3.2 Advantages of the Debian Distribution

Debian (http://www.debian.org), and hence Ubuntu, is an excellent distribution of GNU/Linux. The releases of Debian are rock solid stable and come highly recommended. The Debian packaging system is well developed and acknowledge as an excellent body of software engineering. You can purchase the CD-ROM distributions of Debian inexpensively (see http://www.debian.org/distrib/vendors for a list of vendors) or burn your own CD-ROMs from images available on the Internet. This latter option is described in this chapter.

Here are some specific advantages and benefits that distinguish Debian from other distributions:

  • Debian GNU/Linux makes it very simple to install new applications, configure old ones, and administer the system. The administrator does not have to worry about dependencies, library problems, or even overwriting previous versions of configuration files. These are handled by the packaging system.
  • As a non-profit organisation Debian is more of a partner than a competitor with other distributions. Anyone can sign up as a Debian developer, and after being vetted for their skills and principles, they are granted the same privileges as anyone else on the project. There are currently over 3000 active Debian Developers supported by Debian maintainers (registered developers supporting Debian who are not full members). New work developed for Debian is available for all of the other Linux distributions to copy as soon as it’s uploaded to the Debian servers.
  • The Debian Free Software Guidelines are a critical component from a business standpoint. They specify the requirements for licenses of any package that is to be included with Debian. Debian conforms to the official GNU version of free software which means that every package included in Debian can be redistributed freely.
  • Debian is driven by policy. The formal and publicly available Debian policies have been developed over many years and are a mature response to dealing with the large task of maintaining such a distribution in a distributed manner. Various Debian tools (such as dpkg, apt-get, and lintian) effectively implement the policy and provide a guarantee of quality in the packaging.
  • Debian is an excellent choice for the development of software for all distributions of GNU/Linux. Because Debian’s processes, in terms of policies and packaging, are fair and visible and open standards conforming, Debian is a very clean and very carefully constructed distribution. Developments that occur on a Debian platform can thus easily be delivered or transferred to other GNU/Linux (and Unix) platforms.
  • Debian provides simple migration paths from one release to another that are well tested and trodden. No more re-installing the operating system just to upgrade to the new release, though that always remains an option. From experience it is extremely difficult, for example, to upgrade a system from one RedHat release to another.
  • Debian’s tools have the ability to do recursive upgrades of systems.
  • Debian deals with dependencies and will identify the required packages and install them and then install the package you want.
  • Debian packages can Suggest other packages to be installed, and it is left to the user whether to follow the suggestions or not.
  • Multiple packages can Provide the same functionality (e.g., email, web server, editor). A package might thus specify that it depends on a web server, but not which particular web server (assuming it works with any web server).
  • Debian has a utility to install Red Hat packages if you need to. In fact, the tool has been extended to provide basic transformations between various package formats.
  • Debian does not overwrite your config files nor does the packaging system touch /usr/local except perhaps to ensure appropriate directories exist for local (non-Debian) installed data and utilities.
  • Red Hat packages rarely fix upstream file locations to be standards compliant but instead just place files whereever the upstream package happens to put them. Many upstream developers do not know about or conform to the standards. A minor example is that for a while the openssh rpms created /usr/libexec for the sftpd daemons, but libexec is a BSD standard and the Linux standard.
  • The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS) is described at http://www.pathname.com/fhs/. It consists of, to quote the site, a set of requirements and guidelines for file and directory placement under UNIX-like operating systems. They thus encourage the interoperability of applications, system administration tools, development tools, and scripts as well as greater uniformity of documentation for these systems. More GNU/Linux specific is the Linux Standard Base (LSB) with information at http://www.linuxbase.org/. says such things should go in /usr/lib/ or /usr/sbin. Debian packages generally enforce the standards.
  • Debian packages are generally created by ``qualified’’ developers (and there are thousands of them) who are committed to following Debian’s strict policies requiring such things as FHS compliance and never overwriting config files without permission. Only packages from these developers become part of the Debian archives.
  • Debian runs on more hardware platforms than any other distribution.
  • The Debian packaging philosophy is to keep packages in small chunks so that the user can choose what to install with a little more control.
  • Fedora reportedly interferes with its distribution to make it a less free offering. It is reported, for example, that its libraries are modified to disallow the compilation of applications that conflict with commercial interests of the MPAA/RIAA.

See also http://www.infodrom.org/Debian/doc/advantages.html.

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