It used to be said that Linux was an operating system for geeks only. I enjoy refuting that by loading a bootable, Live Linux distribution like Knoppix, PCLos or Mepis into a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive and letting a die-hard Windows user give it a test drive. Generally within minutes they’ve figured out how to open applications and use the desktop with as much ease as they use Windows. I’ve converted several Windows users to Linux using a Live CD.

But I won’t deny that many Linux users also appreciate the fact that Linux allows them to configure their operating system in ways that Windows and Mac users cannot. Nowhere is that more true than in the creation of a customized, bootable Live Linux CD.

Live Linux CDsA Live CD is typically designed to boot and run entirely from a read-only medium like a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive. Some will even run from a bootable USB device. It does not install on the hard drive and no permanent changes are made to the computer it’s running on.

Until now we’ve been limited to using Live (bootable) CDs or DVDs from the major distributors like Knoppix. A book published in November empowers us by showing the average Linux user how to create their own, specialized Live CD.

In Live Linux CDs, Christopher Negus guides us through the process of deciding what to put on our custom disk and how to create it.

He spends the first few chapters describing what a Live CD is and how it works. He takes us on a tour of the components of a Live CD, such as the boot loaders and file systems. Negus finishes the first part of the book by showing us how to build a basic Fedora-based and Gentoo-based Live CD as well as creating a custom Knoppix disk.

Chapter 9 through the end of the book goes more in depth on the creation of specialized bootable distribution. One factor that sets Linux apart from the Windows and Mac operating systems is that Linux distributions can be built to cater to a specific audience.

Live Linux CDs illustrates in detail how to create a CD geared specifically toward security, presentations, gaming, or multimedia. We are also guided through making a CD that provides firewall protection to a computer or network and one that allows us to create a clustered computer environment. Nearly any specialized task you want to create a Live Linux disk to accomplish, this book will allow you to make with ease.

That’s not to say that creating a Live distribution is easy. It’s a task that requires a basic understanding of the Linux command line and console, Linux file systems and the Linux kernel. The author refers to these as “guru skills”. Especially in creating specialized CDs, you’ll need guru skills. Thanks to the Open Source nature of Linux, these skills can be acquired by anyone willing to apply themselves. Even the novice can learn a great deal about Linux and Live CDs from this book, but the novice will want to pick a few of those guru skills before trying to create a custom Linux CD.

This is a valuable book if for no other purpose than to explain clearly what makes Linux so stable and adaptable. It can help even the newest Linux Live CD user get more from their experience with Live distributions. Yet Live Linux CDs will be most appreciated by those with a good grounding in Linux commands and a desire to create their own unique version. I would recommend this book to LUGs (Linux User Groups) as a way to create their own Linux distro as a means of creating interest and providing a service to the community they serve.

Most of all, I recommend this book to any Linux user who enjoys tinkering with the operating system and wants to build something truly their own. I know one guru who created a special distribution for his forum members. The possibilities are endless. Let Live Linux CDs be your guide to a new enjoyment of your Linux system.

Live Linux CDs: Building and Customizing Bootables
Christopher Negus
Pearson Education Inc. 2007
ISBN 0-13-243274-9
14 chapters, 2 appendices, CD-ROM