Debian Stabilizing the Linux Landscape

Posted by tadelste on Mar 11, 2006 6:07 AM EDT
Lxer Day Desk; By Tom Adelstein, Editor-in-Chief
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The people who first brought us GNU/Linux intended to offer an operating system you could freely download and who's code you could freely have and change. At the end of the Dot-COM boom, part of the investment community led by Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists such as Kleiner Perkins fell in love with Linux companies and funded several taking a few public. But no one could "get to" Debian. Thank you, Smith Barney.

One of the many myths surrounding Linux says a crowd of people who lack emotional stability develop and use Linux. I disagree with that notion. I believe proprietary software advocates have intentionally put that unwarranted tag on free and open source software people. I do not know many Linux guys who have the time to spend on such ridiculous endeavors.

Linux's roots have more significance than short-sighted Iain Ferguson of ZDNet Australia and Gartner analyst Brian Prentice think. These are the two who recently said that "flaming Linux bigots" [are] prone to hyperbole and religious debates. They suggested that such souls actually impeded the growth of Linux and open source software.

Such ill-informed statements reflect more on Ferguson and Prentice than their imaginary targets. No one knows what prompts people like Ferguson and Prentice to associate flaming bigots with Linux instead of Windows and Macintosh users who show up on Linux web sites and more likely impede the growth of Linux and open source software with their ill manners and profanity. Do your own survey and you will realize the DNA of open source tends toward friendliness and a focus on a solid work ethnic.

I suppose if we take this further, the flaming Linux bigots and religious fanatics at IBM, Novell, Computer Associates, OSDL, the DoD, the National Security Agency, NASA, Lawrence Livermore National Labs and Merrill Lynch have done Linux an injustice. We should get those people the kind of help they need. Call in CPS and line up those therapists.

Normally, people with something to hide tend toward irrational rants. I defend the Linux crowd because few of them ever indulge in manic epiosdes. Granted, I don't like anyone threatening my livelihood the way Microsoft appears bent on doing by attempting to destroy Linux and free and open source software. If you want to call me a flaming Linux bigot because I object to monopolistic and predatory practices apparently condoned by the present Federal Administration, go ahead.

Linux has real roots in change

As I said before the people who first brought us GNU/Linux intended to offer an operating system you could freely download and who's code you could freely have and change. I do not remember massive projects to build graphical desktops and Microsoft Windows type applications until big money rolled into the likes of Red Hat, VALinux, Caldera, Linuxcare, TurboLinux and others.

When Red Hat decided to discontinue its long-time distribution in favor of an enterprise-only offering, a hole opened in the competitive landscape. SUSE tried to fill the hole with its Professional series offerings but failed to gain significant users. Red Hat thought it had filled the hole with Fedora. Neither did or could.

The hole existed because the core GNU/Linux specialists consist of volunteers. You cannot leave out the people who package and maintain Linux software and expect an enthusiastic community to persist. So, when Red Hat shut down their CVS server to the outside world, their volunteers went away. SUSE had less volunteers working on their core product so their community existed around their product instead of in the center. That left the Debian project whose members tended to attract a higher level of technical expertise and a stronger commitment to the Free Software Foundation.

Debian never had the GUI installer and slick look and feel of Red Hat or SUSE. The community produced an enormous volume of documentation. If you had serious intentions to learn Linux the way a programmer or system administrator did, you had a welcome card. But, if you didn't know basic concepts like how to set up DNS and Apache virtual server configurations, that community frowned on you.

Two distributions, Ubuntu and Debian, have filled the void that Red Hat left when it retreated from its original constituency. Ubuntu provided a friendly face to new Linux users and Debian attracted many displaced hard core developers. Suddenly, a vibrant community of interest surged around these distributions. A recent survey by Netcraft shows how Debian has picked up users. Notice the chart Netcraft recently published below:

According to Netcraft:

Debian is currently the fastest growing Linux distribution for web servers, with more than 1.2 million active sites in December. Debian 3.1 was declared stable in July and it appears that both the anticipation of this release becoming stable, and the release itself, have generated new interest in Debian, after some years where it had lagged behind its more active rivals. This growth is particularly noticeable at some of the larger central European hosting locations, including Komplex, Lycos Europe, Proxad and Deutsche Telecom.

Excerpts from the Netcraft public site may be reproduced if Netcraft and the url are attributed. So attributed.

Debian fits the center

Red Hat has a significant following for several reasons. In the mid to late 1990's Red Hat attracted a community of vounteers and some paid programmers who maintained Red Hat's RPM packages. That led to many companies basing their distributions on Red Hat including Caldera (now SCO), Mandrake, Connectiva, Sun Linux, Yellow Dog, Lycoris, Cobalt, NetMax and so on.

When Red Hat released its IPO, they had a successful offering and raised additional funds before the DOT COM bust. Money, a good brand and a commercial business plan to replace UNIX instead of Microsoft worked. They also did everything they could to stop people from basing their distributions on Red Hat: No more free rides.

Red Hat withdrawing as the champions of GNU/Linux allowed Debian to replace them. Like water seeking sea level, the GNU/Linux community will find the best place for them to practice their trade. Today, that place is the Debian community and its off-shoots.

Like Chocolate for Water

Don't mistake this for the Alfonso Arau film. I love chocolate and if I can get the best for free, I'm always happy. So, when Red Hat dropped its low-end free distribution, I felt like someone took away the chocolate.

I built a business based on Red Hat and to some degree SUSE. The Insight Groupware suite of products flourished because people used Red Hat en masse. I switched from Slackware to Red Hat for a business reason. So, when the business reason disappeared, I went looking for a distribution that served me.

I tried the Sun-SUSE combo. After working with Sun for a year, I came to the conclusion that they really intended to draw in Linux users and try to switch them to Solaris. In spite of their claims otherwise, their sales people kept reciting the mantra of draw and switch. Regardless, that is what happened.

I switched to Novell and despite a sensible desktop offering, I didn't experience freedom. They may have an interesting value proposition for large business and government, but not for Linux people.

My shift came first with Ubuntu and then with Debian. As I began setting up a Debian server to host my web sites and develop solutions, I realized that I began to learn again. For me, finding Linux has always been about growth. When I grow professionally, I grow personally. I become more productive, I see the better parts of myself - the parts I like.

I have said this more than once and I will say it again: If you want to really learn UNIX style administration and build a firm foundation for any Linux or UNIX work - learn to administer Debian. That means, Debian first and foremost.

Does that take away from Slackware? No, not from a pure Linux is fun and productive point of view. I learned Linux on early Slackware. I remember looking at swap meets for video cards that worked with Slack so I could configure X and have a graphical desktop.

Just go back up a few paragraphs and look at the Netcraft chart. That tells you something about Debian. The people who hoist Internet services on teh Intarweb, go with Debian.

I feel grateful to the Debian team, community and contributors. Thank you for continuing the traditions that made Linux great in the first place. Keep on doing, growing and thriving. There's a place for us and a stable Linux landscape.

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