It wasn’t too long ago that I did a very late review of Debian 5. I’m happy to say that it didn’t take me nearly as long to get around to the latest release, Debian 6 Squeeze. If you aren’t familiar with Debian then this release is a great chance to learn about a distro that is the foundation for a lot of other distributions including Ubuntu, Linux Mint and others.
Debian has three main branches:
Debian 6 is the latest stable release. For more background on Debian in general, please see the Wikipedia overview article.
The Debian Project is governed by the Debian Constitution and the Social Contract which set out the governance structure of the project as well as explicitly stating that the goal of the project is the development of a free operating system. Debian is developed by over three thousand volunteers from around the world and supported by donations through several non-profit organizations around the world. Most important of these is Software in the Public Interest, the owner of the Debian trademark and umbrella organization for various other community free software projects.
Thus, the Debian Project is an independent decentralized organization; it is not backed by a company like some other GNU/Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, and Mandriva. The cost of developing all the packages included in Debian 4.0 etch (283 million lines of code), using the COCOMO model, has been estimated to be close to US$13 billion. As of April 2, 2009, Ohloh estimates that the codebase of the Debian GNU/Linux project (45 million lines of code), using the COCOMO model, would cost about US$819 million to develop.
What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new stuff in this release:
KDE Plasma Workspaces and KDE Applications 4.4.5
an updated version of the GNOME desktop environment 2.30
the Xfce 4.6 desktop environment
Iceweasel 3.5.16 (an unbranded version of Mozilla Firefox)
Icedove 3.0.11 (an unbranded version of Mozilla Thunderbird)
GNU Compiler Collection 4.4.5
Python 2.6.6, 2.5.5 and 3.1.3
Xen Hypervisor 4.0.1 (dom0 as well as domU support)
more than 29,000 other ready-to-use software packages, built from nearly 15,000 source packages.
One of the neat things about this release is that it contains a truly free kernel. Non-free firmware files have been removed, but are still available to those who wish to use them. This makes Debian 6 perfect for Linux purists who do not want their desktop distros corrupted by non-free files. This release also promises faster start-up times due to changes to the boot scripts and dependency tracking.
Debian 6 also provides 10,000 new packages including Chromium and many other useful applications, and an overall total number of packages of around 29,000. I’ll have more to say about software in that section of the review. Suffice to say though that there are gobs of software available in Debian 6 and you should not lack for anything to run on your Debian-based system.
The Debian 6 installer has been improved with easier choice of language and keyboard settings, as well as better partitioning tools. The installer also supports ext4 and Btrfs file systems, and is available in 70 different languages. I’ll have more to say about the installer in that section of the review and the screenshots on that page will walk you through the entire install, from beginning to end.
Since this is a stable release, the emphasis was clearly on releasing Debian 6 in as rock-solid a form as possible rather than trying to pack it full of bloated features or cutting-edge software that could adversely affect that goal. My experience with Debian 6 indicates that the developers have pretty much accomplished what they set out to do in this release.
Hardware Requirements & Installation
Since Debian 6 is available for so many different architectures, I’m not going to try to list all of the system requirements here. Please see the installation information for your particular architecture. You’ll find a list of supported computer architectures here. You should also look at the release notes for each architecture; they contain upgrade instructions if you are running a previous release of Debian.