Once upon a time, I mentioned my custom Linux distribution that I built almost entirely from scratch for use at Tritech Computer Solutions. I still remember a time when what we’ve come to just call the “TSS” was spouting “Version 0.1 ALPHA” and was horribly rough around the edges. Since then, the changes to the whole mess have been absolutely amazing, and yet despite running bleeding-edge versions of practically everything, the ISO for the TSS has remained well under 50MB. I’d tell the Damn Small Linux to eat their hearts out if it wasn’t for the fact that their distro has more programs and has a vastly different set of goals: where DSL carries the challenge to “fit as much as possible into a 50MB business card CD” and uses particularly spartan and/or aging applications to pull it off (and wow, they really have done an amazing job meeting that goal!) the Tritech Service System was built for a very different and conflicting reason: we needed a Linux distro that ran bleeding-edge stuff (especially the latest Linux kernel), fit in a tiny space, didn’t depend on boot media being present, and most importantly, we needed to run software that most live distros don’t tend to come with…and because of shortcomings in existing systems, I certainly didn’t want to remaster or add to them as the solution.
You can find out all about the distro and the details on the Tritech Service System distribution page, but some unanswered questions remain, such as “what prompted you to release your super-special super-secret Linux secret weapon to the world en masse? What about your competitors? Aren’t you afraid that they’ll take your hard work and use it to put you out of business?”
I’d like to tackle the competitor question first. As I’ve stated before, Tritech Computer Solutions doesn’t have any competitors that are capable enough to be considered competitors in the first place. Those that might be tend to be very Windows-oriented, with limited Linux skills (or none at all; look at Geek Squad’s oft-pirated MRI CD, which is an ugly Windows PE abomination that takes forever to start and makes me wretch at the mere sight of a screenshot…) Even if a skilled competitor came along that had some Linux background, they’d still have to be willing to invest the time and energy into figuring out how to USE the TSS like we do. The Tritech Service System replaces numerous software products that other shops have to purchase, such as Symantec Ghost Solution Suite or Acronis Backup & Recovery 10 for system imaging, or Passware Kit Windows Key for resetting lost Windows account passwords. It even makes it possible to do things that you can’t buy software (that I am aware of) to perform: replacing a corrupt Windows XP registry hive with a copy from a System Restore point (without using the hackish Recovery Console method on Microsoft’s Knowledge Base), checking key system file hashes against a known-good hash list to find infected or damaged system files, priming a SYSTEM registry hive with the required disk controller driver service and critical device database entry to enable booting from that controller (i.e. switching a controller to RAID mode which sometimes requires a different driver you can’t forcibly install), and much more. The problem is that, much like a welder, you have to know how to use the tool to accomplish the goal. Experience is why my “competition” can’t use the Tritech Service System to beat me at my own game: they don’t know how and honestly, to get where I am now requires more work than any typical computer hobbyist would ever want to deal with. I wonder how I got this far without giving up, because it’s HARD to keep your drive when things get exceedingly frustrating. For someone who fixes computers “good enough” to get by comfortably, the need to learn how to fully exploit such an esoteric tool doesn’t exist. They’d prefer to be out boating.
Sometimes I’d prefer to be out boating. Or fishing. Or anything else. If you think computers make YOU stress, be a computer technician and you’ll never complain about being a normal user again.
Now that the unpleasant self-promotional filth and obligatory dihydrogen monoxide humor is out of the way, let’s talk about why I’m releasing the Tritech Service System to the public, and what the difference is between what we use in the shop and what I released, dubbed the “Community Release Edition.” The reason is simple: I worked very hard and ended up making an extremely useful tool that filled a void in the live Linux distro world, and I wanted to contribute to the Open Source community for making it possible in the first place. The whole idea behind the Free Software Movement is that we help each other out and contribute our innovations to the rest of the community. If I’ve made something awesome from things other people shared with me, why not share it with them in return?
Another side reason is that I’d like to be recognized for my work, and I’d like to show my fellow man that I have something positive to contribute to society. I can’t fix a lot of the problems in the world, but if my Linux distro makes just one person’s life easier and they thank me for it, that’s all I want. If it helps a hundred people, that’s awesome too. If I open up donations to continue working on it and can spend a chunk of time each day devoted exclusively to improving the system because of that, I’d be absolutely thrilled and more than happy to do it. Software work is my true hidden passion, and if I can use that passion to help others, I absolutely will.
That’s why you can download the Tritech Service System Community Release Edition.
As for the rest of the questions…the difference between TSS and TSS CRE is the exclusion of “internal use only” custom software and scripts and custom graphics that we have full rights to redistribute; also, why is the first release numbered “1.3 CRE” anyway? Internally, we started TSS with 0.1 alpha, which progressed to 0.1, 0.1B, 0.2, 0.2A, 2B, 0.2C, 0.2D, 0.2E, then when the GUI and extended system was added we had 1.0, 1.1, and our latest internal release version so far is 1.2. The next minor version in the sequence is 1.3, and because some minor updates exist between TSS 1.2 and the TSS CRE, I figured it would make sense to just go up a number. Internally, there is no TSS 1.3 at all. I literally had to rewrite 40% of the build system and shuffle tons of files around to make the build system much more customizable and robust. TSS CRE is what motivated me to add automatic inclusion of some customizations and create a “cleanup” script. In fact, most of the 1.2 -> 1.3 differences lie in the build system being totally different, not so much in the software that makes up the final product. I plan to further enhance the “gentss” script to include customizations in a more flexible manner in the future.
I’m already knee-deep in the 1.4 development process too. Tritech Service System Community Release Edition 1.4 will feature the latest versions of many libraries and packages, better boot scripts, and possibly a few pieces of software that aren’t on 1.3. Stay tuned and see what develops.