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Debian is a computer operating system, much like Windows and Mac OS X. It's a particular flavour of Linux that includes additional software and utilities. Users choose it because it's much more convenient to have everything in one installer, rather than downloading things as and when required.

A Brief History of Debian

Originally founded in 1993, Debian has a long history which pre-dates the majority of the web - and the majority of other Linux distributions. Its founding developer was Ian Murdock, a German-born American software engineer, who named the software after his girlfriend at the time (Deb) and himself.

Ian made the first iteration of Debian formally available in 1996 and has had its fair share of controversy. In 2006, Mozilla announced that Firefox and Thunderbird couldn't be distributed with Debian because of the way the developers removed certain images, so they appear under codenames: Iceweasel and Icedove respectively. More recently, Debian has been forked to a new distribution, Devuan (pronounced 'Dev One'), because of a disagreement over how the OS boots up. Devuan will not include systemd.

Toy Story: No, Really

Interestingly, Debian has a rather unlikely connection to Pixar. Its versions are named after characters in the Toy Story movies, while its trunk is named after the bad boy next door, Sid.

Why? Project Leader Bruce Perens worked at Pixar for 12 years, and part of his time there overlapped with his time working on Debian. This explains this charmingly odd connection between the two.

Trivia fans note: the Debian logo may be a homage to Buzz Lightyear's facial hair.

Debian Pure Blends

There are now several versions of Debian, including Debian Live (which can be run from removable media). In addition, there are Pure Blends - versions developed for a specific user group. These include:

  • Debian Junior (for children up to age 8 - read more in this interview with Susanne Reininger)
  • Debian Med (for medical care applications)
  • Debian Edu (for schools and colleges)
  • Debian Accessibility, which includes support for braille devices, screen readers and more

Pure Blends focus on specific app categories.

What's Included With Regular Debian?

Debian is made up of the Linux or kFreeBSD kernel plus tens of thousands of extra software packages. The latest version has more than 37,000 additional tools and applications bundled right into the OS. Everything that is shipped with Debian is free.

Tools offered with Debian include some recognisable names, and some that will be entirely new to non-Linux users:

  • LibreOffice
  • Iceweasel (Firefox)
  • VLC
  • GIMP
  • QuickML
  • Cron
  • GNOME
  • Various language packs
  • Documentation for most of the utilities

    You can see a full list of packages on the Debian website.

    Trying Debian

    You can install Debian yourself on any compatible PC. It can be downloaded using P2P software, or you can install it from an official CD or DVD. Be warned that the CD version of Debian is distributed on 69 discs, so downloading the software is a sensible choice.

    If you don't want to install Debian, you can run it from a memory stick or optical media. For this, you must install the Debian Live version.

    Hosting For Debian

    The official hardware requirements for Debian are listed on its website. However, the page warns that it's impossible to give server specs since Debian has so many potential uses. It's best to rely on the guidance of your hosting provider.

    Everything that comes as part of Debian is free and open source, so you won't see additional fees being added to your web hosting bill. However, not all hosts offer a choice of Linux distribution: you'll often get whatever you're given, so look specifically for Debian hosting as an option when shopping around.

    If you're looking for a dedicated server, you'll have more choice in the type of Linux you can use, so there may be some room for negotiation.

  • Debian Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

    • What is Debian and why is it still relevant?

      Debian is a mature, Unix-like operating system, which has gone through numerous releases over the past two decades. The OS is still under development and receives regular updates. Due to long lifetime, frequent updates, and numerous awards, it remains a very popular Linux distro for servers.

    • What makes it different compared to other Linux distros?

      Debian has evolved to encompass various software suites and popular utilities, allowing users to install everything in one go, rather than download and add on additional components. Several different versions of Debian are available, which makes it suitable for certain niches.

    • What about those different versions, or flavors of Debian?

      Debian prefers to call some of them “Pure Blends”, as they are designed for a small and specific group of users, such as children or visually impaired users, healthcare institutions, schools, universities and so on. In addition to Pure Blends, different versions like Debian Live, which can be run from a USB stick, are available as well. Numerous different packages of Linux utilities can also be added.

