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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

By Mark Gregson on July 03, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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I have never written a review of a Linux distribution, but I've read more than I can count, and many of them have been maddeningly incomplete and not worth the time it took to read them. Here's a list of items you need to talk about in order to write a thorough review, covering every aspect of the distribution from the initial download to the final recommendation and everything in between.

Not every item below applies to every distribution; you need to choose which items to include and which to ignore. For example, if the distribution is for an embedded device, there's probably not much point in discussing window manager themes. However, the more you include, the better your review will be. You can cover some of this information in a simple table, but many of the points deserve more explanation.

In addition to talking about each item, you should tell your readers how important or useful you think each item is. For example, if the distribution automatically boots all the way to a logged-in guest account, do you like this or not?

Purpose of distribution

Describe the purpose of the distribution as given by the creators. For example, the distribution may be intended for servers or it might instead be for multimedia creators. If the creators do not list a purpose, you can give your view, but this should be done in a later section where you describe your impressions and recommendations.

Parent distribution

Describe the "parent" distribution this distribution is based on. For example, is this distribution Slackware or Debian based? If it is not based on a parent distribution, discuss the implications of this. Spend more time on this point if the parent distribution is particularly relevant -- for example, is the distribution intended to be minimalist but was built on the biggest kernel around?

Version

Give the version number of the distribution you are reviewing. What is the release date? Is this the latest version? If not, explain why you are you reviewing an older version. For example, the latest version might be beta and you only want to review the latest stable release. Which kernel is the distribution based on? Does the distribution contain multiple kernel versions? Don't just list the kernel as "2.6" but rather give the minor release number also (e.g. 2.6.25). Note whether the kernel is recent or older and discuss the distribution release dates versus the kernel release dates if that is relevant. For example, if the distribution is only days or weeks old but the kernel version is much older, note this. If the distribution uses a special kernel, include the bug fix number (e.g. 2.6.16.28).

Distribution creators

Mention the distribution creators -- is it one person working out of his home or is the distribution from a large scientific or government body?

Acquiring

Describe the methods provided to get the distribution. List the size of the distribution. Are there mirrors in major regions or is the distribution only available on its Web site? How fast was the download? How did you find out about this distribution? Are there other formats available? For example, can one purchase a DVD or CD? Is this a commercial or a free release?

CPU architectures

List the CPU architectures the version supports. Tell the readers whether one download supports multiple architectures, and about any special architectures that are supported.

Live vs. install

Say whether the distribution requires an install before you can use it fully. Most distributions have a live CD version. List the various "flavours" the distribution comes in. For example, are there separate minimal and full versions? Are there versions for different kinds or users or for different computer architectures?

Live CD issues

Describe the distribution's approach to saving personal files while in live CD mode. Are there any ways of saving the configuration? Does the distribution have a control panel entry for this? How easy is it to restart the live CD version and apply your saved configuration?

Install

Discuss the tools and process of installing the distribution onto the hard drive. How much manual intervention is required? How much technical expertise is needed? How well is the process documented? Does the system automatically partition the drives? Does it automatically backup existing files? Which filesystems are supported? Is there a default filesystem?

Languages

Since you will likely write your review in English (since you are reading this guide in English) then if the default language is not English emphasize the point. List the languages supported by the distribution. What is the default language? How well supported are the other listed languages? For example, if English is not the default language, do applications and documentation switch to English when you switch the language to English?

Boot issues

Describe which boot parameters are required and which boot options are available. Does the distribution stop and ask for user input or does it boot automatically? Even if it does boot all the way to a graphical desktop, does it still require configuration settings in the desktop? For example, some distributions will run all the way to a logged-in user running X but then show a dialog box requiring the person to set up the network card.

Describe the ease of modifying the boot parameters, especially if you had to change any of the defaults in order to get the distribution working on your machine. Were there function keys that changed the default resolution or runlevel? Describe the level of documentation provided on the boot screens themselves. For example, did you have to already know that you should type "noapci" or did the boot screens explain all that and all other "cheat codes" (at least the ones required to get your machine working)?

