Debian Linux was important: Will it continue to be?

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

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.


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 Debian 6.0 continues a long tradition of shipping a brand-new stable release that is already outdated, with little to appeal to new users.”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.