Debian 6 Has A Few Rough Spots: Review

Open SourceSoftwareWorkspace

This latest release from the Debian project will play well in server deployments that draw on open-source components

Version 6 of Debian GNU/Linux, the popular open-source project that bills itself as “the universal operating system,” hit the Internet on ‘Superbowl Sunday’, packing a trove of updated applications and a pair of new editions to burnish its universal billing.

The distribution, which already stands out for its broad processor architecture support — spanning 12 architectures — branches out in version 6 with 32- and 64-bit editions based on the FreeBSD kernel. These new editions, while rough around the edges, open new opportunity for technology sharing among separate open-source operating systems and indicate that the project that gave birth to Ubuntu Linux continues to drive open source in new directions.

This latest release, which is also known by the Toy Story-inspired name “Squeeze,” will play well in server deployments that draw on open-source components, which the Debian project has a knack for packaging up for easy installation over one of the project’s repository mirror sites.

Debian 6.0 can also work well in a desktop role, particularly for users who wish to closely control the versions and configuration of the software on their machines. Debian is known, in its stable branch, for lagging behind the cutting edge in the versions of the software it ships, but once you become familiar with the distribution, it’s possible to mix in applications from the project’s testing, unstable and experimental branches to tune one’s environment.

GNU/kFreeBSD

The Debian 6 feature that I was most interested in checking out was the operating system’s new 32- and 64-bit FreeBSD kernel variants, both of which carry a “technology preview” label. While most Linux-based operating systems are simply called “Linux,” the Linux open-source project only produces the kernel of these operating systems — the code wrapped around the kernel is the product of many different projects, the most central of which is the GNU project, which produces the C library and the constellation of applications (known as “userland”) that makes Linux into a Unix-style operating system.

GNU/Linux and most Unix-style operating systems, including those distributed under an open-source license, tend to be licensed incompatibly with each other, which has kept nifty, open-source software advances, such as Sun’s DTrace instrumentation framework and ZFS storage system, from making their way into Linux-based operating systems, even as these features have spread into more compatibly licensed Unixes, such as FreeBSD.

Debian’s kFreeBSD flavour works around these licensing issues by marrying the GNU C library and userland with the kernel from FreeBSD 8. As a result, this version of Debian inherits the kernel features and hardware support of FreeBSD, while maintaining compatibility with most of the Debian software package catalogue.

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