News and Editorialsreader comment in last week's LWN, requesting a more detailed round-up of the available tools for building custom live CDs, inspired today's feature. Although there are more than a hundred bootable Linux, BSD and OpenSolaris-based distributions for seemingly every taste and purpose, it might still be useful, on occasion, to build one's own - customized to one's exact needs. The reasons are unimportant since they are likely to vary as much as the end result of any such undertaking. Instead, I'd like to concentrate on what the readers are probably most interested in - finding an answer about how much effort is required to build a custom Linux live CD and whether the end result is worth it.
I have never built a live CD before. For my first attempt I decided to go with the Slackware-based Linux-Live script by Tomas Matejicek, the author of the SLAX live CD. The reason? I expected Linux-Live to be about the simplest way to build a Linux live CD. I don't have any facts to back up this statement, but the increasing abundance of Slackware-based live CD projects, most of which use Linux-Live to build their products, together with the uncomplicated nature of Slackware itself, gave me confidence before embarking on this project. Incidentally, Linux-Live is released under the GNU General Public License.
Linux-Live is a script designed to build a bootable live CD from an existing Linux installation. A number of prerequisites must be fulfilled before the script can be executed; the most important among them is support for Unionfs and Squashfs modules in the Linux kernel. There are two ways to go about fulfilling this requirement: you can either download and compile two overlay filesystem modules, or download a pre-compiled kernel from the Linux-Live web site with all the necessary modules (as well as ALSA and proprietary MadWiFi drivers) already included. The latter option, however, will only work on a Slackware installation. The Unionfs and Squashfs requirements also mean that only kernel versions 2.6.9 or higher are supported.
After going through the documentation included in Linux-Live, I set out to create my live CD. First, I installed a minimal Slackware 10.1 system, with only the packages in a/, ap/ and n/ selected for installation. This was to reduce the possibility of a failure and also to minimize any time-wasting in case something goes wrong. Since Slackware still defaults to the 2.4 kernel series, I also downloaded the binary kernel 22.214.171.124 from Linux-Live.org and installed it with pkginstall. It is not necessary to reboot into the new kernel; as long as it is installed on the system and the correct kernel version is specified in the 'config' file of the Linux-Live script, it can be used. Then I download the Linux-Live script, decompressed and untarred it in the /tmp directory, updated the 'config' file with the new kernel version, and executed the rumme.sh script. After about six minutes of hard work, a 160 MB livecd.iso file was generated.
I burned it onto a CD-RW and rebooted the system. I held my breath, half-expecting the system to ignore the CD and just present me with the usual boot loader, but to my pleasant surprise, it was a SLAX logo that first appeared on the screen, indicating that the CD was indeed bootable. After I pressed 'Enter', the live CD went through the boot process - it took its time, I might add, since besides the normal boot procedure, the operating system also completed a hardware detection and configuration step. But eventually it stopped at a boot prompt, ready to accept a login by any of the user/password combination -- and with the same home directories -- as the Slackware system on the hard disk. Networking was also configured.
Encouraged by this success, I decided to try something more ambitious. I rebooted into my Slackware 10.1 installation, then added all software from the x/ and kde/ and l/ directories, configured X.Org, modified the /etc/inittab file to boot into a graphical login prompt, and repeated the process of generating the live CD. This time, the routine took much longer, around 20 minutes, and the resulting ISO image was 496 MB in size. Again, I burned it to a CD-RW disk and rebooted the system. Then I watched, with a considerable amount of amazement, as the CD went through a normal boot process before confidently starting the KDM login manager. Success!
I spent an afternoon re-creating Slackware live CDs in various configurations. While the process seemed to go smoothly most of the time, I noted a few mysterious "gotchas" on occasion. As an example, sometimes the original Slackware installation would no longer boot after running the ISO build script (the boot process would stop at Loading Linux...). There is also a documented problem with the fact that Slackware tries to test the status of the root partition by re-mounting it read-only, a test which fails on a live CD with Unionfs, resulting in a warning message and requiring user input. A minor, but annoying blemish. A few of my live CDs also failed to boot, for reasons unknown to me, with a "init Id 'x' respawning too fast" error. Probably the most serious issue with Linux-Live, however, is lack of documentation (apart from a few "readme" style files included with the script) explaining the process and providing hints for using the script on distributions other than Slackware. The project would also benefit from having a Wiki as well as user forums which adventurous live CD builders could use to search for answers and exchange experiences.
All things considered, my first attempt at building a custom live CD was a success. As I suspected before I embarked on the project, Linux-Live is a very simple and fast method for creating a live CD from a Slackware installation. Due to lack of time to research topics on compiling Unionfs and Squashfs as kernel modules, I haven't tried it on any other distribution, but the project's web site does give an impression that the script is fairly universal. However, Linux-Live badly needs better documentation and user interactive areas for those times when things don't go as expected.
Distribution NewsUbuntu Testing project has been launched. "You planned to do a test installation of Ubuntu Dapper to catch a glimpse on how the development is going? You have an old box, you want to test Ubuntu on and want to help us with test results?" Several testing levels are available, from quick to advanced. Where to join the Hug Day? #ubuntu-bugs on freenode IRC. And you can go there every other day too!" The openSUSE team will be talking about a broad range of topics, from a general overview of the current status, future plans for the project, and the distribution SUSE Linux to technical tutorials and a first demonstration of the openSUSE build service. We're looking forward to seeing you all there and discussing the future of the project!" note from Mandriva's new maintainer of X.org, Gustavo Pichorim Boiko, on what he is planning. On X.org: "I have already started packaging Xorg 7.0 but I don't have any set of packages useful at this moment." On Xgl and Xegl: "Mandriva is not going to officially adopt the Novell Xgl server (Xglx). Instead, we are trying to push the Xegl development."
