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New Debian Delayed No More

The wait is over. After months of wrangling and various delays, Debian's new GNU/Linux distribution, code-named Sarge, has been officially released.

Members of the Debian community, including Ian Murdock and Bruce Perens, praised the release and vowed that the wait won't be as long next time.

Sarge has been in development for nearly three years since its predecessor Woody was first released. It supports 11 different chip architectures ranging from the common x86 to IBM's S390, Sun SPARC and HP Alpha.

Among the long list of new features in Sarge, and likely the first that most users will notice, is the new Debian installer.

The installer provides an easy-use mechanism to properly install Debian, which some had previously argued was somewhat less than friendly, especially in comparison to installers like Red Hat's Anaconda or SUSE's YAST.

Sarge is also notable in that it is the first Debian release to officially include OpenOffice.org (in this case version 1.1.3). The usual Linux/open source suspects of KDE (version 3.3), GNOME (version 2.8), Firefox (1.04), MySQL (4.0.24 and 4.1.11a), GCC (3.3.5), Python (2.3.5 and 2.4.1), Perl (5.8.4), Samba (3.0.14) and Apache (1.3.33 and 2.0.54) are among the hundreds of updated applications this release includes.

The Debian Sarge release was originally expected in September but was delayed because of a wide range of issues.

In April, the Debian community elected a new Debian Project Leader (DPL) who pledged to do whatever he could to get Sarge out the door.

Sarge's delay helped partially fuel the success of other Debian-based distributions, in particular Ubuntuas users wanted the latest Debian but didn't want to wait for the official Sarge release.

Ubuntu's CTO Matt Zimmerman does not think that Sarge's release will affect Ubuntu very much in terms of the development for the next Ubuntu release (5.10, due in October). However he did note the significance of Sarge's release for the whole Debian community.

"It is, of course, a great moral victory for the Debian community, and when Debian is strengthened, this benefits Ubuntu as well," Zimmerman told internetnews.com. "It is also possible that the release will create new opportunities for collaboration between Debian and Ubuntu, because at least for a time we will be in a similar phase of our release cycle."

The delay and long release cycle for Debian Sarge was a cause of much anxiety in the Debian world. Though according to open source luminary and former DPL Bruce Perens, Sarge was worth the wait.

"Sure, it's worth the wait, but we don't plan on having that sort of wait again," Perens told internetnews.com. "It's annual releases for Debian from now on."

Debian founding father, Ian Murdock also felt the pain of waiting for Sarge's official release.

"What Sarge is, is less important than the fact that it finally is, Murdock told internetnews.com. "The lack of an official release for so long has been a problem. No question."

Like Perens, Murdock sees the next big step as instituting a predictable release cycle for the next version of Debian.

"The duration isn't as important as the fact that it's predictable," Murdock said. "I firmly believe the Debian project needs to put this at the top of its agenda for the next release."

Though Debian itself is a community-based project, there are a number of efforts, including Perens' UserLinux and Murdock's Componentized Linux (Progeny Debian), which will take Sarge for a commercial spin.

Perens said that UserLinux will now be able to go ahead with the project as planned.

"The original premise of UserLinux -- a broadly supported version of Debian with all of the development going on within the Debian project, is still sound," Perens explained. "Now that there is a solid distribution to support, I'm able to build the support organization."

For Murdock and his company Progeny, Sarge is the center of the universe.

"We'll be updating our own Debian derivative [Componentized Linux] to use it over the next few weeks, and all of the custom distros we build from Debian here on out using Componentized Linux will be based on Sarge," Murdock said.

"We've been tracking Sarge for a long time already, but now we're based on the official version, and that's going to make the Debian compatibility story a whole lot easier to tell."