I’m on my Linux From Scratch kick again. Unfortunately, compiling a complete workstation from scratch takes a really long time (the systems that benefit the most from it, namely low-end P2s, need close to a day to compile everything if you want X, KDE and GNOME and some common apps) and requires you to type a lot of awkward commands that are easy to mess up. The upside: Messages like, “I did my first LFS on a Pentium II 18 months ago and it was by far the best workstation I’ve ever had,” are common on LFS discussion boards.
So what to do…? If you want to learn a lot about how Linux works, you type all the commands manually and let the system build itself, and if you’re away while the system’s waiting for the next set of commands, well, the system just sits there waiting for you. In a couple of days or a week you’ll literally know Linux inside and out, and you’ll have the best workstation or server you ever had.

If, on the other hand, you’re more interested in having the best workstation or server farm you ever had and less interested in knowing Linux inside and out (you can always go back and do it later if you’re really interested–CPUs and disks aren’t getting any slower, after all), you use a script.

What script? Well, RALFS, for one. Just install Mandrake 8 or another 2.4-based distribution, preferably just the minimum plus all the compilers plus a text editor you’re comfortable with, then download the sources from www.linuxfromscratch.org, then download RALFS, edit its configuration files, get into text mode to save system resources, and let RALFS rip.

RALFS looks ideal for servers, since the ideal server needs just a kernel, the standard utilities that make Unix Unix, plus just a handful of server apps such as Apache, Samba, Squid, or BIND. So RALFS should build in a couple of hours for servers. And since a server should ideally waste as few CPU cycles and disk accesses as possible, RALFS lets you stretch a box to its limits.

I think I need a new mail server…