June 1999 Troubleshooting Professional Magazine: More Heroes, and a Trip to Linux Expo

Copyright (C) 1999 by Steve Litt. All rights reserved. Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for perpetual use to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. All rights reserved to the copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.

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By Steve Litt
I use Red Hat every day, and love it. I've used Caldera as a desktop system, and love it. But no GNU/Linux career is complete without a pilgrimage to Debian. It's the Free Software from the folks who brought you Free Software. The real deal, straight from GNU. Of the many helpful people in the Debian booth, I talked to John Goerzen.

I expected John to extoll the Copyleft Correctness of Debian. Instead, John continually hammered home the quality and stability of the Debian distro. John's words seemed to suggest that Free Software was a means to an end, that end being quality and stability. Debian's Free Software model yields superior peer review, with many eyeballs on the data trees and bug lists.

Additionally he stressed that Debian's non-commercial status means decisions are driven by quality, not by marketing. In John's words, it "takes as long as it takes". John and fellow Debian team member Tom Ed White tell the story of the Debian 2.1 rollout as an example.

The rollout was scheduled to happen at Linuxworld Expo, complete with a party. But at the last minute, some bugs were found. Rather than issuing buggy software and fixing it with dribbleware, Debian delayed rollout by a week, blowing off the party and the potential publicity of the Linuxworld Expo. That week-delayed Debian 2.1 was rock solid.

John is the first to admit that Debian isn't for the raw newbie. It assumes moderate knowledge of GNU/Linux or Unix directories, files, etc. But it also isn't as brain straining as some media would have us believe. It comes with three levels of install/configure tools: dpkg, dselect, and apt. dpkg is an installation command whose arguments determine what gets installed/updated and from what media or net resource. dpkg is smart enough to resolve all package interdependencies, and (with suitable prompts) install dependent packages if necessary. Packages are in the form of .deb files. Both dselect and apt work by calling dpkg. dselect is a nice curses front end to dpkg. apt allows smart downloading. You tell apt what package(s) you want updated, and several alternative places to get it from (including both CD and ftp). apt then deduces the latest package, and after suitable prompting installs it.

John came to Debian after stints in OS2 and FreeBSD. He chose Debian because of its quality and stability. Once involved with Debian, he began reading the writings of Richard Stallman, and became committed to Free Software.

Most of us want to try Debian to be Copyleft Correct. And of course, you know Debian is 100% Free Software. When you're installing a few thousand machines and don't want license tracking hassles, that's a mighty powerful argument. Plus, after talking to John, I'm now looking forward to the additional benefit of superior quality.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.