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According to this document, creation of custom Ubuntu distros is allowed. The document gives a general outline on what to change and modify. There is however a section that confuses me/needs help finding out how to correctly apply.

  1. File /etc/lsb-release (from package base-files) contains name of distro, which is used by some tools (for example network configuration tools) to identify how to handle files. Also the content of this file (AFAIK) is displayed in console login. Should the contents of this file (i.e. base-files package) be replaced in derivative distro?

This is a tricky one, since the file is used both to tell the user the name of the distribution and by programs to identify it. The former should change, but not the latter. Perhaps changing DISTRIB_DESCRIPTION but not DISTRIB_ID is the right thing to do.

This section mentions the contents of /etc/lsb-release to match the name of the distro. It says that the contents of DISTRIB_ID should be changed to match the name of the distro, but also claims that it messes up certain tools. It then mentions changing DISTRIB_DESCRIPTION to the name of your distro. What should I do with this?

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Depending on your intention, you may or may not require to modify the contents of /etc/lsb-release file for your Ubuntu-based custom distro (or likely defined as "remix").

Rationale for lsb-release

From what I understand, the content of /etc/lsb-release mainly used for determining whether you can update your packages from existing Ubuntu repositories or not.

Below are the supporting examples, which include combined output from different distro based on Ubuntu 12.04 release.

kubuntu@kubuntu:~$ cat /etc/lsb-release
DISTRIB_ID=Ubuntu
DISTRIB_RELEASE=12.04
DISTRIB_CODENAME=precise
DISTRIB_DESCRIPTION="Ubuntu 12.04.3 LTS"

xubuntu@xubuntu:~$ cat /etc/lsb-release
DISTRIB_ID=Ubuntu
DISTRIB_RELEASE=12.04
DISTRIB_CODENAME=precise
DISTRIB_DESCRIPTION="Ubuntu 12.04 LTS"

^ Despite Ubuntu official flavours' name are Kubuntu and Xubuntu, these were never used in the content of /etc/lsb-release file. This is because the Ubuntu official flavours share and retrieve the same packages from the same repositories like Ubuntu does.

mint@mint ~ $ cat /etc/lsb-release
DISTRIB_ID=LinuxMint
DISTRIB_RELEASE=13
DISTRIB_CODENAME=maya
DISTRIB_DESCRIPTION="Linux Mint 13 Maya"

trisquel@trisquel:~$ cat /etc/lsb-release
DISTRIB_ID=Trisquel
DISTRIB_RELEASE=6.0
DISTRIB_CODENAME=toutatis
DISTRIB_DESCRIPTION="Trisquel 6.0"

^ These Ubuntu derivatives' name are Linux Mint and Trisquel and their names were included in the content of /etc/lsb-release file. While they get the sources from Ubuntu repositories, these derivatives host their own packages. Therefore, they can define their own releases.

The combined output above (the one from Kubuntu and Xubuntu) already gave us a hint. Only edit DISTRIB_DESCRIPTION="" and replace the string with "Something 1.0 Else". This means you can still update and retrieve packages from existing Ubuntu repositories.

Trademark issue

Until few years ago, there was "Ubuntu Trademark Policy" but now it is redirected to this page called "Intellectual property rights policy". Few relevant points have been quoted below:

[...] You can modify Ubuntu for personal or internal commercial use.

[...] Any redistribution of modified versions of Ubuntu must be approved, certified or provided by Canonical if you are going to associate it with the Trademarks. Otherwise you must remove and replace the Trademarks and will need to recompile the source code to create your own binaries. This does not affect your rights under any open source licence applicable to any of the components of Ubuntu. [...]

Based on these, if you intend to build custom or modified version of Ubuntu and redistribute it, you must do rebranding. This means not just /etc/lsb-release anymore.

But, if you are not redistributing the custom build and wish to update and retrieve packages from existing Ubuntu repositories, then modifying /etc/lsb-release as explained should suffice. Otherwise depends on yourself; To which extent you would like to customize the build.

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