Named Devuan, the fork comes as a reaction to the Debian decision to adopt systemd as the default init system for its next release, Jessie.
"We believe this situation is also the result of a longer process leading to the take-over of Debian by the GNOME project agenda," the new project leaders said in a statement.
"Considering how far this has propagated today and the importance of Debian as a universal OS and base system in the distribution panorama, what is at stake is the future of GNU/Linux in a scenario of complete homogenisation and lock-in of all base distributions."
Debian has three streams of development – the current stable distribution Wheezy, the testing stream and the unstable stream. Systemd is operative in both the testing and unstable streams. The testing stream is the one that will be finally released as the next stable release, in the space of a few months if all goes well.
The ruckus over systemd has had quite an impact on the Debian project with three developers quitting the project's technical panel and another developer, Joey Hess, leaving the project altogether.
The Debian technical committee had decided, via the casting vote of panel chief Bdale Garbee, to adopt systemd, the init system developed by a team headed by Red Hat's Lennart Poettering, as the default for Jessie.
As the date for the freeze of the next release, 5 November, drew near, there was a push for reconsideration led by technical committee member Ian Jackson. This led to a general resolution which failed, meaning that the decision on systemd would remain in place.