Wrap your arms around the five biggest changes in the latest release of Debian -- everything you need to know about version 6 of the open source server OS.
Squeeze is the nickname of the latest Debian release (version 6.0). A new release of the well known and widely used Linux distro is a big deal. Ubuntu fans may be used to installing a new version what seems like every few minutes, but Debian moves to an altogether slower beat. Everything in a new release is thoroughly tried and tested, which explains why the last version -- Debian 5.0 "Lenny" -- debuted almost exactly two years ago.
Squeeze was officially released on February 6th, and here the 5 most important things to know about it:
1. Squeeze Isn't Exclusively Linux
One thing that's unusual about Squeeze is that it comes in two flavors: Debian GNU/Linux and Debian GNU/kFreeBSD. The latter is a "technology preview" server OS release for the 32- and 64-bit PC platforms, and it grafts the Debian userland onto the FreeBSD kernel instead of the Linux one. "The support of common server software is strong and combines the existing features of Linux-based Debian versions with the unique features known from the BSD world," is how Debian puts it. One advantage of Debian GNU/kFreeBSD, which may be more valuable when the variant becomes more mainstream, is support for the Zettabyte filesystem (ZFS).
2. Squeeze Linux Is Completely Free (as in Speech, Not Beer) and Stallman Friendly
If you're a Richard Stallman wannabe then you'll want to avoid any proprietary software at any cost -- even if it means that your hardware won't run. The folks at Debian are sensitive to this, and they have removed everything that isn't open source software available under the GPL, or other OSI-compliant free licence. That means that anything -- anything -- that isn't free has been removed from the Linux kernel. This includes problematic closed-source firmware files for some graphics cards and network adapters.
Given that vital pieces of hardware will not work without these files, they have been made available. They've just been banished to the non-free area of the Debian archive that is not enabled by default but where they can be accessed by those who really want or need them. They are also available on the unofficial Debian installation CDs. It's a practical approach that is a bit like a vegetarian restaurant storing hamburgers in the back for very hungry customers. Sensible or a sell-out? Take your pick.
3. Squeeze Includes 10,000 New Packages
Debian 6.0 includes more than 10,000 new packages like the browser Chromium, the monitoring solution Icinga, the package management front end Software Center, the network manager wicd, the Linux container tools lxc and the cluster framework Corosync, according to Debian.
Many other significant server OS packages have been updated, including PostgreSQL 8.4.6, MySQL 5.1.49, Apache 2.2.16, Tomcat 6.0.18, Asterisk 220.127.116.11 and Xen Hypervisor 4.0.1 (dom0 as well as domU support).
4. Squeeze Runs on Just About Anything
If you've ever looked at installing Linux open source servers on anything
out of the ordinary -- an old PowerPC based Mac or a PS3, for example -- you'll
know that not all Linux distros are up to the job. Debian 6.0 remains as versatile
as the best of them, running on nine different architectures, spanning everything
from handhelds to high-end servers. The architectures supported are: 32-bit
PC/Intel IA-32 (i386), 64-bit PC/ Intel EM64T/x86-64 (amd64), Motorola/IBM
PowerPC (powerpc), Sun/Oracle SPARC (sparc), MIPS (mips (big-endian) and mipsel
(little-endian), Intel Itanium (ia64), IBM S/390 (s390) and ARM EABI (armel).
If you've got an Alpha or PA-RISC machine you're out luck, as these are no
5. It Looks Like Debian's Got a Marketing Department
The evidence for this is the renaming of "Custom Debian Distributions," those specially packages distros tailored for specific markets: DebiChem for chemistry, Debian GIS for geographical information systems, Debian Med for biomedical research and so on.
So if they are no longer called "Custom Debian Distributions," what's the new name for them?
The answer: "Debian Pure Blends." For a distribution with a nice homely name like Debian, founded by boyfriend and girlfriend team Debra (Lynn) and Ian (Murdock) and steeped in Linuxey wholesomeness, Debian Pure Blends stinks of sharp suits and marketing consultants. Excuse me while I go outside and snigger.
Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.
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