Matthieu Duchemin has posted a how-to for running Xgl with compiz under Mandriva 2006.Prospective leaders should be familiar with the constitution, but, just to review: there's a three week period when interested developers nominate themselves, followed by a three week period with no nominations [intended for campaigning], followed by three weeks for the election itself."
Distribution NewslettersFedora Weekly News looks at SCALE: Fedora Booth at Southern California Linux Expo, SCALE: Fedora Presentation at Southern California Linux Expo, FUDCon Boston 2006 Call for Papers, FedoraFAQ.org announces The Insider FAQ, Fedora Projects Weekly Report 2006-02-13, and several other topics. Gentoo Weekly Newsletter for February 13, 2006 covers the release of eselect 1.0, a Polish Gentoo clone, and several other topics. DistroWatch Weekly for February 13, 2006 is out. "Xgl. The "word" has surely entered the consciousness of many Linux users who, thanks to Novell's enhancements dramatically unveiled last week, can look forward to an exciting new world on their Linux desktops later this year. Naturally, SUSE Linux is likely to be the first one to integrate the new features into their upcoming release, although expect some delays from the original schedule. In other news: Mandriva's CEO describes his working day, the developers of MEPIS consider switching their base to Ubuntu, Gentoo gets an updated Portage tool, and Slackware moves closer to version 11.0 with one massive update. The latest release of Mockup, a Debian-based distribution built with Qt 4, is the feature of our "first look" series."
Package updatescpuspeed (updates), man (fix the makewhatis problem), xmltex (bug fixes), pam_krb5 (bug fixes), postgresql (update to PostgreSQL 8.0.7), selinux-policy-strict (allow zebra to connect to bgp), selinux-policy-targeted (allow zebra to connect to bgp). ghostscript (bug fixes), postgresql (upgrade to PostgreSQL 8.0.7). Slackware Linux, starting with this lengthy changelog entry for last Thursday, followed by some minor fixes on Friday, and some PHP updates after that. cyrus-impad, imagemagick, iptables, kernel, l7-protocols, php, net-snmp, samba, squid, quagga and bind, iproute, iptables, kerberos5, kernel, mdadm, samba for TSL 3.0 & 2.2.
Newsletters and articles of interestinstalls Gentoo using Kororaa. "Kororaa is available in several flavors. You can choose between KDE and GNOME, and between x86 and AMD64 processor versions. The x86 version is optimized for Pentium III processors. To install Kororaa you need two CDs. You can download a universal install CD, and you have to select the package CD for your desktop environment of choice and your processor. I chose the x86 version for KDE and started the installation." may switch from Debian to Ubuntu, according to NewsForge. "MEPIS, one of the more popular Debian-derived distributions, may be moving in a new direction soon. MEPIS founder Warren Woodford is considering building future MEPIS releases from Ubuntu sources rather than from Debian. SimplyMEPIS 3.4-3, which is scheduled for release today, has been quite a challenge to build, according to Woodford. "It's taking up all my time, fighting the Etch pool.... We've had a lot of trouble, because the Debian community has become so active, it's been difficult to get this out, so I'm looking at alternatives to getting out stable releases."" covers the installation of ColdFusion 7.x on Debian Sarge (3.1r1). "Why This Tutorial? Because there is no documentation about ColdFusion installation on Debian on the internet. As you know Debian Linux is not supported officially by Adobe. But Debian is one of the mosts used and well known Linux distributions especially for server usage and I think there would be some other people who want to use Debian and ColdFusion together." presents a glimpse of Mandriva PowerPack 2006. "Linux on the desktop has certainly come a long way. The community tools available on any distribution are so powerful and great to use that the fact that they are free is a wonderful bonus. I work with enterprise applications designed with PHP and MySQL. I'm addicted to OpenOffice.org 2.0, KDE, and Firefox. I have fun with Nvu for HTML editing, amaroK for streaming radio and organizing my MP3 files, and the GIMP for high-end image editing."
Distribution reviewsreview of SimplyMEPIS. "SimplyMEPIS is a KDE-based, Debian-derived distro that focuses on desktop use. The previous stable release came out in May of 2005, but the newest version of SimplyMEPIS is scheduled for release today, and it looks like a great release for anyone who's interested in desktop Linux." reviews VectorLinux SOHO 5.1.1 Deluxe. "[VectorLinux] is a derivative of Slackware Linux that has been optimized to run beautifully on any PC new or old, and with a most excellent compliment of included applications. All of this on two CDs. VectorLinux is, without a doubt, the single most impressive redistribution of Slackware available. Why? Because it retains Slackware's ease of use and overall feel, but adds a nice performance boost and extra applications to the package. In other words, VectorLinux has the Slackware mojo... and then some." reviews PC-BSD. "The PC-BSD team recently released its second release candidate for 1.0. With the final release rapidly approaching, we thought now would be a good time to take a look at what's coming in PC-BSD, a relatively new BSD distribution based on FreeBSD. It's specifically designed for desktop users, and offers a GUI installer that makes it simple for any user to install." takes a look at Metrix Pebble. "Metrix Pebble is a variant of the popular Pebble Linux distribution supported by my wireless company, Metrix Communication. Although it is built on the framework laid down in the original Pebble, Metrix Pebble is very different from its aging progenitor in many important respects."
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