With the news that Best Buy will now be selling boxed, commercially supported versions of Ubuntu, the Desktop Linux onslaught begins. Our ultimate goal of Total World Domination will soon be within our grasp, now that yet another mondo-huge retailer has jumped on the Linux bandwagon.
Or will it?
Certainly, I think getting Ubuntu and other Linux distributions into the mass retail channel are important. Many people want a box and a manual, with a phone number they can call if they have problems. And this is great -- it will attract a bunch of new users that we didn't have before. But I think it would pale in comparison if Canonical were to approach huge companies that have universal brand identity with the potential of using Ubuntu as a viral marketing tool.
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Ubuntu already makes a great Live CD, and its proven to be an effective, painless way of introducing people to the OS. Once booted and tested out, people can then make the choice of whether or not they want to install it on their system. We've also seen how easy it is to "spin" new re-mixes of Ubuntu, with the various 3rd-party "editions" floating around, such as Linux Mint, Christian Edition, Muslim Edition, and my personal favorite, Satanic Edition. I've even seen some stuff on Jewish Ubuntu (Oy!) although I am not sure it's been launched yet. If you've got special content you want to include in a Linux distro, Ubuntu is an ideal vehicle for it.
So if a religious denomination can spin Ubuntu, why not McDonald's? Burger King? Coca-Cola? Pepsi? Taco Bell? Crispy Creme? Dunkin' Donuts? Starbucks? NBC? CBS? Sony Pictures? Mercedes-Benz? Porsche? Eddie Bauer? Playboy? Esquire? Rachael Ray? Barbie? The New York Yankees? The NBA? NASCAR? Star Trek? American Idol? The Democrats? The Republicans? Marvel Comics? Disney? Bueller? Okay, you get it.
Obviously, it does take considerable skill to re-mix a Linux distribution, even if in most cases, you're just adding a few new packages, replacing bitmaps and screen savers, creating custom icons, and pre-loading image, video, audio files, toolbars and custom bookmarks and such. Microsoft had the right idea in this direction when they released the SDKs for Windows Themes and the Internet Explorer Administration Kit -- but this would take things even further by being able to brand an entire computing experience for the customer. I mean, just think of the promotional possibilities that any of the big names I mentioned above could do with their own customized OS they could give out at retail locations or bundled with products.
Right now, the process of producing a "re-spin" is very much a manual process with Linux distros. While Canonical hasn't created a "Ubuntu Remix" SDK or hosted web site for Live CD customization, Novell is starting to build the kind of tools needed to make a custom OpenSUSE distro with SUSE Studio which is currently in limited Alpha testing.
Another neat site is Custom NimbleX, a specialized distro from Taiwan that takes more of the Chinese restaurant approach -- "Choose one from column A and one from column B" for package selection rather than being able to add custom content beyond just wallpaper. Despite its limitations, however, the DHTML GUI that Custom NimbleX employs is one of the coolest things I have ever seen a web site do without using Flash.
Ideally, I'd like to see some combination of both sites and a granular approach to changing the appearance and adding in new content.
Brand loyalty may be the next big thing for Linux distributions. Which custom branded Linux would you like to see? Talk Back and let me know.