One of my favorite distributions is, in fact, Debian. I especially like the Debian Sid distribution, and my current, every day system is one I built myself. A couple of years ago now, I took an installable Debian Live daily build, specified a handful of extra packages to add to the custom system, had it custom built on the Debian Live server, and then had the Web page link, containing the location of the customized image mailed to me.
I downloaded that image, installed it, then further customized it, changing the default Debian repository from Testing to Sid (Unstable), then, over time, added more software to suit my specific needs.
Before creating this system, I backed up the entire image of the system I was replacing, plus I also backed up my home directory and the directories beneath it, so that I could use them to build my custom system. I backed up the previous image in case my experiment failed. (It was a great success, and I still use it today).
Once I had that custom system in place, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to build when other customization opportunities became available, and that is where antiX core comes in. The antiX distribution is a relatively small distribution. Started in 2006, it was originally conceived to provide a smaller, lighter derivative of SimplyMEPIS, a modest, simple, but full featured desktop Linux system, which is also based on Debian software. SimplyMEPIS uses the most stable Debian software from the Debian Stable archive. The antiX distribution, by default, uses the Debian Testing archive, but lists the names of all three Debian archives, stable, testing, and unstable in the package configuration files, allowing you to select which ones you want to use, and to comment out the others.
As antiX developed and evolved, within a few years, a second antiX derivative emerged, one called "Base", which still provided a system kernel, the core Linux software utilities, packaging tools, and a basic graphical environment, but few software applications. From this "Base", you could quickly and easily build your own custom desktop system. I've used and customized several of these "Base" distributions, and I recently created another one, based on the current antiX M12.0 Test 2 development.
There is another one though. Now a couple of years into its development, antiX core is even more fundamental. The core distribution provides a system kernel, essential software packaging utilities, and that's it. It is quite similar in concept to what Arch Linux has done with its packaging, but very different than Arch because it is based on Debian (and to a very limited extent, SimplyMEPIS).
The latest versions of antiX Full, Base, and Core, now include their own antiX Linux 3.3 series kernel. Recently, I took my already existing antiX core setup and installed the latest antiX 3.3.1 kernel, then upgraded the Debian Sid-based software. It has continued to remain solid, fast, flexible, and exactly what I built it to do, and that is, provide me with a light, custom system that I use mostly for Web-based writing and research. For that specific purpose, I am hard-pressed to find anything that does a better job. After all, I used excellent building materials, then assembled them precisely the way that I want them. The result is highly satisfying.
For those who want their own custom system (which certainly can vary considerably in both appearance and function than the one that I created for myself), antiX core is one of the best ways to go, but if you want just a little bit more of a jump start, then antiX Base is also an excellent alternative, and antiX Full is an excellent, lightweight, but complete system.
Try them all out, if you have never done so before. You can find out more about them at http://antix.freeforums.org/ - the antiX forum, at http://antix.freeforums.org/antix-m11-faq-t3178.html to get at least some documentation and help on previously released versions, at http://forum.mepiscommunity.org/viewforum.php?f=40 to get help in the MEPIS Lovers' Forum for antiX, at DistroWatch to get not only the software, but a variety of reviews of it. The USALUG, Desktop Linux Reviews Forum, and the Newbies Linux Forum are a few of the places I visit, and I would be glad to discuss antiX or help you with it if you are interested.
You may also want to review one of my earlier blog entries in this blog, at Creating your very own antiX core system from scratch if you want to try it out. Some of the information may be slightly out of date, but following the essence of the work will help you get on your way, if you are serious about trying to build your own custom system. I hope you try it; if you do, be sure to let me know!