Debian 6.0 Breaks Free of Restrictive Licenses

Following a full two years of development, the Debian Project on Sunday released version 6.0 of its namesake Linux distribution, code-named "Squeeze."

The new Debian release is notable in many ways, not least of which is that it is the first version ever to incorporate an entirely free Linux kernel, using only software published under the GNU General Public License (GPL) or other free licenses compliant with the official Open Source Definition.

Any non-free firmware files have been split out into separate packages and moved out of the Debian main archive; instead, they're now located in the non-free area of the Debian archive, which is not enabled by default. For those unwilling to part with the non-free firmware files, however, there is an unofficial set of installation CDs that contains them.

"In this way Debian users have the possibility of running a completely free operating system, but may still choose to use non-free firmware files if necessary," the project team explained. "Firmware files needed during installation may be loaded by the installation system; special CD images and tarballs for USB based installations are available too."

A FreeBSD Version

Debian 6.0 represents another first in that it's available in a version based on the FreeBSD kernel as well as one that uses the traditional GNU/Linux kernel. Still considered a "technology preview," the new FreeBSD version is available for two architectures: i386 and amd64. Included are many of the existing features of Linux-based Debian versions as well as some that are unique to the BSD world; currently, however, some advanced desktop features are not yet supported.

Debian GNU/Linux runs on computers ranging from palmtops and handheld systems to supercomputers. Supported architectures include i386, amd64, powerpc, SPARC, MIPS, ia64, s390 and ARM EABI.

Though it's based on the GNOME desktop by default, Debian 6.0 also includes the KDE Plasma desktop and applications as well as Xfce and LXDE desktop environments. A dependency-based boot system is designed to make system start-up faster and more robust, while a raft of other changes--including the introduction of the KDE Plasma Netbook shell--make Debian more suitable for small form factor notebooks.

More than 10,000 new packages are included in Squeeze, including Google Chrome, the Icinga monitoring solution, the Software Center package management front end and a new network manager. Underneath the proverbial "hood" in the Linux version is Linux 2.6.32, while other packages in the release include X.Org 7.5, OpenOffice.org 3.2.1, GIMP 2.6.11, Iceweasel 3.5.16 (an unbranded version of Mozilla Firefox), Icedove 3.0.11 (an unbranded version of Mozilla Thunderbird), PostgreSQL 8.4.6, MySQL 5.1.49, Samba 3.5.6 and more than 29,000 other ready-to-use software packages.

Fourth in Popularity

With a new, easier installation process, version 6.0 can be installed from Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, CDs and USB sticks or from the network. Upgrades from Debian GNU/Linux 5.0, or "Lenny," are automatically handled by the apt-get package management tool for most configurations.

Currently the fourth most popular Linux distribution, according to Distrowatch, Debian aims to be "the universal operating system." It is the basis for the market-leading Ubuntu distribution, as well as popular derivatives including Linux Mint. As businesses increasingly rely on the security and stability of Linux for their mission-critical functions, this new Debian distribution could be well worth testing out.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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