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Knoppix Knowhow

Copyright (C) 2003-2006 by Steve Litt, All rights reserved. Material provided as-is, use at your own risk. 

Knoppix is a Linux distribution engineered to run from a bootable CD. The idea is that a Windows user could experience Linux simply by booting the Knoppix CD. OpenOffice, email, web browsing, audio and video are all right there for the user to enjoy, without any change or compromise to his system. What a great advocacy tool!

Advocacy just scratches the surface of Knoppix' usefulness. It's a computer buyer's friend, a supreme configuration tool, and it's the best rescue CD ever made.


What is Knoppix?

Knoppix is a Linux distribution optimized to store and boot on a single CDrom, without requiring any space on the host computer's disk. This means that Knoppix is the ideal distro with which to test out Linux without making a committment. It also makes Knoppix an ideal configuration tool, rescue tool, forensics tool, and computer evaluation tool (testing computers before purchase).

Running Knoppix is usually as simple as placing the Knoppix CD in the CD drive, setting the bios to boot from the CD, and rebooting. Occassionally you need to use some of the Knoppix "cheat codes" at the boot prompt. These are codes that set video refresh rate, memory and other boot parameters.

Where to Get Knoppix

Knoppix is easy to get. You can get it in one of 3 ways:
If you have a fast Internet connection, perhaps the easiest way to obtain Knoppix is to download the ISO image.

If you're in a Linux User Group (LUG), probably someone in your LUG has a fast connection. If he/she downloads the ISO you can burn it at an Installfest.

If you don't have a fast Internet connection and you can't find someone with the ISO, consider buying a Knoppix CD. There's a list of places to buy the CD's at In the United States, you can buy a Knoppix CD for $4.99 at CheapBytes ( CheapBytes sells the CD for $4.99 plus shipping.

Once you have the CD, you can use the procedures in my Coasterless CD Burning page to duplicate the CD to your heart's content. The CD is Open Source -- this is completely legal.

Knoppix as an Advocacy Tool

Our LUG, Linux Enthusiasts and Professionals (LEAP, in Orlando, Florida, USA) has burned and given away hundreds of Knoppix CD's, at shows, and continues to do so. Knoppix CD's are the ideal SWAG because trying Knoppix is a no brainer. If the show attendee knows enought to set his computer to boot off CD, he can use Knoppix.

Knoppix was created to be a Linux demonstration tool. It has Linux, XF386, KDE, IceWM and several other window managers. It has the xmms, Ogg Vorbus, and xine media players. For expert graphics creation, it has the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). It has numerous configuration and repair utilities -- enough to make it an excellent rescue CD for Linux or even for other distros. And best of all, it has the entire OpenOffice office suite.

When you first boot Knoppix it boots a browser enabling you to see Knoppix info, play OpenMusic tracks, or view .pdf talks. Naturally, most people will go for the music, and it works flawlessly.

Knoppix style advocacy goes well beyond SWAG at shows. It's used extensively in a corporate setting to demonstrate that Linux isn't rocket science, and that Linux is excellent. Imagine your bosses face when he boots a CD, and can immediately play music, view .pdf files, use a first rate office suite, and browse the web or the local LAN? One picture is worth a thousand words, and the Knoppix CD displays that picture quickly, without the need to format a disk, sign a non-disclosure, apply for an evaluation copy, or buy a license.

Using Knoppix to Test a Computer Before Purchase

If you're a Linux user, buying the right computer, especially a laptop, is a problem. Follow the logic...
Enter the Knoppix CD. Go to the computer store, find a computer you like, ask the salesman for permission to boot your Knoppix CD in that computer. Knoppix has one of, if not the, best hardware detection systems around, so if a computer is capable of running Linux at all, it will probably run Knoppix.

Once booted, you can test office products, sound, and many other functions. If you bring a DHCP server and a hub and a couple network cables, you can also test the computer's networking.

Your Knoppix CD can be used in stores, computer shows and swapmeets, and in used-computer purchases. A Knoppix success doesn't guarantee you'll be able to install and enjoy your favorite distro on a computer, but it certainly reduces the odds of buying the wrong computer.

Knoppix as a Configuration Tool

Knoppix's hardware detection and configuration are second to none. Imagine if your X configuration becomes broken, and you can't fix it with your distro's tools. Knoppix to the rescue. Insert the CD, reboot, and if your system is capable of X, Knoppix will run it. You might need to use one of Knoppix's "cheat codes" on boot, most notably the xvrefresh= cheatcode, but one way or another if your system is capable of X, you'll run X.

Once X is running, right-click one of your partitions, set it read-write, and copy /etc/X11/XF86Config-4 to that partition. Be sure to also mount the root partition read-write long enough to set the default runlevel down to 3 in /etc/inittab. Reboot, remove the CD, back up your original X configuration file, and copy the one from Knoppix over it. Most likely you'll now have a working X. Tweak as necessary.

This same method can be used for any configuration file -- sound, network, whatever. If Knoppix detects it, you can mount a partition read/write, save the config file created by Knoppix, then use that config file in your distro, and slowly experiment to make it even better.

Knoppix as a Rescue CD

This subject has its own web page.

Using Knoppix for Forensics

If you're in law enforcement and want to scan a computer's hard disks for kiddie porn or terrorist activities, consider Knoppix. You can quickly and easily mount all the computer's drives and partitions read-only, and then, at your own pace, use commands dd, strings and grep to peruse the hard disk as a device (see deleted files), and the files themselves. This works for both Linux and Windows computers.

If some script kiddie busted into your computer and you want to investigate without further damage, take it off the Internet and boot up a Knoppix CD. You can now look at all your log files through a known good operating system.

Knoppix as a Low TCO Desktop Distro

This subject has its own web page.

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