A serial Blog entry about installing Debian 5.03 in a Dell D620 to see if Evolution / MAPI works there.


I can not recall the last time I have done a plain Debian install. I do know that they did not have the graphical installer yet, so it was a fair amount of time ago.


Even though my primary Linux is Ubuntu (9.10 these days), which is Debian based, Ubuntu is not Debian. Ubuntu is not even, as near as I can see, a mix of custom packages layered on top. It is a complete repackaging, starting with Debian. Seems like a lot of work, but it is hard to argue with Ubuntu's success.


Success except that Ubuntu still does not have a version of Evolution that works against MS Exchange 2007. It is coming. Very very slowly. I read today that the critical packages I needed to take a stab at a working Evolution was already packaged over in Debian. This would be to bring the MAPI support from 0.28.0 to 0.28.1 like the rest of Evolution already is in Ubuntu 9.10. There is a bug to track getting MAPI up to speed in Ubuntu:


...but I think it would be fair to say that the rate in which the Ubuntu team has worked to get Evolution stable and working with Exchange has been lethargic at best, and at least in this they are no different from of the other majors, since no one has the 2.28.1 yet... Except Debian. And of course, Gnome.


I do not know how this got missed, except that perhaps no one at any of the projects has MS Exchange servers and so they do not pay much attention to it. Just a guess though. It clearly lags behind the other features of Evolution. Another thought would be that most in the Linux community in general think more like the Fedora community in particular, and prefer open standards and protocols rather than closed, and supporting Exchange may feel like a betrayal of those standards?


I am *not* stating any of this as fact, just speculating why in the world the MAPI support so desperately lags in Linux, and Evolution. OS.X has had working MS Exchange support since August: Clearly no one in Linux land is feeling any heat of competition with Apple. I know Apple did not go the MAPI route with their support, but at least MS Exchange access works in OS.X, and actually works very well.


Knowing that the four fixes that should repair at least in part my broken Evolution are present in Debian, I dusted off the old Debian skills, and downloaded the 'new' 150 MB network starter CD, with graphical installer. Already this is light years ahead of the last time I installed Debian.


Debian Install


The new Debian graphical installer is nice, but it does not support my external monitor / keyboard / mouse from some reason. Not even as mirrored displays. That is really old school.



The first sticking point was that it did not have the drivers for my wireless card. I did not care, so I made it skip that and just used the wired interface, noting I'd have to fix the wireless later: it is only a 150 MB install image here. No way it has everything it needs out of the box, and I did not expect it too.


Next problem was my /home directory. I am installing this over the top of OpenSUSE 11.2 RC1 on my Dell D620 laptop. Gold comes out tomorrow, so if the Debian experiment flops, that will be my next install. The problem is that both Ubuntu 9.10 and OpenSUSE use Ext4, and Debian 5.03 150 MB installer disk only has Ext3. My home directory is formatted in Ext4, and Debian can't deal with it. I told it to ignore the partition, and now had a second thing to fix post install....


I picked the 'laptop' packages to add them to the basic desktop and core set, and turned it loose. The installer chugged along for about 30 minutes downloading and installing things. Finally it asked my if I wanted GRUB to understand the Windows 7 partition, and it was done. A quick reboot onto a fairly back-level 2.6.26 kernel (Ubuntu and OpenSUSE have 2.31), and I had a mirrored display and was able to log in to Gnome. The default Gnome desktop was clean, and the Debian default theme easy to look at if nothing earth shaking graphically. As an experiment, I pulled the CDROM, installed a battery, and the power manager instantly saw the extra battery. Looks like I had the laptop packages alright!


As Han Solo once said "Don't get cocky kid!"


Old Old School


Debian is an interesting animal. At any given time it has three versions: Stable, Testing, and "sid". I was looking at the current stable version, release 5, codename "Lenny". Lenny is really really out of date, once you get to looking. Gnome was at 2.22. That means 2.24, 2.26, and 2.28 have come out *since* Lenny. Lots of water under that bridge, including all the MAPI support in Evo. Ubuntu had revved three or four times since this level of Gnome. Also, there was no way to enable dual head support in anything I had installed: the monitor tools I was used to in OpenSUSE or Ubuntu were not installed.... of course, I had just over 900 packages installed, and Ubuntu and OpenSUSE default to twice that in their base installs easily. Another thing to hunt down...


