Monday, November 5, 2012

The Linux Live CD

It's been 12 years since Mark Knopper first created Knoppix, ushering in an amazing way to try running Linux: directly from a CD.

No installation hassles, no worries about losing data during an upgrade. No getting stuck in the middle of an install and not having a machine to use to track down documentation.

Just a running machine. Easily, quickly, and best of all temporarily.

Wondering if Linux will run on your hardware? Concerned that you won't like how a particular application works on Linux? Just poking around and want to try something new? Pop in a CD or USB thumbdrive, reboot, and try it out.

There are numerous Live CD versions out there. X-Terminal emulators for running systems without hard drives. Educational software. Game packages. Audio-editing suites. In fact, I've seen so many that I cannot keep them straight.

Now, being a Debian user, I'm accustomed to being able to change what Desktop Environment I want to use just by selecting it when I log in. But many people do not have this flexibility. They have Windows or Mac, which have one Desktop Environment each. Or they use Linux, but only with what came standard with the install.

The Live CD gives everyone the flexibility to try new things. Many of the Live CDs (like Ubuntu) give the option to install to the system's fixed disk if that is what you want to do after trying it out.

Let's not forget the power of having a fully functional Linux system in your pocket. Even if you are a happy Windows user (I've heard of them) the ability to just pop in a known clean OS and then recover your data, scan for viruses, or any other operation you may need without booting Windows, is priceless.

Priceless and gratis. They can go together.

And if you didn't find what you wanted, if you don't like the look, the applications, the style of this new Desktop Environment, all you've lost is one CD. What's that, 15 cents?

Years before Knoppix came out, I thought that server system security could be enhanced if all the binaries could be run from CD rather than the hard drive. That way even if the system was badly hacked, simply rebooting would put the server back into a known good state, running a known clean OS and applications. The worst that could happen would be the loss of some data, rather than having to question every binary on the server for trojans, viruses and back-doors, or erase everything to try to keep the infection from spreading. It's actually easy to author your own Live CD, with only what YOU want on it, for your desktop or your server. This is just about as hardened a computer system as it is possible to create without building a Faraday Cage a-la Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State.

In summary, just search for the Desktop Environment you want to try (Xfce, KDE), or the distribution you want to sample (Debian, Bodhi), or your particular interest (gaming, audio processing, security, system rescue), and add "LiveCD" to get a list of projects and distributions with which to scratch your itch.

It really is that easy, and it's fun. When's the last time your computer OS was fun?

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