The Perfect Linux Distro

I talk a lot about what I think is wrong with the current state of Desktop Linux.  And I spend a fair bit of time talking about what I think can be done to improve it, and which applications I like the most.

So I figured, why not collect my notes together…

And lay out, piece-by-piece, what I think would be the ultimate Linux Desktop Distribution.  And, when I say ultimate.  I mean ultimate.  The best eye candy.  The best media related apps.  The best usability.  The kind of Linux distro that, out of the box, knocks peoples socks off and makes Windows and MacOS X die-hards lay down their swords and declare this new Linux distro “totally teh rad“.

My focus here is primarily to use existing projects and applications.  Re-inventing the wheel is boring.


Let’s start from the ground up.

The Base

Debian or Ubuntu.  This is the most widely used base on the desktop.  Debian stock, Ubuntu and Linux Mint make up for a huge percentage of Linux Desktop usage.  So this simply makes sense.

Ya know what?  Let’s go with Ubuntu.  It already has many of the pieces we’ll need (Restricted Hardware manager, etc.).

Package Format / Package Manager

Since we’re going debian… let’s go with .deb for the package format as well.  That way we can be more sure of package compatibility with the “big boys”.  And, while we’re at it, let’s go with apt.  It works.

As a wise man once said: If it ain’t broke, don’t freaking mess with it.

gnome2Desktop Environment

This is a harder one.

KDE4 is rad.  Very, very rad.

QT, upon which KDE is built, is also rad.

On the flip-side, a Gnome desktop can be made to be pretty rad too.

And many of the applications that I’m going to want to include are GTK based.

So we’re going Gnome.  Sorry KDE.

The Dock

We’re going to include a dock by default.  I know many of you don’t like docks.  Get over it.  Having a dock helps to show new users what’s available on their newly installed OS in an attractive (and easy to understand) way.

CairoDock?  Sure.  It works.  AWN?  Also works.  Either one will suit this purpose just fine…

But we’re going with Gnome-Do’s new dock.

Why?  Because Gnome-Do is awesome.  That’s why.



Default system fonts need to change.  Also wouldn’t hurt to license a few fonts from Blambot.  Get some professional, high quality (and cool looking) fonts in here.

Ya know… spice things up a bit.

jupiteroneioss3Themes / Icons

There are some freaking amazing themes and icon sets already available.  Pick two that work well together and use them.

Then get to work on some great backgrounds.  It’s not that hard.

Here’s an example just to get you rolling.

The Application Store

You had to know this was coming, right?

We need the major distros to step up to the plate and include an application store (a nice, desktop application, from which users can easily purchase commercial software and services for their Linux desktop).  This is absolutely a necessity.

Oh.  Look at that.  Click N Run.  It exists.  And it works on Ubuntu based distros.

Boom.  Done.

Strict Package Updating Rules

This is a simple one, but one worth calling out.  One that is best described via an example…

Hypothetical scenario: releases an update.  And a bunch of other distros grab it and their intel graphics cards stop working so well.

What we do: Absolutely nothing.  We stayed with the older  And, would ya look at that, our intel graphics cards are still working.

Office Suite

This is also a tough one.  The new KOffice is really nice.  But OpenOffice works, and works well.  So that’s what we’ll use.

Audio / Video Framework

Scream it from the mountain tops:  GStreamer is king.

screenshot-miroVideo Player

There’s this awesome application called Miro (used to be Democracy Player).

It’s there.  And it’s off the charts cool.  By including it, by default, this Linux distro just became the coolest platform for finding and watching online video content.

Media Center

Windows has Windows Media Center.  OS X has Front Row.

What do we have?  Currently… most distros don’t ship anything in this category of application.

But there are several options.

My choice is Moovida (formerly Elisa).  It’s commercially backed.  Uses GStreamer.  Is more powerful than Apple’s Front Row.  And it looks awesome.

banshee-slide-dapAudio Player

Banshee.  See how easy that was?

Yeah, yeah.  I know.  Amarok is great.  Rhythmbox works.

But Banshee is designed in such a way as to be approachable for people coming from several other music managers.  And it looks good.  So it’s settled.

Audio Editor

“But wait,” you’re asking, “those other operating systems don’t ship with super cool audio editing software.  Why does Linux need to?”

We can either settle for mediocrity or we can take the lead.  It’s up to us.

