Revisiting Knoppix

I first used Knoppix many years ago from the cover disc of a computer magazine. This was the very first time I had heard of Linux. I had just bought my first PC which was running Windows ME.

The reason I originally bought the base unit was for media, playing music, burning music and ‘wagging around’ the internet. It was a new world to me and I thought, better get a magazine for some guidance. I can’t remember what the title was but whoever the people behind it, thank you for the tips. The magazine gave some basic technical howto’s including how to take the side off the base unit as I was intrigued to see ‘what’s inside’. It also had tips on how to enter the BIOS and the settings inside. I remember the first few times I had gone into the BIOS on this base unit feeling really guilty like I was not supposed to do that! It felt that maybe I was doing something the manufacturer would not want. I looked over my shoulder and pushed f2…

Down the memory lane
A few more issues were brought, then one issue had a free DVD on it including something called Knoppix. What was this Knoppix? Oh Linux. What is this Linux? Oh open source. What is this open source? and so the questions kept coming. This was a start, something I did not realize at the time would change my use of computers, actually my outlook on life and make life alot easier on a PC…. in the long run.

So from that start to now what has changed? Knoppix had a nice feel to it almost like someone reaching out to help you, like a dependable friend. It was presented by the magazine as a way to access an BSOD Windows environment or trashed file system. A rescue system not something you would use all the time. In comparison to Windows ME though, it was a revelation, it was exciting and fun. It made me realize there was more to Computers than what you are presented with. It just worked and in my continuing journeys further into Linux, Knoppix was the one that was so reliable when others failed.

Knoppix planted a seed in me
Knoppix always has had a good reputation as a rescue system, good hardware detection with great style. However the great thing with it in my opinion and this is something the creator Klaus Knopper should be proud of, it planted a seed that myself and, I expect many others grew into a passion for open source projects.

This is not a howto so I assume that the reader can get the downloaded ISO onto disc or stick. Have a go it’s fun if you have not done it before. Knoppix 7.2 comes in either a cd sized download or if you want more desktop choices than the standard LXDE and a lot more software, a DVD sized download.

What’s in the box?
Knoppix 7.2 uses the Linux 3.9.6 kernel X.Org 7.7, LibreOffice 4.0.3, GIMP 2.8, Iceweasel 21, and uses LXDE by default. It has Debian as a base with a wide choice from Stable, Testing and unstable Debian releases. This release also offers experimental support for UEFI booting. There is also an environment for blind users called Adrianne (Audio Desktop Reference Implementation And Networking Environment. Check the release notes for information or follow this link.

On the DVD version there is a lot more software. A lot of information is included in the release notes so that would be a good place to start.

There is also, of course a online community to get tips, release info and guides –

So you have now got the ISO onto a bootable medium and are booting. You have a choice of items on the boot menu that appears, it will load the default Knoppix image if you just allow it to boot. If you want to explore the boot menu items or want to edit an item, the instructions are there. I would want to make sure I knew what I was doing first.

During boot you get some text and a green line making progress before you get to the Knoppix symbol and then the desktop. More on that green line later. It boots nice and fast as is expected nowadays.

Once running in live mode the LXDE desktop is a ‘standard’ desktop by use and appearance no fancy sidebars or touch inspired design here. Which is what I would expect built with multiple users of different OS likely to use it. So accessing the desktop menu shows the choice of programs giving in my opinion a balance between basic stuff you expect through to some programs a basic user would not know or possibly ever use.

There are lots of nice touches. For example Seamonkey browser addons as standard, flash block and no script. Compiz effects are present, eye candy on my Intel graphics based system worked well enough, the close transition was a little slow but your experience may differ depending on your graphics. However Knoppix also needs to appeal to more hardened Linux users, so those tools are there too or are available. On the DVD download you have Wine ready to configure,Virtualbox/Qemu virtualization, lots of choice of software, loads of games and of course the choice of desktop environments KDE 4.84 and Gnome 3.4.2.

The choice on DVD sized download can be overload for newbies but not for a current user of Linux.

Fun is always available on Linux.

Knoppix has a reputation for great hardware detection which  really is a benefit as it is used on lots of combinations of PC hardware. This is down to Klaus Knopper using a set of tools best explained in the interview he gave to Distrowatch “hwsetup is a small C program I wrote, it uses RedHat’s GPL-ed libkudzu and some manually generated hardware/module tables to identify peripherals, load the necessary modules for them, create symlinks in /dev for different devices and write some description files in /etc/sysconfig for later use by scripts. This is the program that draws the green progress bar during the initial booting stage, after the CD-ROM has been found and mounted. I could probably have used discover as well, but kudzu was more stable and reliable at the time.”

It has the tools to let you write it too another flash storage device in the Knoppix menu, so you can create a more persistent image,  here are the Knoppix release notes explaining –

In order to create a bootable USB-medium (memory flashdisk, SD-card, digital camera with USB connector, cellphone with microSD, …), the program flash-knoppix can be started from a running Knoppix system. This program installs all needed Knoppix files onto the FAT-formatted flashdisk, and creates a boot record for it. If desired, the target medium can be partitioned and formatted, or left in its initial state, so that existing files stay intact. The KNOPPIX Live System starts and runs about factor 5 faster from USB flash disk than from CD or DVD!

After having copied the system to flash, using the persistent Knoppix image (overlay feature), it is possible to also store files permanently in live mode. That way, personal settings and additionally installed programs survive a reboot. It was easy enough to do and is an excellent way to carry a persistent system in your pocket with tools and files you need.

Installing it to hard drive is of course possible but comes with a warning to the faint of heart as this is a mix of Debian versions so updates will be interesting among other issues. See this link to see what I mean.

Overall when I booted Knoppix 7.2 I wanted to know whether a new user will feel the WOW of learning something different, is it still available, the same WOW I got from my first use of Knoppix? The nice choice of software from the basic cd sized environment will provide that along with the common sense layout of the LXDE menu that gives it a solid, user oriented feel when accessing it, giving that size of live environment the edge for a new user.For that person I feel the advantage of the standard desktop offered by LXDE is better than any of the touch inspired or more ‘modern’ desktops. I feel they can get that same feeling of WOW I experienced over a decade ago which is a fantastic achievement for the developers. It would be interesting to get a non Linux aware person to experience it, then get feedback to see how the experience develops.

I think a lot of Linux users have a softspot for Knoppix. It’s well earned and still applicable. For me as a more experienced user the options on the larger collection including different desktops will be my choice. I will be carrying my USB stick to use wherever it’s needed.

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