Describing itself as “Debian without systemd”, Devuan is another distribution targeting users dissatisfied with the software suite originally developed by Lennart Poettering that would replace SysV as the most popular init system for Linux distributions. With the initial announcement of forking Debian dating back to late-2014, the team behind Devuan believes that GNU/Linux is becoming more homogenized not just as a result of the rising popularity of systemd but also the GNOME Project providing the GNOME desktop environment:
We believe this situation is also the result of a longer process leading to the take-over of Debian by the GNOME project agenda. Considering how far this has propagated today and the importance of Debian as a universal OS and base system in the distribution panorama, what is at stake is the future of GNU/Linux in a scenario of complete homogeneization (sic!) and lock-in of all base distributions.
In short, this means that Devuan is supposed to be a “less-restricted” variant of Debian with free choice over init system and desktop environment. As this is more of a political justification rather than fears born out of potential technical implications, testing the OS myself was... rather boring, despite conducting this test in a badly-configured virtual machine.
Despite also offering two live ISO's called
minimal-live, with the latter being meant to be used as a command-line-based recovery tool, I decided to opt for netinstall with its TUI-Installer. Once booting the ISO, I first had to select my language, location, locales, and keymap before Devuan would detect my network automatically. Next up, I was prompted to set a root password before I could create a user account and start to partition the virtual hard disk. To partition the disk, I was provided with four options, with two allowing a guided partitioning that also set up LVM and encrypted LVM. As this test was done in a VM, I chose the first option and, once done, the installer would automatically start to install the base system, which took roughly two minutes.
This was followed by the configuration of the package manager, letting users choose between online and an offline configuration via DVD, and also granting the option to configure an optional HTTP proxy server. This also only required two minutes and was finished shortly after a survey prompt appeared, in which users are encouraged to submit weekly user data focusing on most-used packages. “Popularity Contest” is a tool directly inherited from Devuan's parent distribution, though comparing Devuan's stats to Debian's, it appears that the first barely gets to collect any relevant data due to the project's much smaller user base and most users likely rejecting this offer.
Once declined, the installer moved on to “Software Selection”. Because Xfce is the project's standard desktop environment, the installer automatically selected it. It can be changed by selecting Xfce and pressing
Space. For this test, I kept this selection and only added some standard system utilities, unaware of what programs this collection consists. This would become the longest part of the installation process, as downloading is highly dependent on internet speed; in my case, it took 20 minutes with occasional minor freezes, with the download itself actually only taking eight minutes. Partially to blame for this was the amount of software Devuan would download and install, with one of the biggest packages being the complete LibreOffice suite and
gnome-icon-theme – the last was perhaps the strangest choice, given that I did not select the GNOME DE and how the team behind Devuan expressed their distrust towards the GNOME Project. The installation of
ppp also appeared quite odd to me, as the project discourages the usage of Debian's, Linux Mint's, and Ubuntu's repositories due to potential incompatibilities, yet seems to be perfectly fine with Debian's AUR equivalent which should cause the same incompatibilities.
I chose to let this slide and focused on the available init systems. What came as somewhat off to me were the descriptions of sysvinit: Initially, I assumed this distribution is targeting experienced users knowing, or at least remembering, SysV, yet its description implies that Devuan also is trying to target users completely unfamilar with init systems and the drama surrounding systemd, only to then switch back to tech-babble when briefly summarizing the other available init systems. I progressed with SysV, as this appeared to be the preferred option, and only had to wait one minute.
Next, I was being promted to install GRUB. Rather confusing was the warning about the installer possibly failing other installed operating systems – the OS has to be incredibly exotic to not be discovered by
os-prober and thus would not affect the majority of computer users, yet it appeared that Devuan did not configure this tool to automatically scan for other installed operating systems and kept it “vanilla”, meaning that
os-prober will not be executed (there is yet another drama involving this tool, which, just like in the case of systemd, is based on wild accusations).
Since it did not need to scan for other installed systems in the first place, I ignored this issue and let the installer finish, briefly getting stuck at
hw-detect. Overall installation took me longer than initially expected, with all automatic procedures taking nearly 30 minutes to complete.