Now audio editing is not Linux’s strength.  Ardour is awesome.  But not very approachable.

So we’re going to go with Jokosher.  It’s easy to pick up and use for the average dude who just wants to record a little tune or podcast.

400px-capture-pitivi_v01301Video Editor

PitiviCommercially backed.  Advancing rapidly.  Also using Gstreamer for the back end.  It’s got a ways to go before it’s going to compete with iMovie… but we’ve got to start somewhere.  And if we focus on one key app in each category, progress will be made much faster.

Photo Management


In my not-so-humble opinion, F-Spot compares incredibly well with the consumer offerings from both Apple and Microsoft in this space.


Most distros ship with about a dozen games.  Most of which… nobody ever plays.

Time to step up and ship with 2 or three really solid games.

Let’s go wit Yo Frankie! to show that Linux is just as capable for games as any other platform.

And Hedgewars because it’s fun.  And we need to have something fun and multiplayer.

And… oh heck.  Frozen Bubble to have something more casual.


No more Pidgin.  Pidgin is out.

In rolls Empathy.  It’s a better design.

How about for video and audio chat?

Ekiga?  Nay.


“Say whuuuut?  But, Bryan, Skype is closed source!”

Yeah.  I know.  Get over it.  Skype works.  Everyone uses it.  And so do we.

Web Browsing

Firefox.  It’s there.  People know it.


Evolution will do just dandy.  It integrates will with the Gnome desktop and provides enough of the more advanced features that many people will need.

Development Environment

Windows developers use Visual Studio.  Mac developers use XCode.

Sure.  There are exceptions to that rule (as there should be), but those are the gold standards for their respective platform.

Having one “standard” development toolset that is officially “blessed” by the creator of that operating system has many great effects, including : Focusing development on key features instead of reinventing the wheel, building a larger base of developers from which to hire, etc.

ss-steticThere’s lots of options here.  QT Creator is great… but this is a Gnome desktop.

So what’s the most accessible and feature rich IDE available currently for Gnome applications?  And which one gives developers direct access to the widest array of frameworks from which to build great applications?


I know.  I know.  “Mono is bad cuz of teh Microsoft.”  If you genuinely believe that then you are not likely an actual (professional) software developer and should probably spend your time worrying about something else.

MonoDevelop is a great tool.  There.  It’s decided.


air_appiconIn an effort to make this desktop friendly to those switching from other platforms, and to increase the amount of software and functionality of the desktop…

Flash is installed by default.

And, you know what?  While we’re at it… so it AIR.

Which means that applications like Twhirl, etc can now be installed and run without the user ever having to know about Flash or AIR themselves.

Huh.  Look at that!  Using nothing but existing projects we have a new Linux distro that:

  1. Is more stable (ie, less code changes between major releases) than the primary major distros out there.
  2. Looks better than current Ubuntu, Suse or Fedora (or Windows… or OS X).
  3. Showcases the gaming potential of Linux desktops.
  4. Has, out of the box, Audio and Video editing software that is accessible for normal users.
  5. Has a more “discoverable” interface (ie, thanks to the dock it is easier to showcase the great applications available right away).
  6. Allows for a larger software ecosystem by including a way for companies to sell their commercial software directly.

Could of the existing distros get to this point easily?  Yes.

Will they?  Man.  I sure hope so.

Because it would be awesome.

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  • jason

    I found this on another forum, and it’s a very good representation of the “freedom” mentality, insofar as it applies to software/Linux.

    The Linux elder and the convert.

    A play by .net jerkface.

    Elder: Switch to linux and you’ll never have to deal with windows problems again. You’ll never have to deal with windows malware. All the cool smart kids are using it. It’s really fast. I love it. You’ll love it. You’ll never have to buy windows again.
    Convert: It’s free and really fast? Well ok I’ll try it.
    Elder: Great welcome to the club.
    Convert: Thanks.

    2 weeks later

    Convert: Where can I buy Linux games?
    Elder: There are lots of free Linux games like Quake 3 and Tux Racer.
    Convert: Yea but not many new ones.
    Elder: That’s because game companies don’t want linux to be successful. Just buy a console.
    Convert: Like the xbox?
    Elder: ARGH! Haven’t I taught you anything? That would just mean more money for Microsoft.
    Convert: The point of linux is to keep money from going to Microsoft?
    Elder:In some ways yes. So buy a PS3 or a Wii.
    Convert begins to lose faith.

