Hands-on with Knoppix Linux 7.2.0: A well-established and very stable Linux distribution

Hands-on with Knoppix Linux 7.2.0: A well-established and very stable Linux distribution

Summary: Experience really shows in this versatile Linux distribution


Knoppix is one of the oldest Linux distributions still around, and it was one of the first Linux Live CD distributions. 

If my memory is correct, the first generally available release of Knoppix (on a Live CD) was made sometime in late 2000.  I don't think it is exaggerating to say that Knoppix set the standard for Live Linux distributions when it was released, or that the Linux world as a whole learned a lot about how Live distributions should be done, and how powerful, versatile and useful they could be.

Fedora 20: Hands on with five different desktops

Fedora 20: Hands on with five different desktops

Fedora 20: Hands on with five different desktops

Over the years, Knoppix has evolved and expanded. In about 2005 a Live DVD version was added, with loads of additional applications, utilities and packages included. Rather than drop the Live CD version, however, both formats have been maintained since then, with the CD version as a "small/fast/easy" alternative, and the DVD version as an "everything including the kitchen sink" alternative.

My first use of Knoppix came at SANS training classes, where they were using the Live CD version as a convenient way for course participants to gain access to Linux tools. 

Those classes require attendees to bring their own laptops, and until a few years ago the majority of them would be running Windows.  I have noticed in the last few years that more and more people are bringing dual-boot systems with both Windows and Linux, but that still doesn't eliminate the advantages of Live CD/DVD distributions of Knoppix (and Kali), because it is way more convenient to have a complete, bootable distribution with all the specific tools needed for the class ready to go, rather than to have to download and install them on whatever Linux system you brought along.

So, to get to the point rather than digressing about the history of it all: the latest release of Knoppix is 7.2.0, and it can be obtained from the Get Knoppix website. 

It can be downloaded via BitTorrent or FTP/HTTP, or it can be ordered on CD, DVD or USB Flash Key. There is also one clear example of the "experience shows" that I mentioned above; for computers which cannot boot from USB drives (such as the Lifebook S2110 I am currently typing this on), there is also a "bootonly" CD version. 

This is an extremely small download (about 12MB) which you can burn to a CD to be used together with the USB Flash drive version.  When you boot the CD the first thing it does is switch over to the USB drive and continue running from there — how clever is that to get around old BIOS limitations?

I have downloaded both the CD and DVD images, so that I could compare them.  I found the file list on the download site to be a bit confusing, so let me see if I can paraphrase it simply:

  • ADRIANE is a special Knoppix version (Audio Desktop Reference Implementation and Networking Environment), another example of the "experience counts" I mentioned above. If you think you might be interested in that version, check the link above for more information.  If you are just looking for the latest standard release of Knoppix, simply skip over the ADRIANE files.
  • There are often at least two releases available for download, sometimes more depending on what has changed and how recently. Right now there is 7.0.5 and 7.2.0, so if you want the latest then skip over the 7.0.x files.
  • There will be CD and DVD images listed, usually in separate directories, so make sure you are in the right place for the one you want.
  • In addition to the "full distribution" files for whatever format you are looking at, there will also be the "bootonly" files, the purpose of which I described above.
  • There will be German (DE) and English (EN) variants for each of the distributions.

Whew. Hopefully one or two examples will make it all clear.

  • KNOPPIX_V7.2.0DVD-2013-06-16-EN.iso — The latest English DVD (about 3.8GB)
  • KNOPPIX_V7.2.0CD-2013-06-16-DE.iso — The latest German CD (about 700MB)
  • ADRIANE-KNOPPIX_V7.2.0bootonly-2013-07-28-EN.iso — The bootonly version of the latest ADRIANE release (about 8MB).
  • KNOPPIX_V7.0.5CD-2012-12-21-DE.iso.md5 — The MD5 checksum for the German CD of the previous release.

As far as I know these ISO images can only be burned to CD/DVD media, they are not the type of hybrid images which are becoming common, that can easily be converted to a bootable USB stick. I have tried with dd (no joy), but I haven't tried using unetbootin yet.

When you boot the Live image, the real fun starts. I have to admit that I just about jumped out of my chair when the woman's voice suddenly and completely unexpectedly announced "Initiating startup sequence"!

When it has finished booting, you get an LXDE desktop:

Knoppix LXDE
The Knoppix LXDE Desktop

This release of Knoppix is running Linux kernel 3.9.6, with LXDE 5.x (I'm not experienced enough with LXDE to determine exactly what version, it seems like it's probably 5.4 or 5.5) and X.org X Server 1.12.4.

Oh, and it includes Compiz Fusion, with lots of desktop effects enabled!  I found this to be a particularly amusing experience, using what is generally thought of as a "lightweight desktop", but with wobbly windows, animations when windows open or close, a desktop selection cube and heaven knows what else.

