Roll Your Own Linux

Some people collect butterflies. Others collect programming languages. I collect Linux distros. I’ve installed several dozen over the past few years. In fact, I think I was the first person to install Linux on national television. (Come to think of it, Megan and I are probably still the only people ever to install Linux on national television. I may be the only person who thinks installing Linux on national television is even remotely interesting.)
I’ve found a new distro for people like me. A roll your own package that let’s you put exactly what you want into your Linux. It’s called Gentoo Linux and it’s swift. (I was told that I can’t use the word “cool” any more. I’m looking for replacements if you want to help.)

Gentoo is based on the BSD UNIX ports system, only the developers call it “portage” and it means you can easily install, upgrade, and uninstall software. To install a new package you type “emerge” and the package name. Gentoo goes out onto the net, downloads the source code, builds it, and installs it.

You start by downloading a small ISO (18 to 100 MB depending on how much of a Linux system you want to pre-load. I used the larger file). Burn the ISO to disk, boot the CD, then bootstrap your own Linux with just the pieces you want. This is not a process for the Linux newbie, but I found it insanely satisfying. I learned a lot about the guts of Linux, and found I could modify parts of it I never had control over before.

Read the documentation before you try Gentoo – if it’s not crystal clear then don’t install it on your main machine. Consider it a learning project and be ready to mess around with it for a while. But if you want to learn about Linux, or are already an expert who is looking for a very configurable version of Linux, Gentoo is faboo.

45 Replies to “Roll Your Own Linux”

  1. If you can’t use “cool”, try “spiffy” I’ve used that one as a replacement before.

  2. Wow.. I watched yo post this Live, saw the mass of traffic hit your site cause it slowed way down.. but yet i’m the forst to comment.
    Where are all the voices?
    I have my own weblog over at
    Great show Leo!

  3. The only distro of Linux I’ve ever used booted from one floppy disk. And it still works better than Win98. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  4. Hey Leo, great show you do, I love it. First of all, if you can’t say “cool” anymore, try “sweet” and see how long that lasts! ๐Ÿ™‚ Also, I have a question about .htaccess. What does it do, and how can I use it?

  5. Well, since you can’t say it Leo, I will. Gentoo is *cool*.
    The idea behind it is that by compiling every package on your system from scratch (including the compiler!), you get a mean, lean system that is optimized for your particular processor and architecture.
    Because of the differences between processor architectures, it’s possible to *optimize* a program when its compiled to take advantage of the featureset of a particular processor. Most Linux distributions ship with software compiled to the lowest common denominator: the 386 architecture. This ensures that the binaries will run properly on everything from a 386 and up. However, by compiling to take advantage of Pentium III or Athlon architectures, you can actually see speed increases of 10-30% (according to Linux-Mandrake and a few other sites out there).
    Gentoo takes advantage of this by bootstrapping an install from a small ISO, which then goes and downloads the source to *everything* in your new Linux system, and compiles it specifically for your processor architecture.
    Highly recommended, and the install instructions are fairly straightforward. While I’d recommend some familiarity with Linux before attempting this, it’s really not all that bad to install. You should be comfortable with kernel compiles though, as the user is required to “make menuconfig”. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Well, if you don’t want to use the word “cool” anymore, there are several alternate directions you could go in.
    The l33t option:
    The retro option:
    straight from the fridge, daddio!
    The dorky option:
    The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles option:
    Cowabunga, dude!
    Miscellaneous stuff:
    wicked awesome
    Hopefully this is a good starting point for your slang brainstorming needs.

  7. Can’t say “cool”??? “hip” replacements:
    tha bomb
    leet (l33t)
    (and to be really hip, add any of these before or after each: “yo”, “dude”, “word”, “uber-“, “mad-“)
    Sentence construction examples:
    1.Dude, Linux is tha bomb yo.
    2.Man, that new Linux kernel is mad chillin.
    3. Ph34r my uber-l33t L1nuX h4x0ring skillzz. WORD.
    Use these phrases, and you too can be uber-l33t liek me yo.
    (Note: I made this crap up off the top of my head. I am not responsible for the embarrassment of saying these phrases on national television. Dig it? Word.)

