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Debian GNU/Linux FAQ
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1.2 What is Debian GNU/Linux?

Debian GNU/Linux is a particular distribution of the Linux operating system, and numerous packages that run on it.

In principle, users could obtain the Linux kernel via the Internet or from elsewhere, and compile it themselves. They could then obtain source code for many applications in the same way, compile the programs, then install them into their systems. For complicated programs, this process can be not only time-consuming but error-prone. To avoid it, users often choose to obtain the operating system and the application packages from one of the Linux distributors. What distinguishes the various Linux distributors are the software, protocols, and practices they use for packaging, installing, and tracking applications packages on users' systems, combined with installation and maintenance tools, documentation, and other services.

Debian GNU/Linux is the result of a volunteer effort to create a free, high-quality Unix-compatible operating system, complete with a suite of applications. The idea of a free Unix-like system originates from the GNU project, and many of the applications that make Debian GNU/Linux so useful were developed by the GNU project.

For Debian, free has the GNUish meaning (see the Debian Free Software Guidelines). When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price. Free software means that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software, that you receive source code or can get it if you want it, that you can change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs; and that you know you can do these things.

The Debian Project was created by Ian Murdock in 1993, initially under the sponsorship of the Free Software Foundation's GNU project. Today, Debian's developers think of it as a direct descendent of the GNU project.

Debian GNU/Linux is:

  • full featured: Debian includes more than 15400 software packages at present. Users can select which packages to install; Debian provides a tool for this purpose. You can find a list and descriptions of the packages currently available in Debian at any of the Debian mirror sites.
  • free to use and redistribute: There is no consortium membership or payment required to participate in its distribution and development. All packages that are formally part of Debian GNU/Linux are free to redistribute, usually under terms specified by the GNU General Public License.

    The Debian FTP archives also carry approximately 450 software packages (in the non-free and contrib sections), which are distributable under specific terms included with each package.

  • dynamic: With about 1649 volunteers constantly contributing new and improved code, Debian is evolving rapidly. New releases are planned to be made every several months, and the FTP archives are updated daily.

Although Debian GNU/Linux itself is free software, it is a base upon which value-added Linux distributions can be built. By providing a reliable, full-featured base system, Debian provides Linux users with increased compatibility, and allows Linux distribution creators to eliminate duplication of effort and focus on the things that make their distribution special. See I am making a special Linux distribution for a "vertical market". Can I use Debian GNU/Linux for the guts of a Linux system and add my own applications on top of it?, Section 13.3 for more information.

Debian GNU/Linux FAQ
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  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire