The Joy of Remastering your Own Linux Distro

Monday Feb 14th 2011 by Matt Hartley
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Remastering your own Linux distribution offers advantages like control, security and efficiency.

Like most of you, I'm tired of hearing about the latest Ubuntu Linux distribution spin-off. Doesn't it feel like everybody has released their very own variant of Ubuntu?

This does nothing for those working in the enterprise space, who need deep support, not one-offs. And this approach to customizing a Linux distribution isn't all that reliable. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Ubuntu per se, rather that the customization tools are a bit flaky to use.

Ignoring my own cynicism about customized distributions, there are circumstances where remastering Linux makes a lot of sense. The fact is, there are situations where the existing Linux solutions might not be an ideal fit. Sometimes individuals and companies are inclined to customize a Linux distribution to meet their highly specialized needs.

The reasons may vary, but generally the idea is to minimize wasted resources while maintaining complete platform control. Why install the extra software packages and code if it's not needed?

Saving the workplace from disaster and expense

There is clear value in being able to craft a Linux server release or desktop release to meet the needs of your employer. Whether this be a large enterprise solution or perhaps something smaller, control and a customized environment present a number of hidden benefits.

What would be some of these hidden benefits? How about the desire to either save money or regain maximum control over the company's IT department?

Due to heavy licensing fees, a push to going open source with Linux has become ever more common. So rather than end up with some blanket Linux solution for the enterprise environment, doesn't it stand to reason that a custom Linux installation might yield a stronger benefit for everyone involved?

After all, managing extra software fluff isn't time well spent. As always, time costs money.

In other situations the enterprise customer might be more concerned about being locked into proprietary software than any perceived cost concerns. Because companies supporting proprietary software are always free to go out of business, the affected enterprise customer would be in a world of hurt, as their data is suddenly locked away in an obsolete format.

That there’s motivation to avoid this goes without saying. No one who understands it enjoys dealing with vendor lock-in. Not unless you happen to be the proprietary vendor, that is.

By now, it should be clear that having access to an efficient, customized Linux distribution makes a lot of sense.

Remastering vs. customized solutions

How customized do you need your Linux-powered enterprise experience to be? Are we talking about graphics, software and a little bit of a lock-down with the employees?

Perhaps instead, you're in the market for a distribution completely built from the ground up so you know that each and every piece of code passes a security audit. Whatever the need, the flexibility of customized Linux translates into solid solutions for any market or need. All that is required is the desire and the software to make it all come together.

For most enterprise situations, I believe that remastering is the way to go. It's likely cheaper (in man hours) and simpler, as there are tools that make this easy. You also get the benefit of making changes later without much thought.

Linux from Scratch

What is "Linux From Scratch?" The idea behind Linux From Scratch is that you can work with either a base of code or instead, opt for something that is piece by piece, so you can audit all code built into the distribution. After all, if security is a concern, auditing the code by hand presents a lot of value.

The flip side to this would be that you may be going overkill with your desire to create something custom. Unless there is a security motivation, going along with a basic remastering set-up might better suit your needs.

Mastering your remastered distribution

Remember what I was saying earlier about customized Linux installations with select software, branded graphics and select enterprise-friendly restrictions put into place?

It's situations like this that make creating a remastered distribution look fairly attractive. While you might not have the control that creating Linux from the ground up gives you with the ability to audit the code, remastering an existing Linux distribution is a whole lot easier and less time consuming.

One of the easiest ways of accomplishing a reliable Linux remastering would be with a Web-based tool like SUSE Studio. What makes using this tool so compelling is that it doesn't require a whole lot of Linux expertise to operate. Unlike many of the Ubuntu-based remastering tools, the SUSE Studio utility is very simple, clean and doesn't feel like something from the early days of the Linux platform.

SUSE Studio allows you to create an enterprise ready distribution with all of the customization and tweaks that you could ever want. Choose settings, software, and graphics along with any specific software you might need to include.

You even have the ability to easily update your own RPMs through the SUSE Studio tool. One factor to consider is that you need to know which additional software needs to be included in a base system. There’s nothing worse than forgetting the tools for hard drive mounting or the sound system. A little research on how remastering works goes a long way.

Whether you choose a hard drive disk image or something like a VMWare image is completely up to you. And if testing is needed before deployment, SUSE Studio will provide you with up to an hour of virtual testing just to make sure your created distribution image works as expected.

How's that for providing you with easy quality control?

Linux your way

In this article we have looked at creating a Linux distribution from scratch and also working with an existing distribution that can be remastered to meet your enterprise needs. The take away from this is that you can do something with the Linux platform that no proprietary operating system will ever provide. It offers an ability to have Linux your way. Forget about which distribution of Linux to select out of the existing choices, just make your own and customize it to meet with the needs of your employer.

Customized Linux as a marketing tool

If you're under the impression that no one at work is going to care about the idea of a customized Linux distribution, think again. Why not manage a Linux distribution that is sculpted down to include exactly what’s needed for your workplace?

Regardless of the level of customization work being done, it's the end result that is going to really offer rewards for you. Not only will you end up with a custom Linux distribution that represents the branding and mission of your company, but it'll also provide you with a work environment in which extra "fluff" has been removed from the workstations and servers completely.

Why run the extras if they're only running extra CPU cycles? Keep things efficient. Keep your Linux distribution customized for the enterprise setting.

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