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A Look Inside Linux series

A series of short topics on how Linux works and how to make it work the way you want it to, which I present during the weekly sessions of the Linux User Net. The target audience is Hams who are new to Linux and want to know more about it, as well as experienced Linux users who can learn more about their chosen operating system. These are my notes for the presentations. (Russ, KC7MM)

3. Distro details

Part 2 of 2 (Jan. 31, 2022)


Linux gives you the capability of building a computer that does exactly what you want it to do. There are a number of ways to go about it.

Last time, we looked at using one of the most popular Linux distributions, Debian. Today we'll complete our high-level coverage of popular distros, then move on to other ways you can get the Linux system that best suits you.

Red Hat


Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is a commercial version of Linux.

  • Its market is enterprise computing, where it is by far the most-used. Its primary use is for servers.
  • Red Hat (now part of IBM) makes its software available for free, then makes its income from selling support.
  • RHEL comes with its own repository and package manager.
  • There are a number of derivative distros, which package it for ease of installation and use by those who don't need support. CentOS used to be the primary one of these, but that was bought by Red Hat for their own purposes. In typical Linux fashion, developers have created new distros to replace it.


There is an official desktop distro, Fedora, which actually is developed upstream of RHEL, and is used as a testbed for new features before they go into the main product. While the project is under the direction of Red Hat, it has considerable community involvement.

Arch Linux

Arch Linux is developed for AMD64 (64-bit Intel architecture) systems. It's a community project, with the goal of enabling users to create simple systems that are completely under their direct control.

  • Software packages in the Arch repository generally are not pre-configured; the expectation is that the user will edit configuration files manually in order to set them up as desired. Hence, a user needs to have a fair amount of Linux administration knowledge.
  • Contrast this to Linux Mint, where easy installation is a primary objective. That makes it a good choice for newcomers to Linux.
  • Arch, OTOH, is best suited to advanced users who find it worth their while to invest the time and effort needed to install a system targeted at their specific needs.
  • The Arch project documents its software extremely well. It has both detailed configuration data and active user discussion of applications. I have benefited from it many times when troubleshooting problems with my own non-Arch systems.
  • Arch is a rolling release, which means that it has a single software repository, in which packages are updated continuously as the underlying applications are updated. Thus, Arch doesn't have distinct versions, as with most other operating systems.
  • There are a number of derivative distros developed on top of Arch.


Manjaro is a desktop-oriented distro, based on Arch. It aims for easier installation, making it better suited to less-skilled users. It retains features of the Arch system such the rolling-release model and user control through configuration files.

The Manjaro community also is developing a version for ARM-based machines such as SBCs (single board computers) and the PinePhone.


SystemRescue is designed specifically for troubleshooting and repairing computers that have a disabled operating system. It is installed on a disk or USB device, from which the broken system can be booted. At that point, the included software tools are available to diagnose and – hopefully – repair it.

Custom distributions

Many people have created special-purpose distributions by customizing existing distros. This involves installing and configuring the necessary software, then packaging the resulting system for distribution. The end user gets a system that is ready to use, with only minimal configuration specific to their own computer.

Two notable examples for Amateur Radio are:

For other custom systems that you might find useful in your Ham actifities, Turnkey Linux is a good source.

Build your own customized distro

Installing Ham software and configuring all to work together for such things as contesting and DXing can be a labor-intensive task. If your system dies, or you need multiple hosts that work the same way, you have to do it all over again. A possible solution is to create your own custom Linux distibution.

This involves installing an existing distribution, customizing it for your own purposes, then creating an image that can be installed on other hosts. This yields a special-purpose system that can be easily duplicated.

One tool for accomplishing this is Linux Live Kit.

Build your own distro from source code

Building a Linux system from the ground up is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, we have a project that is dedicated to making just that possible for ordinary mortals: Linux From Scratch (LFS).

  • LFS provides extensive instructions, in the form of a book.
  • There are a number of sub-projects designed to either make it easier to create a basic system or to go beyond the basic system.
  • For anyone who wants to learn the inner workings of Linux, this would be a great place to start.

Summing up

Linux affords you an extraordinary variety of systems you can install and work with, spanning a huge range of software and hardware. While choosing which way to go requires some effort, that is offset by the simple fact that you have the ability to choose – something you can't get from Microsoft or Apple.

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linuxusernet/inside_linux/distro_details2.txt · Last modified: 2022/02/08 15:37 by KC7MM