  8. Neat, i just wish this distro would work on my PC. BTW you guys are great on TV, watch everyday. i have a problem and i don’t know who to ask so here goes.
    I am trying to install redhat 7.2 or any other distro that is easy to install. they all hang when they start to probe the harddrives on the promise controller that is built into the mother board. here are the specs.
    AMD T-bird 1G
    ASUS A7V133
    IDE0 CDRW/LS120
    ATA0 IBM deskstar 40G
    ATA1 Quantum 30G/WD 17G
    Hercules Geforce DDR AGP
    SB Live and a network card.
    I tryed passing ide2=0x9????, ????? ide3=0x8????, ????? option and it didn’t work.
    the only distro that installs is Freebsd but can’t install Xfree it hangs at the video setup. yeah debian installs too but over my head when i configer, any ideas?

  9. Don’t know if you have upgraded Movable Type to version 2.0 yet. If you haven’t then you definitely should, One new feature is IP banning. Maybe messages like the one above won’t recur.
    Just remember to back up the database first. While most upgrades go super easy I’ve heard about a couple that weren’t so smooth. Wil Wheaton ( ) had some problems with his but Ben T. helped him personally. That’s great support.

  10. Thanks for the tip, Leo! I have a system out on loan to a friend; when it comes home I’m going to give this Linux thing a try.
    In other news, my Leoville store items arrived and they are great!!!

  11. Mike (The guy with the installation problem)
    Try this. There may be something called PCI “Read Streaming” or “Byte Merging” as an option in your Bios. There are some devices that don’t support that correctly, and it can cause your system to hang on boot up.
    I had a problem similar to that with my SCSI controller at one point. However, it may not have anything to do with your problem at all, but it may be worth a shot.
    If that doesn’t work, email me and we’ll try to come up with something else.

  12. Hey Leo,
    You said that you were the only one who thought installing Linux on national televison was interesting. Well, I thought it was great and interesting. Consider, I do not know word one of linux. It would be great to see another show dedicated to Linux. Does that sound cool?
    See ya

  13. Yo Leo (hehe… that rhymes)
    I agree with scott there. I think it would be really good if you did like a week of Linux or something. I have been using Linux for the last 4 years exclusivley for my home desktop and experimentation. I think there are alot of cool things going on in the world of Linux that people would find very interesting and fun… and since it is free (for the most part, with few exceptions) they could affordably try out alot of it.
    Preach the Linux Leo. The Linux is good! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. Oh, yeah… I use Gentoo as well BTW. It is very… well not cool I suppose…
    How about… SHINY!
    Yes, shiny is a good cool replacement… IMHO ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Actually, as a teacher and observer of those wacky teens around these parts, I can tell you that the new “cool” equivalent is “TIGHT,” as in:
    That linux install is so TIGHT!
    That new xbox game is tiiiight…
    etc etc etc.
    peace, LEO…

  16. “Massive” it works univerally, and i doubt you’ve ever heard someone say “Whoa thats MASSIVE!”, well, its original

  17. I’ve been experiencing a similar problem. Here’s once I took in Morgan’s Dressing Room-
    ); |)|
    `–| abac
    ___/ ___
    ( ~ ~ )
    ` /
    | / |
    | – / /
    (__ | | |- ,
    | | |
    / `,
    | ) )
    | _/_ _ /
    | |
    | | ,

  18. linus is cool,
    surfing the net looking for a way to program my own dreamcast games, i stubled upon a dreamcast version of freebsd, as computers and home videogame consoles become more intertwine i am happy to say that have a linux or unix distro that can run on my dreamcast is beyond cool. hopefully, and i dont know if it is legal to do so or not, they will do the same with the ps2, xbox and well, i would say the gamecube but their medium would be difficult to find, i would like to start a site on linux distros for home consoles. and i hope to learn more about programming and make my own dreamcast game, as afar as i know it is ok to do. one thing is for sure we have came a long from the 40-60 dollar catridges that used to litter the house. now we dpend that much on cds, i think that software prices should be lower and i think programming for the dreamcast is a cool cheap way to have games, who knows we may have an uderground of games for the dc, now that is how you keep things alive by making it opensource and allow normal people like me take a crack at programming for these defunct systems. let’s hope that the underground of dreamcast programmers continue to grow…

  19. Actually, Sony has created their own Linux distro specifically for the PS2. You can buy a PS2 for Linux kit from them which includes a network card, keyboard, mouse, hard-drive, and the installation media for a little over $200. It is very nifty. I don’t remember the link right off hand, but a search on Slashdot would definitely turn it up quickly.
    They even provide documentation for how to write games that take advantage of their video hardware. Very cool.

