I know just enough about kernel compiling to be dangerous. So I have a couple of beginner's questions.
It seems that the various distros have their own kernels. Debian in particular seems to have it's own kernels and it's own upgrade/compile method. What makes a kernel specific to a distribution?
Why can't I just download a kernel from kernel.org and compile a kernel with the options that I want? (I have done this for a Slackware 10.1 installation.)
Thanks for any insight, jimbo
Jimbo - technically, you could easily download the source from kernel.org and compile it the way you like, and it ought to work fine.
The reason people from Arch prefer the ABS method is because it allows for management of all the kernel files through pacman, which tends to make installing/upgrading/removing any software a piece of cake.
I've personally installed the stock kernel26 and kernel26cko from community using pacman, as well as compiled my own kernel using the ABS method on the wiki to support ATI drivers. When 26cko came around, I was able to remove my custom kernel with a simple 'pacman -R kernel26-ATI' and bam, done, couldn't be easier.
As far as what makes a certain kernel distro-specific, I suppose certain distros can compile in certain things or use certain patchsets. For example, I'm pretty sure RedHat, with its by-default graphical boot screen, doesn't use the plain vanilla kernel. However, I'm pretty sure the stock arch kernel isn't very far deviated from the vanilla kernel.org, but don't quote me on that, as I haven't really ever done any research on the matter.
If you're going to roll your own kernel(s), I'd highy recommend dibble's PKGBUILD - you'll find it on the wiki here, along with plenty of useful associated info.
All distros use the vanilla source from kernel.org as a starting point. The differences after that correspond to the patches added by the distro's kernel maintainers. As with everything to do with Arch, the patches used in the Arch kernel packages are made very clear - just have a look here. No doubt, other distros document it in their own way. In my Debian days, I was not sufficiently advanced in this area to be concerned, so I never went looking - I was just aware that the kernel source in a kernel-source deb was not the same as the equivalent source version from kernel.org.