Debian is a free operating system (OS) for your computer. An operating
system is the set of basic programs and utilities that make your computer run.
At the core of an operating system is the kernel. The kernel is the
most fundamental program on the computer: It does all the basic housekeeping
and lets you start other programs. Debian uses the Linux kernel, a
completely free piece of software started by Linus Torvalds and supported by
thousands of programmers worldwide. A large part of the basic tools that fill
out the operating system come from the GNU Project,
and these tools are also free.
Another facet of an operating system is application software: programs that
help get work done, from editing documents to running a business to playing
games to writing more software. Debian comes with more than 1,500 packages
(precompiled software bundled up in a nice format for easy installation on your
machine) - all for free.
The Debian system is a bit like a pyramid. At the base is Linux. On top of that
are all the basic tools, mostly from GNU. Next is all the application software
that you run on the computer; many of these are also from GNU. The Debian developers
act as architects and coordinators - carefully organizing the system and fitting
everything together into an integrated, stable operating system: Debian GNU/Linux.
The design philosophy of GNU/Linux is to distribute its functionality into small,
multipurpose parts. That way, you can easily achieve new functionality and new
features by combining the small parts (programs) in new ways. Debian is like
an erector set: You can build all sorts of things with it.
When you're using an operating system, you want to minimize the amount of work
you put into getting your job done. Debian supplies many tools that can help,
but only if you know what these tools do. Spending an hour trying to get something
to work and then finally giving up isn't very productive. This guide will teach
you about the core tools that make up Debian: what tools to use in certain situations
and how to tie these various tools together.
Debian is an all-volunteer Internet-based development project. There are hundreds
of volunteers working on it. Most are in charge of a small number of software
packages and are very familiar with the software they package.
These volunteers work together by following a strict set of guidelines governing
how packages are assembled. These guidelines are developed cooperatively in
discussions on Internet mailing lists.