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GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams
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Debian Distributions


Debian provides a rock solid, stable, distribution which is highly recommended for those running servers that must be reliable. This distribution has been thoroughly tested. Software included in this distribution is not leading edge, but instead it is mature software, unlikely to crash, ever!

But many people like to stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest. An alternative Debian distribution, the unstable distribution, is where you will find the latest and the greatest. While it is generally a pretty solid distribution for those living at the bleeding edge, you do take on the possibility of having a less than fully functioning system at times. Avoid doing any updates, for example, just after a new release of Debian (every couple of years) since it really does become somewhat unstable at these times as a backlog of package start making their way into the distribution. These problems are rare though and will be very quickly fixed since there are many Debian developers running unstable.

The testing distribution is a compromise between stability and bleeding edge. Packages in this distribution have not been through the rigorous testing of the stable distribution, but are generally stable enough to not have serious bugs reported against them. This distribution is the stepping stone to the next stable distribution.

Administering a Debian system and maintaining up-to-date package installations is easy with Debian's apt-get and dpkg tools, and especially wajig. A lot of effort has been devoted to ensuring the system works as a whole, rather than providing a lot of glitz.

The name Debian comes from Deb and Ian Murdoch. It first appeared in 1993, pre-dating Red Hat and many other distributions.

Debian satisfies the needs of both system administrators who require rock solid software and hobbyists who like to live at the cutting edge and don't mind the occasional bumpy road. The stable releases have proven to be extremely stable. Only packages that have been thoroughly tested by the Debian team become part of a stable release. These releases are sometimes called dinosaurs even before they get released. By the time they are released the rest of the GNU/Linux world has moved on (often to introduce new bugs). You can be confident, though, that you will have a solid Linux installation. And if you want to have the latest and greatest, or even just update some packages to their latest release, you simply ask Debian to go grab it and install it for you.

The stable distribution of Debian is found at http://www.debian.org/releases/stable/ and the unstable distribution, where you will find the latest and the greatest, is found at http://www.debian.org/releases/unstable/. Despite its name, the unstable distribution is generally very stable, although at times you will find an aberrant package in transition, but it won't be there for long! Administering the system and maintaining up-to-date package installations is easy with Debian's apt-get and dpkg tools. With these tools and the Debian package structure a lot of effort has been devoted to ensuring the system works as a fully integrated whole, rather than providing a lot of glitz.

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