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How to Create a Custom Ubuntu Live CD or USB the Easy Way

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There are several different ways to create custom Ubuntu live CDs. We’ve covered using the Reconstructor web app in the past, but some commenters recommended the Ubuntu Customization Kit instead. It’s an open-source utility found in Ubuntu’s software repositories.

UCK offers more powerful features than Reconstructor does, but Reconstructor makes most tasks easier for novice users. Be sure to take a look at Reconstructor, too.

Installing Ubuntu Customization Kit

You’ll find the Ubuntu Customization Kit in Ubuntu’s Software Center.

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You can also install it from a terminal with the following command:

sudo apt-get install uck

You’ll also need a base ISO image that you want to customize. You can download a Ubuntu ISO image from the Ubuntu website. You’ll need an image compatible with your system’s architecture – for example, if you’re using a 32-bit system, you’ll need the i386 ISO and not the amd64 one. However, users of 64-bit operating systems can also use a 32-bit image, as 64-bit operating systems can run 32-bit software.

Creating a Customized Live CD

You can launch the Ubuntu Customization Kit from the dash. (You can also execute the uck-gui command from a terminal.)

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UCK will inform you of the requirements – 5GB of disk space on your local computer and Internet access. The Ubuntu Customization Kit uses a chroot environment.

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The next screen prompts you to install language packs – it appeared empty for me, perhaps because I already have language packs installed on the system. Either way, you can click OK to continue.

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The following screen allows you to select which languages will be available on the live CD.

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After that, you can select the live CD’s default language. This makes the Ubuntu Customization Kit useful for creating live CDs customized to specific regions where the default language of English isn’t ideal.

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Now, select the Ubuntu ISO image you downloaded earlier. After you do, you can provide a custom name for your new live CD.

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UCK gives you the option to manually customize the live CD, if you want.

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After you select whether you want to delete Windows-related files from your live CD (for example, the application that automatically runs when you insert a Ubuntu CD into a Windows system), you can click OK to start building the live CD. You’ll have to provide your password in the terminal window after doing so.

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Eventually, you’ll have the option to further customize the live CD with a package manager or a terminal window. These options only appear if you told UCK you wanted to customize the live CD manually.

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Unfortunately, the package manager component no longer seems to be working on Ubuntu 11.10, which appears to be a known issue. In previous versions, this called a Synaptic-like application.

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You can still select the Run Console Application option to launch a special terminal window. This terminal window represents the live CD environment – any commands you run inside it will  affect your custom live CD. This means that you can use the standard apt-get commands to install software that will appear in the live CD.

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After you’re done, type exit into the terminal and select the “Continue building” option to continue. UCK will create and build your customized live CD.

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Once it’s done, you’ll be told where your new ISO image file is located. You can navigate to the ISO file, right-click it and use the burn option to burn it to a disc.

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Live CD to USB

After you’ve got a live CD image, you can use the Startup Disk Creator tool included with Ubuntu to create a bootable USB drive from it. Just launch the Startup Disk Creator application from the dash and specify your new ISO file as the source disk image.

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Have you tried UCK or Reconstructor? Which do you prefer? Leave a comment and let us know.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 03/27/12

Comments (11)

  1. MJ

    Really interesting, I was thinking of building a custom Live CD including OpenFOAM and other packages to be distributed with my final project, so this will help a lot. Thanks!

  2. cam2644

    Interesting stuff. Keep more Ubuntu (and Linux in general) material coming please.

  3. gaurav

    relinux and remastersys are much easier than these……….

  4. jasray

    @gaurav Would agree–nice to see Remastersys is back; I hadn’t noticed. Relinux–the only problem no .deb package with dependencies.

  5. Qrazydutch

    Been building bootable devices so nice to see this for the real small ones… Anyone out there build a hacked bootable iPhone yet…?

  6. andria

    Thanks for giving the more information about the How to Create a Custom Ubuntu Live CD or USB the Easy Way

  7. Chris Hoffman

    @gaurav

    Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll take a look at them! I wrote about the UCK because it was recommended by readers in the past.

    @cam2644

    Will do!

  8. jeorgekabbi

    cool …

  9. carlmarz10

    +1 to keep the linux content coming!

  10. Guest

    Is it possible to install Mozilla add-ons (like for Firefox or its forks, Ice Weasel, Pale Moon, etc.) in a custom build? If so, is this done through the Mozilla program itself or by some other method?

    Also, do “Portable Apps” like the ones found on PortableApps.com and PortableFreeware.com exist for Linux? Things like Portable Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, etc. If they do in fact exist, is it possible to “install” them (i.e. have them available for use) in a custom Live CD?

  11. Chris Hoffman

    @Guest

    This is easy if you’re using a live USB. You can just use Ubuntu’s USB creator, tell the USB creator to leave some space, and anything you put in your home folder while you use the USB (firefox settings, extensions, portable apps in your home folder) will persist between boots.

    This would be more difficult on live CDs, but should definitely be possible.

    I’m not sure about Pidgin, but you can do this with Firefox and Thunderbird — the official Linux binaries ( http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/all.html ) are basically folders with the program inside them, like portable apps.

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