please help out with gdebi - a history of why

Short summary: if you are looking for a way to help Debian become a bit more user friendly, please take care of gdebi in Debian.

I'm rather upset. So beware, rant ahead.

The reason dates back to the beginning of this afternoon, when a friend of mine, GNU/Linux newbie, mailed me asking for help with his brand new (to my astonishment) Debian Lenny installation running the GNOME desktop environment. The request was simple and common to a lot of our users: "how can I see videos on YouTube and use Skype"?

Surely, the first (brief) explanation I gave was why those pieces of software are not in Debian, because they are pieces of evil proprietary software. Fair enough, usual song and dance, that gets the message through. But than, given that I personally care about releasing a completely free operating system, but not necessarily in inhibiting the usage of any non-free bits of software, I wanted to actually solve my friend's problem.

Regarding flashplugin-nonfree, unfortunately it is not in Lenny. Two solutions to that: either point him to and explain how to use them from synaptic (not particularly hard). Or give him a direct download link of the .deb coming from

It turns out that for Skype there is no such choice. Once there used to be an APT-gettable repository for their debs, but it seems to have vanished (or else I can't find it). Still, there is a page from which you can download Lenny .debs. Given that for Skype the choice is forced, I was tempted to simply reply to him with a couple of link to .debs and solve his problem rather easily.

But wait. Once he has the two debs, how can he install them? First attempt: "just click on them in Nautilus" (my hope: "synaptic will do the right thing™). No way, it will fire up file-roller. Second attempt: "install gdebi (using synaptic), right-click on the deb, and choose ;open with gdebi'". Seems to work, but no, you will be hit by Debian bug #493352. (BTW, the reason why you need the right click is Debian bug #421096).

What makes me upset is that both bugs were there way before the Lenny release and slipped through our QA knots. Nobody's fault, the maintainer apparently lost interest (or time) package and stopped caring about it. Happens all the time. But damn!, we will lose a user the moment I tell him "you know, you need to open up a root terminal". A few remarks: this rant is not about "we should invite user to use non-free software"; it is not even about "we should be more attractive to newbies"; it is just about the pity of losing users like this, dumbly.


  1. dear lazyweb, any idea of what can I suggest to my friend to install the debs I'll point him to, without needing the knowledge of a terminal?

  2. gdebi in Ubuntu is ahead of lots of version wrt Debian, I'm convinced that it fixes most outstanding issues (given that upstream author is a Canonical employee). If you have some free Debian-time slots (I currently don't) and you care about newbie-accessibility, please consider helping out with gdebi. He needs you.

EOR (end of rant)

Update 07/10/2009: gdebi is now fixed in unstable \o/ , thanks to Michael Vogt and Luca Falavigna for bringing back into sync Debian with upstream/ubuntu.