August 25, 2006

Swiss developers start rolling Your Own Linux Distribution

Author: Tina Gasperson

Ark Linux project developers operate on a "no-frills" policy when it comes to deciding what features will be included in their distribution. They strive to provide only the tools necessary for a typical desktop user, creating a lean, mean Linux. When some users came asking for more features, rather than violate their policy of simplicity, the developers launched a completely new company called YOLD (Your Own Linux Distribution).

Bernhard Rosenkraenzer, a native of Switzerland and the founder of the Ark Linux project, says some people were requesting features that "wouldn't make sense" for most other users. "That would go against the concept of not bloating it. We wanted to help those people, but we didn't want to do it at the cost of making Ark Linux worse for others."

Since the feature requests were coming from businesses, Rosenkraenzer and the other lead developers thought it would be a good idea to develop and sell customized versions of Ark, making some extra money for themselves while investing a percentage of the proceeds back into Ark development.

One of YOLD's first projects was to help SHS Mediasolutions add office functionality to its Merlin line of personal video recorders (PVR). "[They] picked us to create a dual-boot setup between the Deuromedia software and a slightly modified Ark Linux setup," Rosenkraenzer says. "It has a non-interactive installer, and this version can access the media files recorded with the PVR software, so people can record TV shows with their PVR and then edit them on Ark. Or they can play music files copied from their CDs with the PVR while doing some work with Ark."

In the works now is a live CD for the tourist office of the town of Oberwald in the Swiss Alps. "Its primary purpose is to give tourists a slide show with pictures of the area," Rosenkraenzer says. "We're thinking about doing the same thing for some other towns, such as Zermatt."

Rosenkraenzer charges about $81 per hour for development, but offers a 50% rebate if the customer chooses to release the work under the GNU General Public License (GPL). "We'll do the work for free for open source projects," he says. "So far nobody has made use of that offer, but I think that's because nobody knows about it."

No one at YOLD is making enough money to quit their day job yet, but Rosenkraenzer is optimistic. "If we can find plenty of customers, we'll quickly turn our present people into full-time employees who can drop their other jobs, and [we'll] find some new people."

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