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About Linux Meta-distros May 10, 2007

Posted by samwyse in Reviews.

In the beginning, to use Linux you had to download and compile a kernel, and then download and compile any programs that you wanted to use. This was a tedious and error-prone process, so after a while someone came up with the idea of the “distribution”, aka “distro”. This combined a pre-compiled kernel, a selection of other software, and a process for installing everything onto disk. Since the process of building a distro was still tedious and error-prone, many of the largest are supported by commercial ventures, such as Fedora Project (Red Hat), openSUSE (Novell), Ubuntu (Canonical, Ltd) and Mandriva Linux (Mandriva).

One drawback to most distros is that the user is, to a degree, at the mercy of the maintainer for many important decision. To combat this, a few groups have begun creating what I call meta-distributions. These typically provide a much greater selection of software choices, to the point that a user could use the configuration tools to create their own distros. A common feature of the meta-distros is that the end product is often a bootable CD-ROM image which can then be used for installation on multiple systems.

The first such system that I encountered was rPath, which allows the creation of software appliances in multiple formats. One of rPath’s notable features is rBuilder Online, which is a free public service enabling the creation of software appliances and derivative Linux distributions. While a number of popular appliances have been created, including a MediaWiki appliance, a network monitoring appliance, Openfiler, and AsteriskNOW, I feel that the true significance of rBuilder is that it can be used to create mash-ups of any and all other appliances.

Unfortunately for my purposes, even a minimal appliance built with rBuilder was still larger than I desired, mostly due to the inclusion of the tools required to apply updates to the appliance. In my case, I’m willing to ship a replacement instead of applying patches, so this feature is of little use. [Update: Jonathan Smith says below that rPath is aware of the issue and may have a fix soon.]

More tomorrow…



1. Jonathan Smith - May 10, 2007

There is an issue open which will define a group you can easily use to deploy a truly minimal system, without the overhead of updates. You could then use this group as the base of your appliance and significantly trim the minimal size. See https://issues.rpath.com/browse/RPL-1269.

2. About Linux Meta-distros, part 2 - May 11, 2007

[…] Linux Meta-distros, part 2 May 11, 2007 Posted by samwyse in Uncategorized. trackback Yesterday, I discussed my experiences with rPath, and the one thing that I dislike about it.  […]

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