11 ways to create a successful Linux distro

What can you do to stand out from the hundreds of other Linux distros that already exist?

There are a number of angles you can explore for this – choose one, two or all of them if you want!

1. Be cutting edge

At its height, Mandriva was famed for including the very latest software, but the management decided to focus less on features and more on stability, which meant that older, "tested" software became the norm, and many users left to find their cutting-edge fix elsewhere.

Similarly, Ubuntu launched as an up-to-date version of Debian, but has also fallen prey to the same problem – Ubuntu 8.10 won't include Mono 2.0, for example, despite it being released a month before the distro ships.

We're well aware of feature freezes and other stability-enhancing techniques, but if you want to capture the market for cutting-edge software then you need to forgo such niceties and focus on getting the software into your distro as fast you can. Your users will thank you for it!

2. Be super-stable

The opposite of being on the cutting-edge is being super stable, which means choosing your selection of apps from the sturdiest, the most tested and the most reliable options available to you.

Yes, this does mean shipping OpenOffice.org 2.x rather than 3.x, but it also means you should have fewer bug reports because the software you provided has already been through years of testing and fixing.

The downside to this plan is that stable distros require years of support – Ubuntu LTS comes with five years of support on the desktop, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux comes with seven. If you're aiming to compete in this market, you need to be ready to provide lots of backports of security updates and the like.

3. Be super-light

One of the most impressive features of open source software is its apparent ability to outpace Intel's attempts to ramp up the performance of our computers. By that we mean that some of the most popular free software applications have a reputation for being slow, RAM-hungry or otherwise resource intensive, which is why there is such a market for thin-and-light distros.

The idea here is simple: rather than choosing Application A for your distro, which uses 100MB of RAM, choose Application B, which uses 10MB of RAM. Repeat that for just about everything in your distro (excluding any apps you honestly feel you can't live without), and suddenly even a Pentium II is starting to look quick.

Again, there's a lot of competition in this space, but all too often you either get a fully functional and fat desktop, or you get a slim-and-light desktop with a look and feel on a par with Windows 3.1. Perhaps there's room for you to innovate somewhere in between?

4. Focus on a group of users

If you want to build a loyal group of users, give them some love: make a distro focused on the needs of a specific kind of user, and you'll find that they stick with you through thick and thin. So, rather than create yet another do-everything distro that covers all bases, why not create a distro focused on developers? Or artists? Or gamers?

This allows you to slim down your choice of packages to the essentials for your target market, then lets you pre-set all the options they most want to see. For example, here at LXF Towers we're big fans of programming with Mono. Why not create a distro with all the Mono libraries and documentation preinstalled, along with all the best Mono-based apps for inspiration?

5. Look good

In Shuttleworth's words, "pretty is a feature". If average users were to choose between two distros that were identical apart from their look and feel, of course they would choose the one that looks the best. That said, "best" is clearly highly subjective – we're not particular fans of Sabayon's inky black interface, and yet many other people think it looks smart and sophisticated.

Similarly, Ubuntu's brown can look warm and human or dull and 1970s depending on your background. So, when it comes to your own distro, please give some thought to the look and feel – don't just expect people to customise the design to suit their tastes, because if your initial design looks bad then people will just give up.

There are two options for you here: create your own theme for your desktop, or go for the defaults. It's easy to create a theme, and you can borrow the pieces from other places if Gimp isn't your forte. But there's a lot of value in going for the default look and theme for your desktop, because so many distros insist on branding things with their logo. So rather than having a K button for KDE you get a gecko, or you get an Ubuntu logo rather than the Gnome foot in the menu bar.

6. Aim for ease of use

This one is becoming a bit tired these days – Mandriva was the first distro to really make it work, but now multiple distros compete for the title of being most easy to use. And the downsides don't end there: being easy to use invariably means having to create your own graphical tools for basic system admin, and you should expect lots of flak from some of the more aggressive community members for "dumbing down" Linux.

Still, if you succeed in making Linux easy to use, then you're targeting the most important market: people who are Windows/Mac users and want to jump ship to Linux.

The alternative is to play the Slackware card, which means creating absolutely no ease-of-use tools and letting users get on with it. That might sound bad on paper, but lots of more advanced users really dislike the way that some distros overwrite their customised settings by trying to be "easy", which means that something like Slackware has a lot of appeal.

7. Focus on a language or country

This is the easiest option, both for creating a distro and for attracting an instant user base. The downside, rather predictably, is that it rather requires you to come from/live in a country with weak free software support, but you'd be surprised at just how successful you can be if you try.

Remember, if your language is in the minority in your country (think Scottish Gaelic in Scotland), you may be able to scrounge up some government funding for helping promote its survival and propagation.

8. Solve a problem

This option sounds easy, but it really isn't: find a problem that lots of people have with their computer or with Linux, then solve it.

It sounds easy because everyone has problems with their computer, but it's not easy because the mass-market computing industry has been striving for improvement for the last 20 years now and those problems still exist despite the best efforts of the world's largest software companies.

The smart money is on tackling a small problem, or at least breaking a larger one up into small chunks, so that you can make progress easily.

9. Build a community

Some distros, most notably PCLinuxOS, owe a large amount of their popularity to their friendly and open community, and it's not hard to replicate their success.
The key to getting a large community is to help users help themselves and each other as early as possible. That is, if the only people who can answer questions about your distro are experts, then only a few people will be able to help build the community.

But if your distro is designed in such a way that even people with only a few days of learning can already start answering forum questions, then you'll find people join in much faster and the whole community springs up at lightning speeds.

10. Target some hardware

This is a tempting but tricky option: tempting because if you can get a good Linux port on to a specific device then you'll find it easy to gain users and may even gain support or funding from the manufacturer; tricky because you need to do an awful lot of the legwork yourself – if the term "cross-compiling" means nothing to you, then this is definitely something to leave alone.

11. And finally: copy, copy, copy!

The whole point of free software is that we're sharing ideas, sharing code and sharing innovations among ourselves to benefit all computer users. So go and try some of the top distributions. Try PCLinuxOS. Try Linux Mint. Try Sabayon.

Write down a list of three things from each one that you like, then steal them for your own distro. Not-Invented-Here syndrome doesn't exist on Linux, so use that to your advantage and copy stuff! [techradar.com]


Ditulis Oleh : rudy // 16.15