The Linux world has a certain reputation for highly-opinionated people engaging in protracted debates about the merits of a particular application or approach to a problem. While some of these—such as the Mir vs. Wayland controversy—have been resolved, the faction of Linux veterans who insist on avoiding systemd have released Devuan 2.0.
Devuan is a fork of Debian that eschews the Red Hat-developed systemd init system in favor of alternatives such as sysvinit, among others. Unlike the Mir vs. Wayland controversy, the use of systemd has impacted enterprise servers, which have highly customized init scripts that are challenging to reimplement for systemd-powered systems, or otherwise break across upgrades.
Devuan, pronounced "dev one," is available for 32- and 64-bit PCs, with specialized ARM images available for certain Chromebooks, as well as the MeeGo-era Nokia N9, N900, and N950 phones, and the Motorola Droid 4. It's also available for single-board computers including the Raspberry Pi series, ODROID XU and XU4, BeagleBone Black, and Allwinner-powered boards with mainline U-Boot and Linux support, including variants of the Banana Pi and Orange Pi products. Current Debian Jessie and Stretch users can migrate directly to Devuan without needing to start from a fresh installation.
The distribution was endorsed by Linux veteran and Open Source Initiative co-founder Bruce Perens, commenting in a Slashdot post that: "I was the second Debian project leader. These days, I prefer to run Devuan, a true Debian derivative engineered the way I would probably have decided to make it. It's efficient and trouble-free."
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Complaints about systemd center around feature creep, as the project does not conform to the "do one thing and do it well" philosophy of Unix systems in general. Other aspects, such as having binary logs (as opposed to human-readable, text logs) have drawn criticism.
Part of the argument against systemd is also personal, as systemd creator Lennart Poettering claimed to have been the target of death threats in 2014. Similarly, ZDNet's J.A. Watson wrote an extensive guide in 2014 about developer criticism of systemd.
Despite this criticism, systemd has reached mainstream support, as it has been adopted by Debian, and its forks Ubuntu and Mint, as well as RHEL, CentOS, and Fedora; openSUSE and SLES, as well as Arch, Gentoo, and Mageia. Other distributions that have held out on adopting systemd include Alpine Linux and Slackware.
Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
- Devuan is available for PCs, as well as certain Chromebooks, smartphones, and single-board computers including the Raspberry Pi family of devices.
- In some cases, upgrading systems from a sysvinit start to systemd can break startup scripts, while Devuan offers more flexibility.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.