The distinctive Debian logo swirl signals one of the most interesting and influential communities in the free software world. Debian is a community built around an explicit Social Contract and Free Software Guidelines. Their key work is the Debian family of GNU/Linux distributions, which run on a wide variety of architectures, including x86 (normal PCs to the rest of us), sparc, alpha and arm and a range of stabilities, including the iconically named stable and unstable.
The debian community is one of the oldest and largest in the free and open source world, founded prior to the coining of the phrase open source and having more than a thousand active members. Most of the effort is focused on packaging some fifteen thousand software packages to work as a single integrated system. This works so well that a number of projects have been founded to build on the work, including Debian-Med, Skolelinux, and Knoppix. These projects largely choose to base their work on Debian, rather than another Linux distribution, because Debian brings together such a large number of packages which they can pick and choose between. They can also choose between the stable version, which has mature, polished software with good security support, and unstable, which has all the latest and greatest software.
The Ubuntu distribution is also derived from Debian, with some considering it a fork (i.e. a derivative setting itself up in direct competition). Ubuntu have made it clear (here and here) that they do not consider themselves a fork. Debian is unlikely to take an official stance, but some individual debian developers feel some animosity, with substantial debate. What is clear, is that Ubuntu has access to resources to polish the user interface and end-user experience, and that if these can be channelled back into debian, both distributions will benefit from them.
Applications packaged for RedHat can often be installed on Debian using the tool alien.
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