Knoppix is a bootable CD with a collection of GNU/Linux software, automatic hardware detection, and support for many graphics cards, sound cards, SCSI and USB devices and other peripherals. Knoppix can be used as a Linux demo, educational CD, rescue system, or adapted and used as a platform for commercial software product demos. It is not necessary to install anything on a hard disk. Due to on-the-fly decompression, the CD can have up to 2 GB of executable software installed on it.
If one is to believe news from the Linux camp one could be forgiven for thinking that the world was out to destroy the beautiful thing that is the Open Source movement. Angry fingers would be pointed in several directions, surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) all in the general vicinity of Microsoft. Of course, the noises from the other side are just as loud (actually quite a bit louder). They, in turn, claim that Linux is ‘unsafe’, hard to use and even harder to maintain, and worse of all, prone to exploitation by hackers (since the source code is open source and thus can essentially be seen and played around with by anyone).
I’ve always preferred the uncomfortable seat on the fence, despite the green grass on both sides. Granted, you tend to get sore sitting in such a way after a while, but the view from here is great, and argument very clear. The battle between proprietary code (led by Microsoft, no less) and open source (Linux) has been going on ever since Linus Torvalds created Linux and started the process that has made it the genuine force that it is today. And as is the case in such fighting, there are three sides to the story: Microsoft’s tale, Linux’s woes and my bit of the story. And my part begins with the most interesting OS of them all…
What if you had an operating system that ran completely from a CD? That’s right, just one CD. And this CD also contained very useful programs for word-processing, data recovery and system repair utilities, image-editing and internet connectivity, along with excellent audio and video players? What if all you had to do was to boot from this CD and voila, in a few minutes your new OS had taken over your PC. Taken over? Nothing to worry about, as removing the OS from your computer was to be as easy as removing the CD. Literally.
Welcome to the world of Knoppix.
Given the fact that we are in the midst of multi-gigabyte operating systems that we there would be such a competent one that could be run entirely from a CD-ROM is stupendous. Imagine the possibilities. Customized versions of the Knoppix OS would mean that you could literally carry a streamlined version of your home PC around with you wherever you went. Need to recover data from a crashed hard-disk? Boot into Knoppix and use the system repair and data recovery tools to retrieve your data (burn it to a CD-R, or transfer it via a PC-to-PC connection) and maybe attempt to fix the disk as well. Secondly, if you are a web developer who wants to check how sites look from within a Linux environment, all you need to do is pop Knoppix in and check out your websites from Mozilla or Konqueror. Away from the office and want to work on customized software specially made for your company? Knoppix, along with a USB drive to store data, turns your crisis into a simple matter of finding a PC. And like all Linux versions, meeting the minimum system requirements (see http://www.knopper.net/knoppix/index-en.html#requirements) would be a snap (82 MB RAM, CDROM drive, SVGA card, Intel compatible CPU (i486 or better)).
There is a lot to be said for Knoppix, especially for its appeal to Linux newbies (or ‘noobs’, as vernacular has it). With no need for an installation (although that is given as an option), and with excellent hardware detection, Knoppix has single-handedly done away with the two major concerns for Windows users wanting to try out Linux: A complicated installation process, and the problem of finding the right drivers for all your hardware. In effect, Knoppix is an excellent choice for someone who wants to try out Linux without having to go through the usual hassle. It’s easy to use, and doesn’t mess with your system either. Despite being run completely off the CD, it runs pretty quickly as well.
Knoppix also boasts a comprehensive suite of programs that has almost everything that home/office desktop could be used for. The package list is tremendous, with the compression system allowing for over 2GB of stuff to be stored. This is amazing and is certainly more than any other single live CD can hold. For a basic idea as to how you should be fine, Knoppix contains 2 office suites (Koffice and OpenOffice), has KDE, Mozilla (web+mail+IRC), PHP, MySql, samba, xmms and tons more. This is no gaming platform, but more than enough is packed in there to let you do accomplish most of your usual tasks on the PC (see http://www.distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=knoppix for a complete list). And if you want more, do an installation and now that you can write on the hard-disk, use apt-get upgrade, apt-get dist-upgrade (after making sure your sources. list is correct) to get more.
Knoppix does have a few minor problems. These are limited to a few quirks within the KDE, some problems with hardware detection and complaints that 5 minutes to boot a PC is too long (which, by the way, is quite quick for a live-CD OS). The reality is that such problems are expected from an Open Source operating system. Linux platforms are not judged by the same criteria that Windows, or any other ‘paid-for’ OS is (this is perhaps a major reason behind the Linux-bashing that goes on in Microsoft-related circles). No one expects Knoppix to work perfectly when detecting hardware, and the fact that it more often than not works extremely well forms the basis of our judgment, whereas if Windows XP Professional refused to detect my LAN card I would not stop cursing their ineptitude (no matter that it detected everything else, or everyone else’s card). The standards applied here are totally different, and thus Knoppix survives all such criticism and continues to bathe in the afterglow of a job well done.
A few thoughts on customization. One gets a feeling that the package is perhaps too comprehensive (how many text editors do you really need?). My view is that at least for the downloadable version, there should be a way for the user to select or unselect the programs that are required. As such, one could select their favorite browser, text editor, office suite, etc. and produce a more compact installation package. Theoretically, you could also build a custom Knoppix installation that would even run your office applications (as mentioned earlier). The possibilities are great, and hopefully the Knoppix development team will take into consideration the idea of streamlining / customization, if only for the downloadable version.
So there you have it. A special flavor of Linux that offers, apart from a live-CD OS, a quite stable operating environment as well (and comes bundled with lots of goodies) that is unprecedented in terms of hardware detection. And more importantly, this could be a precursor of things to come with respect to OS development and how the industry perceives the role of an operating system, be it Linux or Windows. Maybe it’s time for diversification and specialization in the OS market, and maybe, just maybe, Microsoft is set to lose more ground as the ‘free’ operating systems get better and better.
Mike Ber is the owner of the Canadian Domain Name Portal called http://www.Every.ca . He is also a contributing author to Canadian Computer Magazine and http://www.Developer.ca website.