Not your father's Debian

Debian 12

© Lead Image © Galina Peshkova,

© Lead Image © Galina Peshkova,

Article from Issue 274/2023

Debian 12 features install options, new packages, and a new position on non-free firmware, making it more accessible to the average user.

Installing Debian 12, codenamed Bookworm, I was struck by how much the distribution has changed in the 24 years since I first installed it (Figure 1). Around the turn of the millennium, Debian already had a formidable reputation. It was one of the half dozen leading distributions, but it was widely viewed as an expert's choice, and its developers were viewed as members of an elitist club obsessed with radical forms of governance. In fact, I once heard Eben Moglen, the lawyer behind the GNU General Public Licenses, describe the project as an example of syndicalist anarchism in action. By contrast, in 2023, Debian has mellowed, quietly becoming more accessible, with even its once notoriously vicious mailing lists functioning more responsibly.

Part of the reason for the change may be that while many of the original developers are still involved, they are now middle aged, rather than adolescents. A large part of the reason is likely the rise of Ubuntu, which from its first release in 2004 has been viewed as having many of Debian's advantages in a more user-friendly environment. In Ubuntu's early days, it even seemed that Ubuntu might replace Debian in popularity. But instead, many developers contributed to both Debian and Ubuntu. While remaining popular in its own right – consistently within the top 10 page hits on DistroWatch [1] – Debian gained influence as the foundation of other distributions, many of which, like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and MX Linux, became popular in their own right. Today, 122 of the distributions on DistroWatch, just under two-thirds of all distros, derive from Debian or a major derivative. Debian maintains a page on the DistroWatch site [2] and also develops the Med [3] and Astro [4] blends for specialist users, as well as Debian Edu for the classroom [5]. With such influence, a broader perspective was inevitable. I have found no sign that the strategy was deliberate, but the change could have come from no more than the changing interests of users.

Many aspects of Debian remain the same, of course. Like previous releases, Debian 12 comes approximately two years after the previous release and yet again increases what was already the largest assortment of packages. However, today's Debian has become more accessible than its predecessors in at least three major ways: installation, packages, and its non-free firmware policy.


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