Debian is a totally non-commercial (volunteer-driven) distribution of Linux. As such, it doesn't have the visibility of Redhat, Mandriva, or SuSe, but there is a huge Debian following, nontheless.

Lacking a retail presence, GUI installer, or Debian-specific management tools, Debian is not usually used for home computers. But it is, in many ways, an ideal server platform. Plus, many other distributions are based on Debian, such as K/Ubuntu, Knoppix, Linspire, MEPIS, Xandros, and many others. Debian is also very popular for embedded machines and distributions.

One of Debian's greatest advantages is its huge on-line repository of packages, the largest of any single distribution. Plus, Debian uses it's own, excellent package management system called "apt".

At any given time, there are three "current" branches of Debian distributions, "stable", "testing", and "unstable". The differences are as follows:

  • Stable - This is the "rock-solid" distribution that has been well tested and considered to be very ready for "prime time" in Production environments. Typically, this is the one you would run on a corporate server. The down side of the stable distribution is that it can be out of date - meaning it has older version of applications. Debian has been known to go multiple years between stable releases, so this can put you several versions behind on key software. (although, that may or may not be a big deal with typical server applications such as apache, ftp, dns, etc) Security fixes are typically back-ported to this distribution, so "out of date" does NOT equate to "insecure".
  • Unstable - This is the development branch of Debian. Running this branch will get you all the "latest and greatest" versions of software, however it is at the risk that it may break your system. A faulty update in the glibc library can be disastrous afterwards! Hence, the unstable distribution is not for the faint of heart and definitely not recommended for any production level system.
  • Testing - The best of both worlds and the ideal distribution for running on a personal desktop. With Testing, you get the newer versions of software, but with a little more stability. The way this works is that a package that is introduced to Unstable must go for a certain time period with no release-critical bugs filed against it before it may migrate over to Testing. So, while bugs may exist with new packages in Testing, theoretically the "show stopper" bugs like the glibc example above should not happen.

More information about Debian available from: Debian Home Page, Wikipedia

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