Debian celebrates 15-year legacy
While a respected and widely-used Linux distribution in its own right, Debian has, over the 15 years, also been widely used as the base for numerous other Linux distributions, including the popular Ubuntu distribution created by South African entrepreneur, Mark Shuttleworth.
On 16 August 1993 Debian founder Ian Murdock announced the brand new Linux distribution:
“This is just to announce the imminent completion of a brand-new Linux release, which I’m calling the Debian Linux Release. This is a release that I have put together basically from scratch; in other words, I didn’t simply make some changes to SLS and call it a new release,” Murdock wrote.
Murdock’s ambitions for Debian included making a Linux system that was sleeker and slimmer than other Linux versions; a system with the most up-to-date applications; an easier install routine; automated configuration on install; and a system that was generally easier to use.
Over the years Debian has achieved much of this and a lot more. But perhaps one of its major contributions to the world, apart from software, was its commitment to free software. The Debian distribution has become one of the touchstones for the free software ideal, regularly rejecting packages with proprietary software and setting an example for others to follow.
But a truly open, community-driven, Linux distribution also has its pitfalls, one of which is the sometimes overly democratic processes that surround the development of Debian. The result has been long release cycles as technical, and political, issues are worked through.
In the end, however, Debian has become a robust and dependable Linux distribution favoured by serious Linux geeks everywhere and, in particular, among server administrators who favour reliable, long-life operating systems.
Apart from Murdock, who founded and led the project from 1993 to 1996, Debian has a long list of well-known team leaders including Bruce Perens who succeeded Murdock in 1996 to December 1997.
Debian’s other contribution has been that it has inspired a whole new generation of Linux distributions, most of which have built on the best of Debian and, with a bit of polish, released as a diverse range of Linux operating systems for every imaginable need.
One of the most important of these was Knoppix, a Debian-based “Live” CD which allowed users to run the operating system directly from the CD without needing to install it to their hard disk. Although not the first-ever Live CD, Knoppix was certainly the best known and in time has spun off its own generation of Linux distributions, including the ultra-compact Damn Small Linux.
Today all the major distributions of Linux offer a “Live” version including Ubuntu, OpenSuse and Fedora.
The other major contribution by Debian to the Linux world is the Advanced Packaging Tool or Apt. The Apt management system was one of the first tools to have built-in dependency resolution. Unlike Red Hat’s RPM management tool, Apt was able to resolve what additional packages were needed to install a given application and automatically retrieve those greatly simplifying the management of software on Debian.
While many tools such as Suse’s Yast2 and Mandriva’s urpmi now add that functionality to RPM-based systems, Debian has included the functionality from early on in its development. Today Apt is still in regular use although most end-users will only see graphical front ends to the tool such as Synaptic of KPackage.
While Ubuntu is perhaps among the best-known of the Debian derivatives there are in fact more than 40 Linux versions based directly or indirectly (through Knoppix for example) on Debian. Among these are 64 Studio, DreamLinux, Linspire and Mepis.
To celebrate the 15-year milestone the Debian project team is planning global celebrations on August 16.