posted by Adam S on Wed 30th Apr 2003 07:26 UTC
IconLately, we've all read a lot of articles about desktop Linux - so many that it's getting hard to tell them apart. One says "Why Linux Sucks," the next "My Success With Linux." Even Michael Robertson of joined the fun with his "Why Desktop Linux Sucks, Today." But very few people have proposed anything radical, and I believe that's what's needed to take GNU/Linux to the next level.

The polish that Red Hat and Mandrake have added to their consumer-grade Linux offerings have meant a lot to users like me, those who use it as their main desktop OS. Finally, these distributions are starting to look like a professional quality operating system. One of the main problems, the way I see it, is what I call "marketspace crowding." There are so many distributions, so many flavors that are, when it really boils down to it, just semi-clones of one another with one good tool or one little tweak added or modified. The idea of roll-your-own distribution has left the market saturated with many similar distributions, and even those "in the know" don't know how to properly choose a distribution. The solution should be to make your distribution stand out, and in order to do that, you can take advantage of the opportunity to do some things right.

So, if I had the capital and connections to make a new distribution, I'd take full advantage of the opportunity. The market doesn't need another carbon copy of the current Linux market leaders. It needs something new, something fresh, something that really rocks the Linux community's world. So I'm in charge of my own personal Linux distribution, DistroX, and here's what I'm telling my staff and engineers.

Let's start by delving right into it: let's address some Unix-wide issues, that will make our development unique. The file system is a nightmare for a normal user. This has been covered in exhaustive detail by hundreds of articles, but if I'm going to run my own distribution, I'm going to make a sensible directory structure: /users, /apps, /system, /hardware, /downloads, /logs, /servers, /shared, and more. Then, using symlinks, we're going to recreate the current basic layout of the standard Linux/BSD filesystem to assist developers in porting applications. For example, our system would probably include the following the symlinks:

/home -> /users
/var -> /logs
/var/www -> /system/websites/
/etc/httpd - > /servers/httpd/
/dev/hdc -> /hardware/cdrom/
/mnt -> /hardware/drives/

This will encourage new users to explore their computer, not fear it, as many do. Apple has this right - Mac OS X's file system is human readable, and not intimidating at all. [Note: The above symlinks are just used to illustrate the mimicked filesystem, not final decisions. Please don't comment on the actual links referenced above]

The next idea is fairly controversial, and it comes in two parts: first, our goal is not necessarily to follow LSB guidelines, nor to be compatible with other distributions. Our goal is ease. Dropping legacy support and not being dependant on RPMs will open up the doorway for my engineers to revolutionize Linux software installation. Again, this topic has been discussed in detail in the past, so I won't get into the specifics, but a drag-and-drop software install/uninstall is clearly the preferred method by desktop users. I barely know hown to uninstall software on Linux past "rpm -e program" and on Windows, my control panel used to be filled with a number of programs whose uninstall failed, and in the process, wiped out that single .ini file that directed the uninstall (to get rid of them, registry tweaking was necessary). The second part of this step is to set up an actively developed software repository on the internet. Users aren't stupid, they don't need a hand holding front end, but they do need easy access to programs, and an online facility dedicated solely to my distribution is definitely a plus for me as a potential customer. Incidentally, I don't know why this type of thing isn't more popular with today's large distributions - it would be nice if there was a single site where you could go for install packages specific to your distribution that were guaranteed to work.

Table of contents
  1. "If I Had My Own Distro, Part I"
  2. "If I Had My Own Distro, Part II"
  3. "If I Had My Own Distro, Part III"
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