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Debian GNU/Linux FAQ
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1.5 What is the difference between Debian GNU/Linux and other Linux distributions? Why should I choose Debian over some other distribution?

These key features distinguish Debian from other Linux distributions:

As stated in the Debian Social Contract, Debian will remain 100% free. Debian is very strict about shipping truly free software. The guidelines used to determine if a work is "free" are provided in The Debian Free Software.
The Debian package maintenance system:
The entire system, or any individual component of it, can be upgraded in place without reformatting, without losing custom configuration files, and (in most cases) without rebooting the system. Most Linux distributions available today have some kind of package maintenance system; the Debian package maintenance system is unique and particularly robust (see Basics of the Debian package management system, Chapter 6).
Open development:
Whereas other Linux distributions are developed by individuals, small, closed groups, or commercial vendors, Debian is the only major Linux distribution that is being developed cooperatively by many individuals through the Internet, in the same spirit as Linux and other free software.

More than 1649 volunteer package maintainers are working on over 15400 packages and improving Debian GNU/Linux. The Debian developers contribute to the project not by writing new applications (in most cases), but by packaging existing software according to the standards of the project, by communicating bug reports to upstream developers, and by providing user support. See also additional information on how to become a contributor in How can I become a Debian software developer?, Section 12.1.

The Universal Operating System:
Debian comes with more than 15400 packages and runs on 11 architectures. This is far more than is available for any other GNU/Linux distribution. See What types of applications and development software are available for Debian GNU/Linux?, Section 4.1 for an overview of the provided software and see On what hardware architectures/systems does Debian GNU/Linux run?, Section 3.1 for a description of the supported hardware platforms.
The Bug Tracking System:
The geographical dispersion of the Debian developers required sophisticated tools and quick communication of bugs and bug-fixes to accelerate the development of the system. Users are encouraged to send bugs in a formal style, which are quickly accessible by WWW archives or via e-mail. See additional information in this FAQ on the management of the bug log in Are there logs of known bugs?, Section 11.4.
The Debian Policy:
Debian has an extensive specification of our standards of quality, the Debian Policy. This document defines the qualities and standards to which we hold Debian packages.

For additional information about this, please see our web page about reasons to choose Debian.

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