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Welcome to DistroTweaks.org. Currently, there are more than 200 different Linux distros – or operating system distributions - each serving a slightly different purpose with a slightly different bundles of programs for different communities of users. We think there is a better way to provide the Linux community with customization options. Our goal is to introduce a new way to to customize and share Linux through a process and a product we call a DistroTweak.

What is a DistroTweak?
Let’s start with a familiar story:


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Our purpose in creating this website is to explain in a series of detailed steps how to make dozens of changes to the Linux Mint operating system to turn it into a powerful tool for writing books, developing courses and creating websites - what we call “sharing knowledge”. We also review how to add and use more than twenty free programs to Linux Mint to achieve this same goal. We also provide dozens of steps for customizing a free open source word processor called LibreOffice. The advantage of following through our book and doing all of these steps on your personal computer is that it will help you better learn what is possible with Linux and LibreOffice and better understand how to use Linux and LibreOffice.

But there are some “realistic” drawbacks to actually doing all of these dozens of customization steps. First, it is a question of time. It will likely take you several days to work your way through all of these steps. A lot of people are already very busy with their existing work and family obligations. They may not have the time to learn about and perform all of these intricate steps.

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Second, there is the question of skill or interest. Many people who want to write books, teach courses and/or build websites do not have either the skill or the interest to perform all of these customization steps. We have spent years teaching courses in computer programming and website construction. We understand that many people do not even know how to right click on their computer screen - much less copy and paste cryptic commands into the Linux “black box” terminal. In order to solve this problem of helping folks have a customized operating system, without making all the customizations themselves, we have created a new and revolutionary way to quickly and easily share our custom operating system. We call this new way a “DistroTweak” and we are describing it here for the very first time.

How Creating a DistroTweak Solves a Lot of Problems
We teach courses in writing books and creating complex interactive websites and we want our students to have access to the same custom computer system and the same custom programs we are using. We have made several dozen minor modifications to Linux Mint and we have added a couple of dozen programs to the default programs that come with Mint. We have also made more than one dozen modifications to LibreOffice – one of the default programs that comes with Mint. Before we invented DistroTweaks, what our students had to do in order to get a computer that looked exactly like ours was to read our books and then follow all the dozens of steps listed in our books. While this is a good learning exercise, and students should read our books in order to understand why we made these dozens of modifications, this “learning by doing” process is a long ordeal that may be too intimidating for a lot of our students. We therefore developed a simple DistroTweak process which exactly copies all of our custom settings and custom programs - resulting in a special DistroTweak file. Our students can now install Linux Mint on their computer in the normal way and then add our DistroTweak file. In a matter of minutes, they will have a very stable exact copy of our computer including all the dozens of customized Mint settings and all the dozens of custom programs and even all of our customizations to LibreOffice. Because no alteration is made to Linux Mint, the end result is highly stable. This DistroTweak process is also a better way to back up your computer – something we will review in a future chapter. It even works inside of a Virtual Machine – allowing you to test a DistroTweak before you install it for real on your existing computer. Finally, the process is so easy that anyone can create their own custom DistroTweak – with their own added programs and custom settings.


DistroTweaks are a Quick and Easy Way to Remodel You Linux Mint Home
You can think of Linux as the foundation of your computer’s home and the Mint Cinnamon Distro as the floor, walls and roof. It is a very basic home. Nearly everyone repaints the walls and adds several more bedrooms (programs) after moving in. But it takes a lot of effort adding 20 bedrooms and painting all the walls. Many of these new rooms had to be installed by painstakingly entering computer commands into the Linux terminal. Easy for computer geeks to do but much harder for the rest of us. DistroTweak allows us to add all of these new bedrooms with just a couple of clicks – saving a lot of time and effort.


What is a DistroTweak? Its more than a Software Bundle
A DistroTweak is a process for adding dozens of minor customizations and dozens of programs to a Distro in a matter of minutes with just the click of a button – rather than spending weeks making these minor changes and manually adding dozens of programs one at a time. We use the term tweak because this term has commonly been used among computer enthusiasts to indicate a minor change or slight modification of an operating system or application program. A tweak generally does not change the core of the operating system or program. It merely adds some things to it. A tweak is not likely to crash or reduce the performance of the operating system or program. By comparison, a “hack” is typically a major modification of an operating system or program that attempts to alter the core of the system. Hacking is not recommended for beginners because if you change the wrong thing you could freeze up the operating system or program – resulting in the black screen of death. On the other hand, tweaking in Linux is encouraged with numerous ways to change the appearance or modify the function of the distribution often by clicking on some buttons in a “Settings” screen or panel. Linux distros also include ways to add hundreds of free programs to their distributions. Adding programs is another form of tweaking a distribution to get the final product to perform the various tasks you need your computer to perform.