  20. Leo,
    I agree with some of the above posters that a Linux show is in order. It needs to be on every day like TSS. The newer versions of Slackware and Mandrake ROCK! It was good to see you install Linux on T.V. Cheers!
    Larry Greenleaf
    Vice President
    CLarksville Linux Users Group

  21. A Linux Show would be super “snazz”! There’s a word to replace “cool.” Snazzy , but SNAZZ… I’m telling you, its going to be the next craze….

  22. Here’s a great distro for newbies-“roll your own” may be a little too ambitious for them. Try Lycoris Desktop/LX(formerly known as Redmond Linux). It’s awesome, especially for new Linux users. I prefer the more powerful Redhat, but Lycoris is preconfigured for the Windows user making the switch. You CAN add the development tools CD RPM’s to do some tweaking…

  23. I just installed gentoo today…I gotta say, It kicks major tail. I love it. By the way, Leo, love the show. Keep it up…and I concur that a show that catered to alpha geeks is in order…none of this ‘i just got a ‘puter for christmas now i’m 1337’ crap.
    Anyway, I seriously doubt our comments reach the producers at techtv…but here’s to hoping.

  24. Hey Leo, STELLAR has always worked pretty well for me. Go on try it out, before too long they won’t let you say that either ๐Ÿ˜‰ btw if you do do another show with Linux , give Slackware a whirl , it rules!

  25. An alternative to “cool” is “bitchin’ ” I find it quite useful.
    Also, I once (about 2 years ago) found an all-text Linux kernel for $2.50 for two discs online.

  26. Leo,
    This is the only word you need. TASTY. It says it all, is fresh, and keeps you from looking like an older guy trying to get “hip” with the kids slang. Try it. I think my suggestion to you is TASTY. See? It works like a charm.

  27. Great show leo. I watch everyday (almost). I agree with everyone else and think you should do another show(s) on linux :). I made the switch from windows to linux a year or so ago and i’ve never looked back. Anyways, great show keep up the good work, and as for your replacement for the word ‘cool’. How about ill :). linux is ill yo. You know what i mean? Hehe. Take care leo next time you’re in Va i’ll pay you a visit :P.

  28. I’m no expert with Linux and all, but this sounds interesting. I’d love to give it a try. Thanks for the idea and link, Leo.

  29. Leo,
    Do NOT use any of these slang terms. I can’t read several of them with the numbers replacing the letters. Use “cool” if you must, but a proper language is encouraged. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  30. Dickie boy,
    If you find Leo and Patrick’s show so sad, I would suggest that you spare yourself the aggravation of watching it. You sure would be doing the rest of us a big favor.

  31. Can someone help with my Digital Camera? I took a picture and printed it on my inkjet. The printed image is kinda blocky. How can I make it look good?

  32. Leo,
    Seem that you and Kate were the first to install Linux
    on National TV or are You just getting so bigtime your memory
    doesn’t remember your old partner.
    BTW it was a much better show then.
    Just an observation.

  33. Leo,
    PLEASE have a week of Unix (Linux, BSD, etc.). That would rule. Cool show, but it’s kinda been dumbed down since TechTV took over. Wish it was like it was back when ZDTV had it. But I still watch it! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Well, I’m off to install Debian Potato (2.2r5) on this system alongside Windows 2000 unfortnally. (seriously)
    -Chris Miller
    a.k.a. – ee99ee

  34. Great post Leo! I’m a big linux fan and Gentoo sounds like the next logical
    step in my linux journey. I am definately going to have to try it out!
    By the way, congratulations on the great job that you have been doing with
    Pat on TSS. I wish I could watch it more often than I get a chance to! Also, I think it would be great to have a whole show dedicated to Unix (Linux, BSD, and maybe even Darwin). Just think about it ok?
    Keep up the good work you lucky guy!

  35. how about “dope”… as in
    “This new linux distro is dope.”
    There’s other ones I’d recommend but your blog might censor it..
    My personal favourite is “thats the [insert synonym for horse maneur here]”
    Not sure, maybe “dope” isn’t even being used by the kids anymore. I’m approaching 30 and quickly not becoming a kid anymore.. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’d love a show about Linux too.. Hope to upgrade my PC at the end of the year and use my old one for Linux-Mandrake or another Linux distro. Will use a Belkin KVM switch that also switches speakers too, so I can save on that stuff with my new system..
    Great show, Leo. Why do people waste their time in flaming or whatever you call what the guy was doing. How boring.

Comments are closed.