The History of Debian
On August 16, 1993, Ian Murdock first announced Debian while he was still a student at Purdue University. He originally called the system the “Debian Linux Release", and it was designed to be a better distribution system than the first Linux distribution system that was out, Softlanding Linux System, or SLS. When he announced Debian, he also released the Debian Manifesto, which outlined what his view was for the operating system, Debian. In this manifesto, he called for his new system to be maintained in a completely open manner, just like Linux.
While the project grew at a slow pace for the first few years, it finally released its first editions in 1994 and 1995. In 1995, the first ports to other architectures began, and it helped lead the way for Version 1.x to be released to the public in 1996. That same year, Ian Murdock was replaced by Bruce Perens as the project leader. Then, another developer, Ean Schuessler, made the suggestion that Debian should create a social contract with its users. He helped to organize the mailing lists into the Debian Social Contract and the Debian Free Software Guidelines. This helped to define the fundamental commitments that would guide the development of the distribution of the software. Mr. Schuessler also helped to create the legal umbrella organization called Software in the Public Interest.
Right before the 1998 release of the first glibc-based Debian 2.0, Bruce Perens left the project. It was then that the project elected two new leaders and released two new versions, both including several new ports and packages. When the Advanced Packaging Tool was released along with the first port to a non-Linux kernel, it paved the way for Debian GNU/Hurd to be released in 1999. This was the first Linux distribution system based on several different systems: Debian, Libranet, Stormix's Storm Linux, and Corel Linux. Even though these distributions are no longer being developed, they became the first of many great distributions that are based on the Debian system.
At the end of 2000, the Debian project decided to make some major changes to reorganize software archiving processes with new “package pools", thus creating a testing branch that would be an ongoing, stable staging area for the upcoming releases. It was also during this time that the developers of the system created an annual conference called DebConf that would provide special workshops and talks for those helping to develop the Debian system as well as those technical users interested in learning more about it.
Version 3.0 was released in 2002, and was codenamed Woody. It was a stable release which was not scheduled to get any major updates until the next release of 3.1, codenamed Sarge, in 2005. This part of the project drew a bunch of negative feedback from the free software community since there was a long period that would lapse between the two releases. So, Ubuntu was released in 2004 as a temporary fix to Debian. It was based on an idea that would help upgrade the management process to avoid the problems that Debian faced currently and help speed up its releases. After the release of Version 3.1, the next release didn't come until April of 2007, and was codenamed Etch. This was the official release of Debian GNU/Linux Version 4.0.
Early this year, a security researcher named Luciano Bello, revealed that he had discovered that the changes that were made in the 2006 release of the random number generator that was in the OpenSSL package made it extremely easy for Debian and other Debian-based systems to be vulnerable to a random number generator attack. While the hole in the security of Debian-based systems was quickly patched, it still cast a negative light on the way that Debian makes specific changes to the software that can reduce the quality of the newest version when compared to earlier versions.
So, for now, the latest version of Debian currently on the market is Debian GNU/Linux version 4.0, or Etch. There is a upcoming release codenamed Lenny, but there is no date for this yet. In the next part of this in-depth look at Debian, we will go through the different development procedures and how the releases are structured.