There's been a lot of discussion recently about the ease of use of websites for linux distributions, particularly Debian. We thought we'd take a look at how the top linux distributions design their home pages.
We ran the top distributions from distrowatch (any with more than 1,000 hits per day) through ScreenLab to see how users are likely to view their site. Here's what we found:
This is the top distribution on distrowatch. As you might expect for such a site, their layout is fairly classically consumer focussed. There's a hot area in the centre where you can find latest news and information about the different versions and another hot patch on the advertisements. Their site scores similarly to bing.com.
Ubuntu are another consumer focussed distribution and their site again takes a classic design path. Unlike Mint, Ubuntu push a strong call to action with their pre-order button for the Ubuntu phone. Whether this is the product that visitors are looking for is a separate matter. The corporate flavour of the website is reflected in scoring similarities to comcast.com and att.com.
Debian's website has a plainer style than Ubuntu or Mint with no strong call to action. The overall design is more informative, with large amounts of space given over to text. This puts Debian's site in the realm of babycenter.com or webmd.com.
OpenSUSE present visitors with a set of action buttons, with the strongest being "Get it". The design is similar to Mint but keeps things a little simpler and scores similarly to vimeo.com or other more entertainement sites which act as content vectors.
Fedora's website focussed on the three product offerings from the recent reorganisation. The lower impact description of these offerings is offset by the higher impact section below, drawing attention to the key fedora philosophy. The page design is closer to a marketplace type website, such as walmart.com.
The CentOS website bears similarity to the Ubuntu site in overall design. Again a strong call to action is presented, with a smaller hotspot on accompanying advertisements. In this case, the call to action is for the core CentOS product. The site design scores like a typical corporate site, such as hp.com or adobe.com.
The different distributions adopt quite radically different designs. It does seem true to suggest that the Debian website is not designed with a strong push to the download options as discussed elsewhere. However, the different designs do, to some degree, follow the different philosophies of the distributions themselves. The strong call to action from Ubuntu reflects Canonical's efforts to grow into new markets. Debian's information-based site is more concerned with telling you about their product than selling it. Mint and openSUSE have the most typical consumer focussed sites, with fairly strong calls to action while fedora concentrates on the recent division of their core offerings. CentOS provide a nice, strong call to action, perhaps because the enterprise oriented visitors to their site already know what they need.
The wide range of designs observed amongst the most popular linux distributions reflects the wide range of approaches the distributions themselves take. It's this diversity that gives us the healthy ecosystem that allows projects like ScreenLab to develop. So perhaps we should cut Debian some slack if we have trouble finding the download link?