Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Customizing Ubuntu Part 4: Fine Tuning & Final ISO

After going through the customization process and thinking over some of the applications I originally included, I decided to trim them down and go about the final product in a different way. The final ends up being two different customized versions. The first being a slim (though with Remastersys, the ISO is still 1GB) version that has the classic GNOME environment by default and some additional programs. I won't re-list the applications I removed, as they were not reconsidered and you can read about them in part one of this series.

The additional software that made it to the base system follows:

  • Quadrapassel - Tetris clone, just one more little game to add for fun.
  • Lucky Backup - Graphical rsync front end that is great for backups and can be scheduled to automatically run.
  • Skype - For free video calls, not in the repositories and available pre installed in this image.
  • Pinta - Basic imaging program, great for cropping, resizing and other basic imaging needs.
  • gLabels label designer - For designing and printing on any number of different labels. From mailing labels to CD labels. Comes with a large number of pre-loaded popular label templates.
  • Banshee -Music player of choice right now.
  • Ripper X - For copying CDs to MP3 format on your local hard drive (so as to add them to an MP3 player, or just listen on the computer)
  • Synaptic  Package Manager - For software management.
  • OpenShot Video Editor - Great video editor for Linux, can be used to create photo slide shows and other home videos.

In addition to the base packages available in the stock Ubuntu system (LibreOffice, Firefox, Shotwell etc...) I picked the above programs to form what I would consider a more complete package (less some unnecessary applications, and of course the classic GNOME look) for more everyday, general use. And while some of these may not be needed, I think they make a good base install for many users. Going back, if I were to start over, I would likely not include Skype as it might not be desired for all users - but it can be easily removed. This base setup also still has PPA's in place for the GIMP, Pithos (Pandora Client) and Darktable if those applications are desired. The OpenShot stable PPA is also in place to ensure the most current version is available when the program is updated beyond the installed version when I created the ISO files. 

The next custom ISO is a version with software geared toward digital photography, which is one of my main uses for my laptop.  For this  ISO I have removed Pinta from the system and added the following additional programs:

  • GIMP 2.8, along with the resynthesizer plug-in, python layer effects plug-in and the G'MIC plug-ins.
  • Darktable - A digital darkroom program for developing photographs. Darktable supports RAW image formats.
  • Hugin Panorama Photo Stitcher - For stitching panoramic photographs and other composite images.

  • DVD Styler - For creating DVDs that will play in standard DVD players.
  • WinFF - To convert video files between formats. DVD Styler typically needs MPEG format for video files.
As a quick side note, I am in the process of writing an introduction article/blog post on my photography blog regarding digital photography for Linux. Now back to the ISO files and related information.

Currently both ISO files are 32Bit. With Ubuntu's stock kernel being a PAE kernel, this shouldn't be much of an issue as PAE enables 32Bit systems to get past the 4GB memory limit. However, if there is interest in my project and a 64Bit version I would be willing to create 64Bit ISO files. I originally could not boot a 64Bit ISO in Virtualbox, but have since fixed that issue by enabling the virtualization technology in my system's BIOS.

Next step for this project is a customized version of Xubuntu. The XFCE powered version of Ubuntu has come a long way since I first looked at it in version10.04, but again, I am not a big fan of the default configuration. XFCE has the added bonus of being more customizable, much like the classic GNOME environment was before the introduction of GNOME 3. Even though many users man not want or need the flexibility to configure a desktop environment extensively, many still do though.

Eventually I would like to go further with customized Linux distributions, with Remastersys you have additional options for custom boot splash images and some other customizations for starters. And at some point I would be interested in working through the directions from the Linux From Scratch project for a completely custom, ground up build. I will be sure to document here any additional explorations I dive into.

But for now, the customizations I have done so far are available for download on Sourceforge at:



Saturday, March 2, 2013

Customizing Ubuntu Part 3: Testing the ISO

Now that we have created the ISO with Remastersys, it is time to test it out to see how it worked. But before we can test the ISO, we will have to get it off of the VirtualBox VM and onto the main host computer (which will then be installed in VirtualBox for testing). First, we will install the VirtualBox guest additions on our host machine. I installed the virtualbox-guest-utils from Synaptic (and the associated ones it will install with it). After that, we will created a share in the VirtualBox VM settings, which for this exercise I named public (and also use the public folder location as the shared folder).

Now in the guest, we will have to install the virtualbox-guest-utils package before we will be able to mount the vboxsf share that points to our host system. Once installed we will then create a directory to be the mount point of our share. From the terminal run "sudo mkdir /mnt/share" to create the share folder. This directory is where we will be copying the ISO file to from our guest VM. From with in the guest I ran the following command from the terminal to mount the vbox share: "sudo mount -t vboxsf public /mnt/share" where public is the name I gave the share created in the VM settings on the host system and /mnt/share is the mount location we created on the guest. From inside the /home/remastersys/remastersys directory I copied the ISO and MD5 file via the command line with the command "sudo cp custom-dist.iso /mnt/share" (again with .md5 custom-dist.iso.md5) and now the customized ISO is on the host machine and ready to test.You can use your graphical file manager to do this, but will need to load the file manager with root permissions to be able to copy the file over - I found it easier to just type in the commands on the terminal.

Now for the moment of truth - testing the Live CD in VirtualBox. First thing I noticed upon boot is that you are not greeted with the pretty graphics you see in the regular Ubuntu CD, just a text menu. No worries though, booting into the Live environment worked great even though it didn't auto login but all you had to do was type "liveuser" (the user name I had used for this experiment) at the LightDM screen and hit enter on the password field (for no password). The user name is also shown in the upper left of the login screen for reference. Default session was GNOME Classic and logging in I was greeted with the different wallpaper I had chosen and an install Ubuntu 12.04 LTS icon on the desktop.

Live session works great, now its time to reboot and run the installer directly and see how everything installs. The installer runs just like you would expect from Ubuntu and worked with out a hitch, I created my new test user and set auto login to yes and away it went. Once completed, reboot and we are in business. Everything worked the way I had hoped and I even created a test user in the VM environment, logged out and logged in with the new test user. As expected and hoped, new users are set to GNOME Classic by default.

A very successful experiment that leads to an up to date customized Ubuntu install - one that I think represents a more sane desktop and one that would be easier for the average user to learn. This setup is one I would be more than happy to distribute to friends or family wanting to see what a Linux experience would be like. After a little more fine tuning of the ISO, I will be uploading my customized version on-line for download if anyone is interested. Any changes should be pretty easy from here on out as I can install the original base customization in a Virtual Machine and then update from there and recreate the ISO.