Knoppix 6.0.1

As you have probably noticed, there’s a Request A Review page up on this blog and one of the first suggestions was made by Bill Julian. Bill wanted to read a review of Knoppix 6.0.1. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Knoppix is a Debian-based Live CD version of Linux. You can get it on CD or DVD. The DVD contains more software than the CD version. Knoppix is primarily a Live CD version though you can opt to install it on your hard disk if you want. But it has traditionally been geared more toward being used without having to actually install it.

Knoppix is actually an interesting departure since most distros use the Live CD thing to give you a taste of the OS while encouraging you to install it. Knoppix sort of goes the other way in that you really don’t need to install it to use it. As Bill pointed out in his message on the Request A Review page, the Knoppix Wiki will gently poke fun at you if you want to do an install:

Put Knoppix 6.1 Live DVD on your hit list. I have one courtesy of Linux Journal and it is quite good and innovative! Klaus Knopper is back at it.

What I find interesting is that if you want to do an HD installation the reply at the Knoppix Wiki is more-or-less “Why the heck do you want to do that?”

And then “Well if you must just understand we won’t hold your hand.”

Darned impressive as a Live DVD though, and it can be persistent. Take a look Jim.

Surely not what you’d expect from most distributions. Despite the fact that it’s not necessary to try to install it, I decided to do so anyway just to see how well it works and what a newbie desktop user can expect from Knoppix. Note that the boot time into the Live CD desktop was quite fast for me even in VMWare. This version of Knoppix seems speedier in that sense than some of the older ones I remember looking at years ago.

Installation
After using Knoppix 6.0.1 as a Live CD for a while I decided to try the installation just to see what it was like. I clicked the X start button, System Tools then Knoppix HD install to start my installation. I followed the on-screen prompts to partition my hard disk, install Grub, etc. and was able to finish the install without a problem. After that I rebooted my virtual machine and then watched as my newly installed version of Knoppix…never made it through a full boot. I got a kernel panic, among other problems, and was never able to actually boot into Knoppix succesfully.

Oh well…it is, after all, designed to be used as a Live CD not as a distro that you install to your hard disk. But I’m glad I tried the install as it’s always helpful to see what users might run into if they try it.

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Desktop & Apps
In my review of Kubuntu I was somewhat critical of KDE and interestingly enough Knoppix has dumped KDE in this release and gone with Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment instead. I salute them for doing this because KDE 4 just did not float my boat at all in Kubuntu 9.04. The LXDE desktop is very snappy and easy to navigate. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of bloat and you can find things very easily for the most part. It’s not flashy or glitzy or whatever. But it is functional and performed well for me in VMWare.

Here’s some of what you’ll find for applications in Knoppix:

Gnome MPlayer
GIMP
XSane
Icedove Mail/News
Iceweasel Browser
Pidgin IM
Linphone
OpenOffice.org
VirtualBox

The selection of software is pretty sparse in Knoppix. Bear in mind though that this review is based on the CD version of Knoppix and not the DVD. The DVD version (which I could not seem to find available for 6.0.1) apparently contains significantly more software. You can also find much more software by using Synaptic. I updated the included repositories without a problem and found plenty of stuff to download.

If you don’t see an application that you want as you browse through software categories in Synaptic, be sure to try a search for it. I did not see Abiword listed under word processing but I searched for it and, sure enough, found it. Not sure why it wasn’t listed under word processing but it was still available.

Problems & Headaches
One thing I noticed was that loading web pages took significantly longer in Knoppix. I kept seeing “Looking up…” appear while Knoppix tried to connect to web sites. This wasn’t a general internet connection problem because sites loaded pretty much instantly in Safari and Firefox on Mac OS X. But in the VMWare virtual machine that Knoppix was running there was a lag.

And I don’t think it was VMWare because other distributions I’ve tested have performed much better. I’m not going to penalize Knoppix much on this though since it may be simply a bad mix of Knoppix and VMWare. Your mileage may vary. The pages did load but I found the “looking up” lag a bit annoying.

One thing I don’t like about LXDE is that the equivalent of the Start button on the desktop panel is a mutant X. Okay, I get that it’s supposed to be “cool” or whatever but it just looks stupid. It doesn’t really look like an x and I don’t think it’s particularly intuitive for newbies to Linux who might want to use Knoppix. Some sort of tweaked version might serve newer users better.

As I noted above, I was not able to get Knoppix to run after installing it to hard disk.

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Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
Knoppix is clearly one of the best Live CDs around particularly since you don’t even need to install it to get a lot out of it. I feel comfortable recommending it to newer Linux users as well as more experienced desktop veterans for use as a Live CD. Newer Linux users might enjoy being in a different desktop environment than KDE or Gnome (since most distros use one or the other as their predominant desktop environments).

I do not recommend that newbie Linux users attempt to install Knoppix or try to use it that way. There are so many other distributions that are designed to be installed that it’s not worth a user’s time and effort to try to install Knoppix. Tinkerers might have fun or otherwise enjoy it but most desktop users would be better off with Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, Fedora or other install-oriented desktop distribution. The virtue of Knoppix is in its portability not in installing it to a hard disk. It wasn’t really primarily designed for that and anybody who downloads it should bear that in mind.

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Summary Table:

Product: Knoppix 6.0.1
Web Site: http://www.knopper.net/knoppix/index-en.html but be sure to also check out http://www.knoppix.net/
Price: Free
Pros: Designed to run mainly as a Live CD. Uses the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment.
Cons: Not well suited for installation to a hard disk. CD version could use more software applications bundled with it.
Summary: Knoppix is a good Live CD version of Linux. Worth taking a look at and definitely worth keeping a CD or DVD around with Knoppix on it.
Rating: 3.5/5