Custom Debian Distributions

Making Debian the distribution of choice for specific work fields

DebConf 8, Mar del Plata, 12. August 2008


The idea of Custom Debian Distributions was born at DebConf 3 in Oslo and has turned now into a solit toolset that can be used to organise packages targeting at a specific work field inside Debian in a quite efficient way. After five years it is time for a report about status and success as well as continuing to spread the idea amongst people to enable them to spend a minimum effort for the adoption of the tools to get a maximum effect in maintaining a CDD.

One goal of Custom Debian Distributions is to form a group of Debian developers who care for a specific set of packages that are used in the day to day work of a certain user group. The fact that Debian has grown to the largest pool of ready to install packages on the net has led to the side effect that it is hard to maintain for beginners. A Custom Debian Distribution adds some substructure to the currently flat pool of 15000+X packages without a real structure. These substructures are intended to put a focus on special user interest. These substructures are not oriented on technical matters like Debian installer team, porting teams or teams that are focussing to implement programming language policies.

There are some similarities to Debian-i18n which also has the pure goal to serve the needs of certain end user groups with the difference that the users are grouped not according to their field of work but according to their language. In fact it makes even sense to create CDDs for languages that require certain technical means to optimally support the language regarding direction of writing, special fonts etc. It is known that some countries in Asia builded Debian derivatives for this purpose but in principle it is not necessary to derive - the better solution is to make Debian more flexible by starting a CDD effort inside Debian.

The talks will give some examples from the success of CDDs like Debian-Edu and Debian-Med. One very important outcome of the CDD effort is the ongoing reunification of Linex - the Debian derived distribution that is used in all schools in Extremadura - with Debian-Edu. This step means that Debian gets a very large implementation in all schools of Extremadura while on the other hand the effort of development for the people who invented Linex will be reduced. Debian featuring Debian-Edu now has a very good chance to become a really good international school distribution because it has roots in five countries (Norway, Spain, France, Germany and Japan) and might become attractive for many more.

The success stories of CDDs would not have been possible outside Debian and thus leaving the path to build Zillions of Debian derivatives that reach a very small user base and working together inside Debian is the main idea of the talk. To make this idea more attractive in the second part of the talk a description of tools that were developed in the CDD effort will be presented. Especially the newly developed web tools that give a good overview about the packages that are useful for a certain field of work and the QA tools that enable the CDD team members to easily get an overview about packages that need some action. So if people are not yet convinced that a CDD for their purpose makes sense we will catch them by the tools they might get for free if they follow the proposed strategy.