I remember when Ubuntu Christian Edition first came on the scene (don’t look for it any more—the project has since been discontinued). There was an uproar in the Ubuntu Linux community. Why are people bringing religion into software? Free software should be bringing people together, not separating them. And, of course, the objection of Why even bother? Can’t you just create a metapackage? Aren’t all these things in the software repositories? Users can just install GnomeSword and DansGuardian themselves.

Religion aside, there seemed to be (and sometimes continues to be) an objection to the very notion that you might take a Linux distribution, change the default packages and artwork in it, and then re-release it as a modified distribution (or “remix” as the Ubuntu folks like to call it, as per their trademark policy). Even now I still see people on the forums asking “Why? Why would you bother? Why can’t you install those packages yourself?”

To answer this question, let’s imagine Ubuntu stopped distributing itself the way it does now. Right now, the default Ubuntu comes as a CD that has a live session that runs off RAM, and if you want to install it to your hard drive, you can do so. Both the live session and the fresh install give you a set of applications—a web browser, an email client, a bittorrent client, a word processor, an image editor, etc. What if Ubuntu stopped doing that? What if they said “Eh. People can just install applications themselves. Let’s just give them a command prompt after installation”?

Well, I actually know some Ubuntu users would be thrilled with that. There is a reason, though, why the mini.iso is less popular than the Desktop CD .iso, and it’s not just because the Desktop CD is the main download on the Ubuntu website.

Defaults matter.

I can’t tell you how many Windows users I see with the taskbar on the bottom and a green rolling hill with a blue sky for the desktop wallpaper. People use Internet Explorer because it is the default web browser in Windows. A lot of Ubuntu users like Gnome because it has two panels instead of one. Guess what, people—Gnome can easily have one panel. Just delete the bottom panel (or the top one).

Have you ever taken a default installation and tweaked it to be exactly the way you want it? For some people, that can be just a couple of minutes. For others, it can take hours. I’m not kidding.

What if you felt the default Ubuntu packages weren’t a good way to introduce Ubuntu to folks interested in trying Linux? Would you carry around a live CD with you and then say “Hold on. Hold on. I’m going to boot this up, but it’ll take me about forty-five minutes to make this interface presentable and install a bunch of packages… oh, which may not fit in your 512 MB of RAM”? Wouldn’t it be far more effective to have a live CD with Ubuntu exactly the way you want it?

I recently created my own Ubuntu remix called the Ubuntu HP Mini Remix. Yes, you can do all those things in Ubuntu after installation (fix sound, make sound settings stick, have wireless resume more quickly after suspend, consolidate panels to make room for more vertical real estate), but it involves editing configuration text files and doing a lot of annoying little tweaks.

And some folks with HP Minis haven’t been able to get those tweaks working. Maybe it’d be good if I just gave them an .iso they could use right away that had those tweaks in them?

More importantly, though, what’s the harm? You don’t have to use my remix. No one does. In fact, if I were the only person using my remix, I’d still consider it worth the effort. It doesn’t take anything away from Ubuntu. I’m not a developer or programmer. I’m not a graphics artist. The time and energy I put into my remix would not benefit vanilla Ubuntu, since the tweaks I’m making are specifically for the HP Mini 1120nr. Yes, there are some bugs that could be fixed, but I’m not fixing bugs. I’m employing workarounds for those bugs.

Remixes are a good way to make easily available to a niche population a set of default packages that its members can install on multiple systems or demonstrate as live sessions on multiple systems without them having to make an hour’s worth of tweaks to get going.

Defaults matter. That’s why remixes matter.

8 Responses to “What’s the point of Ubuntu remixes?”

  1. lefty.crupps Says:

    I agree, which is why I wish I could make a nice Debian remix, with the software (KDE4) and repos (debian-multimedia) that I want on the base (Debian Sid) that I want it on.

    But Debian Sid changes too much to expect to be able to build a nice custom CD from it, and I won’t trust Ubuntu for my work (nor would I recommend it to a new user). So, for now I am just waiting for Sidux to make its KDE4 release sometime within the next month or so. Not perfect, but far better than what the Kubuntu people put out (a Gnomified KDE with the same old broken *buntu packages)

  2. Mesanna Says:

    There’s the beauty of open source in action! Everyone has different requirements from their PC, and FOSS gives you the ability to create something that suits YOUR needs and YOUR hardware. You don’t have to be stuck with what a faceless corporation decides you should have.

    Well done with the Remix, I’m sure it has made life easier for a bunch of people!

  3. Ted Says:

    I’ve taken to making a list of “these are the packages to add to every Ubuntu install I do”. I.e., my own defaults for a ‘Linux on the desktop’ setup.

    I got into the habit of doing fresh installs when updating Ubuntu, I install things I find useful when I get someone to give Linux a try, and I tinker with hardware & building/rebuilding systems. (I keep ‘/home’ on a separate partition to make it workable.)