    • Is Debian free? What about the add-on software packages?

      Yes, Debian is free and can be downloaded from various sources on the Internet, or via P2P networks. Debian is published under a DFSG compliant software license and is open source. All packages and applications bundled with Debian are free as well. In case you were wondering, almost 40,000 applications are available through different Debian software packages.

    • What sort of hardware do I need to use Debian?

      There is no simple answer – Debian comes in so many different versions aimed at a myriad of different use-cases that it’s practically impossible to come up with a straight answer. Under the bonnet, Debian is Linux, so it is very scalable and can run on ancient hardware as well as multiprocessor servers. Numerous architecture ports are available as well, in case you want to use Debian on specific types of hardware, such as AMD Opteron chips, ARM-based processors, or more exotic platforms like SPARC parts.

    • Do I need to watch out for something if I want to get a dedicated server for Debian?

      There is really not much to think about. Debian should have absolutely no trouble running on the vast majority of currently available dedicated servers. Numerous hosts offer Debian hosting plans and dedicated servers. You should have no trouble installing and running Debian on barebones servers, either.

    • I am not sure I need a dedicated server right now. What about Debian Virtual Private Server (VPS) offerings?

      A lot of reputable hosts offer different types of Debian VPS plans. These are usually based on virtualization platforms like VMWare, Xen, LinuxVserver, UserModeLinux, Virtuozzo, OpenVZ and so on. Many of these plans are geared towards developers or small businesses, so entry-level pricing tends to be relatively low. Cloud VPS options are available as well.

    • I’m just getting started and I need inexpensive shared Debian hosting. Are good shared plans available? What about reseller plans?

      You should have no trouble finding hosts offering Debian-based web hosting, all sorts of shared hosting plans, and of course reseller plans. Affordable cloud plans are available as well, and they could be an interesting alternative to traditional shared hosting.

    • I know Debian is popular, but why does it have so many different derivatives? Who are they for?

      Yes, more than a hundred Debian-based GNU/Linux distributions are available, and many of them have been tweaked for different niches, so there’s something for everyone. For example, there were attempts to create operating systems for video workstations or simple media centers. The Russian Army uses a Debian-based OS with improved security, while Valve uses SteamOS for gaming. Canonical’s Ubuntu, one of the most popular distributions, is also Debian-based.

    • A lot of people will have to tinker with our server and installed software, but English isn’t their first language. What about Debian localization?

      The Debian installer is available in more than 70 languages, but the actual level of localization depends on which language you choose. If you are interested in languages like Spanish, French, German, Portuguese or Russian, you should be in the clear. However, it all depends on your specific needs.

    • I know Debian is popular, but I also know there were some highly publicized vulnerabilities. What about security?

      A highly publicized OpenSSL vulnerability was discovered in 2008. Debian issued a patch, but it was difficult to implement since a lot of keys and certificates had to be regenerated. Debian tries to handle all security issues publicly and offers different levels of support for different releases.

    • What if I choose to install Debian on my own? How hard is it?

      Thanks to Debian’s popularity, comprehensive documentation and installation guides are available online. You should have no trouble finding the right one for you. However, if you are inexperienced and if this is your first time installing a server OS, you might do with a bit of expert advice.

    • Will choosing Debian over alternative operating systems negatively impact my hosting bill?

      No. Debian uses off-the-shelf technology and since it’s free, there is really nothing to worry about.

    • What are the downsides to using Debian?

      There aren’t too many, at least not from a hosting perspective. For example, Ubuntu is optimized to favor new technology and features, while Debian tends to lag behind, but focuses on stability as well. You also need to do a bit of research before you choose which version to install, and which packages.

    • What about Debian support?

      Debian.org offers limited support and features loads of useful documentation, guides and tips. However, since Debian is free, no commercial support is available.

    Our Latest Blog Posts On Debian

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