All Roads Lead to Debian…

I am sure every geek out there has heard / read of Debian, at least as a base for Ubuntu (possibly the most popular Linux distribution). For me Debian was always the ‘origin’, the one from which all other distributions sprouted. Like an old, majestic tree with many offshoots…


The very first Linux distribution I tried was Bodhi Linux 2.4. It was built on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, ergo had its roots in Debian. While venturing through the Lands of Linux I stumbled upon multiple other distributions based on Debian, such as Trisquel, Crunchbang or Sparky Linux. There are many, many more, all with a common source – Debian. Seeing how inevitably I kept drifting towards the more demanding distributions, somehow matching my increasing experience, I decided to take a road to Debian proper…

As I read more I learnt that Debian is less of a tree and more of an orchard in which software packages are grown and cultivated. This orchard has in essence four branches:

Experimental: Here software packages are built and undergo initial tests conducted by developers and package maintainers. So far, I have not encountered any distributions based on the Experimental branch of Debian. 

Unstable (always Sid)Here software packages are further tested to remove release critical bugs. However, the packages are stable enough to be admitted for common use. Often, experienced Linux users choose Debian Unstable to gain access to most recent packages. Although a matter of dispute, Sid is thought to follow a rolling-release model due to its dynamic nature. A number of distributions are based on Debian Sid: Semplice Linux, Siduction, Aptosid, Ubuntu X.10 versions.

Testing (currently Jessie): Here software packages are polished and rid of any remaining bugs. Typically Jessie is a bit behind Sid, but only by a margin. A number of distributions are based on Debian Jessie: Sparky Linux, AntiX, Makulu Linux, SolydX/SolydK, Ubuntu X.04 LTS versions.

– Stable (currently 7.0 Wheezy): Consists of only fully tested and perfectly stable software packages. Alas, due to the lengthy testing process, the packages are rather outdated and suitable mostly for running servers, older computers or simply as a low-maintenance distribution. A number of distributions are based on Debian Wheezy: Crunchbang, AntiX MX, Tails, SteamOS, Robolinux. 

The package development process in Debian is extremely intriguing and probably unique for this distribution. After packages are built and tested in the Experimental branch, they proceed to the Unstable branch for further testing. In turn, Jessie receives packages for which no release critical bugs have been reported. Stable is a frozen snapshot of Testing and receives only security updates. While Sid could be considered a rolling-release distribution, Jessie is a hybrid. When a new Stable version is being prepared for release, Testing has to be frozen and in such state will not receive any new packages from Sid. After all of the packages in frozen Testing are bug-free and of supreme quality, they are released as Stable, which then inherits a name and Testing receives a new one. Currently, Jessie is the Testing branch. However, Debian developers are working hard on a new Stable release, which will be called Jessie (now, it is Wheezy). After the new Jessie is released, Testing ‘thaws’ and gains a new identity.

Debian’s developmental model might sound quite confusing, but in essence it greatly resembles a typical production process in industries. Therefore, it shows a clear focus on quality, rather than quantity.

I started my adventure with Debian from a minimal Testing LiveCD. The initial experience was quite smooth and the installation process concluded without major problems. However, due to my mistake I had to properly configure the repositories’ mirrors list. Unfortunately, some issues arose later on. I could connect to the Internet only via an Ethernet cable, because the WiFi adapter drivers were not installed at all. Surprisingly, sound also did not work. On a positive note though, I installed several desktop environments and all of them had a clean Debian theme and were well configured. Maybe next time I will start from a derivative distribution as it is potentially less troublesome to set up.

Actually, the real beauty of Debian shows in its smooth progression. While theoretically there are several branches of Debian, one can seamlessly move from one to another by upgrading to a more recent one. For instance, I was not a 100% satisfied with Debian Testing, because the repositories lacked several packages I always use (like the Midori web browser). Therefore, I quickly updated my mirrors list and swiftly became a Debian Unstable user. It is actually that simple! Even Debian derivatives can be quickly transformed into fully-fledged Debian without major set-backs! The reason why people don’t do it so often is that they are satisfied with the Debian branch they have chosen and sometimes already installed packages can break when making the transition (as was frequently reported for Libre Office in Crunchbang).

With its utmost flexibility and reliability Debian is definitely something I can suggest to anyone!


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