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Linux Rescue Disks Get a Kick from GAR

Packaging a Rescue Disk

October 13, 2003

Spurred by its recent adoption of the GAR build system, the LNX-BBC Project (http://www.lnx-bbc.org) is now galloping right along. At the moment, the project is working on raising the availability of software packages that are based on LNX-BBC's unique "garpkg" package format for GAR. Project members hope that, as a result, users will be able to easily access software tools that don't come with bootable business card (BBC) disks.

LNX-BBC's mini-CDs hold 50MB, but are still "small enough to fit in your wallet," according to Heather Stern of Starshine.org, a veteran LNX-BBC member. The mini-disks are meant to be used not just in system recovery, but for running Linux applications--such as presentations, for example--on any PC.

Many people have dismissed mini-rescue disks as just "a nice tradeshow toy," Stern acknowledged, during a talk at the recent PC Expo show. LNX-BBC, however, has been introducing some "serious revisions."

The biz card-sized CD was first launched as a project at Linuxcare, with members both inside and outside Linuxcare. After a while, though, the group forked into two separate factions. The Linuxcare contingent went on to produce the Linuxcare Bootable Toolkit (LBT).

The LNX-BBC branch first introduced support for GAR in LNX-BBC 2.0, issued in mid-2002, Stern noted, during a follow-up interview. Release 2.1 followed in May of this year. Beyond GAR, other current capabilities include WiFi tools; TCP and SSH tunneling; backup support; X; and support for four different browsers, she said.

Also used in GNOME Project's GARNOME rescue disk (http://www.gnome.org/~jdub/garnome/), the GAR build system was specifically created for the compilation and installation of third-party source code. GAR appears in the form of a directory tree which contains makefiles, along with ancillary files such as checksum lists and installation manifests.

"The BBC is required by the GPL to provide a written offer for the source code to many applications on the CD. Unfortunately, the original BBCs were slapped together rather haphazardly, and many applications were taken from existing Linux distros in binary form! The tarball of source code that was distributed from the old Web site was not enough for users to build their own BBC, and this disappointed many prospective developers," according to a FAQ published on the LNX-BBC Project's current Web site.

"The goals of GAR are best suited to the compilation of third-party software... GAR is designed to support a heterogeneous set of autoconfiguration and build tools, and to make the best of what a software package already has. It is true that some binary package systems do help somewhat, but none of them so far provide the ability to simply type 'make install' and compile an entire GNU distribution from source (and with your own set of compiler flags and installation frobs)."

The GAR build system depends on GNU make (Gmake) for processing, said Stern. This is true even when a package uses some type of makefile other than Gmake.

"LNX-BBC, though, also has its own package format which is not yet used much, called garpkg. We hope to have some garpkg's available soon. One of them is likely to be a distro installer of some sort," according to Stern.

"The availability of garpkg's will allow people to access additional packages after booting up from the CD," she said. "People who wish to add only one or two minor things to their personal use of a LNX-BBC (disk) can prepare their own garpkg tarballs and keep them on floppy disks, USB thumbdrives, or anything else that LNX-BBC can safely mount and read. People who already have LNX-BBC disks will be use (the garpkg's), too."

The business card form factor does impose limits on what can be included in the LNX-BBC disks, she admitted. "We'd like to include development tools, for example, but there just isn't enough space."

Disk customization, however, is another objective. LNX-BBC is offered as a software download, as well as on CD mini-disk. Users who download the software burn their own CDs.

"A lot of people who download the software don't want all of LNX-BBC. They like to be able to customize LNX-BBC to what they need," according to Stern. By downloading garpkg's, users will be able to add new tools or features to their custom disks.

Several other projects have produced Linux rescue disks in additional form factors, including full-sized CDs, floppies, and "round" mini-CD. Stern pointed to a number of these other disks, including the Debian -based Knoppix (http://www.knopper.net/knoppix); the Mandrake-based Trinity Rescue Kit; and the Red Hat system admininistration disk.

"Knoppix is LNX-BBC's big brother," according to Stern. RedHat released its mini-CD system administration disk with the 7.3 edition of its distro, she maintained.

Other "pocket distros" now available include ZipSlack; DamnSmallLinux (DSL); Smoothwall; Tom's RtBt; Trinux; and Gibraltar, she observed.

How can you get LNX-BBC mini-CDs? "You can join the Free Software Foundation (http://www.gnu.org/fsf/fsf.html), or go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (http://www.eff.org/) online store," Stern said. "Or, if you happen to meet one of the developers at a trade show...," she hinted.

Alternatively, you can download the CD image files from http://www.lnx-bbc.org/download.html, and then burn them on to CD-R or CD-RW disks of any size. The LNX-BBC Project supports BitTorrent, for faster downloads.

"We are also working on a new edition of LNX-BBC, but it's not ready yet. The new edition will still use gmake, and will still have garpkg abilities," Stern elaborated.

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