Tell the user if the system boots with a splash screen. This is particularly important if the distribution is intended for novice users. Does the distribution show any boot output or is it fully hidden?

Start scripts

Describe the startup scripts that come with the distribution. Besides startx, are there separate start scripts for each window manager? How easy is it to find them (i.e. are they documented clearly)? Are there start scripts for services like CUPS and firewalls?

Graphical vs. text

Explain what happens when the system has finished booting. Does it automatically start an X session? Which version of X does it use? If it doesn't start X automatically, what does it do? What sorts of instructions are given on screen, regardless of the boot mode? Is there enough information given to tell the user how to log in? For example, for any distribution intended for novice users, are the username and password shown on the login screen?

Screen resolution

Discuss the video mode the system boots to by default if it boots to X. Does it automatically find and use the highest resolution or possibly the highest refresh rate? Is the boot video mode selectable at some point?

Hardware detection

Describe the automatic hardware detection of the distribution. This includes but is not limited to video cards, audio cards, keyboards, mice (including the scroll wheel), USB ports, hard drives, CD and DVD devices, modems, network cards, printers, and scanners. Are the correct video drivers loaded? If you plug in or remove USB devices, does the system correctly configure the devices? Does your sound card work? Which sound architecture does it use?

Mounting

Tell whether the hard drives are mounted in read-only or in read-write mode. Can the distribution read and write non-Linux drives? How easy is it to switch between read-only and read-write? Were all the hard drives automatically mounted?

Network

Discuss how the distribution configures the network devices. Are they all discovered? Does the system let you use DHCP? How much manual configuration is required? What tools are provided for managing the network?

Describe whether wireless network cards are properly configured. On startup, does the system tell you whether it tried, and what the result is? Are there any special tools to help you manage wireless connections?

Printing

Describe the printer setup process. Print some documents. Is CUPS automatically started? How easy is it to add a printer? Which printers are supported?

Laptop support

If you run the distribution on a laptop, discuss how well the hardware is supported. Does the distribution correctly deal with putting the laptop into sleep and hibernate modes? Is the infrared port configured? Does it support Bluetooth?

Login manager

Mention the login manager that starts by default. You can also list other supplied login managers, if any.

Window managers

List all the window managers supplied with the distribution and their version numbers. Does the login manager (if any) list the window managers and allow the user to select one different from the default? Are there window managers included that aren't shown by the login manager? Are there any unusual window managers?

Themes

Discuss the themes provided. How easy is it to change themes and get new ones?

Look and feel

Discuss the overall look of the distribution. Is there a consistent feel starting from the boot loader and going all the way through the login manager, default themes, and any customized control panels?

Fonts

Discuss the fonts that are installed with the distribution. Note anything exceptional, such as a large number of unusual fonts.

Desktop

Describe the desktop. Which applets are started and in which taskbars? What icons are there? Are there any special panels or menus? Do any other programs start automatically?

Menus

Describe how well the menus are configured in each window manager. Does each window manager have the same applications listed as the others, and are they laid out identically to the other supplied window managers as far as the window manager will allow? Are all the important installed applications listed? Are there submenus by category? If so, how well do the applications fit the assigned category? How many submenus do you need to navigate before you find what you want? Are there desktop icons for any applications? Do not assume that all applications shown in menus actually work or are even installed. For example, if the distribution includes a word processor in the menu, did you start it?

Software selection

Discuss the applications that are installed in the distribution by category. Highlight any unusual applications. List any non-open-source applications. Note especially if anything is missing. For example, if this is a desktop distribution, are there office applications? If it is a server edition, are all the services available?

Codecs

Discuss the codecs supplied with the distribution. How complete is the set of included codecs? Are all the free codecs included by default? Are there non-free codecs that might cause legal issues in some jurisdictions? How easy is it to get additional codecs if required? How well did the applications play the media you tested?

Customized control panel

Describe any customized control panels that come with the distribution. What tasks do they cover? How easy are they to find and use? Do the tools work completely or does the user need to do further work via non-customized tools?

Customized application configuration

Describe any customized application configuration tools provided. For example, is there a customized tool to configure encryption?

