It has been two years since Debian released a new stable version of its Linux operating system, and last week the Debian project, one of the longest-running producers of Linux, released version 6 of its OS, otherwise known as “Squeeze.“
Given that the Debian project has been working on version 6 for two years the press release announcing new features is pretty unexciting. This is not an Ubuntu or Fedora release where a new release is overflowing with new features. Critics will even point out that a lot of the software included in this new release is slightly old, some even suggesting that Debian is no longer as “relevant” as it was a few years ago.
Yet, it is exactly this which makes Debian an attractive release for many Linux users, particulary businesses: Its stability. Unlike many other Linux releases which pursue an ever-increasing number of new features and appearances, Debian offers stability and reliability. This is something valued by IT managers who don’t want to have to constantly be attending to upgrades or fixing bugs. The software typically included in Debian has been tested over months by other Linux distributions which have released the code to users. By the time Debian includes software in its releases it has been well tested.
Features that are included in Debian 6 include Google’s Chrome web browser as well as the the latest versions of KDE 4 and GNOME 2.30.
One of the interesting inclusions is a version of OpenOffice.org. Since Oracle’s buyout of Sun (custodians of OpenOffice.org) most Linux releases have switched (or are in the process of switching) to LibreOffice, a version of OpenOffice.org designed to be free even if Oracle changes OpenOffice.org’s licensing rules. However, Debian has already made the switch to LibreOffice which will in time become the default office suite.
Despite criticisms from many commentators that Debian is no longer exciting, there are others that argue that Debian is not only still relevant but could be more important than ever. One of those is long-time Linux evangelist Joe Brockmeier. In a recent article Brockmeier argued that Debian was still crucially important to the Linux world for two key reasons.
One is that projects such as Ubuntu rely on Debian for much of their underlying software. Brockmeier says that more than 70% of Ubuntu’s underlying code uses Debian software and a very small percentage of Ubuntu’s software is made in-house by Canonical or by dedicated Ubuntu developers. Ubuntu was originally based on Debian but has over the years added its own personality to the desktop.
The other reason that Brockmeier argues for the relevance of Debian is that it is an entirely community-driven effort. Unlike many other Linux versions, which are controlled by commercial organisations, Debian is not. Its entire makeup is the result of community involvement. Brockmeier argues that with a corporate backer Linux releases are always at the mercy of commercial interests. OpenSolaris, for example, has been damaged by the Oracle buyout of Sun; Mandriva Linux has been repeatedly battered by the financial woes of its parent company; and Novell’s struggles have made it all the harder for OpenSuse to thrive.
In the open source community there is often the sense that open source software has become increasingly commercialised and it is now harder than ever to distinguish between true open source and proprietary software built on an open source base. Debian offers free software stability for users that are most interested in the freedom open source software offers rather than just a cheap purchase price.
Debian 6 runs on no fewer than nine different PC architectures including 32-bit and 64-bit Intel, PowerPC, SPARC and IBM S/390 and can be downloaded now.
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