In a statement, project leaders said standout improvements in the distribution included improved installation routines and software selection tools, as well as integrated cryptography and the first-time inclusion of Sun Microsystem's OpenOffice.org office suite.
Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 -- codenamed 'Sarge' -- also includes updates to key open source software packages like Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Samba and Firefox, as well as desktop environments like KDE and GNOME. It will give administrators the option of using the latest Linux 2.6 kernel or the tried and tested 2.4 iteration.
The distribution supports 11 hardware platforms, ranging from the basic Intel x86 chips to higher-end server architectures like Sun's SPARC, HP's Alpha, and IBM's S/390.
Despite the relative maturity and popularity of AMD's 64-bit x86 platform, it was not included. However an unofficial AMD64 version of Sarge does exist. Developers of the port have publicly vowed to provide security updates and support to it for as long as Debian does the same for its official distribution.
The official Web site for the AMD64 version of Debian states the port will enter the main Debian package archive following Sarge's release.
It is also likely the next release of Debian will dramatically cut down the number of supported architectures to four. The long three-year wait before Sarge's release has spurred unrest in the community about the frequency of the software release cycle.
The debate spilled over into recent leadership elections. The eventual elected leader, Branden Robinson, supports the reduction of the number of supported architectures to four: Intel's x86 and Itanium platforms, as well as the PowerPC chip which is used in the current generation of Apple Macs, and the AMD64 platform.
Supporters of the plan have stated they hope the cuts will garner "a much shorter release cycle on the order of 12-18 months". This will bring Debian in line with a similarly-timed release cycle used by competing vendors like Red Hat.
Apple's recent announcement that it will switch to using Intel processors in its next generation of PCs may call the PowerPC support into question.
The news comes several days after the Debian project released a final update to version 3.0 of its distribution. The update mainly added security updates as well as several bugfixes.
The news was greeted with online jubilation from the large community of Debian developers. One of the members of the team charged with finalising the release, Steve Langasek, was particularly enthusiastic.
"Sarge is once again proof that communities can do great things," he wrote on his blog, "even communities of irritable, cantankerous, grudge-holding, flaming free software nuts."