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Keywords: GNU/Linux, Debian, Live CD
Title: Knoppix 3.7URL: http://www.knoppix.org
Licence: Open source (GPL)
Verdict: Very highly recommended.
Knoppix is a "Live CD" version of the Linux operating system, which means that it runs directly from a bootable CD. In other words it does not install to your hard disk, it does not create new partitions, fiddle with boot records or otherwise mess with your existing system.
What it does do, (and does extremely well), is to boot from the CD, detect hardware and then load a copy of Linux to RAM. Once this has loaded it opens straight into a Linux desktop and from there the user is able to simply click and go.
What is remarkable about all of this is that it works seamlessly, it is fast and that a full version of Linux, the KDE desktop and a fairly wide set of applications has been loaded onto a single CD. Based on the GNU/Debian Linux distribution, this is a system aimed at the single user rather than for use as a server, but it is still a full copy of the operating system.
Just as important is the set of applications included on the CD. These include two office suites (a full copy of OpenOffice.org and KOffice), the well-known GIMP graphics package, two Web browsers (Konqueror and Mozilla), games, development tools, editors, utilities and much more.
Installation is as simple as putting the Knoppix CD (available as a free downloadable ISO image file) in a CD drive and rebooting with the BIOS configured to boot from CD. That's all there is to it.
Just as impressive is the hardware detection process. We tested the software on two different machines and each in case Knoppix correctly identified the sound and graphics cards, attached USB devices, network connections and so on. Not only did Knoppix boot into a KDE desktop that was correctly configured for the hardware, but connection to the Internet was also automatic. No fiddling required. Dial-up and DSL connections were both recognised automatically.
As impressive was the way that it was able to detect other machines on a local area network. With Windows machines it used the Samba system to detect the workgroup and was able to browse and share files with them. Again no manual configuration was required. It was possible, for example, to start OpenOffice.org, create a document and then save this to the hard disk where it could be picked up later from within the Windows environment.
The important point, and one that makes Knoppix more than a clever toy, is that it is possible to store its configuration settings and files to other devices. This means that you do not lose configuration changes and data when you shut down or reboot. It is possible to save this information to hard disk, memory card or other storage device. When the CD is next booted you can simply key in the location of the stored configuration files and the system will use them. In our tests it was straightforward to save the configuration files to a USB Zip disk and to re-use them on subsequent boots.
While the aim of Knoppix has been to give new users a real taste of Linux, it does have a number of practical uses. First, it makes a great rescue disk for existing Linux users. Once booted it is possible to access a broken system on the hard drive and attempt a fix. It can do the same for Windows machines, and is able to read and write to FAT and NTFS partitions, meaning it can rescue all flavours of Windows installations.
Second, for Web developers it provides a simple way of checking how sites look from the Linux side of the fence. Simply boot into Knoppix and take a look at how your site looks from Konqueror or Mozilla.
And of course it really is one of the best ways for Windows users to learn about Linux in a way that requires little permanent change to a machine. Not only does it give a real taste of the operating system, it also provides a wide selection of open source software, including CD burners, multi-media players of all descriptions, office suites, games, utilities and more.
For some of us Knoppix provides such a good Linux experience that we want to go the whole hog and install it to the hard disk. This too is a simple matter now. It's just a case of booting from the CD and then running sudo knoppix-installer from a console shell or using a menu option. So long as you've got 2GB disk space to spare then installation is a breeze.
All in all Knoppix is an ideal way to get into Linux. It gets the highest TechBookReport seal of approval!