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Like Windows and Mac OS X, Linux offers a wealth of options for anyone wanting to tweak their operating system. But the nature of the open source world means that you can also create your own distro, burn it to disc and install it. These four tools will get you started.

Tweaking Linux the Easy Way

You probably already know that the Linux desktop can be tweaked and replaced. You’re no doubt aware that Linux has a wealth of distributions (hundreds, if not thousands) that are designed for a range of applications (mostly for standard desktops or servers, but a few with unusual specialties, such as for military, government, or scientific use The 5 Ultimate Scientific Linux Distributions The 5 Ultimate Scientific Linux Distributions What are scientific Linux distributions? The answer is rather obvious: while most Linux distributions are general-purpose, some specialized ones come bundled with certain types of software. Let's see what they can do! Read More ).

Tweaks can be used to customize Linux 12 Useful Tweaks To Make Ubuntu Feel Like Home 12 Useful Tweaks To Make Ubuntu Feel Like Home We'll show you some great tweaks that can go a long way to achieving desktop zen. Read More , or even speed things up a bit 5 Tweaks You Can Use to Speed Up Ubuntu Today 5 Tweaks You Can Use to Speed Up Ubuntu Today You've installed Ubuntu on your PC & you've noticed that things could be faster. Don't worry – here are five ways you can tweak Ubuntu to speed things up! Read More , while a tool like Ubuntu Tweak will bring all of the customizations you might be interested in making to Ubuntu in a single desktop tool Gain More Control Of Your Ubuntu System With Ubuntu Tweak [Linux] Gain More Control Of Your Ubuntu System With Ubuntu Tweak [Linux] The popular Linux distribution is fun to mess with and work on, no matter what kind of user you are. However, you may be interested in controlling your system even more to get the absolute... Read More .

But to customize Linux at a more fundamental level, you’ll need to do things differently.

(Note: this is not the same as building your own Linux kernel. Instead, you’re configuring not only the kernel but graphic user interface and what tools and apps are packaged.)

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Why Customize?

Building a custom Linux distro isn’t just about setting a favorite desktop background. Various reasons exist for spending time ensuring your Linux distro is sufficiently different from others:

  • Dedicated OS for your hardware – although not as specific as a custom compiled Linux Kernel, you can take advantage of a custom Linux distro kit by tweaking it to match your PC hardware, and improve performance.
  • Reduce installation and boot time – things like date, time and location settings can take a while to get through during setup, so specifying this in a custom build will save time.
  • If you’re rolling out Linux across several networked devices, using a custom tweaked distro can ensure you focus your users on the apps and tools they’re supposed to be using.

The following four tools enable you to essentially cook your own distros, adding and removing features as you see fit before creating an ISO and burning it Install Ubuntu On Your Computer Using a USB Flash Drive Install Ubuntu On Your Computer Using a USB Flash Drive Want to install Ubuntu but don't have a spare blank DVD? Don't worry! After downloadin the ISO file, you can use a highly-reusable USB flash drive to get the job done. Read More prior to installation (although we would recommend installation to a virtual machine or spare PC before rolling it out to your main computer!).

UCK – Ubuntu Customization Kit

Although it awaits some updates to bring it into line with the rest of the Ubuntu family, the Ubuntu Customization Kit is a great way to create a custom live CD that can then be used to install your customized Ubuntu onto your PC’s HDD.

UCK can be installed using

sudo apt-get install uck

…and is also compatible with Debian, Linux Mint Is Linux Mint 17 "Qiana" The Ubuntu Killer? Is Linux Mint 17 "Qiana" The Ubuntu Killer? The latest version of Linux Mint, the 17th release codenamed "Qiana", is out! It's a great alternative for people leaving Windows as well as those who just don't quite like Ubuntu. Read More and other related distributions via the Wily repo. Once installed, UCK needs to be launched from bash with uck-gui, and you can speed things up somewhat by adding the -m switch followed by the path to the directory you will write the ISO from.

UCK has a few bugs, and this makes it a tough option to have success with. However, if you can overcome the bugs (which are usually due to differences between modern versions of Ubuntu and the one featured in UCK) you’ll be able to create a working ISO.

Linux from Scratch

You’ll need to do a bit of reading to get started with Linux from Scratch, as it requires that you follow an online guide to build a complete (albeit minimal) GNU/Linux system from source code. This means you get a customized, secure system while learning about how the OS works — something that will prove advantageous when it comes to diagnosing issues, or writing your own software.

