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SUSE Studio: The Do-it-Yourself Linux
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by Rob Williams on July 24, 2009 in Linux

Linux is well known for being very customizable, but with SUSE Studio, things are taken to an entirely new level. Imagine taking a base template, building on top of it with your personal software choices, then configuring countless other aspects (even a SQL database), and then building it as a bootable ISO or VM. That’s exactly what makes SUSE Studio so great.

Testing it Out Continued, Final Thoughts

One trick I discovered rather quickly was that after choosing a base template, the best thing is to take a look at the “Recommended” list of applications, and go from there. This list is different depending on the template you choose, so have no worries… it’s completely customized. From there though, you have the option of either adding in the entire list, or going through one-by-one, adding which seems important. If you utilize this list, chances are you’re going to be a lot happier with your final build.

After that idea struck me, I prepared a new build, this time GNOME-based, added in all the recommended applications/tools, and then went through one by one, removing what I didn’t find necessary. After I was done, I built another VMware virtual machine, booted up, and this time saw a sweet-looking OS, with nary a feature broken.

Although I don’t have accompanying screenshots (thanks to accidentally (this time for real) formatting a hard drive before I grabbed them), I built both a thumb drive image and also a Live DVD image to give things a test on my notebook. As you’d imagine, everything worked out fine, and I was at the desktop within just a few minutes. Installation was a total breeze (SUSE has one of the best installer programs around), and all the important boot switches for my Windows install were added as they should have been.

The only issue I encountered was the lack of of functioning wireless, and that’s no doubt due to the fact that I forgot (rather, didn’t know better) to include the appropriate packages in my build. I did some searching online for an answer, and really couldn’t find out what I overlooked, but I’ve no doubts it can be done. After all, we’re dealing with a distro that runs just fine on notebooks and has for a long while (I ran SUSE on my notebook before the likes of Ubuntu even existed).

Before I get too far off-track though, I should touch on the thumb drive aspect, because it’s a little bit different than you’d imagine. Some distros copy over to your thumb drive just fine, especially if their boot process is based around syslinux. SUSE Studio, however, outputs the build as a .RAW file, which must be copied byte by byte to either a thumb drive, or hard drive.

To copy things over, the best thing to do is use ‘dd’, regardless of whether you’re on a Linux or Windows machine (for Windows, you’ll need to download dd for Windows). Under Linux, I copied things over with this command:

dd if=Techgages_JeOS.x86_64-0.0.1.raw of=/dev/sdf bs=4k

if= allows you to specify the raw file, while of= is your device. Under Windows, the of= output would be something like of=e:, with the drive letter being the thumb drive or external storage device. Be warned though, that dd will overwrite the entire device, and because the .RAW file includes both an ext3 and swap partition, your device will result in something like this:

The key is to just be careful when copying the image to your thumb drive, and it’s absolutely imperative that you copy any data you need to retain off of the drive before doing this. Once you copy over the image, your data is likely to be unrecoverable, especially if it’s only a few gigabytes in size.

Final Thoughts

When I first learned of SUSE Studio, I couldn’t wait to give it a good test. After all, when designing your own distro is made this easy, what’s not to like? Well, I can say that after having used the service to a good extent, I’m still quite excited about all it offers, and I think if this service continues to become more refined, and similar services from other distros become available, there are going to be few complaints.

The big question comes down to who this service is useful for. I don’t at all believe that such a service is needed for the regular Joe, unless that person really wants to take ultimate control over their distro and wants an easy way to do it. While other distros, such as Gentoo, offer great control, SUSE Studio makes it far, far easier to get up and running with a desktop quickly.

Other benefits of this service include complete customization of the GRUB boot loader and also the splash screen, along with pre-configured software packages, users, networking, pre-run scripts, pre-imported MySQL databases, and so forth. There’s little in the way of blocking you from being able to create the distro you want. Although the benefits are few for the home users, I think where a service like this really shines is in the business environment. Being able to customize the distro to your company’s liking so easily is fantastic.

What makes usage of this service so enjoyable is simply the fact that it’s so robust. When I learned of the ability to build the distro I just built as a VMware virtual machine, I simply couldn’t believe it. The options are truly grand, and whether you want to install your customized distro on a netbook, a notebook or a desktop, via a thumb drive, CD/DVD-ROM or even a virtual machine, the choice is yours.

Throughout all my use, I really did find little to complain about. It took a few tries before I could produce a distro I was happy with, but that’s where the “Testdrive” feature comes into play. So, just don’t expect to sit down and have the perfect distro within minutes. It’s certainly going to take between an hour or two if you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty of things.

When all said and done, SUSE Studio is one heck of a service, and I look forward to seeing what improvements will be implemented prior to the final launch, and better yet, see just how well the service succeeds, as that will be the deciding factor as to whether the competition will follow.

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Page List:
Top

1. Introduction
2. Distro Configuration
3. Building the Distro, Testing it Out
4. Testing it Out Continued, Final Thoughts