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Advantages of the Debian Distribution


Debian (http://www.debian.org) is an excellent distribution of GNU/Linux. (A popular commercial alternative to Debian is Red Hat.) The releases of Debian are rock solid stable and come highly recommended. The Debian packaging system is well developed and acknowledge as an excellent piece of work. You can purchase the CD-ROM distributions of Debian inexpensively (see http://www.debian.org/distrib/vendors for a list of vendors) or burn your own CD-ROMs from images available on the net. This latter option is explored in this chapter.

Here are some specific advantages and benefits that distinguish Debian from other distributions:

  • Debian GNU/Linux makes it very simple to installing new applications, configuring old ones, and administer the system. The administrator does not have to worry about dependencies, library problems, or even overwriting previous versions of configuration files.
  • As a non-profit organisation Debian is more of a partner than a competitor with other distributions. Anyone can sign up as a Debian developer and be granted the same privileges as anyone else. There are currently over 870 active Debian developers. New work developed for Debian is available for all of the other Linux distributions to copy as soon as it's uploaded to the Debian servers.
  • The Debian Free Software Guidelines are a critical component from a business standpoint. They specify the requirements for licenses of any package that is to be included with Debian. Debian conforms to the official GNU version of free software which means that every package included in Debian can be redistributed freely.
  • Debian is driven by policy. The formal and publicly available Debian policies have been developed over many years and are a mature response to dealing with the large task of maintaining such a distribution in a distributed manner. Various Debian tools (such as dpkg, apt-get, and lintian) effectively implement the policy and provide a guarantee of quality in the packaging.
  • Debian is an excellent choice for the development of software for all distributions of GNU/Linux. Because Debian's processes, in terms of policies and packaging, are fair and visible and open standards conforming, Debian is a very clean and very carefully constructed distribution. Developments that occur on a Debian platform can thus easily be delivered or transferred to other GNU/Linux (and Unix) platforms.
  • It is difficult to upgrade a system from one RedHat release to another. Debian provides simple migration paths that are well trodden. No more re-installing the operating system just to upgrade to the new release.
  • Debian's tools have the ability to do recursive upgrades of systems.
  • Debian deals with dependencies and will identify the required packages and install them and then install the package you want.
  • Debian packages can Suggest other packages to be installed, and it is left to the user whether to follow the suggestions or not.
  • Multiple packages can Provide the same functionality (e.g., email, web server, editor). A package might thus specify that it depends on a web server, but not which particular web server (assuming it works with any web server).
  • Debian has a utility to install Red Hat packages if you are desperate!
  • Debian does not overwrite your config files nor does the packaging system touch /usr/local except perhaps to ensure appropriate directories exist for local (non-Debian) installed data and utilities.
  • Red Hat uses a binary database for its package data while Debian (dpkg) uses text files. Debian is more robust (if a single file gets corrupted it's less of a problem) and it is possible to fix or modify things by hand using a normal text editor if needed. (Debian's apt-get uses a mixed approach: it uses the same text files as dpkg but uses a binary cache to also get the advantages of a binary database.
  • Red Hat packages rarely fix upstream file locations to be standards compliant but instead just place files whereever the upstream package happens to put them. Many upstream developers do not know about or conform to the standards. A minor example is that for a while the openssh rpms created /usr/libexec for the sftpd daemons, but libexec is a BSD standard and the Linux standard4.1 says such things should go in /usr/lib/<program> or /usr/sbin.
  • Generally speaking, Debian packages must be created by ``qualified'' developers (and there are thousands of them) who are committed to following Debian's strict policies requiring such things as FHS compliance and never overwriting config files without permission. Only packages from these developers become part of the Debian archives.
  • Debian runs on more hardware platforms than any other distribution.
  • The Debian packaging philosophy is to keep packages in small chunks so that the user can choose what to install with a little more control.
  • Fedora reportedly interferes with its distribution to make it a less free offering. Its libraries are modified to disallow the compilation of applications that conflict with commercial interests of the MPAA/RIAA.

See also http://www.infodrom.org/Debian/doc/advantages.html.

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