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DistributionWatch Review: Debian GNU/Linux 2.2

Slow Development, Instant Upgrade

August 17, 2000

I was listening to the GNOME press conference several hours late when the announcement came in over e-mail that Debian had finally declared version 2.2 (Potato) stable. Knowing there would be a stampede for the servers in short order I opened an xterm and typed apt-get update, watched the output to see if any of the source archives had changed, and then typed apt-get upgrade.

I was rewarded with a quick download and the installation of a shiny, new, fixed version of the mailx package. I went back to work on my newly stable Debian box. The Debian changelog for mailx mentioned that a security tweak had been made. I felt safer and stable. From frozen to full-blown Potato in the time it took to snag a package.

Pretty anticlimactic stuff, when it comes down to it, and therein lies one of the strengths of Debian GNU/Linux. The project moves forward at a seemingly ponderous pace, but a little time spent reading through the myriad developer and user lists reveals a disarmingly feverish quest for perfection. Its advocates often position it contra everybody else as a distribution wholly disinterested in the latest and greatest, and its deriders bring up just that fact when ticking off reasons they prefer to stick with what they have.

In all fairness, I've been running Potato as it develops for a while now. As bug fixes were made and packages added, I updated the system. As a result, the trickle of changes to the system offered little to notice, especially as the project entered into its final testing cycles.

The package list of this newest release is nothing if not an affirmation of the Debian way of doing things: on the eve of the release of Linux 2.4, Debian has shipped with the 2.2.16 kernel. As even the timid and leisurely are getting around to installing XFree86 4 (if their distribution hasn't already slipped it in somehow), Potato arrives with version 3.3.6. For different reasons, but equally indicative of the Debian approach to its developer community's belief in The Right Thing, KDE users will continue to rely on the unofficial (but solid) packaging of the environment's 1.1.2 release.

There are several reasons behind the slow uptake of "new stuff," in the project, but most advocates will point out that by sticking to what they've polished and tested, Debian can provide one of the most stable, secure, and solid distributions going.

Past releases haven't been without their faults, though, in areas outside of issues of stability. The 2.1 (Slink) release was often faulted for an installation only a geek could love during a time when ease of installation was the silver bullet that would deliver Linux to desktops everywhere, but the project seems to have heard that particular complaint this time around, even if they've avoided the graphical splash other distributions have shown.