Debian 11 desktop background

Debian, the progenitor of many other Linux distributions, has made release 11 available in the testing stage. Are you weighing the virtues of upgrading, or are you just curious about the changes? Today, we’ll take a look at the highlights.

Debian is one of the most stable and versatile Linux distributions that you can find, with a storied history dating back to 1993. Its age and stability explain why many other popular distributions like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, elementary OS, and Raspberry Pi OS (formally called Raspian) can trace their roots to Debian.

Debian 11 continues its naming tradition with “Bullseye,” named after the horse character in Pixar’s famous Toy Story series. As of this writing in mid-July 2021, Bullseye is scheduled to replace Debian 10.10 “Buster” in the “stable” stage on August 14, 2021. Until then, you can access Bullseye at the “testing” stage. Below are the changes and improvements that you can expect to see.

New Theme

The first thing that you’ll notice is Bullseye’s new theme called Homeworld, created by Juliette Taka. It’s inspired by the early 20th-century Bauhaus movement and features a lot of deep blues and simple geometric shapes.

Debian 11 with the GNOME 3.38 desktop environment

You’ll see the new theming integrated not only in the installer and on the desktop, but also in the GRUB menu and Debian websites.

Upgraded Kernel

The Linux kernel in Bullseye has jumped all the way to 5.10 from kernel 4.19, which was originally shipped with Buster. That’s an impressive leap, considering how many other distros have been hovering at or above kernel 5.4 for some time now.

A newer kernel generally means better hardware support, especially if you’re using newer hardware. It also means more efficient use of your resources and a glut of minor bug fixes.

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Updated Package Base

Bullseye includes an updated package base, with more than half of the packages present in Buster seeing upgrades. The total number of packages rounds up to a whopping 58,000. Some are new additions, while others that were present in Buster have been dropped.

Various apps listed in Debian 11's Software Store

Updates to popular packages include the LibreOffice suite being moved up to 7.0, Calligra suite moving to version 3.2, and GIMP moving up to 2.10.22. Notably, you’ll find the GNOME desktop environment (DE) now at version 3.38, while contemporary distros like Fedora 34 and Ubuntu 21.04 are shipping with GNOME 40.

Other standard Debian DEs are seeing upgrades as well, including Xfce moving to 4.16, LXDE to version 11, LXQt to 0.16, MATE to 1.24, and KDE Plasma to 5.20.

Improvements in Printing and Scanning

Printing and scanning are getting easier with Bullseye thanks to improvements in the CUPS and SANE utilities.

Some printers and scanners require special, sometimes proprietary drivers to work with any given device. Requirements like this might annoy you, especially when other peripherals like keyboards and mice work without flaw immediately upon connection.

CUPS and SANE, the utilities for managing printers and scanners on Debian, respectively, are being upgraded with better abilities to handle those devices. So, if you have a printer or scanner that typically needs specific drivers to work with your device, Bullseye could make it work out of the box. The Debian team reports that this should work especially well with printing or scanning devices “marketed in the past five years or so.”

Improved Password Security

Debian 11 is replacing the default encryption algorithm for local account passwords with yescrypt. Buster used SHA-512 by default and didn’t support yescrypt. This change addresses some security and efficiency concerns seen in SHA-256 and SHA-512. Notably, Fedora Linux is expected to follow suit with its next release.

For obvious reasons, this change has the potential to cause problems if you’re upgrading from Buster to Bullseye. In that case, follow Debian’s recommendations.

Support for exFAT Filesystems

Previous editions of Debian relied on a special workaround using Filesystem in Userspace (FUSE) to mount and use exFAT-formatted drives. With the new kernel in place, exFAT partitions are getting native support on Bullseye.

This will come as a relief to those who often deal with external drives that were formatted on Windows or macOS devices. You’ll find your exFAT drives mounting without issue, and the package “exfatprogs” allows you to create your own exFAT partitions.

How to Install or Upgrade to Debian 11

This article only covers a fraction of the changes in Debian 11. To get a complete overview, be sure to read the official release notes for Bullseye. If you’re using Debian 10 and want to upgrade, be sure to follow the official guide to upgrading.

It’s worth noting that Buster will continue to see security updates until July of 2022, and long-term support until June of 2024.

If you’re interested in a fresh live boot or install, find the Bullseye image at the Debian testing page until its release date, and then in stable. You can then install it on a drive or in a virtual machine.

Warning: As long as it’s still in testing, Bullseye will be prone to bugs and won’t receive emergency security patches, and thus, won’t be suitable as a daily driver. You’ll be installing it at your own risk.

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Profile Photo for Jordan Gloor Jordan Gloor
Jordan Gloor is Technical Editor at How-To Geek. He's been writing technology explainers and how-tos since 2020, but he's tinkering with computers and other tech since childhood. He writes on everything from Windows to Linux and from cord-cutting to generating art with AI.
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