Special configurations

Describe any special programs and configurations not found in most other distributions. For example, if the distribution includes Wine, is it fully configured to run, and are there any installed Windows applications that are preconfigured? Are there icons or menu items that start these applications?

Development tools

Describe the development tools provided. List the compilers, editors, and integrated development environments.

Services

List the services that are started automatically. For example, is sshd started? Describe the system for controlling the starting and stopping of services. Is there an administration control panel for services? Are any important services not included in the control panel?

Security

Describe the security features of the distribution. Is the root password weak or strong? Are there any guest accounts or does the distribution automatically log in as root? Are the guest accounts password protected? Does the distribution boot all the way to a desktop or is there a login screen? Are the passwords easy to find? For example, some distributions show the password on the login screen as part of the wallpaper. Are there special security features such as firewalls or automatically encrypted filesystems?

Packages

Discuss package management for the distribution. Test out some package installs. Which package repositories are preconfigured? How many packages are there for this distribution? What is the package manager? How easy was it to install applications? Did the newly installed packages work?

Patches

Describe the method provided by the distribution creators for patching the distribution. For example, are there any patches or does the user need to download a complete copy of the latest distribution? How easy is it to apply the patches?

Performance

Discuss the speed of the distribution if it differs significantly from other distributions. Does it boot extra quickly? Is the windowing system extremely responsive? Is the kernel optimized in any way that shows? Does the distribution run entirely within RAM? Did the install go extremely slow?

Stability

Describe the stability of the distribution. Do any of the applications crash? Does the distribution start the same every time? Does it have trouble with certain configurations of hardware such as laptops or old computers?

Shutdown

Describe what happens when the user exits. For example, if you shut down X via the Ctrl-Alt-Backspace key combination, do you return to a login screen or does the system shut down? Does it drop the user to a command line? Does the system power off automatically? Does it eject the CD during shutdown?

Remastering

Discuss any tools provided for rebuilding the distribution. How easily can you remaster the distribution? Is there any documentation for this task?

Upgrade and rollback

Discuss the process of moving to a newer or older version of the distribution after having done an install. Are there any tools provided to assist with this?

Problems

List all the problems you encountered. Discuss what you found confusing. What did not work as documented? What workarounds did you have to apply? Did the solutions provided by the official support staff or the user community work? Are problems noted on the Web site, and does the project have an expected schedule of when they will be fixed?

Documentation

Describe the documentation provided with the distribution. Are there man pages for every application? Is the info command included with full documentation? Does the distribution include the help files for each application? Are all the customized tools documented?

Support

Describe the official support for the distribution. How responsive are the creators to user questions? Are they open to receiving help? How complete is the Web site, and how easy is it to find help there? Are there other help forums, such as IRC channels, and do developers frequent them?

User community

Describe the user community to the extent you can judge from the distribution's forums. How large and active is it? How helpful is it? How friendly is it?

Source code availability

Describe the process of getting the software for the distribution. How easy is it to find all the software, especially for the customized tools? How well is it documented?

Releases and roadmap

Does the distribution have a regular release schedule? Is the schedule published? How closely do the creators adhere to the schedule? Describe the roadmap for the distribution. Are there documented plans for future releases? What things are in the roadmap?

History

Describe the history of the distribution. Has the distribution been stable at each release? How has the distribution changed over time? When did the distribution first appear and how often was it updated? Has the distribution been influential on other distributions or in other ways?

Screenshots

Provide useful screenshots, not just screenshots for the sake of having some pictures in your review. Useful screenshots mean noteworthy items described in the text, such as something that makes the distribution distinctive or anything particularly interesting.

Links

Provide links in your review not only to the distribution Web site but also to anything that is not directly related to the distribution you are reviewing. For example, if you mention other distributions you should include links to them.

Your omissions

List the things you did not test and the reasons why you did not.

Your system and your perspective

Describe the hardware and software configuration of your test machine. Did you have any esoteric hardware? Did you run the distribution inside a virtual machine?

Describe your relevant experience. How long have you been using Linux? How many distributions have you tried? Which distributions do you regularly use? Are you an administrator or programmer?

