The big 2-0. Debian was the 2nd Linux I cut my teeth on, the first being Slackware 3.x. I switched to Debian 2.0 (hamm) in 1998 when it first came out. This was before apt existed (I think that was Debian 2.2 but not sure). I still remember the torture that was dselect, and much to my own horror dselect apparently still lives. Though I had to apt-get install it. It was torture because I literally spent 4-6 hours going through the packages selecting them one at a time. There may of been an easier way to do it back then I'm not sure, I was still new to the system.
I have been with Debian ever since, hard to believe it's been about 15 years since I first installed it. I have, with only one exception stuck to stable the entire time. The exception I think was in between 2.2 and 3.0, I think that delay was quite large so I spent some time on the testing distribution. Unlike my early days running Linux I no longer care about the bleeding edge. Perhaps because the bleeding edge isn't as important as it once was(to get basic functionality out of the system for example).
Debian has never failed me during a software update, or even major software upgrade. Some of the upgrades were painful (not Debian's fault - for example going from Cyrus IMAP 1.x to 2.x was really painful). I do not have any systems that have lasted long enough to traverse more than one or two major system upgrades, hardware always gets retired. But unlike some other distributions major upgrades were fully supported and worked quite well.
I intentionally avoided Red Hat in my early days specifically because it was deemed easier to use. I started with Slackware, and then Debian. I spent hours compiling things whether it was X11, KDE 0.x, QT, GTK, Gnome, GIMP.. I built my own kernels from source, even with some custom patches(haven't seriously done this since Linux 2.2). I learned a lot, I guess you could say the hard way. Which is why in part I do struggle on advising people who want to learn Linux what the best way is(books, training etc). I don't know since I did it another way, a way that takes many years. Most people don't have that kind of patience. At the time of course I really didn't realize those skills would become so valuable later in life it was more of a personal challenge for myself I suppose.
I have used a few variants/forks of Debian over the years, most recently of course being Ubuntu. I have used Ubuntu exclusively on my laptops going back several years(perhaps even to 2006 I don't remember). I have supported Ubuntu in server environments for the past roughly three years. I mainly chose Ubuntu for the laptops and desktops for the obvious reason - hardware compatibility. Debian (stable) of course tends to lag behind hardware support. Though these days I'm still happy running Ubuntu 10.04 LTS desktop .. which is EOL now. Haven't decided what my next move is, not really thinking about it since what I have works fine still. Probably think more whenever I get my next hardware refresh.
I also briefly used Corel Linux, of which I still have the inflatable Corel penguin sitting on my desk at work it has followed me to every job for the past 13 years, still keeps it's air. I don't know why I have kept it for so long. Corel Linux was interesting in that they ported some of their own windows apps over to Linux with Wine, their office suite and some graphics programs. They made a custom KDE file manager if I recall right(with built in CIFS/SMB support if I recall right). Other than that it wasn't much to write home about. Like most things on Linux the desktop apps were very fragile, obviously closed source and so did not last long(compatibility wise could not run them on other systems) after Corel Linux folded. My early Debian systems that I used as desktops at least got butchered by me installing custom stuff on top of them. Linux works best when you stick with the OS packages, and that's something I did not do in the early days. These days I go to semi extreme lengths to make sure everything (within my abilities) is packaged in a Debian package before installation.
I used to participate a lot in the debian-user mailing list eons ago, though haven't since due to lack of time. At the time at least that list had massive volume, it was just insane the amount of email I got from it. Looking now, comparing August 2013 roughly 1,300 messages, vs August 2001 almost 6,000! Even more so the spam I got long after I unsubscribed. It persisted for years until I terminated the email address associated with that list. I credit one job offer a bit over ten years ago now to my participation on that(and other) mailing lists at the time, as I specifically called them out in my references.
That being said, despite my devotion to Debian on my home systems (servers at least, this blog runs on Debian 7), I still do prefer Red Hat for commercial/larger scale stuff. Even with the past three years supporting Ubuntu the experience has been ok, I still like RH more. At the same time I do not like RH for my own personal use. It basically comes down to how the system is managed. I was going to go into reasons why I like RH more for this or that, but decided not to since it is off topic for this post.
I've never seen Toy Story - the movie characters Debian has used to name it's releases after since at least 2.0 perhaps longer. Not really my kind of flick, have no intention of ever seeing it really.
Here's a really old screen shot from my system back in the day. I don't remember if this is Slackware or Debian, the kernel being compiled 2.1.121 came out in September 1998, so right about the time I made the switch. Looks like I am compiling Gimp 1.01, some version of XFree86, and downloading a KDE snapshot (I think all of that was pre 1.0 KDE). And look, xfishtank in the background! I miss that. These days Gnome and KDE take over the root window making things like xfishtank not visible when using them (last I tried at least). xpenguins is another cool one that does still work with GNOME.
So, happy 20th birthday Debian, it has been interesting to watch you grow up, and it's nice to see your still going strong.