For simplicity's sake I will create one big partition (with the mount point /) and a little swap partition so I select Guided - use entire disk (of course, the partitioning is totally up to you - if you like, you can create more than just one big partition, and you can also use LVM):

Select the disk that you want to partition:

Then select the partitioning scheme. As mentioned before, I select All files in one partition (recommended for new users) for simplicity's sake - it's up to your likings what you choose here:

When you're finished, select Finish partitioning and write changes to disk:

Select Yes when you're asked Write changes to disks?:

Afterwards, your new partitions are created and formatted:

Now the base system is installed:

Afterwards, give the root user a password:

Create a normal user account:

Next you must configure apt. Because you are using the Debian Lenny Netinstall CD which contains only a minimal set of packages, you must use a network mirror. Select the country where the network mirror that you want to use is located (usually this is the country where your Debian Lenny system is located):

Then select the mirror you want to use (e.g.

Unless you use an HTTP proxy, leave the following field empty and hit Continue:

Apt is now updating its packages database:

You can skip the package usage survey by selecting No:

Select Desktop environment and Standard system on the Software selection screen and hit Continue:

The required packages are downloaded and installed on the system:

When you're asked Install the GRUB boot loader to the master boot record, select Yes:

The base system installation is now finished. Remove the Debian Lenny Netinstall CD from the CD drive and hit Continue to reboot the system:

After the reboot, log in to the desktop with the username and password you provided during the installation:

This is how your new desktop looks:

Now the base system is ready to be used.

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18 Comment(s)

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From: Anonymous at: 2009-03-28 21:29:03

Hi falko,

I have a problem how to install Debian Lenny on laptop with SCSI disk? thanks for answer!

From: dave at: 2009-02-22 04:42:56

Great article & very helpful!  Thanks for the time to put it together.

My preference is for KDE, but not sure how to do this with netinstall.  I have read that we have to use the Advanced install options, but that may lead to a messed up system as it is for advanced Debian users (I'm not -- Puppy user).  I have also read that users are having problems with adding the KDE packages and making it the default environemnt.  Anyone know how to use the netinstall and end up with a reliable KDE enviroment? 



From: craigevil at: 2009-02-23 01:56:40

To install KDE using the netinstall

feeding the following command at the boot prompt:

install tasks="-desktop, standard"

As for the article why install a ton of media players? I can see installing mplayer, and maybe amarok, rythmbox or exaile no need for a ton of media apps.

From: sylware at: 2009-02-24 10:37:13

Avoid like hell .net based technologies (since it will screw GNU/Linux one day, and it's bloatware): use gthumb (or other C language based non-bloated programs) instead of f-spot and stick to rhythmbox (or other C language non-bloated programs) instead of banshee.

Do not promote bloatware, especially the ones from companies who sweared to destroy GNU/Linux, because that will make the community take very high risks.

That's my advise

From: Todd at: 2009-02-25 18:19:02

Another way to go about it.

We had a customer request a Live Debian disc like the ones available for Ubuntu. We were able to create one using remastersys, which is installable using the remastersys installer. See:

From: mo at: 2009-05-21 23:24:37

AS long it doesn't and open other partitions it will be 20 years behind..mood: furious

From: Anonymous at: 2009-07-05 23:16:31

I just make a clean install on my hp nx9420 and after reboot doesn´t start the desktop.

Why if I exactly follow this tutorial ?


Thanks in advance.

From: Narcarsiss at: 2009-02-23 22:13:54

I would highly recomend to install aptoncd "apt on cd" which will provide a easy and simply way of having a backup of all the files installed and downloaded...

and look for some themes as well to make the desktop look pretty

From: Pax at: 2009-03-15 18:45:44

This is my frist debian instal, i am a ubuntu user, now i like change to tray debia, i download debian lenny 5.0, in oficcial mirror, i install all u recomend bud i cant instal mplayer and others...


this is my source.list

# deb cdrom:[Debian GNU/Linux 5.0.0 _Lenny_ - Official i386 CD Binary-1 20090214-16:29]/ lenny main

# deb cdrom:[Debian GNU/Linux 5.0.0 _Lenny_ - Official i386 CD Binary-1 20090214-16:29]/ lenny main

deb lenny main contrib non-free
deb-src lenny main contrib non-free

deb lenny/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src lenny/updates main contrib non-free

deb stable main
deb-src stable main


u can telme what is worng? why i cant instal mplayer to down... 

