Should Your Business Remaster Its Own Linux Distro?

Monday May 23rd 2011 by Matt Hartley
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Companies can re-brand existing Linux distributions with their own corporate identity to enjoy marketing and functional advantages.

As things stand now, there are more Linux distributions available than most of us know what to do with. However, there are still instances where going along with the crowd and using a ready-made distribution might not be the right fit for your company.

Whether it's from a branding perspective or marketing opportunities, the reasons to seek out an alternative to the "big name" distros could easily run on all day. In the end, though, the goal is find a way to integrate the advantages of the Linux desktop into your workplace without feeling like you're being "re-branded" with the name of the chosen distribution itself.

In this article, I'll explore the mindset behind why a company might wish to "re-brand" a given Linux distribution or perhaps just remaster it to make sure that company requirements are handled better than "out of the box."

What's in a company brand?

For a company using a proprietary operating system exclusively, the idea of branding isn't really something that much thought is given to. However, for a business using Linux on the desktop, branding becomes a possibility that might be worth pursuing.

By having a remastered Linux distribution used within your company, your workplace has the freedom to brand the user experience from the opening splash screen down to the icon choices being used on the desktop. Then there's the ability to select which wallpapers and screensavers are used.

Perhaps none of these are considered a critical concern, but it's nice to have some computer-based fluidity with each workstation regardless. Besides, additions like these can also double as company outreach when used creatively.

The company business card

A few years ago, there was a growing trend where business people would hand out business cards on CD. Truth be told, the CDs handed out were generally of little value to the recipient and often ended up in the trash. Yet despite this setback, the idea of a high-tech business card isn't completely without merit.

Now consider for a moment that the same CD business card contained something of value. Imagine if this media contained a copy of your remastered Linux distribution with the explicit idea of providing your client with a means of staying in touch with your company.

If the company you work for provides tech support and this CD is being used as the bootable OS if the client's regular OS is down, the value provided is instantaneous. With the user's current operating system having problems, the end-user can use the CD to boot into your distribution and get back to work.

It would even allow them to get access to files on the hard drive that wasn't booting before. During all of this, your company name is right there in front of them. This is a powerful experience that will stay with the user long after the computer is fixed.

Another less impressive way a CD Linux business card might be of value is to offer a privacy-friendly way for clients to connect to the Internet. Just boot to the distribution, select the browser and enjoy! This could be helpful for those who are using a public computer during a business trip. Best of all is that other users are sure to question what the client is using and your company's name is bound to be mentioned.

But this is only one side of using a company-specific remastered Linux distribution. There's also a practical, IT department-friendly side to this as well. After all, marketing alone shouldn't be the only department benefiting from this.

The practical side of desktop remastering

For most IT departments, the real selling point for having a remastered distribution is the control over the kernel choice, software and user interface. This kind of control ensures everyone is using the same software, kernel and other items that are needed to run smoothly for the company.

Not only do you end up with a branded, customized distribution of Linux that your company can deploy on to company workstations, your customized distribution also meets your own company's IT needs as well. This translates into improved productivity with fewer distractions.

Remastered distributions made simple

At this point, there's likely some concern over the idea of having to incur countless working hours trying to set up the perfect remastered Linux distribution for the workplace. The truth is, this need not be overly time-consuming or complex. Using tools like SUSE Studio allows enterprise users the freedom to customize a Linux distribution to meet their needs without a significant time investment.

This allows for control over the RPMs included with the customized distribution, while at the same time providing the tools to brand things with the company's personality. More important than appearance, SUSE Studio will give you control over drivers, graphics, software inclusion and other aspects of the desktop.

Linux on your terms

With proprietary desktop operating systems and the software provided with it, each update can be an exercise in patience.

Will the new updates conflict with something? How necessary is the provided update from a security point of view or is it just a feature release? Does this conflict with other updates or software? These concerns are added stresses that I think most people would like to do without. Some might even argue these issues are unavoidable.

I happen to think that more often than not, these concerns can indeed be avoided as many updates are for features not even used by your company. Think about it. How annoying is it to update your operating system only to fix a feature that you'd preferred to have left off in the first place? With some OS installations, this happens more often then vendors would like to admit.

Now imagine the same set of workstations need updates, but only for items that you have personally signed off on. So you're not updating unused features on your workstation PCs. This helps everyone, from the network administrators down to the end-user working for your company.

Workstations, kiosks, and new opportunities

There are bound to be circumstances where the company you work for is either perfectly content with their existing operating system configuration or perhaps the need for a change simply hasn't come about yet.

At the same time, there are many businesses that are now providing customers with access to kiosk computers, non-networked workstations and other computer-based points of access that aren't really part of the existing company scope. This leaves an opening for a remastered Linux distribution to prove its possible value.

With a kiosk, having a well branded PC makes a lot of sense as this is likely to be used by customers of the business in question. Wouldn't it be nice to have your company as a focus and not whatever OS happens to be installed? A remastered Linux installation can be of benefit here.

How about those old workstations that were just replaced? Before getting rid of them, how about removing the hard drives completely and installing a remastered copy of Puppy Linux on included flash drives. Donate them to charity and your company becomes an instant rock stars (and might just garner some free press and publicity).

Now to be fair, your company could carry out the above idea with any Linux distribution. And the results would certainly be about the same. The problem with that approach is that after the press dies down on your donation, no one remembers where the PCs came from. With a remastered and branded distribution installed, however, there is no question who the donation came from.

Is a remastered distribution worth it?

Chances are fair that your company doesn't care about branding their operating system and the idea of passing out CD business cards isn't really a priority for them. I realize this, even though I still feel it was worth highlighting earlier as a proof of concept.

One thing I firmly believe in, however, is that a company that wants to keep tight control over their computers might be interested in at least considering the advantages of a remastered, customized distribution of Linux.

While the reasons may vary, if you're working in an environment that is deeply hesitant to risk moving toward badly needed upgrades, then perhaps going with a remastered solution isn't such a bad idea after all.

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