Debian Celebrates 20th Anniversary
Last weekend was Debian's 20th birthday, making it the oldest Linux distributions still in existence. Debian was created on 16th August, 1993, and is named for Debra Lynn and Ian Murdock. (The next oldest distribution is Red Hat, which was created in October 1994.) A birthday party was held in conjunction with DebConf
Debian has a strong association with free software, and by default will ship with only free repositories enabled (although others can be added later). Debian introduced the 'apt' package manager, which is used by Debian and its derived distributions (Ubuntu, Knoppix, XMBC, Mint and of course Raspbian). Its release trains are named after characters from the original Toy Story movie, which was released in 1995. Sid, the destructive child in the first movie, is used as a synonym for unstable and won't ever be released. (Debian 1.0 was never officially released; the first Debian distribution was 1.1, code named Buzz in June 1996.)
Debian also has one of the widest hardware support of any Linux distribution, compiling not only the kernel but also many of the packages used by the distribution for multiple platforms. Bugs that get reported to Debian are often patched for specific platforms, and those patches sent upstream to the package maintainers for inclusion in newer releases. This is also true of code quality; although GCC is currently used to build the Debian tree, there is a parallel port which automatically uses Clang to build Debian and its packages, often catching programming errors that GCC does not.
Debian's stable releases are known by many in the industry as one of the most stable Linux distributions in existence; as well as minimising changes once released, they are also very good at back-porting security fixes to keep the stable release up to date. Ironically, this is one of the reasons for so many variants of Debian; because Debian has released approximately yearly up until 2000, and then biannually afterwards, some users of Debian systems were impatiently downloading the unstable release and using that instead. Ubuntu was created to perform more interim releases on a six monthly basis by taking snapshots of the unstable tree, and although there is general compatibility between Debian and Ubuntu it may diverge. Ian Murdock, creator of Debian, has expressed concern in the past about whether they are diverging too far. Debian was also seen by some as a server-side distribution, and organisations such as Ubuntu have created more focus on Linux as a desktop operating system, with simplified choices for new users to become familiar with the platform.
Finally, Debian is also the base package of the Language benchmarks game (formerly known as the language shootout), hosted at http://benchmarksgame.alioth.debian.org. This runs using the same version o the software and kernel, along with packages specifically compiled for each platform, to evaluate the relative performance of languages and their runtimes.
The current release of Debian is 7.0, code named Wheezy, and is available from debian.org. Alex Blewitt has been using Debian releases since Debian 0.9x.
Ronny Kohavi Dec 12, 2013