    1 month later

    Convert: Hey I noticed that my scanner doesn’t work with Linux.
    Elder: Just buy a new one.
    Convert: My cell phone doesn’t work with Linux either.
    Elder: Just buy a new one. Oh and make sure you buy one that is on that list of cell phones that I sent you.
    Convert: You mean that list of 3 cell phones? Great. Oh and itunes doesn’t work with Linux.
    Elder: ARGH. You sent money to Apple? Haven’t I taught you anything?
    Convert: I got an ipod as a Christmas gift from my mom.
    Elder: Well your mom is retarded then. Sell it on ebay and buy a different one.

    Convert loses even more faith.

    3 months later.

    Convert: I upgraded ubuntu and now I have no sound.
    Elder: Just buy a new sound card or wait a few months for another update to fix it.
    Convert: It’s a laptop.
    Elder: Well wait a few months then.
    Convert: I have to wait for an update to fix an update?
    Elder: (loses control) FUCK. Did you know that my uncle had some software that didn’t work in vista? So I guess windoze sometimes breaks software too.
    Convert:That was an OS change. I never had windows update take away my sound.
    Elder:Well Windoze is just as bad. I mean come one. Blue screen of death and everything. Yea. And Vista Sux. So there. Just wait a few months for the patch. Or buy a new laptop. Make sure you buy one that isn’t from an evil manufacturer.
    Convert: Umm..sure…thanks for the advice….Linux sure is neat and stuff (reaches for restore cd).

  • Barnaby Jones

    Thunderbird is better than Evolution. Add Lightning if you like a reminder/calendaring/tasks feature.

  • Frank

    F-Spot. lol. what a waste of time and resources. F-Spot is by far the most worthless excuse for photo management. Digikam kicks it’s ass up and down. Oh, but wait, we can’t have any cross combining of gtk/qt apps. That would totally slow down our new computers to a halt.

    KDE and Gnome are both great successes The biggest difference is that KDE integrates well by default while an ass load of work has to go into Gnome to get the same effect.

  • tom

    hey songbird for the audio player! if it wasnt for songbird i dont think i would have entirely ditched windows.

  • Rick

    How about an update that allows for easy dial-up internet access?
    Let’s face it, not everyone has a high speed connection, and some probably won’t for a good long time.

  • Nick

    Honestly, what’s the point if we make Linux the next Windows or Mac?

    That said, this distro would be great for the newly migrated, especially if it included tutorials, screen shots, videos, and hints. And if you were *really* serious, who’s stopping you from building it?

  • Eric

    Pidgin — works great, empathy still sucks. In Eastern Europe a vast majority of people use Yahoo! for IM-ing.

    Songbird — more than that sucky Banshee will ever be. And it has a WAY larger user base.

  • marco cammarata

    I have tried monodevelop … but I didn’t like it very much

  • Crypto1971

    The ideal linux distribution would be one that allows one to install any application via a GUI and effectively keep away all dependancy away from You – because there would be none. That way everyone really can install what they want.

    The ideal linux distribution uses *.deb packages, installable via synaptics/apt, as this has turned out to be the most advanced package system (since I have started using sidux my dependancy trouble has significantly reduced).

    The ideal linux distribution would allow me to update my complete system without reboot, using my favourite GUI tool (e.g. synaptics). All stuff in memory would be unloaded once and then reloaded in its new up-to-date version.

    The ideal linux distribution would enable one to use the same libs, applications etc. parallely even if they have different version numbers. This is already true with gobo linux, which I dislike only because it does not have a *.deb compatible package installation system, and therefore there is no day to day system updating possible (at least not in a convenient GUI way…)

    This is one of the main and worst troublesome things on even the most advanced distributions:
    It is impossible to install an update of one application when this leads to a second application being removed which is incompatible with the updated libs introduced by updating the first one. I myself have “lost” some applications that way. If outdated libs could be kept if the application relying on them is removed then applications relying on different versions of the same lib could be installed happyly without interfering each other.

    I would love a debian style distribution that allows me to keep different versions of the same applications, libs etc. at the same time. I wonder if this already is out there?

