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Learning about Linux – the KNOPPIX Live-CD

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Learning about Linux – the easy way

Linux is seen as an alternative to Windows.  So if you are one of those who does not want to be “assimilated into the collective” of Microsoft then maybe Linux is for you.  If you are using a Mac then you are already a UNIX/Linix user – but may not know it.

Or perhaps you just want to keep up with the conversation – when the conversation turns to Linux.

If so, this posting is for you.  This is a no-fuss, no-muss way to get your feet wet with Linux.  This is so easy that “no excuses” – we take no prisioners.

If you read our article 50 Megabytes of Penguin Power and gave the DSL version of Linux a try and liked it, maybe you are ready to move up and give another Linux distribution a try.

Linux at Zero Risk – to your PC

Again, as in our previous posting, the goal is to make it as simple as possible to play with Linux and not put your existing operating system in any jeopardy.  Here are the requirements:

  1. Get Linux up and running in a matter of minutes without frustration.
  2. No hard disk partitioning
  3. No changes to the way your system boots
  4. Get rid of Linux completely when you are done.

That seems a reasonable set of goals to achieve.

The Linux “Live CD” Concept

The solution is to get your hands on a Linux “Live CD”.  A live CD for Linux is bootable version of Linux that runs completely off a combination of the CD and the RAM in your personal computer.  You don’t need to install anything.  What could be easier than that?  Again, we are after the least frustrating way to play and learn about Linux.

KNOPPIX

A popular “fully loaded” (all the bells and whistles) distribution of Linux is Knoppix.  Once you get your hands on Knoppix you have an extremely powerful Linux.

Here are some of the things you can do

  1. Use Open Office – an alternative to Microsoft Office.
  2. Browse the internet in a super safe way.
  3. Play DVD’s and CD’s
  4. Software development
  5. Access Windows Shares on your attached network
  6. Run a file server (NFS, Windows, etc)
  7. Run a Web Server – Apache – out of the box
  8. Run a database – mySQL
  9. Watch all the traffic on your network – WireShark

There is a ton more stuff you can do.  There are even some exotic things you can do like use this Linux as a boot server to boot other PC’s over the network – more about that later.

How Knoppix is Distributed

Knoppix is distributed as an .ISO.  An ISO is an image of a CD that exists as a file.  An ISO is something that most CD/DVD burning software distributed with PC’s or purchased separately (or free) understand.  Once downloaded, if you double-click on the .ISO file, your PC CD/DVD burning software should launch.

Getting Knoppix up and running

Step 1.

So the first step is to get the latest version of Knoppix.
You can get the latest version of Knoppix at http://www.knopper.net/knoppix/index-en.html

We used version 5.1 of Linux for this article.  Download the CD image – the .ISO file to your local hard disk.  The file is abut 700 MB.  Pick a download site, agree to the agreement, and then pick the file.  The file we downladed was KNOPPIX_V5.1.1CD-2007-01-04-EN.iso.  You might also want to get the boot “cheat codes”.  A copy is here http://archive.cs.stedwards.edu/knoppix/knoppix-cheatcodes.txt

If you have dial-up or for some reason you can’t download 700MB of data then you can purchase a CD of Knoppix for less than $10.  You can find places to puchase the CD here http://www.knopper.net/knoppix-vendors/index-en.php

Step 2.

Burn the image.  Double click the .ISO file to launch your CD/DVD software and burn the image to a CD.  What you will get is a bootable CD.  Don’t throw that .iso file away yet.  We will use that later to speedup Knoppix.

Step 3.

Put the CD in your PC and boot.  Typically, the boot order on a PC is to look for CD’s first and boot from CD.  Knoppix has a colorful boot sequence that looks like this

Knoppix will boot on almost any PC.  It will generally get the screen resolution right and find your network card.  If you have trouble you can check the cheat codes that you enter at the boot screen to alter the way Knoppix boots.

Knoppix above is booting on a HP Entertainment PC and has found the dual core CPU, video card, and 2 network devices – the wireless LAN and the physical wireline ethernet card.  So we are livin’ large with Knoppix

Step 4.