From: at: 2009-07-27 00:33:53

The following issues (some of which occurred because I believe this HowTo is actually for the 32-bit version of Debian, but that's ok, virtually all of the HowTo still works!) were encountered while trying to install Debian 5.02 (AMD-64) on a real world (Intel WG965DH moboard, 8GB mem, 4x500GB HDD, CD-RW, and DVD-RW):

** Warning on duplicate entries in the source list when doing apt-get as above (didn't seem to matter--pressed on)
** w32codecs not available in Synaptic, presuming for AMD-64 need w64codecs, installed instead
** realplayer was not available in Synaptic (likely because it is a 32-bit app) -- see below
** Presumed xine-plugin was correct, vice xineplugin
** Do not select acroread-fonts-jpn--will be installed with acroread-fonts-kor

To install RealPlayer (fair warning - you're on your own, I haven't yet tested whether RealPlayer actually works, only that it installs!)

** Retrive RealPlayer from
** Click Download RealPlayer (downloads a bin file).
** Close the browser when the download completes.
** The download is in your home folder -- it MUST be executed from there.
** Open a terminal as root.
** Execute chmod +x RealPlayer11GOLD.bin
** Execute ./RealPlayer11GOLD.bin (the installer runs--accepting the defaults at all prompts works).
** When the installer finishes close the terminal (RealPlayer 11 is now on the Sound and Video menu).

After finishing Step 6 is where I installed the nVidia drivers - the Debian way. Worked like a charm. Detailed instructions are at Follow the directions explicitly and precisely and you will enjoy.

Enabling TwinView after that is easy (I have two monitors). In a console, execute apt-get install nvidia-settings. Then run nvidia-settings. I ran as root (as I was in that state from installing the drivers)--not sure whether that is really needed or not (suspect it is, though). The nVidia configuration window appears. Configure the monitor(s) as you desire, apply, and save the new xorg.conf file. What could be easier? Enjoy TwinView!

From: Andre Felipe Machado at: 2009-02-25 23:49:02


You could use the "debian-way" of configuring system, using the "update-alternatives" root command to inform what flash program, java, pdf reader, etc, when installing from outside repositories.

Official packages with alternative implementations from debian repositories always have this command built in at their internal packaging scripts to ease things and most users will never know about this command.

But unofficial packages not always honor this "debian-way" of configuration.

For example, (as root):

# update-alternatives --config

# update-java-alternatives --auto


Andre Felipe Machado

From: at: 2009-07-27 01:49:34

Flashplayer, at least in an AMD64 install, is not at the location specified in step 7. Instead, in the console, execute:

cp /usr/lib/flashplayer/ /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/

From: Arjan at: 2009-05-21 14:11:06

An easier way to install Opera and keeping it up-to-date is by using their apt repository.


From: at: 2009-03-01 03:51:53


Your instructions indicate to install Google Earth as root.  And to use Google Earth 5.0 (beta) for PC, Mac or Linux.  When I installed it as root it failed with:
# ./googleearth-linux-plus-4.3.7284.3916.bin
Verifying archive integrity... All good.
Uncompressing Google Earth for GNU/Linux 4.3.7284.3916..............................................................
No protocol specified

Then when I installed it as a regular user it failed with:
Installing desktop icon...
./googleearth-bin: relocation error: /usr/lib/i686/cmov/ symbol BIO_test_flags, version OPENSSL_0.9.8 not defined in file with link time reference

So, I installed the older version, Linux: Google Earth 4.3.  And I didn't install it as root.  Installing as a regular user just worked.

From: at: 2009-07-27 13:24:44

If one is trying to install Skype on an AMD64 system, it will have to be forced (the ia32 libraries are already installed if this tutorial has been followed and adapted for a 64-bit system). In a console as root:

dpkg -i –force-all skype-debian_2.0.0.72-1_i386.deb

Also, Kompozer will not install on AMD64 Lenny as described above. There is a procedure at that seems to work quite nicely and is easy to follow. Modify it to suit your needs. Of course, YMMV.

From: Grant at: 2009-02-25 15:54:38

I have found that the official Debian repository for Scribus is out of date, and slow to fix bugs.   I add the Scribus repository to my list, and things are much nicer, especially with scribus-ng.

deb stable main non-free contrib

From: Naeem at: 2009-03-04 09:57:54

First of all Bravo on this wonderful post, i was more than impressed with it. on the other note... debian have came along way, brushed up quite good. i will give it a go now.


From: at: 2009-07-27 18:20:01

When accessing VMware Server, only port 8222 worked. 8333 never accessed the server. YMMV.