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Keywords: Linux, Knoppix, Live CDs
Title: Live Linux CDs
Author: Christopher Negus
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Media: Book, DVD
Level: Introductory - some Linux knowledge required
Verdict: An excellent introduction to mastering your own Linux Live CD
I can still remember the wow factor when first seeing a copy of Knoppix booting up on a Windows machine. It was many moons again and the idea of a bootable Linux CD seemed strangely miraculous. Assuming you had a BIOS that could boot from a CD, (pretty much a standard now but not so common a few years ago), Knoppix would correctly identify your hardware, configure itself accordingly and boot to a full KDE desktop in all it's glory. Based on the Debian Linux distribution, Knoppix was (and is) not just a pretty face, it comes with a full complement of applications, including a choice of browsers, games, office applications (including OpenOffice.org) and more.
These days Knoppix is no longer alone, there are plenty of other Linux live CDs available. And neither is the main use to give nervous Windows users a taste of a real live Linux system. Knoppix and the other live CDs are now established as essential techie tools - used for system rescue, temporary server usage and a host of other imaginative uses. For those who've ever wondered how it all works or have entertained ideas of creating their own live CDs then Christopher Negus has put together a book that opens the lid on the arcane secrets involved.
The book is structured in three parts. The first is all about live CDs, what they are, how they work, a quick look at the most popular of the existing CDs and finally showing how you can persist your data to USB, disk or other media. Running a live CD does not mean that you necessarily have to lose all your settings and files when turn off the machine or boot back into Windows.
Part two of the book ups the techie ante as it walks the reader through the creation of customised live CDs. Firstly there's the detailed explanation of how it all works, from CD formats to boot loaders to loading kernels into RAM and more. The technical content is high but you don't have to be a Linux geek to make sense of it, though obviously a familiarity with the insides of operating systems helps a great deal. And you need to have no fear of the command line…
There are three complete examples of creating live CDs, one based on Knoppix, one on Fedora and one based on Gentoo. These show how to start off with a live CD and then drop the applications or components that aren't of interest, how to update those that are and how to add completely new applications and packages. For software developers this holds out the prospect of creating live CDs that contain all of the tools that you need to work - compilers, IDEs, documentation and so on. Add to this the data persistence you get with a USB stick and you've got a complete development environment that travels even lighter than a laptop…
The final chapters look at specialised live CDs - presentations, gaming, multimedia, firewalls and Linux clustering (yep, you can use a set of live CDs to create temporary Linux clusters).
Overall the book successfully opens up the world of live Linux CDs to mere mortals.