Debian GNU/Linux was first announced in 1993. Its founder, Ian Murdock, envisaged the creation of a completely non-commercial project developed by hundreds of volunteer developers in their spare time. With sceptics far outnumbering optimists at the time, it was destined to disintegrate and collapse, but the reality was very different. Debian not only survived, it thrived and, in less than a decade, it became the largest Linux distribution and possibly the largest collaborative software project ever created!
The success of Debian GNU/Linux can be illustrated by the following numbers. It is developed by over 1,000 volunteer developers, its software repositories contain more than 20,000 packages (compiled for 11 processor architectures), and it is responsible for inspiring over 120 Debian-based distributions and live CDs. These figures are unmatched by any other Linux-based operating system. The actual development of Debian takes place in three main branches (or four if one includes the bleeding-edge "experimental" branch) of increasing levels of stability: "unstable" (also known as "sid"), "testing" and "stable". This progressive integration and stabilisation of packages and features, together with the project's well-established quality control mechanisms, has earned Debian its reputation of being one of the best-tested and most bug-free distributions available today.
However, this lengthy and complex development style also has some drawbacks: the stable releases of Debian are not particularly up-to-date and they age rapidly, especially since new stable releases are only published once every 1 - 3 years. Those users who prefer the latest packages and technologies are forced to use the potentially buggy Debian testing or unstable branches. The highly democratic structures of Debian have led to controversial decisions and gave rise to infighting among the developers. This has contributed to stagnation and reluctance to make radical decisions that would take the project forward.
Pros: Very stable; remarkable quality control; includes over 20,000 software packages; supports more processor architectures than any other Linux distribution
Cons: Conservative - due to its support for many processor architectures, newest technologies are not always included; slow release cycle (one stable release every 1 - 3 years); discussions on developer mailing lists and blogs can be uncultured at times
Software package management: Advanced Package Tool (APT) using DEB packages
Available editions: Installation CD/DVD and live CD images for 11 processor architectures, including all 32-bit and 64-bit processors from Intel, AMD, Power and others
Suggested Debian-based alternatives: MEPIS Linux, Ubuntu, sidux. Damn Small Linux (for old computers), KNOPPIX (live CD), Dreamlinux (desktop), Elive (desktop with Enlightenment), Xandros (commercial), 64 Studio (multimedia)