Now in its sixth major release, Debian Linux is one of the most popular distributions today. It owes much of this success to its social contract, allowing unparalleled support and availability of its code base to build fork distros.
How did Debian Linux get its start?
Debian Linux was first announced by Ian Murdock in 1994 after frustration with the bugginess and closed nature of Linux’s first distribution, Softlanding Linux System. The Debian Manifesto laid down Murdock’s vision of a complete operating system mirroring the ideals of the Free Software Foundation. He was able to gather support from the GNU project, leading Debian Linux 1.0 in 1996. Debian was one of the first modern Linux distributions, joining Red Hat and Softlanding-based Slackware.
Murdock left the project that year, and his replacement, Bruce Perens, sought to maintain the distribution’s openness by working with the developers on writing the Debian Social Contract. This was in stark contrast to other distros of the time, none of whom guaranteed that development would remain open.
What makes Debian Linux different from other distros?
Debian Linux calls itself “the universal operating system.” Over 29,000 software packages are supported, while native versions are available for ten computing platforms. Along with Linux, there’s also support for FreeBSD, OpenBSD and the GNU HURD kernel system. Gnome is the default desktop environment, but popular alternatives like KDE and XFCE are available during installation, with packages available for niche desktops including LXDE and Ratpoison.
The APT package management system was created by Debian to install and maintain the distro’s software. Unlike RPM, it allows for tandem installations of interdependent software packages, eliminating “dependency hell.” Today, APT the most popular system used in Linux distros.
Debian Linux also tries to stay away from closed software: The latest release manages to eliminate non-free firmware completely from the kernel, letting users choose what they want on their system.
What is a “Debian based” distro?
This openness has resulted in several “child distro” fork distributions ranging from desktop leader Ubuntu, CD-based KNOPPIX, and ultralight DSL-Linux. While these new distributions can freely borrow from Debian’s code base, but are expected to return the favor by contributing their work to the main Debian distribution.