The basic "configure;make;sudo make install" does work in most cases. It works perfectly for me, on a basic Linux box, and has for at least 6 years.
If it's not working for you, it's a bug the maintainers would really like to hear about.
First, a few specific suggestions:
- make bootstrap is not required if you get the source tarballs, only if you download to CVS. If you don't know much about futzing with Emacs source, you should probably start with the source tarball, even if (at the moment) it's hard to get at. (It sounds as if you did have the tarballs, but some people on gnu.help.emacs got CVS and wondered why it didn't work.)
- If you aren't getting happy X things, it's likely that you don't have all the development packages installed. The configure script gave a nice list at the bottom of what it thinks you do and don't have. You probably need to install the -dev or -devel versions of the relevant packages, then rm config.cache and rerun configure. Emacs can't list the required packages for all Linux distributions, because they all have different names, but if you can come up with text in the INSTALL which would have helped you come to the right conclusion, submit it as a bug.
- If you still have problems, send as much detail as you have to email@example.com. If you have a working emacs of any version, M-x report-emacs-bug will set things up for you.
I don't really know what your specific problems are, since ./configure && make && make install have worked for me on all boxes I've tried (Linux and HPUX), unless they didn't have the development packages installed. If you can figure it out, report it and they'll fix it. If you can't, try posting to gnu.emacs.help with details.