That August 16, 1993, a young Ian Murdock announced on Usenet “the imminent completion of a new version of Linux which I will call Debian Linux Release.” Murdock, of course, had no idea that Debian would end up becoming an institution in the Linux world. This distribution, mother of many others (Ubuntu included), has completed 25 splendid years that have confirmed it as a crucial development in the world of Linux and Open Source.
Debian through time
The name, which came from the combination of that of Murdock and his wife (Deborah, Ian), has been the hallmark of distribution with distinctive signs of identity. Debian 0.01 would not appear until September 15, 1993, and its first stable version would take almost 3 more years to leave.
I would do it with a name that would set a trend: the names of the Toy Story characters would end up being the code names for each of the great versions of Debian, and that’s how we’ve been looking at Buzz (1.1), Rex ( 1.2), Bo (1.3), Hamm (2.0), Slink (2.1), Potato (2.2), Woody (3.0), Sarge (3.1), Etch (4.0), Lenny (5.0), Squeeze (6.0), Wheezy ( 7.0), Jessie (8.0) and the last of all today, Stretch (9.0).
The names of future versions are also decided and keep that legacy: the next big version of Debian, 10.0, will appear in 2019 and will be codenamed, Buster. Debian 11 will be called Bullseye, while Debian 12 will be called Bookworm. As of 1999, by the way, Debian used that characteristic logo (“swirl”) that was designed by Raúl Silva, today designer iOS.
Each of these versions has been growing in features and components and as the development grew and progressed the different branches of Debian were created in a model that many other developments followed.
Its Stable, Testing and Unstable editions allowed each type of user to update the distribution with stable packages, in tests or unstable but providing last-generation features. Today we see that kind of “channels” in many other developments (Google Chrome, Firefox, Windows itself with its program for Windows Insiders, Apple and its iOS betas or macOS).
A legendary Linux distribution
There are many reasons why Debian is different from the rest of Linux distributions on the market. It is different in the first place because it has three documents that determine its evolution: it’s Social Contract, it’s the constitution and its Free Software development guide.
This is the aspect of Debian 8.0 with the Cinnamon desktop environment. Those documents establish the principles of a distribution that “will remain 100% free” – they had problems with projects such as Firefox for that philosophy – and that “it will not hide the problems”, while in its Constitution the internal functioning of a community in which decisions are made by different types of members such as developers or project leaders.
This somewhat more organizational part makes clear the seriousness of a project that has always been conservative in its approach to software: in Debian (especially in the Stable branch) one can not usually count on the latest of the latest, but of what You can be sure that the distribution is especially stable and reliable.
That somewhat more conservative attitude probably ended up causing independent users, user groups, and software developers and organizations to end up taking Debian as the basis for their own derived distributions.
Grow and multiply
This is how Ubuntu was created which is probably the Linux distribution and that debuted in 2004 to try to popularize the use of distributions with a reputation for the complex for the new user.
Hundreds of Linux distributions were born thanks to Debian. Image generated thanks to LinuxTimeline. In fact, in its logo the phrase “Linux for human beings” (“Linux for human beings”) was read for a long time, and a good part of its initial offer was aimed at facilitating the use of Linux for all types of users, not to the traditional Linux users who usually had certain technical knowledge.In Distrowatch, where the appearance (and disappearance) of Linux distributions has been monitored for years, 387 distributions are derived from Debian, with more than 120 of them still active. Debian keeps its own census about it of course, but it also invites anyone who wants to create their own derivative – in fact, they have special versions called Debian Blends – with a series of guides to achieve it.
Actually, not only the direct derivative distributions but also those derived from derivatives, count, for example, that a large number of distributions do not start from Debian but directly from Ubuntu and then offer certain differential characteristics that their creators estimate, interested for a certain niche of users.
Debian is great because of many things
Many have been the features that have led to Debian where it is now, but without a doubt one of them is its package manager, Advanced Package Tool or APT, a set of commands that since 1998 made the installation, update and removal of new packages Software was so powerful, efficient and simple for users.
Its attention to all kinds of architectures is also legendary, often discarded by large commercial developers such as Apple, Microsoft or Google, but with Debian as its best ally.
In fact, it is one of the software projects that supports most architectures, with both official and unofficial versions. Here we have support for very extended platforms (the x86-64 and IA-32 that are used in Intel and AMD processors, as well as MIPS and different versions of ARM) as well as for much less popular ones like DEC Alpha, HP PA RISC, Intel Itanium, Motorola 68k, PowerPC, SPARC or RISC-V.
Debian in particular (like Linux in general) is the best example of that ubiquity and versatility of an operating system that allows for example that is the protagonist in all that segment of mini-pcs oriented to the maker segment and the education that has conquered us with projects such as Raspberry Pi or Arduino.
His presence is also notable in a radically different segment. Of the “small” proposed Raspberry Pi Debian is also a benchmark in the server segment: according to W3Techs the presence of Unix systems in web servers is 68.1% compared to 31.9% of Windows servers.
Of those servers based on different versions of Unix and above all – the statistics here are imprecise – Linux distributions, Debian is the protagonist with 23.8% of the total, only below the 35.3% of an Ubuntu that for years has been It has been realizing that this segment was important for its commercial part.
For all this (and much more) we have no more to wish Debian and all its users a happy birthday 25, unfortunately, its creator, Ian Murdock, has not been able to see fulfilled. Now, for the next 25.