Image31.Debian ? What's that ?

Debian (pronounce /ˈdɛbiən/) is an operating system libre (as in free speech), gratis (as in free beer) and an alternative solution to other proprietary and commercial systems (Microsoft Windows® or Apple OS® )

Debian allows your computer to function and offers you a a full set of Free Software , with their regular updates , for all the usual practices (surfing the Web, sending emails, playing multimedia files, doing office kind of tasks), and more …

This collection of Libre Software comes to a large extend from the GNU project 1 , launched on September 27 1983 by Richard M. Stallman 2 (friendly called RMS ).

The GNU project was still missing a kernel 3 when it was brought in 1991 by a finish student, Linus Torvalds 4 , who developed the Linux Kernel .

GNU & Tux by Péhä (CC-BY-SA)

And so, the distribution is called Debian GNU/Linux . It was started by Ian Murdock 5 (rip) in August 1993 as a new distribution with an open design, in the spirit of the Linux and GNU projects.

Debian text logo

Debian is carefully and thoroughly implemented, maintained, and administrated, which explains its reputation of great stability. Everything started with a little, but solid, group of free software hackers, which grew up to become a big and well organized community of developers and end user s.

Debian is developed by a thousand of volunteers 6 spread around the world 7 . Few of them actually had face-to-face meetings (In Real Life): they mainly communicate via electronic mails (distribution list on and IRC (channel #debian on

The Debian project , by itself, is a well defined structure 8 : for more information about what happens behind the scene, don't hesitate to browse the developer's corner 9 .

And to know everything about the whens' and the hows', please have a look at the historic details10.

1.1.Free software ?

So, Debian is a complete set of free software . But what is exactly a free software ? This concept was developed in the early 80's under the leadership of R.M. Stallman (yes the initiator of the GNU project) who created the Free Software Foundation .

FSF logo (cc-by-nd)

A free software gives the end user s the freedom in using , studying , sharing and modifying that software, without breaking the law (the 4 freedoms of the free software 11 ). To achieve this, it is necessary for the developer to distribute the source code and authorize the end- user to exercise its rights granted by a free license .

1.2.The social contract of Debian

Debian implements this principle in its Social Contract12, and particularly in the Free Software Guidelines13 according to Debian.

This contract states that the Debian project will contain only free Software . Thus, during the installation of a Debian distribution, neither non-free driver s will be install by default . However the contract recognizes that some user s might need "non-free" components to run their systems, like some peripheral driver s, or some applications decoding some music or video files, for example.

The project provides mechanisms and infrastructures (servers) to install as easily as possible these "non-free" components. The distributed software is separated in 3 sections:

One of the major interests of the free software is that it allows competent people to audit the program code, to insure notably that it does only what it is supposed to do. It is possible, for example, to verify that it does not send your personal data without your knowledge. So it is additional barrier to protect your privacy . 30

1.3.The universal operating system

Debian claims to be " The universal operating system ". Therefore, it is available for a very large number of computer types (often referred as architecture s chap.4.1 ). There are about 35 000 packages ( software are stored within packages ) covering all the needs, from web servers to computers in research labs, from medical imaging to personal computers , which will interest us here more specifically.

This large software variety offers choices that do not exist in the non-free operating system s (the desktop environment s for example) and allows the selection of the program which is the most suitable to your wishes, and also to the performance of your machine. Thereby it is possible to run ageing and/or poorly performing computers without the need to buy new computer equipments (save the planet 31 ).

Debian id developed very thoroughly. Every new stable version is carefully tested by user s before it is released. And this release happens when it is ready . Hence few maintenance work is required once the system is installed and facing problems is very rare.
However one implication of this methodology is that applications are available in relatively older versions than the one provided by distributions released at fixed dates, or continuously embedding new programs (referred as
rolling releases ).

Having said that, there are quick and simple means to obtain more up-to-date versions of your preferred applications. You will discover some of them in this handbook 32.

1.4.Debian and viruses

Like numerous other free distributions, Debian is not very sensitive to malware (like viruses Trojan horses, spyware …) and for several reasons:

First this large variety of software is available from repositories hosted on servers controlled by the project. Therefore, it is not necessary to search programs to be installed on dubious sites which distribute virus and unwanted programs in addition to the one you were looking for.

