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A new version of APT is coming to Debian 12

Like 'Bookworm' itself, software manager will have improved handling of non-free packages

The forthcoming "Bookworm" release of Debian, version 12, will include a new version of the APT packaging tools, with better handling of non-free software.

Debian releases are given code names from the Toy Story series of movies; Bookworm, if you're curious, was a "minor antagonist" from Toy Story 3. Debian 13 will be Trixie, and Debian 14 will be Forky.

The APT packaging system is "probably the best feature in Debian", as a commentator already observed back in 2004. APT is remarkably stable: the new release will be only version 2.6.0.

APT first arrived in Debian 2.1 Slink in 1999, and it has been a slow-moving and pretty stable project ever since. It took 15 years to reach version 1.0, released on April Fool's Day in 2014. APT 1.0 was also the version where the apt command first appeared, followed by its incorporation into Ubuntu 14.04.

(For comparison, automatic dependency resolution came to the Red Hat family when Fedora Core 1 included yum – co-developed by the late Seth Vidal – in 2003. It was replaced with DNF in Fedora 22 in 2015. Before this, installing a moderately-complex package on Red Hat Linux was a nightmarish process that could involve retrieving and manually installing many dozens of dependencies.)

The fixes in the new release are relatively modest. There's some refinement to the Czech language translation, some tweaks to the COPYING file to include some additional licenses, and better handling of the changelog subcommand.

The main change relates to handling of non-free firmware, which is Debian's term for the properietary firmware "blobs" (Binary Large Objects) that are needed for a lot of modern hardware to work. We have examined the problems of proprietary firmware before, as well as the impacts upon the Debian project in particular.

In essence, the increasing prevalence of proprietary firmware is due to industry-wide cost-cutting: it's cheaper to use a non-dedicated, general-purpose chip, running some small specialized program to enable it to do its job, than it is to design, implement and build bespoke custom hardware to do the same job.

That leads to a problem: your computer may not work fully until the operating system has downloaded various of these BLOBs into its various network interfaces, its GPU and so on. That in turn means that if the boot medium from which you install the computer doesn't include this firmware, then the new OS may not be able to connect to the Internet and go online to fetch what it needs.

As a result, Bookworm will be the first ever Debian release to include non-free firmware as standard. This is quite a big deal, and some of the changes involved are still working their way down the software stack… even though this release is already part of the way through the staged process of feature freeze. ®

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