Discuss your reasons for reviewing this distribution. For example, do you want to describe the latest release of this distribution? Do the distribution creators make any special claims for this release or this distribution? Have you been using this distribution for day-to-day work?

Disclose your biases. For example, do you prefer everything to be automated or would you rather have manual control? Do you have a favourite application that wasn't included when you thought it should be?

Recommendations

Summarize your review and your impressions. Compare this distribution against others of the same type. If the target audience is described by the creators, does the distribution meet the needs of the target audience? What kind of users will most like this distribution?

Final words

Consider having your review edited. Your review should be well-organized, clearly worded, and without grammar or spelling errors.

This guide on writing reviews means that you won't be able to blast through a distribution in 20 minutes, but the extra time you take to cover so many items will be rewarded by your readers' interest and appreciation. They'll want to read the next thing you write. Your review may become the definitive standard against which all others are compared.

Mark Gregson has used Linux since 1995 and has tried more than two dozen distributions, sometimes because of what a reviewer wrote.

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Comments

on How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 151.203.145.115] on July 03, 2008 10:03 PM
You have done a wonderful service for GNU/Linux. I too have read many "reviews". Far too many were really Linux bashing in the guise of a review. The ones that start off with "don't get me wrong" are the worst. You have given me a link to put in my comments to their posts. Thank you.

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Re: How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 172.29.113.67] on July 03, 2008 10:41 PM
Typical Linux review from a Windows user.

1. First, talk about what serious Windows "power user" (thats any oxymoron if there ever was one) you are and that any failure associated with the install is not your fault, its just that Linux isn't "ready".

2. Blather on and on about the installation and show way too many screen shots of the prorcess. Be sure to comment that Linux didn't detect and install 3D accelerated drivers for your Nvidia card and that you had to download them from Nvida. Be sure to mention that until "Linux" fixes this problem, its not "ready". Also forget to mention that Windows users also have to download drivers from Nvidia.

3. Attempt and fail to get a piece of shit USB device you dredged out of the bowels of Ebay working properly. Be sure to mention that until Linux works with this hardware nobody else was stupid enough to buy but you, that Linux isn't "ready". Fail to mention you couldn't get it working on you Windows machine either.

4. Install 17 different distributions of Linux desperately trying to get your useless USB device "auto-detected". When someone tells you about "modprobe", claim running a command is too "difficult", and be sure to throw in Linux isn't ready.

5. Complain and complain about every little thing possible so you forget why real "power users" choose Linux as their desktop.
14:31:21 up 291 days, 4:12, 0 users, load average: 2.10, 2.22, 2.35



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Re(1): How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 209.215.71.250] on July 04, 2008 02:00 PM
Wow, all I can say is AMEN. The article was thorough with some exceptions, and the comment "Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 172.29.113.67] on July 03, 2008 10:41 PM" really says it all for me. Most reviews either don't have enough meat or are Windoze-fanboy rants about Linux being "too hard" and "not ready"! Grow up. If you could sit someone who is completely unaware of Windows traits at a new/naked computer and get them to install the complete Windows operating system, drivers, and app software I BET you would hear that WINDOWS is "too hard" and "not ready".

In the meantime I'll keep using my new box running PCLinuxOS and continue doing what I do......surf the web, email, play music, work with an mp3 player, play movies, work with my digital camera and photo software, write letters and reports, budget and track bookings, do the occasional presentation prep for work (usually presented via my WinXP lappy later!), and other things most users do every day.

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.145.180.221] on July 03, 2008 10:29 PM
what about remix distros? for most of those, I wouldn't think you'd need to cover all that--the most important points would be what's been changed from the parent distro....

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Scott Dowdle on July 04, 2008 12:04 AM
That is maddeningly complete... especially if you are already familiar with the vast majority of that stuff. Do we really need every Fedora and Ubuntu review to go through half of all that stuff.

One thing I don't like is when a distro reviewer concentrates completely on the specific hardware they have. I've seen several times where a reviewer installed on an Intel Mac or some laptop that had some issues that the vast majority of people will not run into. Points like... does it detect the maximum resolution and use it... again, that can be very hardware specific. It would be nice if reviewers had the opportunity to install on a laptop and a desktop and a server... and see how all three go... rather than just griping about a wireless adapter on some laptop.

