Debian GNU/Linux is a particular distribution of the Linux operating system, and numerous packages that run on it. In principle, users could obtain the Linux kernel from the 'net or elsewhere, and compile it themselves. They could then obtain source code for many applications in the same way, compile the programs, then install them into their systems. For complicated programs, this process can be not only time-consuming but error-prone. To avoid it, users often choose to obtain the operating system and the application packages from one of the Linux distributors. What distinguishes the various Linux distributors are the software, protocols, and practices they use for packaging, installing, and tracking applications packages on users' systems, combined with installation and maintenance tools, documentation, and other services.
Debian GNU/Linux is the result of a volunteer effort to create a free, high-quality Unix-compatible operating system, complete with a suite of applications. The idea of a free Unix-like system originates from the GNU project, and many of the applications that make Debian GNU/Linux so useful were developed by the GNU project. Debian was created by Ian Murdock in 1993, initially under the sponsorship of the Free Software Foundations's GNU project. Today, Debian's developers think of it as a direct descendent of the GNU project.
Debian GNU/Linux is
contribdirectories at the FTP archives), which are distributable under specific terms included with each package.
Though Debian itself is free software, it is a base upon which value-added GNU/Linux distributions can be built. By providing a reliable, full-featured base system, Debian provides GNU/Linux users with increased compatibility, and allows GNU/Linux distribution creators to eliminate duplication-of-effort and focus on the things that make their distribution special.
In short, Linux is the kernel of a Unix-like operating system. It was originally designed for 386/486/Pentium PCs; now, ports to other systems, including multi-processor systems, are under development. Linux is written by Linus Torvalds and many computer scientists around the world.
Besides its kernel, a "Linux" system usually has
The combination of the Linux kernel, the filesystem, the GNU and FSF utilities, and the other utilities are designed to achieve compliance with the POSIX (IEEE 1003.1) standard. (The authors would very much like to give you a pointer to an on-line document that described that standard, but the IEEE is another one of those organizations that gets away with declaring standards and then requiring that people PAY to find out what they are. This makes about as much sense as having to find out the significance of various colored lights on traffic signals.) At least one distribution ( Linux-FT by LaserMoon) has already been certified POSIX compliant.
For more information about Linux, see Michael Johnson's INFO-SHEET and META-FAQ.
Three key features distinguish Debian from other distributions of GNU/Linux:
The entire system, or any individual component of it, can be upgraded in place without reformatting, without losing custom configuration files, and (in most cases) without rebooting the system. Most GNU/Linux distributions available today have some kind of package maintenance system; the Debian package maintenance system is unique and particularly robust.
Whereas other GNU/Linux distributions are developed by individuals, small, closed groups, or commercial vendors, Debian is the only GNU/Linux distribution that is being developed cooperatively by many individuals through the Internet, in the same spirit as GNU/Linux and other Free Software. More than 100 volunteer package maintainers are working on over 500 packages and improving Debian GNU/Linux. The Debian developers contribute to the project not by writing new applications (in most cases), but by packaging existing software according to the standards of the project, by communicating bug reports to upstream developers, and by providing user support. See also additional information on how to become a contributor.
The geographical dispersion of the Debian developers required sophisticated tools and quick communication of bugs and bug-fixes to accelerate the development of the system. Users are encouraged to post bugs in a formal style, which are quickly accessible by both FTP and WWW archives to developers and users alike. See additional information in this FAQ on the management of the Bug Log.
The Debian system builds on the ideals of free software first championed by the FSF and in particular by Richard Stallman. FSF's powerful system development tools, utilities, and applications are also a key part of the Debian system.
At one time, there was a formal relationship between the Debian project and the FSF, in that the FSF employed Ian Murdock for a year while he was project leader. The project was then called the "Debian GNU/Linux" system. Now, however, the FSF will pursue its long-standing objective of developing a new operating system based on HURD ( http://www.cs.pdx.edu/~trent/gnu/hurd/index.html), rather than the Linux kernel, while the Debian project will take exclusive control over its own technical direction.
The Debian project supports the goals of FSF and we like to think of Debian as "Son of GNU". We think the FSF considered Debian as a first step toward the completed HURD system, and still encourage FSF to derive from Debian. Though the Debian project is no longer sponsored by the FSF, both groups have decided that this should not keep us from working together, and that we should be partners. We all look forward to more support for Linux in GNU software, and more support for FSF's goals in Linux software.
The project name is pronounced Deb'-ian, with a short e, and emphasis on the first syllable. This word is a contraction of the names of Debra and Ian Murdock, who founded the project. (Dictionaries seem to offer some ambiguity in the pronunciation of Ian (!), but Ian prefers ee'-an.)