I’ve written a lot of reviews of distros based on Debian, but never a review of Debian itself. So this time around I decided to look at Debian 5 (Lenny). Debian, if you aren’t familiar with it, is the rock upon which popular distributions like Ubuntu and MEPIS are built. Sometimes folks who use a Debian-based distribution aren’t even aware of what it is based on, and that’s a shame because Debian itself has so much to offer.
If you want a really good overview of Debian, be sure to read the Wikipedia article about it.
The Debian Project is governed by the Debian Constitution and the Social Contract which set out the governance structure of the project as well as explicitly stating that the goal of the project is the development of a free operating system. Debian is developed by over one thousand volunteers from around the world and supported by donations through several non-profit organizations around the world. Most important of these is Software in the Public Interest, the owner of the Debian trademark and umbrella organization for various other community free software projects.
Thus, the Debian Project is an independent decentralized organization; it is not backed by a company like some other GNU/Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, and Mandriva. The cost of developing all the packages included in Debian 4.0 etch (283 million lines of code), using the COCOMO model, has been estimated to be close to US$13 billion. As of April 2, 2009, Ohloh estimates that the codebase of the Debian GNU/Linux project (45 million lines of code), using the COCOMO model, would cost about US$819 million to develop.
Many distributions are based on Debian, including Ubuntu, MEPIS, Dreamlinux, Damn Small Linux, Xandros, Knoppix, BackTrack, Linspire, sidux, Kanotix, Parsix and LinEx, among others.
Debian is known for an abundance of options. The current stable release includes over twenty five thousand software packages for twelve computer architectures. These architectures range from the Intel/AMD 32-bit/64-bit architectures commonly found in personal computers to the ARM architecture commonly found in embedded systems and the IBM eServer zSeries mainframes. Prominent features of Debian are the APT package management system, repositories with large numbers of packages, strict policies regarding packages, and the high quality of releases. These practices allow easy upgrades between releases as well as automated installation and removal of packages.
The Debian standard install makes use of the GNOME desktop environment. It includes popular programs such as OpenOffice.org, Iceweasel (a rebranding of Firefox), Evolution mail, CD/DVD writing programs, music and video players, image viewers and editors, and PDF viewers. There are pre-built CD images for KDE Software Compilation, Xfce and LXDE as well. The remaining discs, which span five DVDs or over thirty CDs, contain all packages currently available and are not necessary for a standard install. Another install method is via a net install CD which is much smaller than a normal install CD/DVD. It contains only the bare essentials needed to start the installer and downloads the packages selected during installation via APT. These CD/DVD images can be freely obtained by web download, BitTorrent, jigdo or buying them from online retailers.
Debian has three main branches:
The distro I installed for this review was from the stable branch (which has the name Lenny).
Debian 5 is available in KDE, GNOME, Xfce, and LXDE versions. For this review, I went with the GNOME version.
What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release:
Support for Marvell’s Orion Platform for storage devices
Java Support (OpenJDK, GNU Java compiler, GNU Java bytecode interpreter, Classpath)
You might notice here that Debian 5 is not exactly cutting edge when it comes to software. Please note that this is to be expected since Debian 5 is based on the stable branch, and not the testing branch. I’ll talk more about this in the problems section, and at the end of the review.
Hardware Requirements & Installation