Some of that stuff isn't really a review... it's just the facts about a distro. You can get much of it from the distro site or distrowatch.

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Kernel Version???

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 207.65.99.94] on July 04, 2008 01:16 AM
Does anyone really care about "kernel version?" By just telling me the Distribution Name and Version number is good enough for me, I can figure out the kernel version from the Distrowatch web-site or even the distro's website. Not too many distro's send out the 2.4 AND the 2.6 version on the same disk anymore.

As for NVIDIA drivers, the only thing that should bother a linux user is that when he purchases an nvidia card, it has windows specific drivers and extra programs for the windows perusal. However, there is not one single copy of the linux driver on that same disk knowing good and well that it could fit on that disk. There is just no excuse not to include it. Windows users have to get online and update the driver, so can linux users but at least they will have a starting point just like the windows people.

I agree that codec discussion is a must. What good does it do to download an operating system, get online for the first time only to find out that no "rich" media from the web can be played on your computer, without rebooting into windoze. The philosophy of "all free, all the time" may be awesome, grand, and inspired. However reality is what it is, I like watching a youtube video with the best of them. I like seeing movie trailers with the best of them. I like hearing mp3 files with the best of them. When someone says, "wow! have you seen this video!" and I go online, I don't need some company telling me that the world community finds it unacceptable to include codecs. GET A LIFE!!! Warner Brothers, quicktime, or microsoft might sue RED HAT for including the codecs in their property since they are a money=making enterprise, but they won't sue the world if it's included in FEDORA, the "community"-developed Distro.

Finally out of the millions of Linux users in the world, how many actually modify code? I'll bet the one's that do know how to get it regardless of the review.

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Re: Kernel Version???

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.224.246.146] on July 05, 2008 06:02 PM
Does anyone care? YES.

You could benefit from the education a good review might provide. Understand where your codec concerns and distress about Nvidia drivers being omitted for "lack of space" overlap with some of the greater issues with using Free Software.

This isn't all about being 'freeware'. It's about acknowledging areas where intellectual property, software copyrights and patents, as well as individual freedom bump up against each other.

Those movie trailers and such that you enjoy so much are intellectual property of the media companies that produce them. Understand the relationship between the service provider, the consumer, and the enabler of these technologies. There is an underlying profit (monetary and IP) motive that can be a useful "thread" to follow to help understand this aspect of using "Free Software". It's not an equal playing field. Codecs are a prime example. Take a look at the Unisys patents on GIF, and Frauenhoffer's patents on MP3, and take a look at what patent infringement and copyright protection mean to a corporate entity. They must enforce their copyrights or they stand to lose them.

Proprietary software's mode of operation suggests that once written, the owner has certain entitlements with regard to generating revenue, and protecting/monetizing access to the concepts that are executed through said proprietary code. This is why GNU is not UNIX.

Finally, out of the millions of GNU/Linux users in the world that *do* modify code, how many contribute their code changes to the parent branches? Not as many as should, I'll grant you that. However, not all modifications that are made are worthy of upstream inclusion. They are incredibly valuable, nonetheless, and are a major reason why Free Software has put major proprietary outfits six-feet under, and allowed the development of things you love like YouTube, Google, etc.

Want to be revolutionary? Include proprietary codecs in your own distribution and understand the hows and whys.

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Re(1): Kernel Version???

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.84.196.212] on July 06, 2008 01:21 AM
"They must enforce their copyrights or they stand to lose them."

Oh my no. Whoever has a copyright has it for however long copyright lasts (somewhere between 50 and 100 years I believe). It eventually expires at which point the work is in the public domain. Ownership of copyright cannot be changed by anyone except the copyright holder.

This is the problem RMS talks about with the term Intellectual Property. People get the rights and privileges of one form of IP mixed up with the others. We have here confusion of Trademark law that does not apply to Copyright or Patent law. The author of the quote better educate his/her self on what they are talking about before trying to school others.

