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My Experiences with Knoppix

This article relates my experiences with Knoppix, a Linux distribution that runs straight off the CD.

I am currently (April 2005) having to rely only on USB storage while the computers I have (or will have ) access to change and change (long story).

This is a quick log of my experiences using Knoppix, a linux distribution that runs straight off the CD.

My Linux Background

I have been using linux on and off as my main desktop since 1998, and as my preferred server OS since 1996. I am an old computer Junkie and never say no to a piece of hardware, so I have every OS running at my house (MacOSX-Solaris-Linux-Windows). And I needed a way to keep a desktop around for any computer I happen to have handy (long story).

I had heard of knoppix and decided to give it a try.

Getting started

I started by using Windows to download and burn a knoppix CD. I burned a couple just in case.

The first thing you need to get used to (if you are used to Linux) is that there is only root and then a single user (knoppix). This is after all a CD-only distribution and you will likely be at the console.

Running it the first time on a Dell Latitude D600 worked fine except for the wireless. A “Wavelan configuration” (wlcardconfig) utility can be used to set up the wireless networking, but I couldn’t get it set up. The ethernet worked however so I moved the laptop over to where there was a cable and worked from there. Since the primary reason for my using Knoppix in the first place is to “get stuff done” I decided this wasn’t a big problem and didn’t pursue it further (later, the wireless card on my Fujitsu S6110 worked fine).

Making knoppix remember you

Next I decided that, since this will be the way I compute when I don’t have a computer available, I would go ahead and set up a persistent home. I went through setting up home on my IPod. However the IPod has a weird partition structure that is not auto-configured by Knoppix properly (hda1 is “empty” and hda2 is what contains the FAT32, its size being managed by IPod itself depending on how many songs you have on the device). I was really dissapointed with that – I would have loved to have created a 4Gb “home” and have all kinds of room for my development tools.

Again, there is probably a solution for this, but my goal here is to be able to be up and running in 2-3 minutes with “my desktop”, so I need expediency.

So I went ahead and sprung $39 for a cheap Cruzer Micro. That worked like a charm (I suspect due to the fact that it only has the one partition). I guess now I can also hear music while using my linux.

This deserves some mention – the way you set this up is by creating a “knoppix.img” file on an available USB/firewire device, which knoppix can use as a virtual drive. This is done easily by one of the menus in the default KDE menu for knoppix. In the “Knoppix” menu (a little fat penguin), select “Configure”, then “Create a persistent knoppix home directory”. Then pick the size, make a note of how knoppix tends to recognize it (typically /dev/sda1 for a USB device on a non-scsi machine), then on the LILO: prompt line type “knoppix home=/dev/sda1/knoppix.img”. Now you have booted to a desktop that is identical, only it won’t be forgotten on boot if you do the same, because “/home/knoppix” is mounted on the image file.

There is a lot that can be done through LILO with knoppix, so they publish a fully commented “cheatsheet” Wiki entry. You can also find the codes on the CDROM itself, in the file /cdrom/KNOPPIX/knoppix-cheatcodes.txt (albeit with a lot less commentary).

Overall, I think it is a great way to do some basic computing. The KDE in it is excellent. It has sftp:// URL support. The distribution has ssh clients and server just as you would expect, and it even includes the JDK 1.4.2 and utilities that are often not there by default on distros like Red Hat such as Zip/Unzip.

I would not recommend it for development unless you get the giant 2Gb cruzer drive.

I plan on taking a trip abroad, and I will be traveling with the Knoppix CD (a couple of copies, just in case) and the the Cruzer on my keychain.

Note: I haven’t tried it yet, but for traveling, it may be even better to use Damn Small Linux and put it on one of those 50Mb business cards – that way it will actually fit in your wallet and you can really take it anywhere..