Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

Summary: Calm down folks, I didn’t say Debian Linux hasn’t been important, what I wonder is how long it will stay important?

SHARE:

When I asked the rhetorical question, “Is Debian Linux still relevant?" I knew I’d cause a ruckus. But, I also felt the question needed to be asked: For Debian’s own good.

Seriously.

Not everyone, to no surprise, agrees with me. My buddy Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier wrote, “Debian has never been a user-friendly distribution, or one that was really targeted at a mainstream audience. Debian 6.0 continues a long tradition of shipping a brand-new stable release that is already outdated, with little to appeal to new users.”

Really? That’s not how I see it. Debian has always tried to stay true to its Social Contract, but it community of developers have also strived to make it a popular distribution as well. To quote from Debian 6.0’s news release, “Debian once again stays true to its goal of being the universal operating system. It sounds to me like they want both old and new users.

It’s getting those new users that’s one of my main concerns. I found Debian 6.0, and it sounds like Joe did too, to not be very new user friendly at all. And, without new users, how will Debian continue to get new developers? How long can Debian keep going without fresh blood? I think the Debian community needs to re-think its approach lest it start declining.

Joe continued, “Debian doesn't get enough credit here, anyway. Yes, Ubuntu has appealed to a wider audience than Debian ever did — but it was Debian that inspired Mark Shuttleworth in the first place to create Ubuntu.”

He’ll get no argument from me. Debian, albeit many Debian developers wanted no part of Ubuntu, is Ubuntu’s father and mother. Without Debian there would have been no Ubuntu. Period. End of statement.

Then was then, this is now.

Would Ubuntu, and all its related Linux distributions, and other distributions, such as MEPIS, be able to keep going now without Debian. I think so. Oh they wouldn’t like it one darn bit, but they could do it.

Brockmeier also talked about the importance of the Debian community—the only real, large Linux community without any corporate backing—and how “if 2010 taught us anything, it's that having a single corporate sponsor can lead to a lot of uncertainty at best and total disruption at worse.” True, being tied to a company can be a problem. Just ask the OpenSolaris crew who were dumped by Oracle.

Being tied to an open-source community can be a pain too. Debian has seen its share of civil wars over the years Lest we forget Ian Murdock, one of Debian’s co-founder, has said of some of the Debian community;s choices, such as renaming Firefox Iceweasel, “This is so maddeningly stupid I’m embarrassed to be even remotely associated with this.” Ian’s not Debian’s biggest fan any more and doesn’t that say something when a co-founder wants nothing to do with his own community?

I must also say that, somehow, Debian has managed to overcome these difficulties time after time. Perhaps that’s in part because of what Larry Cafiero, a Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) advocate, calls Debian’s “’We’ll release it when it’s good and ready’ release cycle."

So, sure Debian has been very important, I would even say absolutely vital, to Linux... in the past. But, unless Debian starts a concerted effort to appeal to a broader audience, I fear even it’s utility as a foundation to other, more popular versions of Linux in the future is going to erode, never mind gathering a larger, new audience of developers or end-users.

Topics: Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

42 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

    No.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Loverock is not important: Will it continue to be?

      Yes
      daikon
      • Loverock Davidson comments never were important and never will be

        or should we say Loverock Davidson id so :-( and always will be. :-)
        Over and Out
  • Steven, I agree that it's importance as a stand-alone OS is diminishing,

    But, being the base for other distributions IS important, even if not very visible. Also, it is used directly a lot in the embedded world.
    DonnieBoy
    • RE: Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

      @DonnieBoy Sure, but if Debian can't get fresh developer blood, how long can it continue to be the foundation for other Linux distributions?
      That's my main worry.

      Steven
      sjvn
      • RE: Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

        @sjvn@...

        Debian has no shortage of quality devs around the world. Debian is and always will be very important. Despite it not having the latest and greatest packages it is stable and rock-solid. Most people using Debian on their everyday boxes aren't using stable anyway. They tend to run the pretty stable 'testing' or sid. Without Debian there may not have been an Ubuntu or any number of other great Debian derivatives.

        While my desktops and notebooks get Mint KDE I use Debian on the server precisely because of it's stability. Aside from security updates I don't have to worry about it. It just works.

        Debian IS important and it will continue to be.
        Tim Patterson
  • RE: Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

    Debian is important in the same way that the kernel is important. Generic and stable.
    mudfly@...
    • RE: Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

      @mudfly@... I agree in a way. It is the base on which others can be built. Maybe something like Debian on the server and Ubuntu on the desktop will be best. One set of tools, one way to do things, but whiz-bang on the desk top and rock solid stable on the server.
      grant@...
  • The Firefox/Iceweasel FUD is getting tiresome.

