There are plenty of Linux users out there who are using distributions such as Ubuntu or one of the many distributions which are based from Ubuntu, including Linux Mint. However, no matter what you’re using, as long as it uses .deb packages, there’s one main distribution where it all comes from – Debian.
There are a good number of reasons why Debian is such a popular choice for people who have high expectations or want to fork their own distribution from it. But no matter if you’re using a Debian-derivative or the real deal, it may be a very suitable distribution for you.
Debian is one of the oldest Linux distributions that is still in active development, second only to Slackware, which is only a month older. There are a few key values that the Debian Project holds dear whenever they create new releases of their distribution. The top two include stability and freedom through the use of purely open source software that doesn’t have any restrictions on it. These two values make Debian into their self-described “universal operating system” that runs practically everywhere.
It’s available in a large array of different architectures, and one version even comes with the FreeBSD kernel instead of the Linux kernel.
Debian has a couple of different “channels” just like Chrome has, where the primary ones include stable, testing, and unstable. The project promotes the use of their stable releases as they have the least amount of bugs and should provide the least amount of confusion and grief for users. The process the project goes through to really make their next release stable is pretty impressive, as they wait to release their new version as long as they need to until virtually every bug is eliminated from all packages. This takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort, but it does take away a lot of frustration in the long run.
Once a new stable version is released, the developers only release updates for critical or security issues as to not disturb the stability of the system by introducing anything major. For some people this might be a bit boring to have a rock-solid system as nothing changes, but there are others who absolutely need that stability. A sacrifice for this high level of stability is that the software versions don’t become updated either unless they fall under critical or security fixes, so over the release’s lifespan of a few years, the software can very well become outdated. In fact, the current Debian 6 “Squeeze” release still uses Gnome 2.30 as its desktop environment, Iceweasel 3.5, and OpenOffice 3.2.1.
For those who can sacrifice some stability in favor of newer software, you may want to try Debian’s testing channel. It contains cutting edge software (but not bleeding edge) that should keep you happy with plenty of new features. The unstable channel is available for those who want to drift towards the bleeding edge packages, but most people should be fine with the testing channel as it is comparable to Ubuntu in terms of stability and versions.
Purely Open Source Ideal
Debian tries to remain pure by default so that users won’t have to worry about any legal issues while feeling secure that all of the software they’re using is open source. In case you want proof, look for Firefox. You won’t find it, but the Debian equivalent “Iceweasel” instead. Iceweasel is made from Firefox’s source code, so Iceweasel is still Firefox. However, the branding has been replaced because Mozilla holds trademarks on the Firefox branding. Debian looks at all of the packages and makes necessary changes. Don’t worry if you still want to use a package that isn’t “pure”. Debian has different areas in its repository so that you can still get “non-free” packages for installation.
There are a few ways in which you can install Debian. To try it out first, download the LiveCD. For installation, I would recommend downloading their network install disc so that you download the absolute newest packages during the actual installation. You can then burn the netinst ISO to a CD or write it into a USB drive, and then restart your system and configure the BIOS to boot off of that media. If you would rather download all necessary basic packages before starting the installation, you may need to look at downloading the “CD1” for your architecture instead. Finally, you can find the weekly images for the testing channel as well as “testing” installers here.
While Debian isn’t exactly a user friendly distribution, it’s definitely a great one to try out if you feel pretty comfortable with Linux. Be sure to try out both the stable and testing channels to see which one out of the two you prefer more, and whether you prefer it to your current distribution. As a popular distribution with lots of support behind it, it may be worth looking at running on your own system. I mean, who wouldn’t want to run the same operating system that was used for a robotic submarine?