Home > Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, linux, Linux, Linux Mint, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, Ubuntu > Joining the fray: Why Debian matters

Joining the fray: Why Debian matters

February 7, 2011

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As mentioned in this blog in the past, and as mentioned to various people who ask, I don’t like the six-month release cycle. I can go further: I hate it. There’s nothing like getting comfortable with a distro, only to be prodded to update to the latest, greatest improvements — in many instances the improvements are both great and welcome, but then the cycle of getting comfortable starts all over again.

This is why we run the office of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, on Fedora 10. That’s right, Fedora 10; a two-year old version of Fedora which reached it’s so-called “end of life” already. Know why? It has worked since I installed it, and I’ve tweaked it to do what needs to be done to run the business. I’m too busy futzing with other people’s computers and too busy developing our FOSS server project to budget time tweaking the business computer. So I left it at that particular version because, simply, it just works.

So in many ways that we’ll probably not cover here, thank God for Debian and, for one reason for gratitude, its “we’ll release it when it’s good and ready” release cycle. Debian 6.0 “Squeeze” was just released over the weekend and its release prompted a couple of interesting items from two of FOSS’s best writers.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wrote in a blog item that says that Debian is not as important as it once was. He concludes with the following: “Debian is still important. Its developers do a lot of the hard work of mixing and matching basic Linux components and many open-source programs into the strong, reliable foundation that other versions of Linux, such as Ubuntu and MEPIS use. But, while Linux programmers will continue to appreciate Debian, it seems to me that Debian is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the larger user community that Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, and openSUSE has brought into the Linux fold.”

Meanwhile, Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier doesn’t exactly concur in his blog item that says that Debian is still relevant; not only this, it matters more than ever.

Give them both a look. I’ll wait.

So who’s right, Steven or Joe?


Both are right, to varying degrees, though I think they’re coming at the issue from different perspectives: Steven from the popular use aspect, and Joe from the development and contribution side of things.

Debian never gets the credit it deserves by the wider public, and that may be OK with them; or not. Personally, I think this is a tragedy — my first distro in 2006 was Debian, and while I went to Ubuntu and then to Fedora, Debian was the one where I started. If you started with Ubuntu, you really started with Debian.

That’s because without Debian, there’s no Ubuntu. Without Debian, there’s no Linux Mint. Without Debian, there’s no Mepis. The list goes on, and it’s huge.

[Meanwhile, in a classic case of ADD, I found this link in one of the responses to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’ blog — it’s an update of a poster we used in Lindependence in 2008 and shows the “family tree” of GNU/Linux. If you look at the chart, you can see all the distros which can trace their roots to Debian.]

So is Debian still relevant? Depends on how you look at it. Is it eclipsed in use by easier-to-use distros, some of which don’t contribute back in proportion to what they take? In that sense, it’s relevancy arguably is waning.

But in uplifting the FOSS paradigm, maintaining GNU/Linux’s progress in development, offering options to architectures that are thought to be extinct, and sending improvements upstream for the benefit of all, and not just for itself, then, is Debian relevant? Yeah. Hell, yeah. Debian is relevant in a big way.

In a big way.

[Incidentally, as an aside, “Squeeze” will go on the PowerPC boxes in the “Jungle Room,” the name for the Redwood Digital Research computer lab. Elvis would have wanted it that way.]

And, once again, here are the last three words of a well-traveled Buddhist sutra: “Don’t Waste Time.” Even if it means releasing your distro in more-than-six-month cycles.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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  1. Colonel Panik
    February 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Why Debian Matters:
    The Colonel uses Debian. So it matters.

    Debian is free of a lot of that corporate
    BS that infects other distros. Zonker is
    the go to guy for tech writing.

    If you do not like some distro just leave
    it alone. Write about what excites you,
    tell me what is great about xxxnux. My
    loss of hearing is mostly limited to the
    words No, Don’t, Can’t.

    What percentage of the servers in this
    world run on Debian? Is that relevant
    enough for you?

    Elvis did not use computers.

  2. markh
    February 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I totally agree…..I use debian on our servers at the office and I run a heavily customized ubuntu (built from command line install up to avoid the bloat) on my desktop and personal computers for the ease of hardware & multimedia.

    Debian CAN be a good desktop distro (if you spend the time to add the repos & software) but I use ubuntu just for the ease & more current kernel/hardware support. However I really think debian shines on the server SUPER reliable and easy to configure if you know your way around a text editor.

  3. Debianero
    February 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    People tend to forget that Debian supports more architectures, CD install Desktop-flavors-by-default, etc than any other distribution.

    Is like trying to compare the Ocean vs a bucket of water.


    Try Debian Squeeze at:


  4. helix
    February 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Quite agree about Debian.

    But those are the final words of the Daiji-no-ge, the Verse of the Great Matter, not the Heart sutra:

    “The Great Matter is birth and death,
    Life slips and time is gone.
    Right now, wake up! wake up!
    Do not waste time.”

    Quite agree with your point.

    • February 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm

      Ah. I stand corrected — The Heart Sutra ends with “Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.” I seem to remember a sutra that we chanted at the San Francisco Zen Center that ended with the words, “Don’t waste time,” but I’m not sure if it was the Daiji-no-ge, but it could have been. Thanks for the heads-up.

  5. Allen Bair
    February 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    My first distro was Progeny Debian 1.0 back in ’04. After that was Lindows 4.5, later Linspire. I switched to Ubuntu around Breezy Badger or so. Now, I’ve come full circle back to Debian Squeeze. It’s a classic and always will be.

  6. Roland
    February 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I stopped using Debian5 Lenny when it couldn’t handle 1920×1080 on my new system. I switched to Mint. Now I have a dilemma: Debian6 or Mint Debian Edition?

    • February 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      Let me answer your question with a question: Bud or Bud Light?

    • kyosan
      February 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm

      “Lenny” was released 2 years ago and it has an older “X”, so that’s probably why it doesn’t work. The new “stable” “Squeeze” will probably work. If you need a Debian that is more bleeding-edge for newer hardware you should use “testing” not “stable”. “Testing” never gets real out of date. Even though it’s called “testing” it’s pretty stable.
      That’s what I use and don’t have many problems with it. Many people at home use unstable and that’s even more up to date.

  7. George Sarris
    February 8, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Debian is the back bone at my work. I always try other distros but they do not stand up, when the stable version of gnu and freeBSD I’ll be there.

  8. ITMark
    February 8, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Mepis8 on the laptop, Debian on everything else for me. I’m installing D6 on a VM to check it out right now.

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