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DebianLinux (AKA Debian GNU/Linux, or just Debian) is a highly customizable and modular LinuxDistribution (distro). It has three things that seperate it from most other distros:
- It's 100% community based : There's no corporation or business behind it and driving it. It's made by individuals, largely working in their spare time (though there are some who are employeed to be Debian developers). This is one of the reasons it's so modular- Because there are so many different people with diverse backgrounds, you get quite a sampling of needs and directions for the project. For example, there are "sub-distros" within Debian such as [Debian Jr.] and the [Debian-Med Project].
- It's got three different branches : Depending upon your involvement within Debian itself, or how experimental/risky you like to live, there are three different branches to Debian. There's "stable", which consists of highly tested, typically quite stable, and secure package versions. Stable contains older packages that have proven themselves (through rigorous, some would say fanatical, testing) to be robust. Stable is primarily for the cautious user who just wants things to work. Next there is "testing", which, as the name implies, consists of packages that are currently going through the testing process. If you were to compare Debian to other distros, testing contains similar versionned packages to most of the other distros. The packages in testing are those that will (someday) move into stable. Finally, we have "unstable", which can be thought of as the bleeding edge. This is where you find all the latest, untested, packages.
- It's repository based : Linux users only familier with RedHat or most another RPM-based distros are often confused by the way you get Debian packages. In the RPM world, you often go to a web-site, download a program's RPM file, and then install it on your machine. In ideal situations, this is no big deal. But in the real world things rarely work like that. What usually happens is you download the RPM only to find that your are missing dependancies (other RPMs that this one depends upon). Then, after you track down the missing RPMs to solve your original dependancy, you find that these new RPMs have unresolved dependancies themselves. Thus, you are often left hunting down a chain of RPMs just to make your system capable of installing and running the original RPM you wanted. (This process is oft times refered to as "DependancyHell"). In Debian, all of the packages are stored on one server (actually, several mirrors, but they all contain the same data). When you want to install a new program, rather than hunting down its package, you simply tell Debian (via a command like apt-get) what you want to install. Debian will go out to the repository, find the package for you, find any and all extra dependency packages, and tell you what it's found asking if you want to proceed. If you answer in the affirmative, Debian then goes out to the repository (or one of the mirrors), downloads all the necessary packages, and installs them on your system. This is perhaps Debian's biggest strength, because it makes updating your system and installing new items trivial (provided you have sufficient bandwidth for whatever you're installing ;-) . This feature is now being mimicked in several RPM-based distros such as [PLD Linux].
In spite of its flexability, Debian is still not for everyone. Its install process (though much better than it once was) can be quite a bear, and some of the core packages (such as the Linux kernel itself and the X server) might have features or options disabled or enabled that you want or don't want. (For example, my biggest complaint is the stock Debian Linux Kernel is compiled without buggy BIOS support for APM, meaning every single one of my machines will not power themselves down, and the X server is a bit older than it should be :-/ ) Debian has been, and remains to be, a distro primarily for more experienced Linux users.
(See also RealOS, Linux)