31 Oct 2013

Rolf Sommerhalder: Developing my own Linux Distribution

Rolf Sommerhalder has already written on my blog about his life in Linux and his favourite Desktop Environments. This time round, he decided to let us know about his own distribution he uses. This is guest post on Linux Notes from DarkDuck.

Starting Point                                             

There is a great site on the net: distrowatch.com

It introduces dozens of new or updated distros to the world of Linux-admirers and users.

I spent the last 7 years with trying out many distros (short for distribution) available via that site. There must be a couple of hundred CDs imprinted with Linux Operating Systems in the cupboards. That was before unetbootin allowed running them from flash drives and virtual platforms like vbox,

Over the years I collected mainly Debian files for off-line installation. And to make most of that treasure trove I focused on Debian based distros: Debian-6 and Debian-7, Ubuntu, Knoppix 7x and then those many Ubuntu derivatives such as Mint, ArtistX, DreamStudio and some yet to be checked like Zorin, Bodhi, Emmabuntus, etc.

Anyway, for the past year I concentrated all into creating my own distro and add my own flavour to it. So the first question arises:

Which Linux OS to use as a starting platform?

Debian 6

Known to be very stable. My experience with the Gnome version 2:

  • I like the basic-ness of the installation. This permits one to build up a system practically from scratch. It uses GTK2 which is easier to tweak than ver. 3
  • The drawback was that a lot of functions didn't work and research didn't always yield solutions.

I keep an installation log in case a stuff up happens.  Also I ended up installing too many dependencies hoping to resolve some issues. After some days I got discouraged to do more research, admitted to a lack of more basic knowledge and so left it as a failure due to my own ignorance.

Knoppix 7

I liked the way it looks and how it works graphically well. Then it came to updating and because of the use of various development-classes of software it came to a dead end with the potential slaughter of many useful applications.

On some computers it was un-installable, full stop.

So why not go do the convenience of a: “works out of the box” distro?
I looked into a popular system I've used for the 7th year now. Ubuntu 6 was my starting point.

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

All those faults I previously encountered were non existent in Ubuntu, else they were easily fixed. In fact the post-installation tweaks and adding of extra apps and functions was extremely smooth; without many complaints.

The installation CD has only 50 MB more software than the Debian equivalent, but that is enough to make most functions work from startup. After a CD Installation the Gnome version is still quite compact to start with.

  • network-manager connects any time the modem gets fired up
  • cairo-dock always shows internal and external drive names
  • thunderbird works so no mail alternative neither evolution is needed
  • older compiz from lucid works fine and working under old and new kernels
  • networx shows graph perfectly; later versions of wine give more compatibility
  • installed software from lucid and later versions and some Debian packages are working OK
  • emerald, highly tweakable, compiled via git and lucid versions worked well

Ubuntu has a huge support forum to find and give answers. It may be better known than it's parent, Debian, by now and makes a huge amount of software available. Other Software developers are now supplying Ubuntu-specific packages; Google, Opera, Skype, Calibre, Vuze, etc.

Version Ubuntu 12.04 is a long term support LTS distro with updates for a couple more years. So it makes sense not to upgrade until 14.04 LTS is out. The last install CD I used was version 12.04.2. In the mean time I download the whole Ubuntu archive to a big USB-HDD for off-line installation.

Ok, that's sorted, Ubuntu it was to be. Using the Ubuntu-12.04 Unity Live CD with graphical installer:  ~ 700MB.

Now the next question:

Which Desktop Manager to use?


  • + Unity and Shell are easy to use
  • + Gnome has best choice of panel additions
  • - But uses biggest resources
  • - MATE is like old gnome,
  • - And depends on some gnome functions


  • + Also has a fair amount of panel apps
  • - Stuffs up with auto-start repeats
  • - Difficult to tweak
  • + Good on resources and looks good


  • - Least tweakable
  • + Minimal on resources

4. KDE

  • + Impressive and most refined looks of all
  • - But as useless as Unity for tweakers
  • + Some KDE apps are desirable though
So I settled on Gnome and in particular the older Gnome-2 look alike: Gnome-Session-Fallback (Gnome Classic).

I was tempted to install the KDE desktop as well but they could interfere with each other.

It would have used a lot more space for the whole ISO eventually; but I retain a few KDE apps.

It's using GTK 3 (less tweakable than v.2) for panels and GTK 2 for windows.

This involved installing extra files for the panel, applets, indicators, admin and control.

For more thoughts on desktop choice see my sub-blog: 4 favourite C's in Ubuntu setup
and the .pdf Manual file and some other documentation.

You can also download the ISO of the 4CLIX-7 distro. Please note, you may need to use Unetbootin to get the ISO to the flash drive. The dd command may not work for you.

Update 13.11.2013: A new version of 4-CLIX distribution is now available. I have updated the link above.


Looks are important. I prefer the dark looks, as they are somewhat more relaxed and the influence of the colour purple and instead of white for characters have a tone of yellow. The light yellow though made me feel a bit sick so I darkened it a little. The theme is The Prophet with the colours changed to a purple and gold theme. The black gnome-panel presents the indicator figures and numbers much better.

Conky theme is heavily changed from original. The .conkyrc file is available, if you e-mail me.

The choice of font here is the older type writing: URW Palladio.

For background images photos from the Hubble space telescope gallery are perfect or one of my own photos of lightning at night; clearly containing a purple tone.

The clock is a modified screenlet clock: plain-black no-back with the colour of the hands changed.

Then there are all the options given by GTK Theme Settings Manager to change it all to your liking.

Do you have more questions? Contact me fourclix@yahoo.com.au.

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