Theoretical Discussion: Making your own, custom Linux distro

I've been wanting Linux lately, even CRAVING Linux you could say. I cannot afford a separate rig right now, but that is not a problem as my friends are giving me older computer components to make a slightly outdated rig. This is all irrelevant however. Sure, I could just install one of the 5 distros I have on CD/DVD (Was already planning on it). But then this idea came accross my mind. 'Hey!' I thought to myself. 'What if I were able to make my own, completely personal and completely custom distro of Linux!?'. 'How awesome would that be?'.

This [terrible] though leads into quite the discussion topic. Could I, in theory, having VERY limited Linux knowledge as of now (willing to do as much research as it takes), *build* my own version of Linux?

1. How difficult would this be?
2. Would all this time and effort be worth it?
3. What do I need to know before attempting this?
4. What programs, files, etc. would I need?
5. Would somebody as myself even be able to do this?

This is just all a though as of now, but who knows where it may go. Feel free to make any suggestions, as all input is greatly appreciated.

(This post may, and most likely will be updated with more questions as they come. Just putting it out there.)

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  1. Have a look at Linux From Scratch.

    1. It's really not too difficult.
    2. In terms of the knowledge that you will gain - definitely.
    3. Just go to the linked site. It will tell you pretty much all you need to know.
    4. Ditto.
    5. Yes.

    Whether you do it or not really depends on why you want to do it. If you want to learn a lot about Linux and build a distro that contains exactly what you want and is tailored exactly to your PC then it's well worth while. If you just want a tailored distribution, but don't really want to learn anything, try Gentoo. If you want to build a "better" Linux - forget it.

    I'm guessing from your post that you fit into the first category - go for it!
  2. Ijack said:
    I'm guessing from your post that you fit into the first category - go for it!

    Yes, I do. Now that those questions have been answered, there are more to do with the OS itself. (Havn't read LFS yet, so just tell me to refer to that if any of these questions are answered in it.)

    1. How should I decide which GUI to use? Gnome, KDE, and XFCE are the main 3 to my knowledge.
    2. What files do I need?
    2.5 Where can I find and download the files I need?

  3. Glad to hear that you're keen to learn; you should have an enjoyable and profitable experience.

    1. Very much a personal choice. On older hardware I would go for XFCE as it's smaller and less resource hungry. Personally I tend to use Gnome but KDE is just as good in its own way. You could even start off with something really light, like WindowMaker. I can't remember offhand if LFS goes into great detail on building X Window (it's more about getting a basic system that has all the necessary tools to install whatever you want); build a working text-based system first and then you can start investigating GUIs. I suspect that by the time you get to GUIs you will have a good understanding of how to find the sources and build them.

    2 & 3. LFS will provide this info.
  4. Alright, thanks. Just curious (so that I can try them out) out of the 5 distros I have on CD/DVD, which use Gnome? KDE? Xfce?

    Fedora 9
    Ubuntu 7.04 (Got this awhile ago, probably get the newest version)
    openSUSE 11.0
    Debian 40-r3
    Knoppix 5.1.1



    EDIT: Just began reading a little bit, and it says you either need a previous distro installed, or use their LiveCD. Which would you recommend?
  5. I'm pretty sure that any of the distros that you mention will let you choose between, at least Gnome or KDE. Probably the easist to install are Fedora, which I am familiar with, and Ubuntu, whih I haven't tried but I know has generally good reports. Of course, there's nothing to stop you trying all of them. It's probably a very good idea to try out an existing distro first, so that you can gain some familiarity with Linux, before delving too deeply into LFS.

    You sound like the type whose willing to experiment so I'd say try a few things out. If you don't like a particular distro then ditch it and try another. You've nothing to lose and the more you play the more you'll learn. One day you might even like to have a look at some of the alternatives - real Unix such as FreeBSD or Open Solaris; it's amazing what you can get for free nowadays.
  6. PS. You could always run something like Virtual PC (available free from Microsoft) on your main PC to try things out.
  7. I already have tried Fedora and Ubuntu, and I love both of them. I'm currently just trying to get some friends to let me borrow some stuff to make a temporary Linux rig, because I'm really paranoid about this computer :D I have a spare HDD, so I'm just gonna install them on there and try em all out :p
  8. If you want to try something that isn't quite as adventurous as doing Linux From Scratch / making your own custom distro, you could try gentoo and/or debian. Both of those distros are very customizable with gentoo being slightly more so because you compile everything yourself and you get to set your own flags to tell GCC how to compile all your programs.

    If you are trying to figure out what desktop environments to use, you can pick from GNOME, KDE, fluxbox, openbox, blackbox, WindowMaker, FVWM, PekWM, IceWM, XFCE and I am sure there are others as well. The ones ending in WM are only window managers so extra features you may want (like a system tray or file browser) you will have to install and configure by hand. XFCE is probably the best choice if you want a super lightweight Desktop environment that allows you to configure as much as you'd like without REQUIRING you to do so.

    Also, I forgot to mention this before, but supposedly SLACKWARE allows you a TON of freedom to configure your system exactly how you want, but from what i'd heard it doesn't even have a package management system (but I could be wrong). Here is a (somewhat arbitrary) rating of the different distros i mentioned from requiring the most configuration to the least (based on what I've heard and tried):

    Linux From Scratch > Slackware/Gentoo > Debian > Fedora > Ubuntu

    And for desktop systems (from heaviest to lightest):

    KDE > GNOME > XFCE > *box > *WM

    I hope this helps you out, and if you decide that you want to go back to a non-custom distribution and keep a high amount of configurability I HIGHLY recommend Gentoo :) The documentation is pretty good and the people in the forums/IRC are very helpful.


