What is Debian?
Debian is a very popular and reliable operating system (OS), with the Linux kernel inside. It is free, open-source, constantly maintained, and developed by a worldwide community.
The first Debian version appeared in 1993. Three years later (1996), the first stable version was finally ready.
Debian offers three distributions: stable, testing, and unstable.
Stable distribution is the newest official release of Debian. After all the necessary tests it complies with the quality criteria (stability and security). It’s the most recommended for businesses, newbies, and regular users.
Testing has the most recent versions of the available packages. They are in the process of being transferred to the stable distribution. This choice to try the packages out is good for advanced users who can fix bugs. Testing is vital for the development and release of stable Debian versions.
Unstable distribution is where new packages directly arrive and can be previewed. They won’t be copied to the testing one until their critical bugs get fixed. This is an exciting and active development core for Debian. A great choice for adventurous experts and developers.
History of Debian
Debian is close to achieving three decades of existence. Too much to say, but let’s go through some key events that defined its success in the software industry.
1993, Debian went public (0.01 version). Originally, it was called “Debian Linux Release” by its creator, the American software engineer, Ian Murdock. He developed Debian while studying at Purdue University (Indiana). There he got his bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1996.
Debian is a word coined by Murdock. He combined the first letters of his girlfriend’s first name, Debra Lynn, with his own name, Ian.
In the early nineties, Softlanding Linux System (SLS) was a very used distro. In Murdock’s opinion, the lack of proper maintenance produced constant bugs in it. This motivated him to develop a new OS, Linux-based. From the beginning, Debian was conceived as free, open-source software, just like Linux and GNU.
1994, Debian was sponsored, for one year, by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), a non-profit organization that promotes freedom for studying, distributing, creating, and modifying software. Quite aligned with Murdock’s ideas.
1995, the first ports to non-IA-32 architectures became reality.
1996, Debian 1.1 went public and Bruce Perens, an American computer programmer, a supporter of the free software movement, became the new leader of the project.
The definition of open-source and its first manifesto arose thanks to him. He’s the creator of the BusyBox, a software suite that includes different Unix tools in an executable file. During his leadership, from assembler output (a.out), Debian turned to executable and linkable format (ELF).
Perens is the link between Debian and the Toy Story films. The different versions of this OS have codenames of Toy Story characters (Buzz, Rex, Bo, Potato, Woody, Lenny, Squeezy, Wheezy, Jessie, Buster, etc.). Perens started naming them like this. He worked at Pixar for 12 years.
1998, Ian Jackson took the leadership. The m68k, the second official port, arrived on Debian 2.0.
1999, it was decided the leader of the project to be elected every year. Debian 2.1 was released including the Advanced Packaging Tool (APT), free software UI, with libraries to manage installing and removal of packages.
Libranet, Storm Linux, and Corel Linux, the first OSes based on Debian, got started.
2000, Testing distribution was created.
2002, the first version with cryptographic software was released, Debian 3.0 (Woody).
2005, the 3.1 (Sarge) version was born with more than 70% of the software updated and around nine thousand packages. A modular-design new installer came to light, making installation easier and supporting LVM, XFS, and RAID.
2007, 4.0 (Etch) included graphical installer and x86-64 port.
2010, backporting, choosing parts from new software versions, to take them to older versions, got possible.
Debian’s development keeps going due to the work of its vast community.
Pros of Debian
Let’s take a look at the pros of using this OS.
Security and stability
Each package has a proper default configuration. Developers and the Debian security teamwork on updates to improve both stability and security. It’s a proven and reliable OS for plenty of devices, from desktops, laptops to servers.
A large variety of packages
Almost thirty years of continuous development have brought around fifty thousand packages. Let’s remember that besides the available packages included in the stable distribution, users can explore the latest ones in the testing and unstable distributions. This makes the packages menu wider.
Support for different hardware architectures
It supports a vast number of architectures and their variations. X86-64, amd64, armel, armhf, arm64, mips, mipsel, mips64el, i386, s390x, ppc64el even SPARC.
It’s well known in the tech industry that if Debian doesn’t work on hardware, it’s very possible that nothing else will.
It is free
Getting all the features of a powerful OS, for regular use and even for development, without any costs is a big advantage. Especially for businesses’ budgets.
Fully customizable installer.
It offers a complete installer that features a short installation choice for regular users and everything that’s necessary for advanced users to select their preferences and customize everything in detail if they want to.
It’s the base for other popular distros.
Debian offers the necessary tools for modifying and building tailor suit software. If you don’t feel fully comfortable using Debian, you always can try one of the many different distros based on it.
Ubuntu, MX Linux, Parrot OS, Deepin, Kali Linux, Knoppix, PureOS, Anti X, Tails, SteamOS, Devuan, AV Linux, etc.
They keep the best Debian features to fulfil specific objectives.
Its global community
Debian’s long life has been possible due to its big, active, and supportive community always willing to troubleshoot.
Cons of Debian
Check out the arguments on the other side of the coin and judge by yourself.
Unavailability of paid support
Some users look for constant guidance, available 24/7, with certified experts by a known institution. Debian is community-driven. Very capable experts are around to support users, but not in the conditions of a paid service.
The waiting to get new stable software
There’s a complaint about the time that it takes for new packages to arrive in the stable distribution, the most reliable one.
It uses Systemd
There’s a controversy around the introduction of Systemd instead of Init, on Debian. Systemd is a system of initialization that administrates different tasks. Red Hat, an American software company, got directly involved in its development.
Some users are fine with it but others think that Systemd suite could be a try to control system processes and users’ space (desktop).
There’s a way to replace Systemd with Init on Debian. Some users do it, others consider this an annoying extra step.
Who uses Debian?
Commercial companies, non-profit and government organizations, desktop users… take advantage of Debian’s powerful features:
• Automotive industry
• Weather services
• Web hosting
• Stock exchange industry
• Hardware and software development
• Research in all kinds of sciences and academic fields (engineering, architecture, medicine, telecommunications, labs, AI, media, animation, robotics…).
3 popular distros based on Debian
Many distros have been built on Debian’s base. If you haven’t been directly in touch with Debian, it is very possible you have come across it some time, while using one of these distros.
A very popular free open-source, available for all kinds of devices, robots, servers, supercomputers, etc. in more than fifty languages. Used on virtual machines and computers.
Canonical (a company) and a global community are in charge of Ubuntu’s development. It’s very secure due to different facts. Its code can be directly checked for bug fixes. It has a built-in efficient firewall and regular updates and maintenance.
A simple, stable, and solid OS. Easy to install and use for regular users. By default, it includes a good selection of packages so once set up, it’s ready to use. Its software manager clearly displays the lists of packages. It is a suitable choice for users coming from Windows, who want to get into Linux smoothly.
With just a click, users can configure different settings. It’s a middleweight distro, lighter than Debian, so it can run on old PCs due to its low resource demand.
Developed by Offensive Security, it’s based specifically on the Debian Testing distribution. It was created for digital forensics and penetration testing. It includes by default, hundreds of tools like Metasploit, Wireshark, Nmap, Burp Suite, Maltego, Ettercap, Armitage, John the Ripper, and many more.
Debian is an original, complete distro that all kinds of users should experience to form an opinion on it – from the ones looking for stability to the more adventurous, seeking challenges.