While selecting a better Gnu / Linux distro has always been a tough choice to make , there are advocates for which distros we must avoid. This might help us in choosing better distros in summer camps and install fests.
As a community while engaging in public facing events like install fests, camps, hackathons, etc… we have to stand our views. Better avoid a distro that leans more toward which transforms the user into a subject of data acquisition chain that aims to deliver targeted suggestions.
We are clear that we dont need a “Information appliance” - but rather aiming for a “computing appliance” that helps the user transform into a critical thinking common.
There are lot of distributions that are available - in fact we have diversity in diversity of distros.
What are our criteria to select or create or customize a distro :
- Distro. which does not mandate a Proprietary or Non-Free components.
- Localization effort is needed - while customizing.
- Targeting - packing with applications (pre installed) or using Spin-offs of Distros.
- Simple and Intutive (must be lean in memory usage) User Interface shell.
Extensive testing on various laptops and desktops are necessary before providing it to the newcomers is necessary to avoid blasting the excitement that may lead to intrigue/interest breakdown.
Instead of sharing a single particular ISO, we shall try to share a thumb drive that contains multiple iso’s of distros - which enable the user to try out when they get back home. (If we are providing a thumb drive)
I think a proper research by interested peers would be great to select a list of distros that satisfy the requirements.
We are very much aware that people have discussed about the alternatives tailored for Anna Univ. college syllabus. Similar suggestions would be helpful.
Okie, Thanks for bringing this question up. This is very important for a organization like ours.
Note : What I am sharing here, is just my point of view, and not the answer itself. You have all the rights to differ.
Good choices :
In my order of preference.
Fedora : Fedora is Free Software (not fully, the kernel kinda contains non-free firmware, but considering the development model of fedora, which has a new release every 6 months, I wouldnt blame the devs). Fedora, also hosts only free software in their repository, tough we have rpmfusion for installing other non-free dependent free software, or non-free software itself. Also, Fedora as a community also poses a numerous ways of Contributions for people attending FOSS camps like ours. Also to note that,Fedora has a strict policy on non-free software not being included in the default distro. Also, Fedora offers various DE choices, from GNOME, Cinnamon, i3 to LXDE, making sure all types of users are satisfied.
An easier way to remove the non-free kernel , is as simple as taking out the default kernel and using libre-kernel, which is quite easy.
Debian : Debian as again known, is another good Free Software distro. It is a completely community driven free software distro. While Debian is another good choice, there are primarily 2 reasons I would not suggest it for Camps or Install Fests,
a) Contains old packages, as a release happens every 2-3 years,
b) Debian hosts non-free softwares on their own servers (which I am not okie with).
But, On the other hand, if it is for a personal use, Debian is another wonderful choice.
Suse Linux :
Suse, is possibly one of the easily customization distro ever. They have a ready to use website, where you just select what all packages you need, and you can download a completely custom distro. It is called the Suse Studio. Also Suse, has Yast, which is one awesome heck of a package manager and a system manager. Its just awesome. But again, the problem that we would face is, we dont have a strong community within ourselves, to actually debug and fix problem we would face everyday. AFAIK, Suse also does not have any clear policy on non-free software, and they host them in their own servers
The same points of Suse, do apply to Arch Linux also. Both the distros have a rolling release model of development, While suse also offers a stable release.
Bad Choices :
Ubuntu : This is one distro that we have been using constantly using for all our camps. And by doing this, we are just contradicting our own philosophy on Free Software and Mass surveillance.
Lets take the amazon app that ubuntu installs by default (Not anymore I suppose). All that we look at it is, it is a spyware pre-installed and we should remove it. But the mistake is way more than that. The people in the community has to force Canonical to remove the amazon app out of the distro. It is not in the distro, the fundamental mistake is there in the people who develop it itself. The wrong attitude that the Ubuntu developers pose, and their least concern about Free Software, Constant Licensing violation (the recent ZFS issue), are all problem of the developers of Ubuntu.
Now to the question of, “Why not purely Free Distros like, Trisequel or Parabola” (I am planning on moving to parabola soon).
The first and the foremost reason, being, the hardware suppost and the availability of non-free drivers. While the arguments could say, just take parabola and put in those non-free drivers , I usually would say, that is what is Arch.Take trisequel and put non-free, and that is Ubuntu.
And our every fest/camp experience has been that, we see more and more new hardware without proper FOSS driver support, and people are building FOSS drivers for the same, we are still in the phase of convincing people in the adoption of FOSS, so I wouldn’t advise taking those extreme steps now.
While this is really what we want to finally do, giving this as a first step when they hear FOSS, I am not sure how people would actually perceive it. In my experience, people usually say, it is too complicated.