Once, if you wanted to create your own Linux distribution, you had to jump through more hoops than your average Cirque du Soleil performer.
Now it's possible to automate the vast majority of the process, thanks to a Web service created by Novell and SUSE: SUSE Studio. All you need to create your own SUSE-based distro is a Web browser that runs Flash, a decently fast Internet connection, and some working knowledge of Linux.
My quick-and-dirty video walkthrough of SUSE Studio gives the fundamentals, but this article is a more detailed rundown of the feature set and the quirks of the system. Since I made the video, some system bugs have been fixed and capacity has been improved. Note that capacity on SUSE Studio is still limited, so you might have to wait a bit to have your account approved when you first create it.
SUSE Studio Basics
When you create an account with SUSE Studio, you're allocated 15GB of space to use for creating Linux system images. Each image you create can be rendered into one or more builds, which can be executed in different ways -- a disk image, an .ISO, etc. Think of it in the same sense that a book can be printed in multiple bindings and type sizes but still contain the same text. Any build older than seven days is automatically deleted, so be sure to download builds after making them.
There's a good chance the kind of Linux system you want to build falls into one of a number of basic categories. To save you the trouble of building things completely from scratch, SUSE Studio comes with several basic system templates onboard. They can be further customized, but contain more than enough default functionality to get you started.
The first clutch of templates use openSUSE 11.1 as their base distribution:
Just enough OS (JeOS): A minimal appliance-style distribution, useful for headless installs where you only talk to the server through a command line or remote connection.
Server: A text-only (command-line) server that comes with a firewall but little else installed by default. Start with this if you want something extremely minimal and want to build it up package-by-package.
Minimal X: A simple graphical desktop using the tiny and light IceWM window manager. Good for building something where you want a GUI but don't want to go all-out and use KDE or GNOME.
GNOME desktop: A graphical desktop that uses GNOME 2.x, and includes the base roster of utilities for GNOME (desktop widgets, etc.)
KDE 3/4 desktop: Graphical desktops that use either KDE 3 or KDE 4. Many people have a strong preference for one version over the other, so both are supported.
If you'd rather use SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 or 11 -- Enterprise as opposed to openSUSE -- there's templates for both of those, with 11 sporting a slightly broader gamut of choices. Finally, you'll want to choose your architecture, 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64), and pick a name for the whole thing.