Debian GNU/Linux, the open-source operating system that's proven more influential than any Linux flavor this side of Red Hat, recently hit the Internet's FTP mirrors in the form of an updated 5.0 release.
Version 5, which is also known by the Toy Story-inspired name "Lenny," sports the same excellent software management tools and broad processor architecture support that marked previous Debian releases. In addition, the new release includes a host of updates to the open-source components that comprise it.
Unlike the Debian 4 release that I last reviewed, which impressed me with its disk encryption leadership among rival Linux distributions, Lenny doesn't significantly advance the state of Debian or of Linux in general. Beyond its slate of software package refreshes, the best reason for existing Debian users to upgrade to the new version is that, as per the project's security policy, version 4 will fall out of security fix coverage one year after Lenny's Valentine's Day release date.
Stability and long life are frequently cited as the chief reasons for choosing Debian, particularly in server roles for which administrators might wish to "set and forget" their machines. However, the roughly three-year security fix window that applies to Debian releases falls short of the five years of coverage that Ubuntu offers for its Long Term Support releases, or the seven years that the similarly free-to-acquire CentOS derives from the Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases on which CentOS is based.
Still, Debian is a great fit for server deployments, and is particularly well-suited for hosting applications that draw on open-source components, such as Apache, MySQL, or any of the other thousands of applications that the Debian project has packaged up for easy installation over one of the project's many repository mirror sites.
I often turn to Debian as a foundation for assembling virtual servers for my testing, since the distribution's very good text-based installer makes it easy to spin Debian into whatever arbitrary sort of Linux server I seek, and since I find the configuration applets that come bundled with many Debian packages handy for setting up unfamiliar components.
Debian 5.0 can also work well in a desktop role, thanks in part to what appear to be contributions drawn from the Ubuntu Linux releases that are themselves based on a Debian foundation. For instance, during my Lenny testing, I recognized the system's Update Manager and Software Add/Remove tools from my use of Ubuntu.
Debian 5.0 defaults to GNOME 2.22.2 as its desktop environment, but offers KDE 3.5.10 and Xfce 4.4.2, among other, lesser known options, as desktop alternatives.
Finally, Debian's broad processor architecture support-which spans 12 architectures and sets the distribution apart from any other Linux flavor of which I'm aware-makes Debian a natural fit for the fast-growing class of embedded Linux implementations.
Debian is freely available for download from the Debian project or from one of its mirrors via www.us.debian.org. As a noncommercial entity, the Debian project doesn't offer support beyond community resources, although the project maintains a directory of companies offering support services here.
The entire Debian distribution, which includes all the freely redistributable packages in the project's main repository, spans 31 CDs or five DVDs. I typically download the distribution's 180MB network install image and pull down the packages I need from a friendly neighborhood mirror site.