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= "a GNU/Linux operating system composed almost entirely of free software" Linux Distro.


By By Molly de Blanc, Mathieu O’Neil, Mahin Raissi et al.:

"Debian is a GNU/Linux operating system composed almost entirely of free software, originally released in 1993 by Ian Murdock. The project has grown to the extent that between January and May of 2017, 1,368 individuals contributed to the project (Debian Contributor list, 2017). The Debian Project supports a robust community, across more than 60 countries (Perrier, 2014). The Debian operating system is also used all over the world, as well as in the International Space Station (Bridgewater, 2013). Debian is a remarkable EMO, whose robustness and strict adherence to the principles of free software have made it legendary. It also has a highly developed governance structure: Debian has adopted a Social Contract spelling out the project’s goals. Its Constitution defines the process whereby every Developer can launch a petition (‘General Resolution’) to amend it, as well as procedures governing the yearly election of the Debian Project Leader (DPL). DPLs have no powers of control: their role is one of external representation and of synthesis of new proposals (O’Neil 2009, 2014). As the Debian project offers no formal contracts for development or support, it can be assumed that there are people getting paid to work on or implement Debian by their employers. Indeed it is ‘common knowledge’ among Debian Developers (a type of status within the project that denotes formal membership and also grants the right to vote on major project-wide decisions), that participation in Debian will result in a contributor being targeted for recruitment by companies, including Google." (


Mike Chege:

"On 16 August 1993, Ian Murdock, an undergraduate student at Purdue University, announced the “Debian Linux Release” (Murdock 1993). The development of Debian came as a result of Murdock’s disenchantment with GNU/Linux distributions at the time. According to Murdock, though many distributions had started out as fairly good systems, as time passed, attention to maintaining the distribution became a secondary concern (Murdock, 1994). Murdock gave the example of the Softlanding Linux System (SLS) which he described as possibly the most popular distribution at the time. Unfortunately, according to Murdock, SLS was also “quite possibly the most bug–ridden and badly maintained Linux distribution available.” This meant that GNU/Linux users were being subjected to an inferior product and their bad experiences were bound to undermine the prospects of GNU/Linux. To Murdock, the time had come “to concentrate on the future of Linux rather than on the destructive goal of enriching oneself at the expense of the entire Linux community and its future.” The primary purpose of the Debian project therefore was to create a distribution that would “live up to the Linux name” by being carefully and conscientiously assembled, maintained and supported.

Another important aspect of Murdock’s plan was that unlike other distributions “which are developed by individuals, small, closed groups, or commercial vendors”, Debian was to be developed cooperatively by many individuals through the Internet, in the same spirit as the Linux kernel and other free software. This “open process,” Murdock believed, would ensure that the system was of the highest quality and that it reflected the needs of the user community rather than the needs and wants of the constructor.

Finally, for users who were not in a position to download the distribution from the Internet, Debian was to be made available on physical media at little more than cost, and any profits earned would be used to support the further development of free software.

It was an ambitious plan, but thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of Ian Murdock and the others who succeeded him in the role of Debian project leader, Debian grew from a single PC under a student’s desk at Purdue University, to paraphrase Bdale Garbee (2007), to become a large, worldwide community of developers and users. Currently, the project boasts more than 1,400 developers in over 40 countries collaborating via the Internet, and even though no one gets paid to work on Debian, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is no shortage of applicants wishing to become developers.

Debian is also by far the largest GNU/Linux distribution. Based on source lines of code (SLOC) analysis, the estimated size of the latest release, Debian 4.0, amounts to close to 283 million source lines of code (Amor, et al., 2007). Using the Constructive Cost Model (COCOMO) to estimate the effort and cost that would be involved in building a system the size of Debian 4.0 from scratch, we get an effort equivalent to 73,000 person years and a cost of around US$10 billion (Amor, et al., 2007). The Debian project therefore represents a monumental effort of wealth creation which is barely reflected in the economic statistics, a perfect example of the Midas fallacy.

But size is not the only noteworthy thing about Debian. Thanks to its reputation for stability, which owes much to its stringent quality assurance procedures, many major organizations around the world now rely on Debian. Examples include the Municipal Council of the City of Munich, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and Genome Research Cluster at the Sanger Institute, which is the single largest contributor to the public Human Genome Project. Telegraaf Media ICT BV, which runs some of the most popular Dutch Web sites as well as the two biggest newspapers in the Netherlands, also runs its internet infrastructure on Debian. But perhaps most impressive of all is the claim by Bdale Garbee (2007) that there’s a 30 percent chance that anyone making a cell phone call anywhere in the world will be relying on Debian in some way. This is because HP, which is a major hardware vendor for telecommunications service providers, installs Debian on much of the hardware that it ships.

Debian, like free and open source software in general, appears to defy our preconceptions about how the economy should work. For here is a large and intricate software system which is being developed by a loosely coordinated, globally dispersed community of volunteers, it is being given away for free, and yet it is so highly regarded that major organizations are willing to trust it with some of their most critical operations. One could perhaps say that Debian is proof that the community model can work just as well as the commercial model. But questions about the sustainability of the community model still remain and we will have more to say about the subject shortly." (

More Information

See also:

  1. Women in Open Source - Debian
  2. Debian's Free Software Guidelines
  3. Study on Debian Governance and Social Organization
  4. Debian Constitution
  5. Debian - Governance


  1. Murdock, Ian. 1994b. “Overview of the Debian GNU/Linux System,” Linux Journal 6es: Article No. 15(October).
  2. Murdock, Ian 1994c. “The Open Development of Debian,” Linux Journal 3es: Article No. 7(June-July).
  3. Murdock, Ian 2003. “Debian: A Brief Retrospective,”‹›.
  4. I. Murdock, 1994. “A brief history of Debian. Appendix A — The Debian Manifesto” (1 June), at, attached 13 December 2008.

Also, from an article by Mike Chege:

  1. Debian, “Who’s using Debian?” at, attached 13 December 2008.
  2. L. Nussbaum, 2008. “4 months and 10 days without any new Debian developer. Is Debian dying?” (15 April), at, attached 13 December 2008.
  3. G. Robles, J.M. Gonzalez–Barahona, and M. Michlmayr, 2005. “Evolution of volunteer participation in Libre Software projects: Evidence from Debian,” In: M. Scotto and G. Succi (editors). Proceedings of the First International Conference on Open Source Systems, pp. 100–107, at, attached 13 December 2008.