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Misconceptions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 147.206.4.254] on July 07, 2008 08:59 PM
"They must enforce their copyrights or they stand to lose them."

That is not true. You are thinking of trademarks (and service marks), which lose their validity if they are not enforced. Copyrights, patents, and trade/service marks are all separate concepts.

"Want to be revolutionary? Include proprietary codecs in your own distribution and understand the hows and whys."

Whether or not you understand the "hows and whys", it still may be illegal to include proprietary codecs. The sticking point is often subsequent redistribution.

The GP poster seems to advocate simply ignoring the law, claiming that corporations are not going to sue "the community". This is plain nonsense. Look at how many ordinary individuals have been sued by the RIAA over vague allegations of copyright infringement. If a company believes that its revenue stream is being impacted by anything that could remotely be considered "infringing", it is highly likely to sue, once it becomes aware of the "violation".

More importantly, I think it is critical that distributions follow the law very scrupulously from the standpoint of public relations. We're the "good guys", remember? I think it is a huge mistake to let our opponents claim that they are the upright, law-abiding ones, and that Linux users are engaging in shady activities.

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With each kernel version, there are added features

Posted by: TK on July 07, 2008 09:28 PM
I use 2.6.25 as a demarcation since it includes some major features beneficial to desktops and enterprise servers alike. I think the next one will be whenever ext4 is merged into the mainline kernel. Yes, many folks that understand what features are in each version definitely want to know.

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.51.104.175] on July 04, 2008 01:24 AM
Well said. Thank you!

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.171.185.195] on July 04, 2008 02:20 AM
Mark,

I enjoyed reading this article than any other real review about a specific Linux distro. Excellent article. The timing was perfect for me, as I was planning to write a review about a distro for my blog and I'll definitely keep all the points you've mentioned here.

Ramesh
http://www.thegeekstuff.com

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.157.33.4] on July 04, 2008 04:24 AM
Thanks for this. My biggest gripe about distro reviews is that the almost invariably talk about (1) the installation process and (2) the default desktop theme. Which is silly because you install it once, and most likely don't keep the default theme (if you even see it at all, since you keep a separate /home parition like a smart Linux user). So the entire review revolves around two things that will not matter two hours after you pop the disc in.

First commenter is right on, too.

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That's all very nice, but ...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.250.149] on July 04, 2008 07:48 AM
Writing a review that covers all this material would take a couple of weeks full-time work. A reviewer, if he/she gets paid at all, gets paid the equivalent of about one day's work per review.

If you toss all reviews except the "thorough" ones, we'll end up with no reviews at all. How does that help anyone?

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Re: That's all very nice, but ...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.96.63.135] on July 06, 2008 06:11 PM
I agree with the main article... we only need thorough articles. What use do you find the so called "reviews" that only talk about how the distro looks, how they had problems with "blah, blah" hardware, and how Linux is not "ready", how it is not user friendly?

Honestly, I can't remember the amount of time I have "wasted" reading these "reviews" then getting up and kicking myself for having wasted my time just to read someones gripes and personal opinions! Its equal to cheating somebody of their time, by writing something useless in the name of review.

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I don't agree at all

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.241.128.10] on July 04, 2008 09:26 AM
What is the point in rehashing the documentation from the project website? The downloading and installation procedures should be documented there. If it isn't, _then_ make a comment.

A review should concentrate solely on the unique selling points and disadvantages of a distro, with screenshots where possible. The questions to be answered are:
(1) Why should I change from my current distro
(2) What problems am I likely to experience.

If the install process is particularly slick or clunky then mention it. Otherwise I couldn't care less.

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Distro track record and how long it's been around

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.232.16.130] on July 04, 2008 11:21 AM
I admit I just skimmed your comprehensive list, and agree with most, well probably all of it. A few items I didn't see mentioned specifically:

* What's the track record of the distro being reviewed?
Some distro's have had a habit of being bleeding edge, ie. preferred latest versions of components over stability. Did the last few major versions have habit of crashing?

* How long has it been around?
Goes to the longevity of the distro

* What's their policy on free vs. proprietary?
You touch upon this under codecs. I would like to know what the beliefs and policies are for any distro with respect to what they include and not, how easy that make it to access non-included components etc.

