29 June 2008

SkinnyDebbie : an introduction

It has required more work than I originally expected, but I think SkinnyDebbie--a light-and-lean proof-of-concept "distribution flavorizer"--is almost ready for its first public release.

SkinnyDebbie is a scripted installation scheme that lets a user set up a light-and-lean Debian-based Linux system without a huge hassle. It should be especially attractive to users of systems that are not powerful enough to run the Gnome, KDE or XFCE desktop environments.

SkinnyDebbie's main job is integrating the following windowing and desktop components into an efficient desktop environment:
  • IceWM: a lightweight yet full-featured window manager
  • ROX-Filer: a fast and light file and desktop manager
  • XDM: the classic display manager that is more resource-friendly than GDM or KDM
  • Dropline Nuovo!: an icon set that is more inviting than the default Gnome icons
It also installs a handful of utilities and other applications that you will need to have a reasonably smooth GUI system, and it does as much configuration as it can for you. It installs a few custom scripts that simplify some basic system management stuff, and it installs and configures theme stuff so the whole experience is almost attractive.

It won't install a boatload of applications the way full-fat distributions do--mostly because if you are running a light-and-lean setup you are probably challenged for storage space. Thus, I figured it was best to leave the decisions regarding what application software you need up to you. However, it does install Debian's branded version of Firefox and Thunderbird (called Iceweasel and Icedove respectively) because not having a Web browser and (arguably) email is utterly insane.

SkinnyDebbie is what I am calling a "flavorizer". It is not a Linux distribution. Rather, it is a set of scripts that when run will configure a standard Linux distribution (a Debian Network Install in this case) to match a given target "flavor", using as much as possible the packages that are already part of and maintained by that distribution.

Why build SkinnyDebbie as a "flavorizer" instead of making an independent distribution? Simple. A "flavorizer" approach lets light-and-lean users directly benefit from the security updates and other improvements/upgrades of a major distribution. A SkinnyDebbie user gets a light-and-lean system that is 100% (ok ... 98%) pure Debian, and that means the user can participate in and benefit from Debian's excellent community support and other resources. (Or, if I were trying to sound ubercool, I would say that it means the user can leverage Debian's excellent community support and other resources.)

Known limitations
Networking works superfine if you are using an Ethernet connection and DHCP. This will be all most users will need. But if you plan to use a wireless connection or do not want to use DHCP, you will have to figure that out on your own. And if want to go old-school with a dialup modem, you're again on your own. I'm not saying it's not possible; I'm just saying that you will have to figure out what additional packages need to be installed and how configure things by yourself.

Advanced power management (sleep, suspend) is completely untested. It may work, it may not; but testing and tweaking it's not a priority.

Accessibility features (large print, high-contrast window decoration, etc.) don't exist.

Internationalization is a bit of a problem. The custom scripts and other bits are written to make it easy to implement translated versions, but no translations are available at present.

I'll post information regarding how to install SkinnyDebbie as soon as I finalize a couple small details and figure out how to host it. See you soon.

1 comment:

Mithat said...

Added link to Dropline Nuovo! icons.