Debian 5's Five Best Features

Despite delays and internal arguments, Debian 5, Lenny, has finally arrived, and it's a darn nice Linux distribution.

You don't have to take my word for it. Consider what Warren Woodford, the well-regarded Linux developer, who uses Debian for the foundation of his SimplyMEPIS Linux distribution, has to say. Woodford, who switched MEPIS' cornerstone distribution from Ubuntu to Debian in 2007, said, "Behind the scenes, MEPIS is being used more and more in demanding environments, so I was happy the Debian teams decided to use the hardening features in gcc to increase the security of Debian in Lenny."

Woodford added, "I know a lot of our users were happy that Debian decided to continue supporting KDE 3.5. They like what they have and don't want to be forced to learn the KDE 4 look and feel."

Even when Debian doesn't get it quite right, from where Woodford sits, he still praises Debian for making it easy to add features. "I think it would have been good for Debian if they could have bent their "freeze" rules and included Bind 9.6 [Berkeley Internet Name Domain-the program that runs the Internet's master address system: DNS (Domain Name System)]. But thanks to the flexibility of using a the Debian core, it was easy for us to add Bind 9.6 to MEPIS 8.0 for users who need to comply with the US OMB (Office of Management and Budget) mandate for DNSsec (DNS security extensions) support."

That's what Woodford likes about the new Debian. Here are my five favorite features in Lenny.

1) 7.3 integration. It used to be setting up your screen in Linux was a real pain-in-the-rump. With 7.3 the X-server behind Linux's most common GUIs (graphical user interfaces), the program automatically take care of setting up your display resolution.

2) Renewed emphasis on security. In the not-to-distant past, Debian put its foot into it with a major OpenSSL security screw-up. Unlike some groups, say Microsoft, which never seems to learn security lessons, Debian's developers worked hard to improve the distribution's security.

In Lenny, for example, after you install it, the operating system automatically downloads all available security patches before its first boot. Lenny also includes other security hardening features such as reducing the number of default open network ports and including optional security patches like PHP's Suhosin security system.

3) Debian is now Java friendly. The Linux distribution now includes Sun's OpenJDK; the GNU Java compiler and Java bytecode interpreter; and Classpath, an open-source collection of Java libraries. What all this means for users is that you can now use most Java-based programs in Debian. Some of these are already available in Debian's software repositories, so you can quickly use these programs.

4) Debian makes open-source players and viewers available for some proprietary media formats. It's gotten easier to access proprietary videos and the like on Linux with programs like Moonshine and Moonlight. Since these programs require accepting some proprietary bits, some users don't want a thing to do with them. For these users, Debian's integrated support of Flash video with swfdec or Gnash will be very welcome indeed.

5) You can run Debian on anything. And, I mean anything. Sure, if you're a developer you can get Linux to run on any system under the sun. For example you can get Linux to run on an iPhone or a Microsoft xBox 360. But, if you're not a programmer and you want to run Linux on a Sun SPARC server, an HP Alpha server, an IBM s/390 mainframe on the big iron side to a lightweight ARM Cortex-powered netbook or a Marvell Orion-powered HP Media Vault mv2120 storage device, Debian will run on it. This is pretty darn handy whether you're upgrading your servers or just want one common interface across your entire office's computer collection.

Put it all-together, and you've got a heck of a solid and attractive Linux distribution. Give Lenny a try; I think you'll like him.

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