    So, being able to create my own remix that will add these extra packages automagically is a plus. Knowing that the key word to search for is “remix” helps! I just found a how-to on the community help site…

    After that, there’s a small list of configurations, then it’s ready to roll. Even adding VMware gives me a build-from-scratch time of not more than an hour.

    I’ve walked new users through the entire installation process while I brief them on differences from Windows before their “test drive” — the elegance of the process makes a great impression. Not having to open Synaptic as part of that to “top it off” will certainly help, not just time-wise, but also to make it look a lot less complicated to new users.

  4. Prinny Says:

    Indeed, for instance there’s the Ubuntu Japanese Remix, which is necessary because for some reason the regular Japanese Ubuntu install gives you awful (and I mean practically unreadable) Japanese fonts and, what’s worse, _doesn’t include support for Japanese input by default_.

  5. Aubrey Says:

    Naturally, I agree with you too! Our own remix is OzOS and arose mainly because of things that were NOT in the Ubuntu repos – especially an up-to-date build of e17 – and because there were things in the default install that were “surplus to requirements” – We certainly don’t hide our Ubuntu (or, rather, Xubuntu) base. We do also package as a metapackage (several, in fact) that has now been “ported” to at least one other distro (Arch) and has been modified to work natively with Debian. Specific remixes with a particular user-base or purpose in mind are a great addition to the Ubuntu family.

  6. Michael Says:

    Had to google “ubuntu christian edition”, because I did not beleive the author. This stuff can’t be real… 1st hit on google: ubuntuce.com

    A very ugly website, that smells like MS frontpage appears: “Freely ye have received, Freely ye give.”
    - holy moly!

    If that’s not enough our Christian buddies have scripted in a javascript forward to Jesustv.com.
    - holy holy !

  7. Spuffler Says:

    Asus EeePC 900A: 4Gb solid state drive. Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04, when initially installed, left me with about 950 meg free space. I needed a tighter distro than PCLinuxOS and Arch is too elite for me.

    I had a bear of a time finding any discussions anywhere that told me how to boot my exact model of EeePC from an SD card or from USB. I eventually found UNR 9.04, got the image onto a Flash drive, got the netbook to boot from USB, and buh-bye AsusOS.

    Not too many discussions bother to say which specific EeePC netbook they are discussing. One guy told me any distro would fit an EeePC, after all, ‘… we have 160g hard disks, just blow away windows… why was it such an issue to have free space after installing a distro?’. He got an eye full of EeePC model numbers and options…. We all forget about that, so I let him off easy.

    All the same, if Ubuntu had not offered UNR9.04, I’d be up the creek: the original AsusOS had filled my hard disk to 99% and the normal tools refused to uninstall any factory installed software.

    I would not have been able to install a normal distro.

  8. 123 Says:

    “I can’t tell you how many Windows users I see with the taskbar on the bottom and a green rolling hill with a blue sky for the desktop wallpaper.”
    h ha haaa…
    “ever taken a default installation and tweaked it to be exactly the way you want it? For some people, that can be just a couple of minutes. For others, it can take hours.”
    use many hours, over days to setup windows, including all the best free/os apps (filefind, backup,,). registry “tweaks”. belarc lists the patches since sp3… (then, install something that uses dotnet, and belarc lists some additional patches)
    probably tweaking nix will require days, once i’ve refined my configs :-)

    there are mindboggling number of subdistros on distrowatch.
    too bad the data in the version lists aren’t “smart”. some kind o filter selectr might be good, though wouldn’t be much help for “noobz” who’ve used few of the packages (apt? synaptic? yum? etc…)
    what you really need for your demo liveccd is a cd-builder, not a prefab subdistro, which likely will omit certain apps. at least have a mega-dvd set, which i think is the suse paradigm.

    btw, i expect to stick to winxp until another app can do good dnd. (wanna surmies upon the google chromeos as possible replacement of x-window/xserver?.. am i correct about this? my impression is that this weakness of the all important gui is a big obstacle to “civilian” converts (heh) to linuxes.

    i wonder if the koranic remix is still maintained? I think i came across asatanic nix (or bsd?) seemed to exist, though a parody… lots of dark red website graphics.
    btw, try dynebolic. it’s semi-unique distro, imo.
    of many livecds i tried, it did best (including that the “docking” feature was decent)

    my 1st jaunty install, netinstall: apt-get was rather good, imo.
    but i don’t see using Synaptic or whatever updater at the end of cd install as much problem!

    “Ubuntu Japanese Remix, which is necessary because for some reason the regular Japanese Ubuntu install gives you awful (and I mean practically unreadable) Japanese fonts and, what’s worse, _doesn’t include support for Japanese input by default_.”
    sounds as if the work of this subdistro isn’t being “folded into” ubuntu’s japanese version. I wonder why..

    scripted in a javascript forward to Jesustv.com.
    scripts? you mean an automtic redirect? if so, then ech.

    btw, i came across acouple websites|forums dedicated to netbooks (personally, i find them even less usable than “regular” `15″ laptops…)

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