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Yet Another Debian GNU/Linux Rant

Debian GNU/Linux has the reputation of being stable, but one question keeps coming up again and again: "is it too stable (to be useful in real-world applications)?"

According to the official Debian Web pages, Debian GNU/Linux 2.2 (a.k.a. Potato) was released on August 14th, 2000. Taking the freeze period of about 6 months into account, most software included in Debian 2.2 is now about 2 years old. Meaning, you get an outdated Linux kernel (2.2.x, although there are inofficial support packages for 2.4 kernels), an outdated Web server (Apache 1.3.9 and PHP 4.0.3pl1) and an almost unusable GUI (XFree 3.3.6 and GNOME 1.0.5x -- KDE isn't even included).

What can it be used for?

"So what can it be used for?" you might ask. Actually, I don't really know the answer either. I wouldn't use it as a file server because of the lack of support for journalling file systems like SGI XFS, Reiserfs, Ext3 or IBM JFS. But I wouldn't trust it as an Internet server or firewall either because it doesn't support iptable's stateful packet filtering. And with it's ancient GNOME packages it's really unusable as a desktop system.

But I have to admit that using a stable Debian base system and updating specific packages works quite well for me. Unfortunately, just using the latest version of a server package isn't as easy as it could be. All currently available binary packages depend on a more recent glibc and some other stuff that isn't included in Debian 2.2. So the only way to get a current server package is to grab the source code and compile it yourself. To make matters worse, just using the Debian source package doesn't work most of the time either because it usually also depends on later versions of the Debian build tools (debhelper) which itself depends on the latest and greatest Perl version which also isn't available for Debian 2.2. (Well, some packages will compile out of the box on your Debian stable box, but most won't.)

Is there a solution?

I think there might be solution, though. Start a new project that only backports current version of the most important packages to Debian stable with the minimum possible impact on the rest of the system (with the minimum reasonable new dependencies).

And what will the future bring us?

Actually, I don't know, but I am afraid it won't be much better. Debian 3.0 will be released in a few months, probably May or June. And guess what, the default compiler will be gcc 2.95.x instead of gcc 3.0.x (or even 3.1). With Debian 3.1 expected not before summer 2003 I guess Debian GNU/Linux will get less and less attractive for serious C++ developers (I know that there are already optional gcc 3.0 packages included in the testing and unstable branches, but I am afraid using gcc 2.95.x as the default compiler will cause too much confusion).



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Christof Meerwald <cmeerw@cmeerw.org>
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