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Why DistroTweaks?
To better understand how distrotweaks are different from former Linux Customization processes, we will take a quick look at the current methods for customizing a Linux distribution. Historically, each time you updated from one version of a Linux distribution to the next, you would consolidate all of your documents into a couple of folders and copy paste them onto an external drive. You would then create a Live USB stick with the latest ISO of the distribution you wanted to install and use the Live USB stick to install your new Distro. The problem with this approach is that, because installing a new operating system wipes your disc clean, each time you did this you needed to go back into the Settings section after the new install and make all the customizations that you had made before. Even worse, you then needed to reinstall all the programs and applications you had installed on your old system. If you had made dozens of changes to your former system and added dozens of programs, this process could take several days. Now imagine you are a teacher wanting all of your students to use the same set of custom settings and custom programs. Or imagine you are a leader of a business or a non-profit and you want every member of your staff to have computers with the same custom settings and programs. Instead of customizing one computer, you would need to customize 30 to 100 computers – a process that might take weeks or months. 


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A better way to customize a bunch of computers, rather than changing them one at a time, would be to make all of these changes only once and then copy that custom operating system. You can then install the copy onto each of the computers for your employees or students. In the past, there were two solutions to this problem of “mass sharing” of a custom distribution.

The first was to clone the distribution after you had made all the customizations of your settings and programs with a tool called Clonzilla or some other tool that would result in either an ISO image or a Live USB. The problem with cloning is that it is a complex process and if you make a mistake, your goose is cooked. Folks often do not find out that their clone did not work until they tried to install it on their computer and got the black screen of death. Even if it worked, the clone was often not as stable as the original Distribution ISO it was based on. After having years of bad experiences with clones, we have turned against this complex cloning process. We wanted a process that used the original Distribution ISO – such as the Linux Mint Cinnamon ISO.

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The other solution to customizing a distribution was to “roll your own” distribution. You would basically “fork” an existing distribution and delete the programs you did not like and add new programs you wanted instead. You also needed to create new graphics to replace the graphics of the parent distribution – and make several other changes that are not worth considering right now. Then if you wanted to share your distribution, you would need to build a website to host the Download page. There are several tools to help you create your own distribution.

But here are several reasons we do not recommend trying to create your own distribution: First, adding another distribution creates fragmentation within the Linux community. There are already more than 100 Linux distributions. Rather than making a new distribution, what we need is a way to share customized versions of an existing distribution. This would cut down on fragmentation while expanding options for end users. This is the first goal and biggest benefit of DistroTweaks. In our opinion, it is better to cooperate with an existing distribution you like by sharing a tweak which uses and promotes that distribution rather than compete with an existing distribution by setting up a slightly different distribution. The main reason we are promoting Linux Mint is because we know our students will have an easy time learning how to use Mint – because it looks and acts much like Windows XP or Windows 7.

Second, most folks fail to realize how much work goes into creating and supporting a Linux distribution. They fail to appreciate the fact that a distribution like Linux Mint Cinnamon includes more than 100 different programs involving more than 500,000 files and more than one billion lines of code written in several different computer programming languages - all of which in the end must work together seamlessly. The Linux Mint operating system involves dozens of people working full time and hundreds of volunteers testing the Mint operating system and providing feedback. Even with this large group, it has taken more than ten years of constant effort to turn Linux Mint into one of the world's best operating systems.

Third, even the Linux Mint team could not have built such an incredible tool all on their own. Instead, they depend on the Ubuntu team, which are hundreds of additional people, to develop tools which are later added to Linux Mint. Ubuntu in turn relies on the Debian team which develops tools used by Ubuntu. Debian relies on the Linux Core team, which are hundreds of additional people who develop the Linux core. There are thousands more people who develop applications for Linux. The Linux Mint team works closely with all of these other teams to develop their final product. Fourth, an additional important benefit of Linux Mint is that they have a very large community of very polite supporters who are active on the Linux Mint Forum to answer questions that new users might have. If you set up a new distribution, you really should set up a website with a forum to answer questions in addition to a Downloads page. Without the community, the entire burden of answering questions about your new distribution would fall on you if you tried to start your own distribution.

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Finally, Linux and all of its downstream applications are changing so rapidly that keeping any Distribution current has turned into a full time job. We greatly value the time and effort the Mint team has put into creating a very good product. For all of these reasons, we do not want to create a new distribution. All we really want is to make an existing distribution slightly better by customizing it for a particular group of people – namely our students. While it may seem tempting to create your own distribution, it would require you to quit your day job in a futile effort that would be a lot like trying to reinvent the wheel. To answer questions about distrotweaks and help folks share their own DistroTweaks with others, we have created a new website called DistroTweaks.org. Head over their to download our first DistroTweak which we call AuthorTweak – and to add a link to your own DistroTweak creations. Distrotweak.org also has a forum where you can ask questions if you have any problems. But because this process is very simple, it is also very reliable. 

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