    Further to the discussion about GUI vs. non-GUI applications: non-GUI stuff typically is scriptable which also means its output can be routed to some other application and work on it. Try that with a GUI application…


  • pudgypup

    Much of what your dream distro wannabe is looking for is contained in puppy. Lighthouse pup 4.42 looks awesome, works awesome. I have Vista and Mint, but I ENJOY puppy. See for yourself:

  • master-razorstrap

    I think the perfect Ubuntu based Distro would be Ubuntu WITHOUT anything else, where after installation it walks you through your personal choices for sound, video, media, desktop environment/s, icons, etc. The true “Distro Perfecto” is the one that “fits” every user. What better way to fit than to cater to each individual during setup? It would take a while to set up, but when you’re done, you’re done. It’s not like anyone on linux/debian systems aren’t used to taking some time out to make their box work.

    I’m just sayin.

  • Pingback: » Ubuntu 9.10 - Almost Perfect()

  • Big Nose

    I really dislike the need to type passwords to perform just about any admin task on an ubuntu system. Really drives me mad, it’s MY computer, I should have permission to do anything.

    Controversial this one, but…”Give user option to have permanent root access from day one”

    Yes, yes, people well whine about it being unsecure etc etc, but tbh, on ubuntu as it stands, the constant request for passwords and the use of sudo commands doesn’t make it any harder for the user to mess up their system, it’s just a longer and more tedious version of Vista’s UAC.

    Oh, and get a good onscreen keyboard on there for tablet users, and make the user tick the licence agreement boxes for all the restricted content and get it installed by default.

  • Rick Astley

    Make a distro for n00bs.

    N00buntu or Winux or something like that.
    It could have no password prompts and all of its software could be closed source.
    It would be teh epic and wai user friendly.

  • Don J. Thorpe

    This website describes my custom Distro exactly! I call mine “gnuStudio”. I am almost finished. However, I need people who are willing to help with beta-testing, optimization, etc. And help too with a SGI-like icon theme.

    I like mac-like icon themes, but there are far too many! The world has forgotten the SGI look with isometric icons!
    Just take a look at gnome-look and you’ll see what i mean! Too many OSX based themes! Time for a change!

    If anyone is willing to help, I will list you on a “contribution” page. Well, I hope somebody posts something!
    I can see that there is a demand out there! My distro might be the answer!

  • John Composed

    Great article, here’s my way 2 many cents.
    The Base/Package manager: I like Ubuntu. It has problems, but I love .deb and apt. An average user of windows/mac would never be installing from source code, and there’s no reason why we should have to. (Also, yum/.rpm don’t play as well with dependencies for my experience.)

    Desktop Environment: Currently, I prefer gnome, as it can be very nice looking, but, unlike KDE, it still feels practical. For me, KDE feels pretty, but a lot of features are pretty useless. (An always open window for desktop, Really? Why don’t we just the Desktop on the desktop?)

    That said, we need something different than the norm, something we can say is only ours. Overall I think KDE, and more importantly, the KDE programs, hold our best hope for distinguishing ourself from the other big 2. (Course, it’s not on my computer yet, so i think it has a way to go before it fulfills its destiny.)

    Docky is a good dock, but it’s still to much in it’s infancy to be a real contender. The other problem with that type of dock is when we use it, we run the risk of being called an OS-X knockoff. I think we need another way of showing off programs that is neither like windows, nor like OS-X. If we wish to create something truly innovative, we will need to thing outside the box of current Operating systems.

    Font: Same preaching here, something different blah blah blah. But seriously, some different and high quality fonts would be great. There are lots of good free fonts on the web, why don’t we just use the best of them?

    I don’t like Click N Run, it reminds me too much of corporate online stores. But Get Deb is good, and I really like Linux Mints “app store” or whatever they call it.

    Strict Package updating rules. Absolutely. This is needed desperately.

    Office Suite: OpenOffice is ok, but in keeping with my “different” philosophy, I think KOffice would be better.

    Audio/Video Framework: *shrug* The most reliable will be king.

    Video Player: Miro is more of a video finder, but still should be included. VLC seems like a better all-around video player.

    Media Center: Moovida. Unless someone can offer a better solution.

    Audio Player: I prefer Amarok, but, as they are both great players, it is not that important.

    Audio Editor: I agree this should be included in the distro.

