Linux gets small and smaller

Last week unbridled joy entered your life when you got coLinux running on your Windows PC without any kind of virtual machine monitor and without the aid of a safety net. Several of you have already written in to tell of your coLinux exploits, and this week - can you believe it? - it gets better!

The Debian distro we got running last week under coLinux was cool and, with a certain amount of finagling, you can get X Window services running but it is a bit of a chore.

So how'd you like a fully workable and useful Linux implementation plus an all singing and dancing X Window system running cooperatively with Windows in a similar manner to coLinux without breaking a sweat? Your wish is our command!

The answer to your wish is the embedded version of Damn Small Linux. Damn Small Linux is actually a variant of the Knoppix distribution that we mentioned a gazillion years ago.

Knoppix  (tag line, "From zero to Linux in 5 minutes") is a variant of Debian GNU/Linux that was stripped down so that it boots and runs completely from CD. The standard version of Knoppix takes over the whole machine but before we get into Damn Small Linux let us explain a little about its parent, Knoppix.

Despite fitting on one CD, Knoppix is by no means small. It includes multiple desktop environments and a lot of Linux software packages, such as OpenOffice.org, Abiword, The Gimp, Konqueror, Mozilla, Apache, PHP and MySQL.

To get the original Knoppix running download the ISO image and burn it onto a CD, stick the CD in a bootable drive, and you're off! Knoppix won't interfere with whatever operating system is installed already. So when you're finished, remove the CD and reboot, and you are back to Windows or whatever you installed on the hard disk.

To run Knoppix, your machine needs at least an Intel 486 or later with 16M bytes of RAM for text mode or 96M bytes for graphics mode with KDE, and at least 128M bytes of RAM for the various office products. Along with that you'll need a bootable CD-ROM drive or a boot floppy and standard CD-ROM (IDE/ATAPI or SCSI), a standard SVGA-compatible graphics card, and a serial or PS/2 standard mouse or IMPS/2-compatible USB-mouse.

Knoppix is an excellent piece of engineering and has attracted a huge, active developer community. So it is no surprise that these developers continually have added, improved and mutated Knoppix in wild and wonderful ways. See the Knoppix Wiki for some outstanding stories on how to do all sorts of amazing things with Knoppix.

But if you are going to get really serious with Knoppix, you need a wonderful book we just got our hands on: Knoppix Hacks by Kyle Rankin. This book is beyond excellent. It explains everything you need to know about Knoppix and how to use the operating system for repairing and working with Windows systems!

For example, Hack No. 79 details how to use Knoppix to download patches onto a Windows system booted under Knoppix so that you can install the updates after rebooting into Windows. This process allows you to install patches without connecting Windows to the Internet, a fundamental requirement for highly secure Windows installations.

All of the hacks from Nos. 71-79 are for rescuing Windows. There's instructions on writing to Windows NT File System partitions, resetting lost NT passwords and doing a whole load of tasks Windows rescue disks either can't or don't let you do.

Now being designed for booting from a CD, Knoppix doesn't automatically save its state on exit, but there are features that let you do so. Hack No. 21 explains how to save your Knoppix settings to floppies, USB drives or other removable media. Knoppix also can load its settings from the operating system installed on the hardware - Linux (Hack No. 22) or Windows (Hack No. 23). This is an outstandingly useful book.

Anyway, we started by talking about Damn Small Linux and, as we noted, it is a stripped down version of Knoppix, which is already a stripped-down Linux! Damn Small Linux can be run in much the same way as Knoppix and take over the whole machine, but if you are on a PC running at better than 1GHz, you can run embedded Damn Small Linux alongside Windows!

But wait . . . there's more! Unfortunately you'll have to wait until next week when we get Damn Small Linux up and running. Joyous expostulations to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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