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Straight outta Seattle: Redmond Linux

Cheeky distro not quite what you might think...

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Ever wondered what a Seattle-flavoured Linux distro looks like? The Redmond Linux project could give us a clue. Former Microsoft staffer Joseph Cheek is the lead developer for the distro, which he says brings some of Microsoft's Cathedral software engineering practices to the open source Bazaar.

Cheek told The Register that Redmond Linux was leading on ease of use - and more controversially, adopting the kind of software Q&A procedures that he learned in Redmond. The distro uses Caldera's distro as a base (Cheek is a co-author of a book about Caldera Linux) but with some UI modifications.

Redmond Linux isn't alone in making Linux easier for new users. Eazel and Helix Code are complimentary projects intended to make it take the Unix out of navigating Linux, and Corel's own Debian-based Linux is also going after the same user.

While Cheek pays tribute to these - saying Corel Linux has done a "fabulous job" - he says Redmond Linux is trying to go one further by orientating the UI around tasks, rather than applications. "Corel has made its desktop very similar to Windows. We're trying to do one better. We're not including the kitchen sink: all the program menus and find menus for example." He also says help will be more prominent than in Microsoft's UIs.

But the idea of bringing Microsoft software practices into an open source distribution might strike some as sacrilegous, given the company's reputation for software reliability. What's he thinking?

Cheek acknowledges that it sounds er, bizarre. "Great things came from the Bazaar method. Peer review works very well in some areas, such as security and producing tight and stable code, but not for everything," he says. "It doesn't guarantee usability, or something that installs easily. It typically doesn't publish test plans or hold accountability for those test plans."

Cheek spent a year and a half in Microsoft's testing group before leaving to join Linuxcare, and lives a mile away from the main Redmond campus. What do his former colleagues make of it? They're "intrigued but non committal" he says. We wondered if Microsoft's lawyers might be so easy going. "Well Microsoft doesn't use the Redmond name specifically, so I don't really anticipate problems." The waggish appropriation of the Windows 2000 logo for the project might be viewed differently he acknowledges, but "we're testing the waters."

For now Redmond Linux is purely a volunteer project - Cheek holds down a day job at Linuxcare - and he says funding would be welcomed to produce shrinkwrap CDs.

The distribution went into beta a couple of weeks ago and is slated to go gold in November. ®

Related links

Redmond Linux
Eazel
Helix Code

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