    From most complicated+ powerful to easiest+ weakest.
    -Ardour is indeed very powerful, but not very user-friendly.
    -Linux Multimedia Studio is a easer to use, but less powerful, and still pretty hard to use.
    -Rosegarden is the middle ground, and my pick for this category, for three reasons. First, It is powerful, but not as thorough as Ardour or LMS. But this is okay, because (2) Rosegardens greatest strength is it’s fantastic ability to work well with other software. Finally, I it is approachable. Not completely intuitive, but I never felt like I couldn’t learn it
    -Jokosher. I really want to like Jokesher, but the interface seems easy but very unintuative, like an elite club that you feel like you would fit in well, but they aren’t interested in having any new members.
    -Audacity is very easy to use, but it feels too much like a one trick application. It can edit audio well, and that is it.

    Video Editor.

    -Pitivi is buggy and featureless, but it seems like it has the most potential.
    -Kdenlive is slighly more buggy, but currently it is more advanced and equally intuitive as Pitivi.
    -OpenMovieEditor is buggy, less advanced than Kdenlive, but more advanced than Pitivi.
    -There are others, like Cinerella or Kino, but those don’t seem intuitive enough for mass use.
    Overall, it seems like a very close race for the top 3. I don’t know who will win the Linux Video Editor race, but the future looks pretty bright.

    I think, if we want to jump start the progress of a software category, we should hold a contest with a cash prize for the best (judge+ community voted) of that category with a year deadline.

    Photo Management

    F-spot is not bad, but Digikam is a much more powerful option. Unfortunately, Digikam has quite a few bugs and doesn’t feel as polished as it should be. The only other contender is Picassa, but it doesn’t have a real linux port, it only exists as self-contained WINE program.

    For casual gamers, KDE has a nice set of games that I prefer to gnomes games. Linux has a nice set of games, you just have to know where to look. As I recall, had a nice list of them, but a bit of googling can turn up some other good ones.

    Skype defiantly.
    I have used both Empathy and Pidgin, and even though pidgin occasionally gives me problems, I still prefer it to Empathy. The main reason is that the plugins are superior, but i also prefer the interface.

    Web Browsing:
    Firefox is the obvious choice.
    But what if we think outside the box for a moment. Mac has Safari, Windows has IE, what other options do we have that’s relatively linux-only.

    I am a big fan of Konquerer. There is something about it I really like, plus, it has add-block and other features that make it an appealing choice. That said, I still use Firefox. Take that for what you will.

    I prefer Thunderbird to Evolution, but meh.

    Development Enviroment:
    Well, now that we use KDE, we can use QT Creator. Also, this means no legal battles about MonoDevelop. Yay!

    Installed by default. I like the idea of also having air installed.

    Overall, I think The best chance for Linux success comes from KDE and kde programs. If the developers for Kubuntu started doing things right (KDE is pretty, we know, now make it useful!), I think we could have a real winner.

    Unrelated to the rest of the post, I think master-razorstrap has a very idea, maybe if we could use the live cd idea to demo software during the installation…..

    -John (I just realized how long this comment got, so I am adapting it to a post on my site, visit it if you have comments on any of my opinions/ideas.)

  • theodore

    The only changes I would make to your list would be thunderbird 3 for e-mail as its easier to use. And for a player VLC or GOM player. Great choices.

  • Nick Lancaster

    This is very similar to how I had my computer set up a little while ago. I eventually gave up on gnome-do because of the lost space, but other than that pretty similar.

  • Gary Pewitt

    For the sake of us newbies please include a method of installing -without- wiping out all data by formatting the drives. And without screwing up the windoz install on another drive. I had a very nice installation of Ubuntu 9.04
    on one drive and Windows XP-64 on the other. Worked great until I updated to Ubuntu 9.10, Then I had nothing! I could repair windoz without re-formatting the drive but not Ubuntu.
    Would it be that hard to make it re-install -without- re-formatting?

  • Steven

    I first heard about Linux about 10 years ago when I saw Al Roker doing a story on it, and I’ve been playing with it on and off ever since, now in virtualization on my Mac, but could never full switch as much as I wanted to.

    Finally I’m just setting up a dedicated box for my LCD TV for my boy to surf, watch online content, and be my main media center. Seriously… while I’m on the topic, I’m not sure why all TVs don’t come standard with a mini Linux board already installed!

    Thanks so much for sharing this information, I’m still lost in many areas and these mods and recommendations were exactly what I’ve been searching for.

  • carpet

    nice article thanks for the info very helpful

  • kowari

    I fully agree, buddy, you hit the nail right on the head ! Now – where can I get it ?

  • Callum

    What’s happening with Click n Run?
    Has anyone got a link