On the 14th, it was announced that the next major version of Debian GNU/Linux - version 5, code-named Lenny - was officially released (link). Having had some time to consider this - particularly in relation to other distributions, like Ubuntu - I had some notes I wanted to share about the release. Well; more about Debian itself, really. I think I'm about to dive into something of a Holy War here, by daring to express some thoughts regarding my choice of Linux distros. Pray for me, will you?
I use Linux primarily (almost exclusively, actually) for network security functions; mostly for firewalls/routers, and to provide things such as DHCP, DNS and VPN functionality. This entry itself is being posted on a server protected by such a system, and typed on a computer also protected by such a system. Both systems are Debian based. In the past, I have made serious attempts to use Red Hat and Mandrake distributions, but once I gave Debian 3 a try, I was hooked, so to speak. I now primarily use Debian 4 (etch). The reasons I stick with Debian all come down to one simple issue; I want the servers I install to simply do their jobs.
Stability Over 'Features'
I could certainly be described as a computer 'geek'. But I've never been a big fan of the 'gee-whiz' aspects of technology. When I see or hear about some new gadget, software or technological innovation, the first thought that comes to mind is, "Neat. But would it truly be useful in real life?"I am almost never an early adopter of anything, and I never encourage clients, friends or family to do the same unless there is some very compelling reason.
Ubuntu (link) Linux has become extremely popular. It is based on Debian, and it could be said that it amounts to Debian with heavier use of the cutting-edge software packages. That's a terribly simplistic description that does neither Ubuntu nor Debian justice. But the general gist of things is that Ubuntu users feel like they are getting the 'latest and greatest' of all the software, since Ubuntu itself has a very quick development cycle which focuses on getting the latest software on the system. Debian, by comparison, actually prominently includes the fact that it took 22 months of development/testing time for the Lenny release to be made. In the world of operating system major releases, only the time between Microsoft Windows XP and Windows Vista prevents 22 months from seeming like an eternity. It certainly looks like that when compared with the Ubuntu goal of 6 months.
But that long time period is one of the two major things I like about Debian. Because of that time (and because I know the quality of the development/testing done during that time), I will likely begin installing Lenny on new servers very soon. I can feel fairly certain that there will not be major bugs preventing the servers I install from working as they should or as I have come to expect them to. Now, perhaps for a desktop user who wants the latest document, video editing and game software that is not so important. But when I am putting together a firewall/router for a small office, perhaps with some VPN functionality as well, I need to know that what I install will work as intended. I have heard comments like, "Oh, but all you need to do is take a little time to go to the groups or forums and learn about..." but I lose interest in the discussion at about that point. Yes; I understand the value of (and participate in) various online community support mechanisms. Debian itself is solidly based on that. But I'm not installing these systems to play with them, or figure out cool new things simply for the sake of figuring out cool new things.
The Same Heading, Really
And that leads, sort of, to the second major thing I like about Debian. Though really, it's much the same thing at the root. Package management is something that non-Linux users may not entirely understand, as the much more closed-ended Windows and Mac operating systems are generally able to have simpler installation mechanisms. That Windows and Mac users are shaking their heads at that statement should only be notice of why it's even more important when using an open-source operating system that has numerous popular distributions that you have a solid system of packaging software that you want to install. Because of the potential variances in prerequisite software, such as code libraries, packaging systems are a major issue in the Linux world. They are the reason I could not stay with Red Hat and Mandrake distributions. Even with the relatively simple and stable set of software I needed, I hit too many complications.
This is one of the things that Ubuntu inherits from Debian. Ubuntu is not alone; there are many other excellent Linux distros which do, as well. However, a continual push is to 'fork' a distribution away from its parent, so to speak, and Ubuntu definitely has much of that. The result of that sort of thing is unfortunate for both parent and child distribution, but it's probably inevitable (and is part and parcel of the whole idea behind Open-Source software in the first place). However, it still goes against the reason I'm using Linux and Debian/GNU in the first place.
I think that one of the reasons I like Debian/GNU is that it has seemed to run from the start as an operating system run by a community of people who actually use the software themselves. And for work (or at least, serious play). The Debian community is in many ways the epitome of the open-source community concept, but just on the more 'conservative' side when it comes to what it is they are intending to do. Actually, you could point out (as do many) that Debian actually is much more purely Open-Source, since Ubuntu, for example, is sponsored by a for-profit company (Canonical, Ltd). I have absolutely nothing against such endeavors; Red Hat, Inc is a giant in the Open-Source community, as far as I am concerned, as it has exemplified (along with Canonical and others) one of the major roles that companies can play in the whole movement. But sometimes profit considerations get in the way of quality choices. So, too, do communities which act more like mobs. But I think the core of the Debian community (as with the core of the Linux kernel community, for the most part) really has it down well.
Keep it Steady!
So, aside from my frustration at trying to find good, modern Debian books, I'm perfectly happy to stick with Debian on this move to the next major version. In the meantime, I thank all of those Ubuntu folks for (perhaps unintentionally) helping with the beta testing!