Debian is a huuuuuge project so while sharing all the parts in one article is next to impossible but still I will try to share some of the ideas, processes that had made me fall in love with Debian.
1. A ‘real’ project
The first thing to understand is that Debian is a ‘Project’. While the word may look simple, in the Debian world, the word is pregnant with meaning.
What it means is that there are neither any commercial obligations or considerations to any company or commercial establishment which in any way tries to influence the development of the project or have a say in the functioning of the project.
This is unlike many of the other free software distributions who do have commercial interests backing as well as influencing both development and support.
The implication of such a difference is enormous, as Debian tends to dog-food whatever it needs for itself while most other ‘free software’ distributions do it for their commercial offerings (OpenSUSE, Fedora). They will come out/develop according to the needs of their paying customers, while everybody else is a tester to test as to whether something works/ed or didn’t work in the free software distribution.
The idea in Debian that everybody is equal (both users and developers) while encouraging meritocracy. This is done by giving more responsibility to people who are tested both on the philosophical understanding and underpinnings of what Debian is as well as technical skills.
The idea and the implementation of it in Debian context become all the more incredible when you discover that it has been 20 years since the Debian project started. Debian is still as strong as ever, even with all sorts of “Commercial” distributions are around it.
2. A universal operating system
The Debian project is a ‘Universal Operating System’. Now the term ‘Universal’ needs to be highlighted here.
Universal means all and any programming languages, software and people are included. This is an important difference in the sense that Debian puts importance on the social aspect of the project on the same keel as the technical side of the project.
While in some ways, this is governed by the Debian Code of Conduct, it is also something that almost all of the users, maintainers, developers cherish this aspect as well.
3. Free Software in all sense
On the technical front, the same inclusiveness can be seen at multiple levels.
Almost all Foss popular programming languages are in the distribution and then some, all software in ‘Main’ are DFSG-compliant. The DFSG and the Debian Social Contract are the main binding instruments which show the way how Debian works.
The Debian Social Contract is a legal document which tells that Debian will always remain ‘free’ in all senses of that word for all eternity. The Project will never hide problems (exceptions are security issues where early disclosures and non-patched software could do more harm than good) which is also a kind of grey area.
The community makes sure that any improvements that happen to the software are given back to the wider free software community. This helps keeps the delta down between the official upstream release and Debian, while at the same time Debian keeps patches which the upstream may not want/like to have but is relevant to Debian alone.
Also, Debian does not make discrimination between users either for support or in any other way. I have filed around 300 odd bugs in my more than a half-decade relationship with Debian and more often than not, have had timely, fruitful discussions with the Debian Developer/Maintainer of the package with more often than not a patch or/and a new update/point release of the package which solves the bug.
One interesting data point might be that the Debian Social Contract influenced quite heavily the TOR social contract.
While all of the above is fine, why should I choose Debian over any other free software distribution ?
4. Debian Software archive
The Debian software archive is huge. The archive has somewhat in range of 45k+ applications for a single architecture and Debian serves 17 odd hardware architectures (officially and unofficially both).
To install the whole distribution it would require north of 100 GB if all applications are to be installed. This is for packages only, not sources, nor space required for database or databases to put user data.
5. The awesome team and its volunteer
To simplify things and keep it sort of sane and simple, Debian uses various teams, and apart from that there are huge numbers of volunteers and enthusiasts to help Debian at every point.
6. Stability and rolling release
The biggest luxury is that Debian is inherently a mixed rolling release distribution with a change/twist at the end. While most distributions have a time-based cadence for release, Debian follows a cadence for freeze and not actual release although some estimates can be made.
This gives Debian an opportunity to release when no RC (Release-Critical) bugs remain. Debian gives enough ‘baking’ time so most release critical bugs are taken care of or if it’s not possible to care of, it is no longer part of Debian.
There are many, many examples of this. The easiest way to have a sense of which packages would be removed (if no help comes) is to install how-can-i-help package and do a run.
This way, the developer or volunteers for the ‘troublesome’ packages would know before time, that they need to take care of their business else they miss the release bus.
7. Well connected community
Last but not the least. While Debian is neutral, many of the volunteers also contribute to big companies. Now this might be in form of a small narrow contract for specific work or part-time or/and full-time employees. What happens
What happens more often than not that a Debian contributor ends up influencing or even radically changing a company’s viewpoint on FOSS and in time many products also become FOSS once they realize it’s more profitable to open the code and get contributions from other people and live off add-on/additional services. This of course changes from company to company, the product itself, success it has in the market and other such factors.
This is how I feel about Debian. What about you? Do you feel connected to Debian? Want to share and add your views on it? Please leave a comment.