* Policies
You could probably lump policies for inclusion, stability vs. newness and a few other together. The idea is to be able to say: "this distro is about ease of use, has a pragmatic view on including non-free software, includes most of the codecs you need for multimedia, and generally stays behind a version or two in order to improve stability."

Anyway, well done. I love it.

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 189.24.87.144] on July 04, 2008 11:46 AM
Excellent!! For livecds the below items are NEEDED:

"Describe the distribution's approach to saving personal files while in live CD mode. Are there any ways of saving the configuration? Does the distribution have a control panel entry for this? How easy is it to restart the live CD version and apply your saved configuration?
Discuss any tools provided for rebuilding the distribution. How easily can you remaster the distribution? Is there any documentation for this task?
Describe the process of getting the software for the distribution. How easy is it to find all the software, especially for the customized tools? How well is it documented?"

Must reviews consider Ubuntu and other distros as good livecd and they are not... only modular system livecds are good... some livecds like GoblinX and Slax you can remaster without even have a harddisk.

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For livecds the below items are NEEDED:

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.241.128.10] on July 04, 2008 01:24 PM
Needed! Give me a break... This is a niche interest at best and again should be documented on the project website. More people would be interested in how easy it would be to install a LAMP stack or smb support, but again that would be offtopic for most reviews.

We need less filler and more meat. Concentrate on broken ground and showstoppers.

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Too much stuff!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.43.200.191] on July 04, 2008 05:00 PM
I mainly find that I want reviews to be shorter not longer. I just want to know whether the guy was impressed or not, whether the distro is cool or not. A review that mentions all of this stuff would bore me to tears. Just sayin'

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.20.166.202] on July 05, 2008 06:12 AM
My two biggest pet peeves are people who end up reviewing the window manager and those who only install under VMWare.

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 121.91.28.31] on July 05, 2008 02:40 PM
Look at the big picture dude.. Linux is still and will always be in the domain of hackers who are daring to get their hands dirty.

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Way too much info, IMHO

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.2.156.64] on July 05, 2008 03:01 PM
Your inventory of topics is impressive, but I would say that it is far too large for a reasonable person to read. In my opinion, a distribution review should be written to assit the reader in deciding the merits/failures of a given distribution/release. You are requesting too many facts, with too little emphasis on analysis.

My personal peeve with most Linux Distribution/Release "reviews" is that they obsess on the writers personal itch (their peculiar application of the OS) OR they obsess on the particular hardware the writer owns (installing a distribution designed for low-spec hardware on a current model core duo CPU is silly, as is the reverse).

I want motivations for writing the review, system requirements, Happy suprises and painful omissions (with screenshots, if applicable), and an assessment of the distributions upgrade/update mechanisims, along with package manager. System philosophy would be nice too, to describe the intended market/user base.

Ken

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Marketing

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.204.223.246] on July 06, 2008 11:32 PM
These points are too low level. The stuff about X session and login manager are don't cares.

What matters is cutting through the "marketing". For example I know of a certain unnamed multimedia distro that is quite cool, but makes claims to novel operational modes which are in fact duplicated (in superior ways) by another distro marketed to system administrators. The latter group thinks so little of the feature(s) that it doesn't even highlight them. The former group touts them as the best thing since sliced bread and exclusive to their development project.

This is where the key distinctions between distros are to be found - underneath the marketing. Some of your points do help with that, others are just petty checklist sort of stuff.

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.158.3.174] on July 07, 2008 12:22 AM
One thing that drives me absolutely crazy is when "lightweight" distros are put out but the reviewer reviews them on relatively new "whiz bang" machines. I don't really care how a lightweight distro performs on a "new" machine.

What I want to know is how that lightweight distro performs on an older machine...since I'm often refurbing Pentium II class machines sometimes with only 128 MB RAM...sometimes even older machines with even less RAM.

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First rule of writing (reviews): know thy audience

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 90.209.33.144] on July 07, 2008 11:59 AM
This is all very well, providing you are writing a technical piece for a Linux-savvy target publication. Which is where the overwhelming number of Linux reviews end up. Provided your goal is to catalog a distro, so that people who already know all about Linux, can quickly get an idea of what it contains, then it does a good, if wordy, job
However, it fails spectacularly if the goal is to answer the question: "why should I use this distribution?". In this case just listing the features means nothing. The key points to address are the benefits and drawbacks of using the distro. In short, this boils down to telling the reader what functions they can perform, that they couldn't do with a different Linux version and possibly (depending if you're trying to sell it, or be independent) what doesn't work. Here, you have to know what sort of features the reader wants. Are they interested in playing games, office functions, running a server - what? Even then, it would be a mistake to just toss them a list of software versions, the value in a review is the information gleaned from the reviewer actually using the product, rather than distilling the datasheet that the supplier provides.
People buy (or download) benefits, not features.

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 64.252.68.170] on July 07, 2008 06:38 PM
Thank you for your article.

Where were you when they were writing the DMCA?

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.84.101.125] on July 07, 2008 07:41 PM
While I applaud your thoroughness, I doubt there's a human being alive who could write so skilfully as to make a review which covered every single one of your points interesting, right to the very last.
I believe it is widely accepted that few people spend more than a couple of minutes reading any given web page.
If reviewers were to slavishly follow your guide, it would take two or three days to read a review, never mind two or three minutes.
Also, I believe a review needs to entertain as well as inform, and it is hard to imagine a review which covered all those points being anything other than boring.
Still, interesting article that provides some food for thought.
Thanks.

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Re: How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: David Tangye on July 08, 2008 01:11 PM
"I believe a review needs to entertain as well as inform, and it is hard to imagine a review which covered all those points being anything other than boring."
Listen child, we are talking about reviewing Linux distros here. If you want to be entertained, I am sure there is a Donald Duck movie on in a cinema near you.

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.173.226.195] on July 09, 2008 12:01 PM
Next step: a review of how to write a review of how to write a review.

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.19.171.102] on July 09, 2008 08:01 PM
Hmm, since you think it necessary to bash someone else's purpose/scope of reviewing a Linux distribution AND think you have the cornor on what needs to be neatly contained in a review, I hope you too can take a little critique. What you have so skillfully avoided in your long laundry list is the need to actually state the purpose for installing a new distribution in the first place. Too many forget we use software to solve a problem. How about stating what the problem we are trying to resolve is along with how the solution (Linux dist) solves it. I mean, are we downloading the distribution to handle databases better, manage storage, provide an email server, etc.. Too many think just because someone can get a distribution up and running it is a viable solution. Let's start linking what we do to a reason. And NO, we don't need to review every piece of every distribution, application, piece of equipment to give the readership something valuable. :)

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How to write a thorough review of a Linux distribution

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.214.148.43] on July 10, 2008 03:57 PM
Thanks for the thoughtfulness you put in to making this list. As I understand it, this is meant to be a sort of "checklist" of useful items to put in a distro review. The main point I believe many posters are missing is that you clearly stated that the reviewer would need to look over the list and decide which points were important for their particular review. I understood it to mean that not all of the items were need to be included in any review, so the list is pretty comprehensive from that perspective. In my opinion I believe this list could be useful to reviewers, and quickly perusing over the list would not take very much time or effort at all. Just my two cents.

It my personal opinion, I'm just most interested in the basics of; How easy to install, What features are included/available, Who the distro is meant for (devs, casual users, etc.), And some basic structural info like what kernel is it built on. The only other thing I think many people would want to know is how much of a learning curve will there be for the potential windows converts, as I think this is important to the advancement of Linux in general.

One question I have is how are all the "It's not ready" naysayers going to behave when it undoubtedly IS "ready"? I hope the Linux community will be ready to fight back the inevitable wave of full-commercial heathens and their enormous checkbooks. I just hate it when a great concept gets trumped by selling out it's valuable qualities to the strictly profit motivated. I love Linux, and I'm relieved to say that I just kicked MS off my system, completely, and so far I've found that I can do anything on Linux that I would want to do on Windows. I think this ability would be a major concern to many who would spend any time reading reviews of distros, IMHO.

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