Talking Point: Should Distros Stick to CDR Size?

It's starting to look like the end of an era for Ubuntu users as Canonical mull the creation of an ISO that won't fit onto a CDR. The question is, does it matter?

Canonical owes at least part of its success with Ubuntu Linux to the unique way that it has been distributed. From the start it has been available as a downloadable ISO image and a free CD, posted at no cost to the user. This was great news for people who wanted to install Linux but did not have the luxury of a decent Internet connection. In a sense, installing via a CDR image has always been like a kind of cache, in that you're moving part of the content that you need onto permanent storage rather than pulling it through the network connection.

Things have changed since Ubuntu made its debut in 2004, and far more people now have a decent Internet connection. In addition, the CDR format itself is beginning to fall out of favor. The majority of computers that are suitable for use as an Ubuntu-powered desktop are capable of booting from a flashdrive, a more flexible and higher capacity medium.

So, should Canonical (and other creators of Linux distros) make an extra effort to squeeze Ubuntu 12.04 onto a CDR?

Some have argued that attempting to adhere to the size limit for a CDR forces the developers into a disciplined approach to resisting bloat. Once the 700MB limit for the basic install is breached, what should the limit be, and does it matter? Within reason, a large percentage of the potential install base for distros like Ubuntu can fetch a boot medium of almost any size. The next convenient milestone would be around 4GB as it's a common size for smaller flashdrives and close to the limit for a single layer DVD-R.

As for the people who still have a slow connection, there are solutions that are better than the traditional one of downloading an ISO and then burning it to a CD, such as arranging to have the installation medium sent through the mail or arranging an organization-wide cache for a network-based installation.

As Shawn pointed out recently, a smaller, but incomplete, installation medium such as an Ubuntu or Debian Netinstall carries with it a few advantages such as allowing you to begin with an up to date set of packages. It’s possible that such a way of working may involve a lower amount of network traffic than booting from a full CD and then updating to replace some of the packages.

Another option would be for Canonical to offer an Ubuntu Lite version with a minimal desktop and few major applications. Although, this approach probably clashes with the overall Ubuntu ethos to ship with a complete, standardized desktop.

In conclusion, I wonder if a few of the major distros will soon drop the familiar 700MB ISO entirely. The number of people who want to install standard Ubuntu but can't manage a download any bigger than the normal ISO, or who can't boot of any medium other than CDR is going to be pretty small these days.


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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Far from truth that Ubuntu

Anonymous's picture

Far from truth that Ubuntu have a unique way of CD/DVD distribution. That is because of Debian origins, and Debian build tools. But, as far as CD is an obsolete medium, and software is changing so fast that there is no need to keep DVD copies, USB flash is a way to go.

low internet connection, low perfomance

Aldo Roman's picture

1. People who want to use the lastest version almost have a very good performance in their PC or laptop and a not-that-slow internet connection.

2. Peole who dont have a fast internet conection, ussually have a very poor PC in terms of perfomance(say, Africa, which is what i've read on many blogs). So, what's the matter of having the last version of a SO (in 700MB or 4GB, who cares) if then you have a very very bad user experience?

3. If I had a extreme slow conection so that i couldnt download 50MB more than last download, I would prefer to stay on the stable-but-not-last version.

Think about it.

CD size is enough

swftech's picture

Although I usually (but not always) just use a flash drive to install all of my distros, why does it really have to exceed 697mb? Just do what Mint does with their cd version and have a menu option to install the extras that makes it the dvd version. I actually was going to download and try out Commodore Vision OS yesterday until I saw it was two separate downloads of 4gb each. Are they crazy? I say keep it convenient and simple. Since we all have fast broadband connections now, why not just have a link on the desktop or in the menu to download the extras (if we even want it)?

Netinstall and DVDs

Anonymous's picture

They should allow downloading of small images for netinstall from either a CD or USB drive and send a DVD through the mail.

Depends on use

nixblog's picture

I don't see much problem in DVD's for distro's so long as the primary use for that distro is not for older PC's which might only have a CD only player.

Keep it small.

metalx2000's picture

I think it's fine if they have a DVD Option, but I would prefer a smaller size.
First off, there is already a lot of things I don't use that come pre installed on a most CD distros. Why have the added bloat. It's easy enough to add what I need from the package manager.

Also, remastering most distros is pretty easy. If I want to make my own, it's easier and more efficient to add what I need then remove what I don't.

I love using USB drives. But, most of mine are 1GB drives. I only have one that is 8GB. I use the 8GB mostly for files storage. The 1GB drives are mostly Linux Distro.

I also like to MultiBoot. And I'm not just talking from my harddrive. Right Now I can fit Mint, Slitaz, and Tiny Core on a 1GB flash drive and still have room for other files.

Let's not be like MS and make bloat the only option. Make it an option if you want, just not the only option.
Everything you ever need to know about Free Software.

1GB flash drives

Matt Broekemeier's picture

I'd think a distro optimized for 1GB flash drives could fill a niche. I think most CD distros leave out Java and/or LibreOffice. With ~300MB you might be able to squeeze those in.

I think that Disro's should

Anonymous's picture

I think that Disro's should push for more USB flash drives.