Building Your Own Custom Ubuntu

Monday May 7th 2012 by Matt Hartley
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Easy Ubuntu remastering tools enable you to create exactly the distro you want.

Over the years, I've spent a fair amount of my time pointing out how I would "create" an Ubuntu-based distro differently if given the opportunity. Then it struck me -- I can create my own Ubuntu-based distro release using Ubuntu remastering tools!

Thanks to the tools I'm going to share with you in this article, creating an Ubuntu-based distro no longer requires you to be an advanced Linux user.

Remastersys

Installing Remastersys was a bit problematic, since I had some issues with authenticating the repository key. Once I got past this, I then ran into errors during the installation as well. As it turned out, it was an issue with a conflict between remastersys-gui and remastersys-gtk.

Apparently, I needed to select remastersys-gtk. Upon first run of the Remastersys front-end, I was presented with the warning to close anything I had open. There was also the suggestion that I unmount any network shares. Sound advice, as this sort of thing could create problems when rolling your own distro.

Since it had been awhile since I've used Remastersys, I was surprised at how well the software buttons were laid out.

Backup - This is the button to make a complete backup of your existing Ubuntu installation.

Dist - The option you'd choose to if you wanted to create a distributable version of your installation.

Distcdfs - Same as Dist, except that you are free to add additional files to the CD _ for example, if you wanted to add a different browser. This is where you would do your file customization.

Distiso - After adding additional files using Distcdfs, you would then use this button to create the ISO for your distro CD.

Clear, Boot Menu image for LiveCD, Boot Menu image for installed environment, User settings, and Plymouth theme are also provided after Distiso. On the Settings tab, you will find additional advanced settings such as files to skip, CD naming scheme and Squashfs options.

For a intermediate Linux enthusiast, I'd say this is a great option for creating a custom ISO. While there are alternatives available that offer different CD creation toolsets, this is a good option if your ISO creation needs are relatively simple.

Reconstructor

For $5, you can use the web-based distro creator known as Reconstructor. After finishing my $5 purchase, my heart immediately sank upon reading the news that they're "finally" supporting Ubuntu 11.10 OS templates.

Feeling disappointed before even starting, I clicked the Create Project button on the upper left. Suddenly my disappointment went from a hunch to reality when I confirmed that Ubuntu 12.04 hasn't been made available yet.

Yes, after paying for this software, I must either wait for them to catch up or opt for an older Ubuntu release. My mind is really blown that they're still offering images of Ubuntu 9.04. Needless to say, I would like my $5 back.

The only saving grace of this software thus far is that I can select Debian releases instead of Ubuntu if I'd like. That, and I can also choose other desktop environments such as KDE or XFCE. It's kind of nice not being limited to Gnome only.

After naming my project, I am then presented with a screen indicating that I am supposed to do something. On another hunch, I clicked the project name that appeared on the upper left and, sure enough, more options appeared: Packages, Modules, Members, Tags, Files and an Advanced section.

Immediately I realized this isn't for newbies. You must know exactly what you're doing or this isn't the tool for you.

My advice if you want something advanced? Consider UCK and save yourself $5. This is a neat concept, but honestly, it was misleading from the very beginning as to the level of difficulty. It's not for intermediate users, it’s best for advanced enthusiasts.

Ubuntu-Builder

Without question, Ubuntu-Builder is a winner for intermediate Ubuntu enthusiasts. While it lacks some of the overall functionality found with Remastersys, it does offer a slicker user interface and a more modern user experience. The overall features come down to the following:

Desktop environment - you can select which one you wish to use: Gnome, KDE, plus six other modern desktop environments are readily available.

Packages list - Choose which packages you want to include by default and which you can do without.

Sources.list - This is the area where you can add in any additional software sources you might wish to include. It's also the area where you'd 'comment out' anything you'd rather leave deactivated.

Synaptic and Console - Both of these are used for deeper levels of control, and customization when desired.

Install deb packages - Self-explanatory in that this is where the distributable ISO creator would add any deb packages they want included.

Ubiquity - Perhaps the coolest feature from this tool is the ability to completely customize the Ubiquity installer. During your distro installation make the text say whatever you wish. The possibilities are limitless.

The one thing that I really love about the Ubuntu-Builder utility is that if you find yourself completely lost, you can throw caution to the wind and simply use the wizard option for the software. This way, you know you're doing everything correctly. Ubuntu-Builder is an easy win for beginner to intermediate users. Advanced users will likely want to stick with UCK or Reconstructor.

Two apps are better than one

The one takeaway I have from this experience is that it's painfully simple to create a completely custom version of Ubuntu that is devoid of any Ubuntu trademark protected content. This means you're free to redistribute your work, without getting into legal snafus.

How cool would it be to create Ubuntu-based distros using your own images? It might even be a great branding tool for your workplace, depending on the needs of your business.

Key point: I see no reason why you couldn't use both Remastersys and Ubuntu-Builder together. Hear me out before coming to any final judgments here.

  • With a clean installation of Ubuntu, create a demo user. Select the favorites in Firefox you'd like to see in the browser, desktop layout, etc.
  • Remove software you don't want and include the applications that you do.
  • Using Remastersys, select the boot menu images, Plymouth theme and user settings skeleton you wish to use.
  • Still in Remastersys, select either Backup or Dist, depending on whether or not you wish to include the user data. Remember, this is only safe with a clean installation and freshly tweaked user settings specifically for redistribution purposes. Remember not to include user data, and choose the Dist option.
  • After creating your ISO image, close Remastersys.
  • Open up Ubuntu-Builder and run the wizard. This will allow you to work with additional options not found in Remastersys, such as customizing Ubiquity or installing another desktop environment.
  • Once you've done what you wanted to do in Ubuntu-Builder, export the new ISO and you're done.

It is my opinion that the best customization option for intermediate Ubuntu enthusiasts comes from a marriage of both programs. Each application offers something unique, so using both programs to create the ultimate ISO is a neat idea.

Again, if you're an advanced enthusiast, UCK is the way to go. It provides more CLI time while still giving you plenty of control. Best of all, it supports the latest version of Ubuntu.

For the rest of us, try Ubuntu-Builder and/or Remastersys. Both applications are fantastic, intuitive and easy to use. The best part is you'll find creating a distro of your very own is a lot easier once you get the hang of these easy-to-use software tools.

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