    Iceweasel wasn't by choice. Or at least, not by Debian's choice.<br><br>Mozilla doesn't let Debian (or anyone else, for that matter) use the Firefox logo and Trademark, and maintain a stable version, secure version themselves, but instead insists that distributors of "official" Firefox use only officially sanctioned Firefox, with only Mozilla-supplied patches, to current Mozilla Firefox versions, and update to new versions on Mozilla's schedule. <br><br>This is from a reasonable desire to prevent incompetent or dishonest distribution of Firefox knock-offs or non-current (not to mention non-secure) software under the Firefox name.<br><br>Debian, on the other hand, can't let other entities control their distribution of software. Even aside from basic FOSS principles and the GPL, they promise to maintain the version that came with the stable release, and also want the ability to push out bug-fix updates and security patches -- immediately -- without having to go through or wait upon Mozilla to implement whatever patches Mozilla decides are desirable or necessary and will therefore put out themselves, when they get to it. <br><br>Both positions were actually reasonable: <br>Mozilla's primary concern is to protect their trademark and reputation (they also don't an "old" version to still be distributed when they're pushing their "latest and greatest" version); <br>But Debian's primary concern is to maintain their distributions' quality, and security, and especially the ability to continue to distribute the software downstream under the GPL. <br><br>Under those circumstances, there were basically two options -- Mozilla could give Debian some sort of special dispensation (wasn't happening), or Debian could distribute the Firefox (GPL) code under a different name and with a different logo.<br><br>If anybody was being unreasonable it was Mozilla -- but that is arguably as unfair as blaming it on Debian. But the only way for Debian to satisfy both sides legitimate concerns was to create "Iceweasel".<br><br>What I really don't understand is why every second blogger and columnist on the topic of Debian's continuing (or not continuing) relevancy, apparently can't resist reviving this tired old FUD, casting Debian's switch to Iceweasel as some act of irrational fanaticism, when they supposedly know enough to not repeat this blatant misrepresentation.
    bswiss
    • Yes, Just One of Those Things

      @bswiss
      Thank you for pointing this out again. This situation is not due to any unreasonableness or stupidity on Debian's or Mozilla's part. It's just impossible for Debian to maintain Firefox in the Debian stable branch as Firefox. Debian would either have to violate the 'only security/breakage updates' policy for stable, or get a free pass from Mozilla to distribute non-Mozilla created updates with a Firefox logo. Neither of those things is going to happen, so Debian stable ends up with a Firefox fork instead of Firefox. Of course, it's possible to install Firefox on a Debian box if you really want the latest version.
      CFWhitman
  • Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols Presents false choices

    SJVN may make deadline and collect his paycheck, but in many (not all) respects is asking questions that presents false choices.

    Instead of framing the importance in past tense (already presenting a bias) and then using that to ask a yes/no question, this simplistic and fallacious choice ignores many other possibilities.

    A far more relevant question would be to ask "<i>How is Debian Linux' importance evolving/changing?<i>"

    Not a bad topic at all, just (once again) poor writing.
    sunworks
    • deleted

      [/i]
      Ron Bergundy
    • deleted

      by choice[/i]
      Ron Bergundy
    • RE: Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

      deleted by choice [/i]
      Ron Bergundy
    • wrong place

      [/i]
      Ron Bergundy
    • wrong place

      [i]oops[/i]
      Ron Bergundy
      • these boards ARE MESSED UP!!

        holy cow will somebody FIX this thing? the old format WAS FAR BETTER!!
        Ron Bergundy
    • RE: Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

      BTW, so there is no misinterpretation, I am <b>VERY</b> grateful to Debian and wish it nothing but the best, even though I use Debian derivatives, not Debian proper.
      sunworks
  • RE: Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

    On the one hand, there is the stable/outdated vs. not-so-stable/cutting-edge debate.
    I am a CentOS user (desktop and server), which may be even more outdated/stable than Debian, because most of the time my PRIORITY is stability.
    Sometime I dual-boot to Ubuntu "stable" (currently 10.4) for graphical/sound editing etc. Fedora is way to unstable for my usage, but a gorgeous playing ground from which I pick up RPMs to be rebuilt for CentOS/RHEL.

    I guess nobody can understand until he really needs it why you would prefer something less comfortable but more predictable.

    Then there is Debian, the "universal operating system".
    I write it here almost shaking from emotion: they do an incredible job. Again, I'm not a regular Debian user, but this is something very important to have a Linux distribution that you simply can deploy ANYWHERE. The universality and robustness of Debian is one of the biggest guarantee of freedom on the operating system market, today and tomorrow.

    The day I finally could install Debian ARM on my Google phone G1, just for the sake of doing it, I just thought : "Damn, I am free!" (as in free speech, not free beer...).
    mbaudier
  • Steve, Debian is a foundation

    Ubuntu makes Debian usable.
    Ubuntu uses the unstable branch.

    If patent attacks start against Linux like I think they will, thankfully Debian has chosen to stick to their FOSS principles.

    That, to some extent leaves Distros who use proprietary blobs potentially at risk.

    God Bless the Debian Community
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate