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Time to ditch those CD sets..

Something that really boggles my mind: Why do all the distros still push their 3 or 7-CD or DVD sets as the main way to download them? It’s 2006 for crying out loud. My distro of choice these days is debian, and I’ve been using the net-install ISO for a couple years now.

Waste of Bandwidth

Most distros come with, well basically, everything. Interestingly, most people use one desktop environment. One internet browser. One mail client. One office suite. Many many TB’s of bandwidth are wasted by the extra programs people are downloading, but never use. This puts undue strain on all the sites hosting, including the mirrors that donate their bandwidth.

With a network-based install, you just download a small, bootable CD with the basic OS on it. Debian’s net-install is 100MB. The installer has the ability to download packages from web, ftp, and nfs servers, as you select which packages you actually want.

Quickly Outdated

When you burn a distro on CD, it pretty much goes obsolete immediately. The longer you wait, the more packages get updates. If you install something a month or two old, then chances are the first time you run the update utility, it’s going to download a large number of packages again, because they’ve been updated. So now you have a whole ton of packages on CDs – many of which you’ll never use – and once you’re done installing, you’re goig to have to download most of them again.

Broadband: It’s Everywhere

A very high percentage of people have broadband access (in USA, estimated 29% rural, 39% urban – probably higher in the rest of the world), and I’d be willing to bet that the percentage among people installing Linux (ie, the techies) is much higher. With a good connection, downloading doesn’t even take that much longer than copying off a CD. (And just think, with all the extra bandwidth from people mostly doing net-installs, the mirrors will be able to go even faster!)

For dialup users or people that want to install on a standalone machine, it makes sense to keep the CDs around.
Faster Install

Instead of having to wait to download 2 or 3 CDs, and then do the installation, you can just download the 100MB image (or use an old one you have laying around, as if it’s been well-designed, it will basically never go out of date) and then download only the packages you need (which should be much less than 3 CDs worth). This even makes sense for dialup users, if they don’t otherwise have access to broadband to get the full CD set.

Drawbacks

There are drawbacks to the net-install. If the network hardware isn’t supported by the installer, then obviously it won’t work. For a new user, a net install may be confusing since it’s so different from the typical OS install. I don’t think these are huge issues though, as long as the user interface is well designed and enough drivers are included (and the user isn’t using some obscure and/or obsolete network hardware).

I’d love to hear comments on this, about why it is or isn’t a good idea, and why more distros have not adopted the network install method.

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