In addition, like with living organisms, the diversity of the various distributions makes difficult to write a virus able to function everywhere .

Finally, the administrator and the user rights are clearly separated, which helps a lot in limiting the damages: In case of a viral infection, only the user 's documents are affected. This clear separation of the rights limits also the risks of error made between the keyboard and the chair.

More details on the rights in chapter 3.7 .

33 The back-up of you data on a regular basis remains the best insurance to protect them against potential viruses or technical issues, but also against your own mistakes (chap.9).

1.5.Where to find help

Do you need help ? The first reflex, if you can, is to consult the documentation. Next comes the various user 's forums , and then a GNU/Linux Group (LUG), if you are lucky enough to be located nearby. There are also several events dedicated to the free software in various associations: you will be able to define appointments not far from your home by consulting agendas of the Libre software ( ).

The documentation embedded in the system itself: in general, the installed applications include a manual available from the command line ( chap.3.8 ) by typing man application_name and/or from the graphical menu with the "Help" button of the application.

The on-line documentation : when you use a GNU/Linux distribution like Debian, you can access a detailed on-line documentation, with a list of the functionalities of the embedded applications. Debian provides you an official documentation: .

Self-help and support forums : the free software community is divided into a host of forums , sites and blogs of information. To find your way in this abundance of communication is sometimes tricky, and you should rather prefer the sites dedicated to your own environment or distribution. Concerning Debian 2 main self-help forums are available to support you:

Associations and LUGs : if you are lucky, you are living not too far from a Linux users group or an association where members meet on a regular basis. In this case don't hesitate to pay them a visit for a little chat.

1.5.1.About forums, geeks, and the terminal

The self-help and support GNU/Linux community mainly consists of passionate volunteers 34 who share their knowledge with big pleasure. They are also very technical and are friendly called the geeks (usually wearing a beard) with several years of computer practice behind them. This experience leads them to master the terminal , which is the most efficient tool to manage a GNU/Linux system: therefore, the very first answers found on the forums will naturally be given in the form of a set of command line operations. Don't be scared: in most of the cases a graphical solution (using the mouse within a window) exists. Ask kindly and you will get an explanation 35 .

To be able to ask a question on a self-help and support forum you should usually register first. You need a valid email address to register with, and receive a confirmation request message, as well as your answers notifications once registered.

Before you ask a question , please remember to look first into the Questions/Answers already solved: most of the forum include a search function by keyword, which will help you find out if your problem is already described in there and has a documented solution.

Don't forget that a forum is usually maintained by volunteers , not to be confused with a post-sales customer service organization 36 .

1.6.Contribute to Debian

Contributing to a project like Debian may seem complicated, and to tell you the truth, contributing to the very heart of the distribution is rather complex.

However contributing does not always mean writing lines of code: participating to the Debian project can be accomplished at all the experience levels, from the end-user up to the top developers:

Participate to self-help forums of the community : this is the first manner to contribute. Being part of the community and answering questions when one can. All experience is valuable in the computer world, and even if you think that you are not at the right level, keep in mind that you surely know a trick which will be useful for somebody else.

Participate to the documentation : the Wikis, the manuals, what you are reading right now, are the reference mediums of the free distributions. So when you read a Wiki or a piece of documentation, if you spot an error, don't move on, but please spend the time to report it to the site administrators, or even better, join the redaction team and correct it yourself.

Participate to the translations : as a matter of fact, computers speak English natively. So, by necessity, manuals and documentation are written first in English. This could be a difficult hurdle to overcome for non-English speaking people. If you are fluent in another language, don't hesitate to contact the Debian project team, or even directly a software developer to propose a little translation of your own; it will be useful to a lot of people.

Mention Debian on your blog : it is a contribution … because the proprietary systems in place (Windows® and Apple®) completely took over the market, consumers don't even know, in general, that they could use different solutions.

Contributing to development can be done without coding: an very important contribution lies in filing bugs and reporting user s experiences. The Debian team cannot test everything and on all possible systems. Even if extreme care is devoted to the distribution quality, some bugs might still remain. Don't hesitate to report them: this helps a great lot !

1.7.Few links before moving on