Yes, I know, it's silly that it took this long. Every now and then over the years I have tried to install debian, without success, particularly on my laptop. But I finally managed it using knoppix's hard-disk install.
Knoppix is a bizarre parody of a distro and a UI nightmare – a linux demo that is not likely to impress anyone over the age of 8. But it does seem to have far better hardware detection than the regular debian installer, and I was able to apt-get GNOME 2.2 and GDM. I'm just learning about the 3 stable/unstable/testing levels, but it does seem very odd that the default in knoppix is testing. I can't seem to put the proper incantations in RedHat's grub.conf to make it boot the debian partition. That might not be knoppix's fault, but I suspect some file-system strangeness due to a funky kernel. I did try gnoppix, but couldn't get it to recognise my hard drive. A nice sensible bootable GNOME distro will be very nifty.
Hopefully I can now deal more quickly with the gtkmm C++-compliance compile errors that every new version of gcc on debian seems to show.
apt-getting stuff is so easy (well, you have to guess the package name). I've become used to building new stuff from source on Red Hat because I can never find RPMs. Fedora should solve this 3rd party RPMs problem perfectly.
I wrapped a lot more of libgda for libdamm, patching a bit more of libgda, but it's all stuck on my hard disk until I can get to a real internet connection. If I'm lucky then I might be able to do that once a week at the moment. I wish I had a proper job.