Debian 8—nicknamed “Jessie” after the cowgirl character in Toy Story 2 and 3—debuted last week, but it feels overdue. The release was in development within the Testing channel for quite a while, and, if you recall, Debian Linux consists of three major development branches: Stable, Testing, and Unstable. In order for a new iteration of Debian to officially go public, work must progress through each stage (starting in Unstable, ending in Stable). But it wasn’t until the official feature freeze for this release in November 2014 that the contents of Testing really became what you’ll actually find in Debian 8 today.
If all that sounds complicated and slow, that’s because it is. In fact, that’s kind of the point.
Debian Stable is designed to be, well, stable. The foundation of Debian is built upon long development cycles and a conservative approach to application updates.
So as a general rule, Debian Stable lags behind pretty much every other distro on the market when it comes to package updates. If you want the latest and greatest, Debian Stable simply isn’t the distro for you. While Debian 8 may bring a ton of new stuff to Debian, it has almost nothing the rest of the Linux world hasn’t been using for, in some cases, years. What’s more, many things in Debian 8 are still not going to be the latest available versions.
However, Debian 8 has one giant exception to that general rule: systemd. More on that momentarily.
Why use Debian? There are plenty of philosophical reasons: the legendary Debian social contract, the community, and all included software in the repos happens to be free (as in freedom), long a hallmark of Debian.
The more practical appeal of Debian lies in its legendary stability. I’ve been running Debian servers since 2005 (Sarge) and have never had a server crash. This dependability is part of the reason Debian is the base for dozens of downstream distros.
Not everything downstream uses the Stable channel as its base. In fact, it’s worth noting that perhaps the most famous project downstream from Debian, Ubuntu, is built off the package base in the Unstable channel. Still, Debian Stable remains one of the most popular Linux distros. This is particularly true for Web servers where, according to stats from W3Techs.com (which should be taken with a grain, if not a generous helping, of salt), Debian accounts for the largest percentage of Linux servers on the Web: 32.3 percent.
All of this makes Debian Stable updates a much bigger deal than faster moving distros like Ubuntu or Fedora.
And because Debian 8 makes the leap to systemd, the new version just might be the biggest change in Debian since the first release back in 1993. Debian is justifiably famous for being so stable you could blindly type apt-get dist-upgrade on a production box and get away with it. This time, though, there’s systemd to contend with.