In open source circles there is a continuing argument about whether there are too many Linux distributions or not. I don’t want to weigh in on one side or the other but there is a side issue that I would like to address.
Those that believe there are too many distros often state one of their reasons as that it makes it very difficult for new adopters of Linux to know which distribution to opt for when faced with such a massive selection, each with differing aims and focus.
Whether or not this is a good reason to have less distros it is clear to see that it must be bewildering for those eager to try Linux but not knowing where to start. Furthermore, a negative experience with a distro unsuited to the user’s needs could put them of Linux completely.
My solution is to suggest a live DVD distro that is cut down with the express purpose of only running virtualisation software. A new user could then boot from the DVD and choose a virtual image of a distro to try it out. This would make it easy to try out a number of distros quickly and even do a side by side comparison.
Of course, none of this is of any use without a way for the user to choose which distro to trial in the first place. So, to aid the decision making progress details about the distributions could be provided ( in a searchable format ) that list the aims and objectives of a distro, hardware requirements, screen shots, links to forums and additional information etc. It would also be nice to have preview videos with a voice over that introduce the main features of a distro in a couple of minutes.
There are some obvious hurdle to overcome to make this a workable solution: how many distros do you support? How do you choose which ones? How many images can you fit onto a DVD? Etc. It would have to be a work in progress and whilst there is no way you can start off supporting 200 distros ( or even fit them on a disk ) covering the top 10 – 20 distros would be amazingly useful. You could even have a spin of which covers small distros, specialist distros or whatever.
All of this work become more manageable if the distros themselves could be convinced to contribute. If they were to produce a virtual image, a brief introduction and summary of features it could be included with little effort. Smaller distros ( those unlikely to be included on the disk ) could offer a link to download their virtual image thus adding their distro to the options available to the user.
Ideally I would like to see this as an official Linux project ( supported by an appropriate body ) which encourages the participation by the distros and acts as a one-stop shop for new users to choose, try, download and install a new distribution. General Linux information and tutorials could also be provided to educate new users and to allow them to pre-empt or troubleshoot any problems they might have.