After a few minutes, you should see the Knoppix startup screen.  There is plenty of things to expolore here.

Making Knoppix faster

When you use Knoppix you may hear your CD-ROM cranking away.  If you followed the instructions so far you have Knoppix running completely off your CD and in your PCs memory.

Cheat Codes

Well, it’s not cheating at all.  These are Knoppix boot parameters that you can use to control the way Knoppix boots.

You might want to print out the text file of the cheat codes that we provided above.

Running Knoppix from RAM

If you have more than 1GB of RAM on your PC then you can instruct Knoppix to copy the executable code to RAM as part of the boot process.  Then Knoppix will run directly from RAM and will be very fast.  Boot from the CD as normal and then type the command as shown above at the boot prompt (knoppix toram).

Running Knoppix from your hard drive.

We hope you did not throw away that ISO image file.  Copy that 700 MB file that you used to burn the CD into the C:\ drive of your PC.  Also, you might want to rename that file to something simple.  We named it knoppix.iso and placed it on the C:\ drive root.

Put the CD back in your PC, start the boot process, and when you get to the boot prompt then tell Knoppix to continue the boot process from your hard drive.

Knoppix will want the location of the ISO in its UNIX device path language.  Generally, it will be /dev/sda1 or /dev/hda1.  If you are not sure, then boot knoppix the old way and then check to see how knoppix identifies your hard disk on the deskop.  Use that name.  On our system the path to the ISO on the C:\ root drive is /dev/sda1/knoppix.iso.  That is the ISO that we used to burn the Live-CD.

Once Knoppix boots in either of the above ways you can remove the Knoppix CD from your PC and make that drive available to Knoppix for playing movies or using its other multi-media capabilities.

Conclusion

There are a lot of easy ways to get your feet wet with Linux and there are many Linux distributions.  We like DSL Linux for quick things.  DSL Linux is distributed with its own embedded PC emulator and runs inside windows  – see our posting 50 Megabytes of Penguin Power.  And we like Knoppix for much more complex tasks still maintaining the requirement that nothing needs to be installed.

The power of Knoppix is that it is a full blown Linux distribution that you can boot on just about any PC in a matter of minutes once you have the live-CD.  By full blown we mean that it is already configured with many common services that you might want to play with and learn about – or use for a practical matter.

For example, Knoppix has the Apache Web server built in and ready to use.  It has the MySQL database server built in and ready to go.  It can give you easy access to Microsoft Shares on a Microsoft network and to NFS file systems on a UNIX network.  It can be used as a X-Server to provide a GUI to any other Linux server on a network.  You can easily configure it as a Router or bridge.  It can become a DHCP server.  It has Samba built-in and NFS services built-in so you can easily turn almost any PC that Knoppix boots on into a file server for Windows systems and for UNIX systems.  Knoppix has NetShark built-in which will allow you to inspect and analyze network traffic.  It can clone and wipe hard drives.  It can act as a server to boot other (diskless) PC’s into Knoppix over the network using PXE (Pre-eXecution Environment) – that is useful for kiosks or public compute clusters offering ananymous and safe web browsing.  And, if you know what Wardriving is – it can do that as well.

How about a replacement or substitute for Microsoft Office?  Knoppix has Open Office builtin and ready to go.  It has multi-media applications, games, editors, software development, and plenty more.

We highly recommend the book Knoppix Hacks.  This is a cookbook of 100 hacks that will tell you how to do everything we described in this posting.  Knoppix Hacks is direct and to the point – no fluff – practical.  You should be able to do eveything we identified above using the O’Reilly book.

So really, the possibilities are nearly limitless for learning about Linux – if you have the motivation.  This posting gave you the basic info on how to get the Knoppix Live CD – the rest is up to you.

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Written by frrl

October 2, 2008 at 8:42 am

One Response

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  1. An easy way to learn about Linux… About time!

    Thanks

    Speed up Windows XP

    October 31, 2008 at 5:00 pm


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