First look: Debian 6.0 Squeeze
Debian 6.0, alias Squeeze, has been nearly two years in development. The new version is the first completely free Stable Release – and also the first Debian distribution that not only has the Linux kernel, but also the FreeBSD kernel.
Debian 6.0 is the first completely free Stable Release; it only contains software published under GPL or other OSI-compliant free licences. Even firmware files whose source code is not published have been removed from the Debian distribution. Examples include some Advansys SCSI controllers, ATI and Matrox graphics cards, Ethernet adapters from 3Com and Broadcom, and various WLAN modules. The developers continue to administer such firmware, however, in the non-free repository so you can continue to use the Debian distribution if you need the firmware.
The packages in the non-free repository are intentionally left out of the official Debian CDs and DVDs to force users to decide whether they want to use non-free software – and encourage them to switch to hardware for which completely free drivers and firmware are available.
Most of the components affected are, however, usually needed for installation, and it would be hard to download missing firmware files for, say, network components. You will therefore want to have the Tar archive of non-free firmware files on a USB stick, just in case. The Debian Installer can automatically find and install what it needs from that archive.
Unofficial CDs with firmware
Another option is the unofficial Debian installation CDs containing the non-free firmware files. Updated only hours after the official release of Debian Squeeze, these unofficial installation CDs are based on the Stable Release but incorporate all the non-free firmware that was omitted from the official release CD images. The unofficial CD is most interesting as part of an administrator's emergency first aid kit; after all, you can't always pick the hardware when you need to quickly set up a new system.
The Debian Installer has not changed much since the previous version in Debian 5.0 Lenny. The text mode installer and graphical interface still contain the same dialogues. While that does make documentation easier and facilitate the work developers have to do in implementing the same functions across two installation methods, it also produces a confusing array of dialogues that you have to click through in the graphical installer. For partitioning, for instance, you have to click your way through a half a dozen different screen masks to create and format a partition, while most other distributions allow you to select options quickly from pull-down menus.
The Installer can now handle software RAIDs, LVM and encrypted partitions, and Debian 6.0 also supports the Ext4 and Btrfs file systems. Starting with version 6.0, Debian now also officially supports the ZFS file system for the first time, though only in the kFreeBSD architectures for i386 and amd64, which are now also part of a Stable Release for the first time in Squeeze.
Debian/kFreeBSD, which contains the FreeBSD kernel instead of the Linux kernel, currently still only has the status of a technical preview. At present, the system is only available for the i386 and amd64 platforms, and a large number of the packages in the main repository still have to be ported to Debian/kFreeBSD. For example, there is still no graphical installer, but otherwise Debian/kFreeBSD still looks exactly like the Linux-based version in the standard installation. The Debian/kFreeBSD port is to have the same support as each of the other nine platforms. At the same time, the Debian Project has abandoned the HPPA, Alpha and ARM platforms (but not Armel) upon publication of Squeeze.
The changes made in Debian Squeeze are modest, as is usual with Debian. The purpose of the Stable Release is primarily to be stable, so it is equipped with well tested software, not generally with brand-new versions. Here is a list of the main packages: Linux 2.6.32, X.Org 7.5, Gnome 2.30, KDE 4 with Plasma Workspaces, Iceweasel 3.5.16, Google Chrome, OpenOffice.org 3.2.1, GIMP 2.6.11 and Samba 3.5.6. Squeeze also includes current Xen version 4, which is ready for installation. The kernel, which has been adapted for operation as host (Domain-0), is based on pv_ops patches, however, and for this reason not every Xen function is available.
For netbooks and other computers without optical drives, the Debian developers have designed the first installation CD so that it can easily be transferred to a USB stick and booted from there without any further ado – in other words, you do not need to rewrite the boot code. Special live CD images are also available so you can launch Debian Squeeze without installing it, though you can also install it from these same CDs if need be.
If you have already installed Debian Linux, you can upgrade to the new version as usual by switching from the "lenny" to "squeeze" package sources and conducting a distribution upgrade. That generally works very well in practice.
By default, Debian 6.0 uses the Space Fun design of the GNOME desktop, which was made available on the Debian homepage, the wiki, and other project websites in time for the release. You can, however, also install the distribution with KDE, XFCE and LXDE; just pick your desktop during the installation medium's boot prompt.
The desktop is just what you would expect from a modern Linux distribution, including machine-specific adjustments such as the battery display for laptops in the top program bar. Whatever software was not copied onto your hard drive during installation can be added from Debian repositories in the usual way via the command line or the graphical package administration.
In Debian 6.0 Squeeze, the developers have finally realised their long-pursued goal of a completely free distribution. Thanks to the unofficial CD image containing all of the non-free components, users need not worry about deciding whether to remove all non-free software; they will simply be reminded that the software they are using is not free. Debian remains just as user-friendly and easy to navigate as before.