Monday, February 18, 2013

Customizing Ubuntu Part 1: System Install and Software Configuration

As I mentioned in a previous post, I always wanted to try and make a customized version of Ubuntu with my favorite applications and customized settings. This appears to be made simple using the Remastersys tool and I am setting out to give it a go. The first step in my customized system will be getting the base system in place and getting everything modified to the desired look and feel. For this install I am starting with an Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 32bit install in Virtual Box (Virtual Box did not boot the 64bit version). Once the base system is installed we'll go through the software list and start removing what we don't want and/or need and installing the programs we do want. Once we have the updated system with custom settings and software set, it will be time to start creating the new installation media.

Before getting started why Ubuntu? I was first introduced to the Ubuntu Linux distribution while working at a middle school after several years of a bit of a Linux hiatus. I was impressed from day one with how well it was done. The installer was a one CD simplified setup, a breath of fresh air compared to the four CD not so friendly install procedure of the last Linux distributions I had used. And for all the things people may find to criticize Ubuntu's direction, it is still a very well done distribution that has great hardware support and works great.

And now lets get to business, first we are going to install two packages: Synaptic Package Manager & Classic Gnome (gnome-session-fallback). Classic GNOME because I really don't like Unity (wanted to, and tried - but just don't) or GNOME 3 - The classic look and feel is what I want in my system. Synaptic Package Manger because it is a very useful and fast way to manage your software, which will come in handy as we remove default applications we won't be using and add additional applications we do want.

After installing the Classic GNOME session we want it to be the global default, so we will edit the lightdm.conf file located in the /etc/lightdm directory. All we will do is change the line that reads "user-session=ubuntu" to "user-session=gnome-classic" which will hopefully make it the default for all users once we have our customized ISO. We will also log out and log back in with the default user created during install so as to work in the classic mode. We will also disable the overlay scroll bars with the following command entered in the terminal: "gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface ubuntu-overlay-scrollbars false" and then we will be off.

With Synaptic in place we can remove a laundry list of applications quickly and in one batch instead of typing up a long list in the terminal or going through the Software Center (which can be a bit slow going). Gone are the following programs: Remmina Desktop Sharing & Vino as a remote desktop application is not really needed for home use. Empathy, Gwibber & Transmission BitTorent are gone as I don't user or care for any of the social networking nonsense and don't need a BitTorent client either. And lastly, RhythmBox which will be replaced by Banshee - this is a personal preference that began when I couldn't get RhythmBox to manage my wife's iPod shuffle and was able to do so just fine with Banshee. It is what I am used to and like now, so Banshee gets the nod.

After our mass removal of extra and unwanted applications its time to add the ones we do want for this customized Ubuntu System. For games, we are just going to add Quadrapassel (a Tetris clone) to add one more classic to the few already available in the regular install. We will also add LuckyBackup, Hugin Panorama Creator, FileZilla, Skype (Internet download, not in the repositories), gLabels Label Designer, Banshee, DVD Styler, RipperX, WinFF, Ubuntu-restricted-extras & Libdvdcss2 (from the Medibuntu repository for DVD Playback). gLabels is a great little program to create CD Label designs to be printed on CD labels available at most office supply stores. Luckybackup is an rsync front end that I use to backup my hard drive to an external USB drive. Hugin is great software for creating photographic panoramas, FileZilla for FTP access, Skype is self explanitory, DVD Styler for creating custom DVDs, RipperX to copy CDs to your local computer and WinFF in case you may need to convert video files (probably will for DVD Styler).

In addition to the programs above, four will be installed through separate PPAs to ensure we have the most up to date versions. One of the downsides to the LTS model and Ubuntu's rapid release philosophy is that some programs have older versions in the repositories that don't get updated, or don't get updated for a long time. From PPA we will be installing GIMP 2.8, OpenShot, Darktable & Pithos. Gimp 2.8 really improved and made GIMP more palatable for general users and is not available in the 12.04 repositories. Pithos is a native Pandora radio client for Linux that is very handy to have.

In addition to the software included in my custom design, I also have the following installed on my system that many might find worth installing: Pingus (Lemmings style game with Penguins), Blender, Dia, KeePass2, Audacity, ISO Master & PuddleTag.

After our software install binge, its time to run system updates and customize the look of the applications menu. Once that is done, it will be time to install and begin using the Remastersys program to create our distributable installation ISO.

Next step, Remastersys - stay tuned!



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