Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Does size really matter?

One of the key considerations in making a distribution is the final target size of the ISO. Most distributions come in at around the 700Mb mark, but some are under 100Mb and others over 4GB! I would prefer to keep the ISO image under 700Mb so that it can fit on a CD rather than a DVD. There are many reasons for this, including upload and download times as well as bandwidth and storage limitations etc. The price of keeping the distribution on a CD is that it won't be feasible to provide the full range of standard applications or updates etc. A Vinux CD could realistically provide all of the accessibility applications pre-configured out of the box, but the user would then have to download any other applications they needed themselves. The alternative would be to provide a larger DVD edition which would provide a standard range of applications and fully updated packages alongside all of the accessibility applications. Maybe there is a genuine argument for producing both versions? The other dilemma that developers have to face relates to the inclusion of proprietary media codecs and hardware drivers etc. Again most distributions do not provide these by default to avoid the threat of litigation, although it is relatively easy to install these after installation. On the other hand, several popular distributions including Linux Mint and Sabayon do provide these by default and this makes life very easy for a beginner who would find it very frustrating if their new operating system couldn't play their own legally purchased music files and DVD's etc. This maybe because they are based in Europe rather than the USA, where software patents are far harder to enforce. My instinct would be to err on the side of caution and merely provide guidance on how to install these rather than open up myself to the possibility of any law suits etc., no matter how unlikely these are. Again maybe there is a need for both approaches, letting the user decide which version to download according to the law and regulations in their country of residence. However, the priority for now will definitely be the production of a CD sized ISO with no proprietary software, as it would be a relatively simple process to add in extra applications and codecs etc after the core accessibility functionality is realised.