LFS features some sub-projects, notably Beyond Linux from Scratch, which delivers various extended features, and Hardened Linux from Scratch, which will interest the security-conscious. Creating an LFS project requires a “host” Linux system — if you’re using Windows, you’ll need Linux running in a virtual machine 4 Ways to Install Ubuntu Linux on a Windows Computer 4 Ways to Install Ubuntu Linux on a Windows Computer You want to install Ubuntu on your Windows computer, don't you? The thing is, you're not 100% certain, yet. Fortunately, there are many ways in which you can try Ubuntu before committing. Read More .

When you’re done, your LFS project is available as an ISO to burn as a LiveCD, which doubles as a rescue CD. This is arguably its best purpose these days, as the LiveCD project is no longer maintained. Check the tutorial above, or our own look at Linux from Scratch Create Your Very Own Operating System With Linux From Scratch [Linux] Create Your Very Own Operating System With Linux From Scratch [Linux] Do you know how customizable Linux really is? Well you should if you've even heard of Linux or dabbled in it a bit. If not, try taking a look at a list of over 1,000... Read More .

SUSE Studio

Rather than customize your operating system on your PC using a dedicated menu or application, SUSE Studio uses a web interface to customize the distro before you download it. A nice feature is the option to download tweaked versions of SUSE configured by other tinkerers! Use the link above to open the website, create an account (or sign in with the usual services) and get started.

muo-linux-customdistro-opensuse

The process is simple: you choose a base system (JeOS is available here), then add software, respositories, personalize, and finish by tweaking. Once you’re done, the custom distro can be downloaded as an ISO, or even deployed directly to a cloud server (such as Windows Azure, Amazon EC2, or SUSE Cloud) or your own VPS.

Check our own SUSE Studio tutorial Create Your Own Custom Linux Installation Disc With SUSE Studio Create Your Own Custom Linux Installation Disc With SUSE Studio We all know that Linux is very flexible, and you can do so many things with it. One of its advantages is that it can run on virtually any hardware. Linux is also extremely modular,... Read More for more information.

Porteus

Like SUSE Studio, Porteus (a Slackware Linux fork Open Source Software and Forking: The Good, The Great and The Ugly Open Source Software and Forking: The Good, The Great and The Ugly Sometimes, the end-user benefits greatly from forks. Sometimes, the fork is done under a shroud of anger, hatred and animosity. Let's look at some examples. Read More ) is configured and built online, and the resulting Live environment is fast booting and runs well on older hardware. This is achieved, in part, with an on-the-fly file system that is generated when the computer is booted from USB stick.

muo-linux-customdistro-porteus

To customize your Porteus build, several modules are available, while further customization is available thanks to Slackware’s ability to convert packages from Debian or Fedora formats, resulting in a wide choice of software.

In addition, the documentation for Porteus lusts some custom boot arguments, tweaks that change the behavior of the OS; among these tweaks is the ability to boot from a local hard drive, rather than USB stick. Porteus doesn’t offer as many options as SUSE Studio, and the interface is less polished, but offers a selection of preset distro configurations for users looking for quick and clean live distros.

Would you like to build your own version of Linux? Perhaps you already had, and did it the old-fashioned way? Tell us about it in the comments, especially if you’ve used any of these tools!

Image Credit: penguin in glasses by 3Dalia via Shutterstock

  1. Ryan McQuen
    April 30, 2016 at 4:26 am

    I have written quite a few shell scripts to configure my systems from scratch:

    https://github.com/ryanpcmcquen/config-o-matic

    https://github.com/ryanpcmcquen/linuxTweaks

  2. fcd76218
    April 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

    These projects are not for casual Windows to Linux switchers. or Linux beginners. The require moderate (Porteus, SUSE Studio) to extensive (Linux From Scratch) Linux knowledge.

    In addition to projects mentioned, there are other distros that allow the user to roll their own (Arch, Gentoo, Sorcery, TinyCore, antiX Core, etc.)

    I have built my own distros based on antiX Core and using the smxi tool. smxi, according to its developer h2 "is a general utility script that handles the standard system upkeep for Debian Sid, Debian Testing, and Debian Stable - kernel installs, dist-upgrade/upgrade, package installs, cleanup, and graphics install."

    • Christian Cawley
      May 1, 2016 at 7:48 pm

      Hi - my experience of Ubuntu Tweak puts it in the easier category, but on the whole I would probably concede your point. Thanks for your alternative suggestions and experience with smxi!

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