The Debian Project

by C Mitchell

The goal of the Debian Project is to make a free, open source operating system that is available to everyone. The operating system, Debian GNU/Linux uses the Linux kernel (also a free and open source operating system) and . It can be used as both a desktop and a server operating system.

The Debian Project is governed by the Debian Constitution and the Social Contract, which lays out rules and guidelines for the project. It was, and still is, developed by more than one thousand volunteers from all around the world. Funding for the project comes from Software in the Public Interest, Inc. (SPI), a non-profit organization formed to help other organizations create and distribute free and open-source software and open-source hardware.


Debian was founded by Ian Murdock (1973-) on 16 August 1993. Murdock based the name off of a combination of his first name and his girlfriend’s first name, Debra, becoming Deb(ra)ian. The poor quality of an early version of Linux, the Softlanding Linux System, was one of the incentives for the project, or the "the Debian Linux Release", as he originally called it. That same year of 1973, Murdock wrote and published the Debian Manifesto, in which he discussed his plans for Debian, especially the operating system.

At first, the venture moved very slowly, releasing 0.9x version of Debian in 1994 and 1995. A year later, version 1.x version was released. That same year, Ian Murdock was replaced by Bruce Perens as project leader and the Debian Social Contract was established after a suggestion by Ean Schuessler, who later became an active participant in its initiation. The Debian Social Contract outlines the basic principles and morals of the company, see below. (from

1.“Debian will remain 100% free
We provide the guidelines that we use to determine if a work is free in the document entitled The Debian Free Software Guidelines. We promise that the Debian system and all its components will be free according to these guidelines. We will support people who create or use both free and non-free works on Debian. We will never make the system require the use of a non-free component.

2. We will give back to the free software community
When we write new components of the Debian system, we will license them in a manner consistent with the Debian Free Software Guidelines. We will make the best system we can, so that free works will be widely distributed and used. We will communicate things such as bug fixes, improvements and user requests to the upstream authors of works included in our system.

3. We will not hide problems
We will keep our entire bug report database open for public view at all times. Reports that people file online will promptly become visible to others.

4. Our priorities are our users and free software
We will be guided by the needs of our users and the free software community. We will place their interests first in our priorities. We will support the needs of our users for operation in many different kinds of computing environments. We will not object to non-free works that are intended to be used on Debian systems, or attempt to charge a fee to people who create or use such works. We will allow others to create distributions containing both the Debian system and other works, without any fee from us. In furtherance of these goals, we will provide an integrated system of high-quality materials with no legal restrictions that would prevent such uses of the system.

5. Works that do not meet our free software standards
We acknowledge that some of our users require the use of works that do not conform to the Debian Free Software Guidelines. We have created contrib and non-free areas in our archive for these works. The packages in these areas are not part of the Debian system, although they have been configured for use with Debian. We encourage CD manufacturers to read the licenses of the packages in these areas and determine if they can distribute the packages on their CDs. Thus, although non-free works are not a part of Debian, we support their use and provide infrastructure for non-free packages (such as our bug tracking system and mailing lists).”

A few years later, the first non-Linux kernel version was released, 2.0. Debian GNU/Hurd, using the GNU Hurd kernel instead of Linux. In 1999, the first operating systems to be based on Debian were released, Libranet, Corel Linux and Stormix's Storm Linux.

Version 3.0 was released in July of 2002 (called woody), and would not be updated until version 3.1 (sarge) was released in 2005. Debian 4.0 (etch) was released April 8, 2007, and the most recent, Debian 5.0 (lenny), was released February 14, 2009.

*In computer science, the kernel is the most basic part of an operating system. It deals with communication between system components.


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