Just like most smaller distributions, Devuan failed to detect the appropriate screen resolution within a virtual environment but, unlike others, did not even offer me a resolution suited for my monitor, only letting me choose 1360x768 to at least match the aspect ratio. Given that 16:9 monitors have been available for over a decade, this appears to be a case of laziness to not implement higher resolutions for such monitors.
After changing the screen resolution, I quickly wanted to get a teaser shot done for this review. While it was not much of a surprise that neofetch had to be installed manually, my user not being in the sudoers file, on the other hand, was a bit of a shock, considering I did test Devuan using
live-desktop years ago and its GUI-Installer gave me the choice to grant the first user access to sudo, and thus assumed
netinstall probably would do it automatically. I had to logout and switch to the root account to add my user to the sudoers file (and having to re-adjust the screen resolution one more time). Whilst doing so, Devuan did not open Mousepad, its standard text editor, but LibreOffice Writer.
Since Devuan does not rely on systemd and blacklisted all packages being dependent on it, it's obvious that this OS requires its own repositories. Devuan offers both the graphical package manager Synaptic and the command-line tool apt, being identical to Debian in this regard. Even the lack of any pending updates, which I'm not used to anymore due to mainly using an Arch derivate, available repositories, and the lack of “bleeding-edge” packages such as LibreWolf were exactly what I expected from this fork.
As nothing looked any noteworthy to me at this point, I wanted to check the system's performance, only to notice that Devuan does not include htop out of the box, and, at least in my case, top is more suited for a quick check, rather than a somewhat longer test, so I downloaded my preferred tool via Synaptic, which got the job done without any issues.
Even within a poorly-configured virtual machine with the most unrealistic specifications possible and producing slightly delayed responses when scrolling fast, Devuan still performed quite well and required little resources. Even browsing the web with Firefox ESR, the distribution's standard browser, was quite pleasant.
Speaking of browsers, the philosophy of Devuan takes an interesting turn when using the browser's URL bar to search the web. As it turned out, Google is set as default search engine. Apparently, the developers do not consider the dominance of Google as the search engine to be as “disastrous” as Linux distributions switching to systemd and the GNOME Project being the GNOME Project.
Another odd thing was the lack of a pre-installed mail reader. “Odd” because
netinstall installed LibreOffice in its entirety without asking but not a mail reader like Thunderbird, which some users might consider essential.
While its parent distribution offers an extensive wiki that also covers its used init system, Devuan offers nothing but installation, migration, and encryption guides. The same page links to another site, which is supposed to offer additional documentation but covers the exact same things as Devuan's install page and is claimed to be outdated. Considering that Devuan does not offer any documentation regarding its available init systems and how to maintain them, users must rely on (quite cryptic) manpages and manual searches online to figure things out.
Manual searches led me to Devuan's Dev1 Galaxy Forum, revealing that the project's userbase is quite small, with the forum counting only 1,815 registered users at the time of writing this. It is possible that more users are active on Devuan's IRC channels and the project's mailing list, though the total amount of “community members” likely does not exceed 10,000. But because of the small userbase, it pretty much is impossible to come across rude users that will publicly mock and insult anyone talking about other Linux distributions, in fact many users are not even against systemd and do not mind using a systemd-based distribution alongside Devuan – a stark contrast to the Artix and Garuda communities, which represent the “typical Arch user” quite perfectly.
Overall, Devuan does exactly what it promises but to a point in which I forgot about my VM running Devuan just two days after finishing this short test. It really is just Debian without systemd, minus the wiki and a large community. If you are looking for a rock-solid operating system that doesn't get in your way and offers a more traditional init system, Devuan Chimaera might be perfectly suited for your needs. And if you need more up-to-date software, Devuan also offers Daedalus, which is Devuan's equivalent to Debian's Testing branch, and Ceres, the OS' Unstable variant.
Nevertheless, Devuan is best suited for intermediate and experienced users, even though it tries to attract beginners, as well.
Medion Akoya E4070 D
Processor: AMD A10–5700 APU @ 3.40 GHz
Display: Trinity (Radeon HD 7660D)
Memory: 4 GB RAM (3462 MiB)
Storage: 1 TB ST1000DM003-9YN162 (CC4G)
Network: RTL8111/8168/8411 PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet Control