But the emergence of Lenny, or version 5.0, on Saturday, February 14, will be tinged with some sadness as well, following the death of a developer in a tragic accident last year.
Debian project leader (DPL) Steve Mcintyre said: "We will be dedicating the Lenny release to our long-term contributor and friend Thiemo Seufer, who was tragically killed in a car accident in Germany on December 26 last year.
"He was responsible for much of the work on the Debian MIPS ports and was always happy to help, sharing his technical excellence and good humour with many of us over the years. Thiemo's tireless efforts in Debian and many other projects will be sorely missed."
Mcintyre said Lenny had much newer versions of all the major packages: GNOME, KDE, OpenOffice, the kernel, etc. "We've added a lot more improvements into our own projects like the installer, and (my own favourite, because I did the work!) for the first time we will be shipping Blu-ray images of Debian. Of course, there are a *huge* number of new and updated packages for our users to play with and I can't hope to do them all justice here," he said.
Asked whether he would be running for DPL again after having experienced a few stressful months when the project went through some major discussions about free software,, McIntyre said he was still undecided.
The discussions ended in a vote which resulted in the project secretary Manoj Srivastava resigning.
"The job is rewarding, but very stressful from time to time. I'm happy that I have achieved the goals I set out for myself when running as DPL for the first time, but I never really found enough time to take on the later things I was hoping for. Ask me again in a month or so when I've had more time to dither," McIntyre said.
McIntyre said former DPL, Australian Anthony Towns, who withdrew from some important roles in the project a few months back, did not appear to be interested in a central role right now.
"He's still carrying on with bits and pieces of development, but so far as I can tell he's not interested in a central role at the moment. I'd be delighted to be proven wrong on that, of course; as you say, he's a great developer," he said. (I had commented on the excellence of the debootstrap application, which Towns wrote; it is used to bootstrap a basic Debian system.)
"It's a part of the natural cycle for people to come and go from time to time, and it's common for them to get more involved again when their personal 'itches' start to attack again. Hopefully, he'll be back soon."
Asked whether it was a good idea to promote the idea of having people use the testing stream on their desktops/laptops rather than waiting for the stable release, McIntyre said it depended on each person's personal priorities.
"I know a lot of developers who run a mix of unstable and experimental on their own working machines, and equally I know a number who will only run stable. For my own laptop, I tend to have a stable base (along with a full set of chroots for development and testing) for quite a long time, as I'm used to Murphy's Law biting me otherwise.
"The last thing I want on my laptop is to find a blocking bug when I'm on a flight to a conference where I need to use it for a presentation! But then as we get closer to a release I typically move over to a testing base as I see all the exciting new features that I'm missing out on. Of course, it's very helpful for Debian to have more users running the newer distributions, so that they can find and report bugs for us."
Asked about the absence of the latest KDE in Lenny, he said the choice not to ship KDE4 in Lenny was taken by the KDE packaging team themselves. "They have already mentioned that they will drop KDE 4.2 into unstable and testing (and hence backports) as soon as possible after Lenny is released."
"It depends on what you want and what you use," was McIntyre's response when asked about the presence of annoying software like NetworkManager in the default Lenny install. "The packages that some people find critically important might be seen as mere bug-ridden trifles to others, but we deliberately want to provide a broad church here. Personally, I also don't have much time for NetworkManager.
"But I'm a bit of a stick-in-the-mud at times: I don't use any of the recognised desktops and I have an old FVWM config that I can trace back to its roots from 15 years ago. The fact that we can provide a single operating system with all the choices wanted by people from almost every camp is a major plus, in my opinion. I'll still go around and turn off the pieces I don't want on my machines."
He said there was no official policy on mono, the attempt by GNOME co-founder and Novell vice-president Miguel de Icaza to create an open source version of Microsoft's .NET development environment. Mono does not get installed when one chooses the standard desktop and base install for Lenny.
"The default installation is chosen quite carefully to fit on the CDs and DVDs, and that's more of a limiting factor than you might realise. Given that, there is a fair amount of mono software in the archive (and therefore on subsequent discs) for people who want to use it. After all, it's free software and we have developers who use and work on it daily. As you know, those are the main criteria that we need to be fulfilled for something to be in Debian."
McIntyre said the first things on the list for Squeeze, the next version, were the few release goals that were not achieved for Lenny. "Beyond that, we're going to carry on growing and collaborating more and more with our community," he said.
"I feel incredibly proud and honoured to be involved in Debian at this point just before a release. It's a wonderful thing to be part of such a large, dedicated team of people pulling together like this. We may not agree on absolutely everything, but the end result is great. I'm looking forwards to a busy weekend followed by some big celebrations."