Looking Back On 30 Years Of Debian

Debian Buzz (1.1) running under Bochs. (Credit: Thomas Stewart)

The early history of Linux is a rather murky period to most, long before the era of glitzy marketing and proclamations of ‘the Linux desktop’ being the next hot thing. This was also the era when the first Linux distributions were born, as the Linux kernel never came as a whole OS package – unlike the BSDs – which necessitated others to package it with the elements that make up kernel and user space, such as the GNU tools.

One of these original distributions was Debian, which this month celebrates its 30th birthday. Its entire history, starting with the initial 0.01 release is covered in great detail on the Debian website. After the first release of the Linux kernel in 1991, it would take until August of 1993 when [Ian Murdock] embarked on the Debian project, sponsored by the GNU Project of the Free Software Foundation. This was a pretty rough period, with much of 1994 spent figuring out the basics of the system, the package manager and establishing a release system.

After [Ian Murdock] left the Debian project, [Bruce Perens] would follow in his footsteps, with Debian 1.1 (“Buzz”) being the first release in the 1.x series on June 17th of 1996. This and each successive release would feature a character name from the ‘Toy Story’ movie alongside the increase in its version number. Notable is that ‘Sid’ is the name for the (rolling release) unstable branch, indicating the volatile nature of this branch, matching the destructive nature of the Sid character in Toy Story.

This year we saw the release of Debian 12 (“Bookworm”), with no sign of the project letting up after celebrating such a notable milestone. Interesting is also how many Debian-derived distributions exist today, with Ubuntu, Linux Mint and Raspberry Pi OS (previously Raspbian) ) being among the most well-known, yet existing alongside some of the original distribution lineages like Slackware and Red Hat. Although the Linux ecosystem is not as small and cozy as it was in the 1990s, it would seem that there is plenty of room for Debian to remain a solid foundation for most things Linux and FOSS operating systems.

Heading image: Debian Buzz (1.1) running under Bochs. (Credit: Thomas Stewart)

18 thoughts on “Looking Back On 30 Years Of Debian

  1. I’m merely utilizing Pubnix Online https://pubnix.com/ to carry out system administrative duties. I use email to interact with customers and colleagues, and the file-sharing function makes it easier to collaborate on projects. I have saved time and effort by automating administrative operations using the Unix Scripting Toolkit. The platform has first-rate support and documentation accessible. strongly advised for everyone.

    1. No, apt is not 30 years old, 25 maybe. It was introduced somewhere around Potato or Slink release. Before that we had dselect (yuck!) as frontend to dpkg. Damn, I’m old… :-)

      1. The minimum requirement would be to keep the same URL over time. Maybe this is too much to ask?

        Countless times i had to fix /etc/apt/sources.list to point to a working mirror when one new distro get released.

        1. If you point to the release “cname” of stable instead of the actual name you will almost never have to change sources.list

          But then you are at the mercy of the release schedule when the next release becomes “stable” and a huge number of updates are suddenly available – so you have to pick your poison.

        2. You could do incremental upgrades from Slink onward, and people have done it. However, in production it doesn’t make sense, you also need to upgrade hardware from time to time.
          You would have to do incremental upgrades, you can’t take Slink and upgrade it to Bookworm. This is note from current release documentation: “Only upgrades from Debian 11 (bullseye) are supported. … Please follow the instructions in the Release Notes for Debian 11 to upgrade to Debian 11 first if needed.”, and similar thing applies to all previous releases. There is no upgrade script that will work with some random previous release.
          One more note, for old releases you can’t use regular repository, archive repository is available on https://archive.debian.org/
          Before Slink introduced apt-get, upgrades were pain in the ass.

  2. i started with 0.93rc6 and then had to endure the ELF upgrade. the upgrade process didn’t go smoothly and i wound up untarring some packages manually in /, and i guess my umask was set to 777 because / or /lib wound up mode 0??? took me all day to figure that one out. gave me a bad feeling about upgrades but upgrades since then have been a lot more painless (not that i don’t get trapped in dependency hell every now and then, but i’ve become effective at brutally ‘correcting’ it). and that’s the thing i love about debian…i don’t have any idea how old any of my installs is…well, one of them i know is 20 years old this fall. but every one of them is in some oddball state of partially upgraded, using debian-unstable.

    once i had an update fail because of an undeclared major dependency. i talked to the package maintainer. he said there was a policy against using the dependency system properly. i love that i know he was wrong, simply because all my computers work most of the time even though i’ve still got a handful of packages from 2003. there have been a couple forced kernel upgrades along the journey, though.

    i have had to learn, if you sit down at a computer after a couple years, you have to run “apt update && apt install apt dpkg” right away. every 5 years or so they update the meta-data and so you cannot do updates with a stale apt/dpkg.

    i also had an argument…in 2000 i filed bug #61354, asking for dpkg –force-all, so i wouldn’t have to keep remembering if it’s –force-deps or –force-depends and all the other different –force-options. i lost the battle but eventually won the war. you can go check, dpkg –force-all is there today, and i use it every year or so.

    the only time they’ve let me down is switching to systemd. i can’t stomach it. some people say “it just works” and my hat’s off to them but it never worked for me…every computer that i let systemd install on developed problems which i couldn’t solve because of the opaque monolithic mentality of systemd. every simple thing required some sort of one-off hack in the c source to systemd, which someone had previously made, poorly documented, and then abandoned to rot. it was very frustrating. so i switched to devuan, showcasing the real strength of debian…the packages and dependencies work well enough you can mix-and-match. fantastic.

  3. Proud debian user since potato. I run ubuntu on my desktops, but debian on my servers. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Happy birthday to my favorite distro, long may you remain truly Free.

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