Debian Users Guide

Peter Kitson

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Sample Chapter From Debian Users Guide
     Copyright © Progeny Linux Systems, Inc.



Introducing Debian

This user guide is a touched-up debiandoc-sgml version of "Progeny Debian Manual".

Please also refer to FAQ (http://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/debian-faq/), APT HOWTO (http://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/apt-howto/), Debian reference (http://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/quick-reference/), and other documents in Debian Documentation Project (http://www.debian.org/doc/).

Debian is a version of the Debian GNU /Linux operating system. The CDs that come with this manual contain not only a complete operating system, but also the tools for most computing needs.

If you want an even larger selection of software, you can download it for free from the Debian web site (http://www.debian.org/).

This manual is designed to get started with Debian. It is also designed for use in front of your computer.

The manual does not assume that you are an expert. However, it does assume that you have used computers before, and want to transfer your skills to Linux.

At the very least, you are assumed to be willing to learn. Linux tools have come a long way in the last few years, but Linux is still built with a do-it-yourself philosophy. While you can ignore this philosophy, adapting it can bring a sense of power and control to your computing. If you master this manual, you will still not be an expert. To cover Linux completely requires hundreds of pages. However, you will be able to configure the basic parts of your system and be ready to explore Linux on your own.

 

1.1 Learning About Linux

Linux (http://www.linux.org/) is an operating system: a series of programs that let you interact with your computer and run other programs.

Linux is modelled on the unix operating system. From the start, Linux was designed to be a multi-tasking, multi-user system. These facts are enough to make Linux different from other well-known operating systems.

However, Linux is even more different than you might imagine. In contrast to other operating systems, nobody owns Linux. Much of its development is done by unpaid volunteers.

Development of what later became Linux began in 1984, when the GNU Free Software Foundation (http://www.gnu.org/) began development of a free unix -like operating system. Linux’s name is derived from that of Linus Torvalds, who began development of a unix -like kernel in 1991.

While many groups and individuals have contributed to Linux, the largest single contributor is still the Free Software Foundation, which created not only most of the tools used in Linux, but also the philosophy and the community that made Linux possible.

Linux is released under the GNU General Public License ( GPL ). Unlike most software licenses, the GPL encourages users to freely copy, change, and distribute source code.

For the Free Software Foundation, the emphasis of the GPL is on free software as a philosophical right. The group that focuses on applying the ideals in the GPL to business solutions is called the Open Source movement. Its emphasis is on the faster development and higher quality of software released under a public licence. However, to outsiders, these differences are mainly a matter of emphasis.

Although the GPL is often said to encourage fragmentation, Linux remains more or less standardized for several reasons.

First, final approval of changes to the kernel are overseen by Linus Torvalds and his closest associates, especially Allan Cox.

Second, Linux is released in different versions or distributions. Some distributions, like Debian, are volunteer efforts. Others, like Progeny, are commercial. However, all programs are kept as compatible as possible within the same distribution. Many programs also work with other distributions, or can be made to work with a little effort.

Third, volunteer software projects are usually coordinated by informal project managers known as maintainers. Although anyone can write improvements to a piece of software, the maintainer makes the final decision about which improvements become an official part of the project. Usually, the maintainer makes these decisions after consulting the leading contributors to the project.

These mechanisms are loose enough that Linux users still have immense freedom of choice in their software. For example, Linux users can choose from a dozen different command line shells and several graphical desktops. This selection is often bewildering to users of other operating systems, who are not used to thinking of the command line or desktop as something that they can change.

In addition to software selection, Linux is less likely to crash, better able to run more than one program at the same time, and more secure than many operating systems. With these advantages, Linux is the fastest growing operating system in the server market. More recently, Linux has begun to be popular among home and business users as well.