Better Know an OS: Debian GNU/Linux

In this series we'll look at various Linux distributions so you can make informed decisions about what's worth running.

Debian logo

Debian GNU/Linux, more usually just called “Debian,” is an operating system distribution or “distro” where the kernel can be either Linux or kFreeBSD (the FreeBSD kernel). Wikipedia notes that “… there are 1,276 times as many Linux users as there are kFreeBSD users.” Adventurous geeks might also like to try the unofficially supported multi-server microkernel called GNU HURD. The distro is free and open source mostly under the GNU General Public License.

The Debian project began in 1993 and the first release was in 1996. The most recent release, version 7.6, codenamed “Wheezy”, was released on July 12, 2014. The next release, version 8, codenamed “Jessie”, is currently in Beta 1 release.

Ports of Debian are available for Intel i386 and above, Alpha, ARM, Intel IA-64, Motorola 68k, MIPS, PA-RISC, PowerPC, Sparc, UltraSparc, IBM S/390, and Hitachi SuperH. The recommended minimum RAM for server implementations is 64MB although 256MB is recommended while 128MB minimum and 512MB is recommended for desktop systems. Installation is available through CD and DVD images and “live” systems can be booted from CD, DVD, or USB drives.

The default user interface is GNOME but KDE Software Compilation, Xfce, LXDE, and MATE are also available while Cinnamon will be officially available later this year. The recommended package management tool is apt. The default browser for Debian is called Iceweasel and is a fork of Firefox.

Debian WIkipedia

Debian "Squeeze" with LXDE and Cairo dock

Pure Blends and VMs

There are a number of "Pure Blends" of Debian designed for specific constituencies including: 

You can install Debian in a virtual machine  or download free, pre-built VirtualBox VMs from and Oracle, and VMware VMs from There’s also a VM for Debian 7 that’s configured specifically for neuroscience called NeuroDebian.

You can also run virtual machines on Debian with VirtualBox, VMware Server, and VMware Player. 

Why Use Debian?

The great things about Debian are that it’s got most of what you need to be productive out of the box (so to speak) and it’s really fast. It’s also very stable and manageable and backed by a well-organized development process and community. Debian isn't the most user-friendly distro without some polishing; for example, with the default desktop manager, GNOME, you have to perform updates from the command line using apt (the Xfce and KDE installs of Debian Wheezy include Synaptic, a graphical front-end for apt). Even so, Debian is so polished and stable that it's one of the best Linux distros available.  


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