Ever since its first release, Ubuntu has always been released as a CD image. Back in 2004, the year when the first version of Ubuntu was released, CDs were the dominant medium and computers had CD drives. DVDs were just starting to take off at the time. So, back then distributing Ubuntu as a CD image made sense.
Seven years later, Ubuntu is still being distributed as a CD image. Nowadays, with every Ubuntu release the 700MB limit of a CD is becoming a major talking point. The CD size restriction has become a major factor in deciding if an application should be installed by default or not. The addition of new features with every Ubuntu release is constantly pushing the 700MB to its limit and has resulted in popular applications, such as GIMP, being dropped from the list of applications installed by default to make room for other stuffs.
In the Ubuntu Developer Summit for Ubuntu 11.10, the 700MB limit has again become a major point of consideration. The decision to have applications such as Deja Dup is currently being deferred until the CD size issue has been sorted. And in Ubuntu 11.10, a lot of new stuffs are being added – stuff such as Qt, GNOME 3, Unity 2D, Python 3 etc. The new additions being considers requires around 13-18 MB of space. The Ubuntu image has already been packed to the maximum and that much space is not available. To make the space required for these new packages, other packages will have to be dropped.
Nowadays, DVDs are very common and it will be hard to buy a new laptop which has only a CD reader and no DVD reader. A computer that supports only CD and does not support USB boot will have problems running Ubuntu anyway. So, the problem that they faced seven years ago is no longer there. So why is Ubuntu still being distributed as a CD image? Frankly, I am not sure. As I have mentioned above, the developers have managed to keep the image limited to 700MB by dropping some packages to make room for new ones. It will not be possible to keep up with this size restriction forever. Sooner or later, they have to adopt another approach.
Another approach being considered that addresses this problem without switching to a DVD image is having two CD images – a basic installer and another which contains the other extra applications. The drawback of this approach is that it is messy. Having two installation media unnecessarily complicates the installation process.
If Ubuntu were to switch to a DVD image, all these problems about deciding which packages to drop would become non-existent. It would also mean that useful applications which deserve to be installed by default, such as GIMP, Deja Dup, can be installed by default. The fact that we now have 4.2 GB does not necessarily mean that the image has to be made 4.2 GB. It simply means that the 700 MB which decides if an application can be included is no longer there.
A bigger installation media would mean that there will be less dependence on the internet to download dependencies and a better collection of useful applications from the start which translates to a better user experience. They have to switch to a DVD ISO sometime, there is no reason why it cannot be done with Ubuntu 11.10.