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DistributionWatch Review: Debian GNU/Linux 2.2 - page 5

Slow Development, Instant Upgrade

  • August 17, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

Debian has its challenges, and it's a definite change from many other distributions. If we have any real issues with it, they're items that are likely not going to change.

The developers running the distribution, for instance, are not interested in keeping it bleeding edge, so while your neighbor may soon be running XFree86 4.01 and a 2.4 kernel provided on an official basis by his distribution, if you want those things, you'll have to get them yourself. This was the case the last time around with the 2.2 series of kernels, but even though 2.036 was Debian's official kernel package, plenty of help and pointers for upgrading were provided... and honestly qualified with mention of the fact that life on the cutting edge isn't always necessary.

Preparing .deb packages for use under Debian is also a tricky proposition, which means independent packaging efforts don't seem as common as they do for distributions based on RPM. That makes straying from the official release a little less easy. Again, however, there are ways around that. KDE is packaged independently, Helix Code keeps a current set of frequently-updated GNOME packages (available via apt-get), and the unstable branch of development is a useful resource for pulling needed updates down on a case-by-case basis, as was the case when the 2.2 kernel was released.

Wrapping Up
Debian occupies an interesting niche in the Linux world. It may be the most thoroughly tested and polished distribution going, and its insistence on upholding the guiding principles of the project's Social Contract is bracing.

Beyond that, it's a solid and stable. The installation has improved in some key areas since the Slink release of over a year ago, noticably lowering the bar to entry. It remains a slightly more complex setup than other distributions, but it provides a useful way to get Linux running in a safe and stable manner. We think its packaging system is well-engineered, providing a level of convenience that sets a high standard.

The level of care taken to ensure the thousands of packages that comprise the distribution is impressive. Because so many pieces of software are part of the central repository, and because they're all so thoroughly tested against each other, experimenting with a package from the distribution is a pleasure. This centralization and comprehensiveness may slow the development cycle to a point where those who prefer a very current system will resist, but there's no denying that sticking to the stable branch of Debian will result in a well-integrated and stable machine.

While Debian isn't going to be for everybody, it provides a stable, well-supported platform with as much versatility as any other distribution, and often more stability.

We like Debian.

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