    P.S I realize any version of linux can be configured pretty much however you want it but some (like Ubuntu) like to hide configuration a bit so as not to scare away newbies whereas others pretty much insist that you configure them yourself (like LFS/Gentoo/Slackware/Debian) So it is up to you to try several different options and see which one you like best. Isn't choice awesome? :)
  9. Zorak said:

    Here is a (somewhat arbitrary) rating of the different distros i mentioned from requiring the most configuration to the least (based on what I've heard and tried):

    Linux From Scratch > Slackware/Gentoo > Debian > Fedora > Ubuntu

    I've never used LFS or Slackware before but as far as the others go, I'd agree with you. Gentoo has a somewhat in-depth installation process. Debian's is quick but there are usually a few things you have to configure yourself after it's installed, Fedora has a more length install process but it's usually pretty well set up when you're done, and Ubuntu installs quickly and is usually completely configured when it's done.

    And for desktop systems (from heaviest to lightest):

    KDE > GNOME > XFCE > *box > *WM

    Of the WMs, TWM is the lightest by quite a bit. You get xterm, a pager, a menu, and xclock. It is installed by default with Xorg if I remember correctly. I've used it, it works well, it's very easy on RAM, but it looks more like something from 1988 than 2008...not that's necessarily a bad thing.

    I hope this helps you out, and if you decide that you want to go back to a non-custom distribution and keep a high amount of configurability I HIGHLY recommend Gentoo :) The documentation is pretty good and the people in the forums/IRC are very helpful.

    One word of warning about Gentoo- if you do decide to use source packages and compile them yourself (as opposed to using GRP pre-compiled binaries) it WILL take a lot of CPU time to complete. I'd not suggest you run Gentoo on anything slower than a 1 GHz Athlon/1.5 GHz P4 or a ~700 MHz dual PIII if you want to keep your system up to date and not spend all of your time compiling packages. I used to run Gentoo on a 2.2 P4 and it took about three days to compile base + Gnome + OpenOffice and would spend on average an hour or two compiling the day's updates.
  10. Thanks for adding that last part. I probably should have known to warn him about compile times and some of the bigger packages (like Xorg, GCC and OO.o) do take a while. Also, the same warning should go with LFS since making your own custom distro kinda implies you will be compiling quite a bit of stuff ;)

  11. Wow! Lots of help =). Thanks a lot guys! As for the GUI, I'm at a bit of a dilemma. I want something that will give me cool effects and be somewhat flashy, but I don't want it to be a complete resource pig.

    As for LFS, I was unaware that it was just modifying an existing OS (Havn't gotten around to reading the .pdf yet). I'm still really lost on all this, but I'm sure I will pick it up as we go. I've just been busy lately (personal issues) and havn't had a lot of time to start researching. I am really excited to finally get to do all this, and am willing to learn (and wanting to =) ).

    As for the rig. Ack! Still trying to find something, just temporary. A couple of my friends have older rigs that I might try to salvage. I just need to talk to them about it a bit more. It shouldn't be too too terrible (won't be good :p). But ya, any other recommendations would be wonderful. Thanks a lot for all your input thusfar ijack, MU_Engineer, and Zorak. It is greatly appreciated.

  12. I agree with the comments about Gentoo (it's actually my favourite distribution - I run 32- and 64-bit versions and the PPC version on a Mac). But, if your aim is to learn as much as possible about Linux, how a distribution is put together how it boots, startup files, etc. then you can't beat LFS. It most definitely is not just modifying an existing OS in the way that customizing Gentoo or Debian are. It really is, as it says, "from scratch". But I agree that it's not as easy as installing Gentoo. I would definitely start with an existing distro first.

    All depends on your aims.
  13. Great discussion :)

    While great for us hardcore geeks, LFS and Gentoo are not for the un-initiated.

    Don't get discouraged if you have issues or a negative initial experience.

    The desktop distributions ( Ubuntu, Fedora, SuSE, mandriva, etc ) have done all the hard work for you and you can expect to have a highly functional system after your first install :)
  14. I'm sure I will have MANY problems and issues :p But how else will I learn how to troubleshoot? I'm hoping to get a scrap computer from my buddy, so I'll try out the distros I havn't yet, just fool around a bit. Then I'll need to decide which to base my LFS off of I suppose.
  15. In terms of the whole graphical environment thing, you seem to want two slightly contradictory things ;P. However, compiz is relatively light weight and from what I have heard it will work well on some older hardware but your milage may vary. If you want light weight and simple with some polish added, XFCE would do it for you. XFCE has its own compositing that you can turn on to add nice things like shadows and transparency which are nice and don't eat much in way of resources. If you want more, you could go with Compiz Fusion on top of XFCE and have all of the whiz-bang effects on top of a light wieght Desktop environment. I don't think, however, that you will be able to get any lighter weight systems working with Compiz Fusion if that is what you are after (i.e. *box and *WM will NOT work w/ Compiz) I think your best bet to see what will work on your hardware and what wont would be to go out and grab some LiveCDs of distros with compositing built in the LiveCD with the different Desktop environments and see what works for you. If your system can handle a liveCD with desktop effects, for sure it will handle a full installation of a similar environment.

    A good distribution that allows you to try KDE and GNOME with or without Compiz (and Fluxbox without compiz) is Sabayon Linux. Give it a spin and see how it will work out for your hardware, and then when you do your LFS adventure you'll know what your hardware can handle :D


    P.S. KDE 4.* doesn't work too well yet, so if you want KDE stick with 3.5.*
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