To get to testing or "sid", you start with Lenny, and change the install repositories to enable allowing packages from further upstream. the Evolution MAPI 0.28.1 I want is *all* the way upstream, in sid.


sid is what Ubuntu is based off of, and it is quite stable over in Ubuntu, so my hope is that Debian is just very very very cautious, not that one of the reasons that Ubuntu is completely repackaged is because they had to rework *everything*. Even if they did, that would have fed back to sid, and so it should be fairly stable, if not perfect. I am not looking for perfect yet, just a working MAPI connection to Exchange.


I manually edited /etc/apt/sources.list and added sid, reloaded, and started to install Evolution MAPI. Synaptic can not deal with this at all, so I had to do it from the command line. su to root, and then apt-get install evolution-mapi


MAPI would not install, because Gnome was back-level, so that became 'apt-get install evolution-mapi gnome'. That broke another thing, so I added that new thing that needed explicit upgrade permission. And another thing. And another thing.


Oh. yeah. Now I remember why I had not done a Debian install in a while. It is coming back to me. I finally get enough things added that apt can figure out the rest, and installs 478 new packages out of sid, replacing over half of the packages from Lenny. Most of it is Gnome stuff. The general theory I have for this type of work is to only install the minimum I have to, to try and stay in the Stable tree as much as possible, but that theory is not looking good.... I guess at that point to get Xinerama going will take replacing xorg with the current version. Who knows what it will take to get the wireless going... But I stick to the theory. I want to see working Evolution before I get too wrapped around the axle about anything else.


Debian stops to ask me a few questions about restarting services and whatnot. Nothing new there: still curses based questions, even though I had done a graphical install. This many packages, with pauses to ask for things, takes a fair amount of time to get through... most of an hour in fact. Part of it is the size of the update, and part is the fact that the D620 laptop hard drive is well... a laptop hard drive. I while the time away by working on this post via Google Docs, and thinking about how to integrate Google Wave here.


Before I figure Google Wave out, the install finishes. I reboot, and X won't start. Nuts. From console login: 'apt-get install xorg'. 48 more packages. Much whining in the boot messages about needing to upgrade the kernel, but it boots, and goes into X. Opps: Forgot to install the MAPI package! 'apt-get install evolution-mapi'. 9 more packages.



While I am at it, I loaded up the firmware for the Intel wireless card via Synaptic It was easy, and the wireless now works... too well. Our Access point is outside the firewall, and the laptop *prefers* the wireless connection to the wired one. To get access to the internal network I have to disable the wireless and enable the wired, eth0 type connection. I see no easy tool for this, so I do it all from command line. Really starting to miss the spit and polish of Ubuntu or OpenSUSE for things like this.




I can see my Inbox. I can use the actual server name in the account setup. The email addresses in the inbox are valid, reply-to-able addresses. The speed to load the Inbox is not great, but it is way faster than the last release which took forever to load the inbox, right before it crashed.

All of this waiting, just to get to a valid inbox. No GAL. No Calendar. Just a working if slow inbox. I should have been more specific when I said "Working". I want to be able to calendar, at the very least, and while I can use LDAP if need be for the address book, a more native GAL implementation would be nice.


And I am in a totally unsupportable place, with a hybrid of Lenny and sid. If you read through the Debian web pages about installing the Distro, they are quite upfront and even snarky about getting off into the woods if you are not a full fledged developer who can pull themselves back from the edge. You want stable Debian, you stay years back of the leading edge. Or you use a Debian based Distro like Ubuntu, although that last bit of advice is not on the Debian web site.


Back to waiting.. and got to get OpenOffice updated on Debian. OO 2.4 will not cut it when 3.1 is right there, just 48 more sid packages away... And OpenSUSE 11.2 Gold should be out today.


PS: Extra geek points for knowing where the title of today's post comes from.