This system was installed from the DVD distribution, and as I said above, that is really the "all in" version.  It is absolutely chock full of applications, utilities, packages and even alternative desktops. I will only give a few examples from each menu:

  • Internet: chromium, iceweasel and kornqueror
  • Graphics: GIMP, gThumb, Gwenview and ImageMagick
  • Office: AbiWord, Gnumeric, LibreOffice, and GnuCash
  • Programming: GNU Emacs, Geany, Bluefish, IDLE (python), squeak
  • Sound & Video: Amarok, Dragon Player, Mplayer, VLC, Kaffeine, TVtime, OpenShot
  • WINE
  • Knoppix: Desktop Selector, Component installer, Install to Flash/HD
  • System: Midnight Commander, Nepomuk, VirtualBox
  • Accessories: Gedit, GVim, Kedit, Leafpad, Nedit

Honestly, I just picked those at random. If you download and boot the DVD, and then just look at the LXDE menus, I promise you it will amaze you.

If you boot from the CD version, rather than the DVD, what you get is still a nicely configured LXDE system, but without the massive amount of additional software.

Just glancing at the above list, the CD version has "only" Iceweasel, GIMP and Image Magick, LibreOffice, MPlayer, Install to Flash/HD, Midnight Commander and Leafpad. Besides not having the KDE and Gnome desktops and their associated programs and utilities, it does not have the Programming menu at all, and it does not have WINE.

When running either the Live CD or DVD version, you can choose 'Install to HD' from the Knoppix menu to make a permanent hard drive installation. There are a few useful things to know about this.

First, the Knoppix installer (called 0wn, for Zero Work Needed), is not at all like any other installer you might have used for another Linux distribution. 0wn does the minimum work necessary to copy the Live image to a hard drive partition and make it bootable. 

It doesn't worry about niceties such as setting up timezones, keyboard maps and user accounts, and it doesn't have any flexibility at all when it comes to disk partitions and filesystems. It will install to an empty 'reiserfs' partion, and nothing else — no ext2/3/4/btrfs or whatever need apply. 

If you already have the necessary partition, 0wn will find it and offer to use it for the installation. If you don't have a suitable partition 0wn will let you run gparted so that you can create one, or it will offer to automatically partition the disk for you - it would take a brave person, or a totally empty hard drive, to accept that last offer, in my opinion.

Once it has copied the Live image to the hard drive, it will offer to set up GRUB for you. It only knows how to set up grub-pc (Legacy GRUB), not even grub2, much less UEFI boot. If you already have some kind of MBR bootloader installed, you can tell it not to install GRUB.

In this case it still has the GRUB package installed, and the necessary config files are complete (such as /boot/grub/menu.lst), it just doesn't try to set the MBR to point to the Knoppix partition.

The Live CD image is a 700MB ISO, but it expands to 2GB when unpacked to the hard drive. The DVD image is a 3.8GB ISO which expands to 10GB when installed to the hard drive. Keep these sizes in mind when you are setting up the partitions for Knoppix.

Knoppix desktop selection

In the DVD version, on the Knoppix menu there is an item called 'Choose/Restart KNOPPIX Desktop'. 

It is exactly what the name implies, it puts up the window shown here, listing the available desktops, you can select the one you want and then OK, and it will configure that and then restart the X server, all without rebooting or even logging out. You need to be a bit careful about this, because restarting the X server will terminate all running programs which have graphical output. Keep that in mind, or you will get a rather unpleasant surprise when you try it.

If you select the KDE desktop and then click OK, after the X server restarts you will get this:

Knoppix KDE
The Knoppix KDE Desktop

That is a very typical looking KDE desktop. As you might guess from what is shown in this screen shot, the KDE menus have the same structure and content as the LXDE menus had.

If you select the Gnome Desktop, you will get this:

Knoppix Gnome
The Knoppix Gnome Desktop

Again, that is a pretty typical Gnome 3 desktop, with the application menus structure and content the same as for the LXDE and KDE desktops seen above.

So, in summary: Knoppix is a well-established, well-known and very stable Linux distribution. 

It is best known as a Live CD/DVD version, which many experienced Linux users keep handy for system recovery, hardware compatibility testing, and ad-hoc Linux shows (oh, and for students at SANS security classes). 

Knoppix is not only interesting as a Live distribution, though: it can be installed to hard disk quite easily, and makes a very nice Linux system.

The Knoppix installer (0wn) is a bit, uh, different. Many people consider the Fedora installer 'anaconda' to be the height of complexity; I don't necessarily agree with that, but if I were to look at it that way I would consider the Knoppix installer to be the opposite extreme, the height of minimalism. 

The Knoppix CD distribution is a good, well-equipped LXDE desktop, but if you want more than that the DVD distribution has LXDE, KDE and Gnome and an easy utility to select and switch between them.

If you are seriously interested in Linux, and you have never tried Knoppix, you owe it to yourself to download one of the Live images and at least give that a try.

Further reading

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Knoppix

    Knoppix rocks. So many times saved peoples data and rescued systems. Essential toolbox item.
  • Agreed

    A most necessary tool. The link in the story to ADRIANE was not working however.
    • Fixed, Thanks

      Thanks for pointing this out. It has been fixed now.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • I have a copy somewhere

    From June 2003 my boss gave me to try out, was interesting.
  • Knoppix is Debian

    Interesting article.

    You didn't mention that Knoppix isn't really a distribution. It is Debian with a few additions and deletions. I thought it was the first live CD. Is that so?

    By the way, grub-pc is grub2 for PCs. Legacy grub is just grub.

    Does Knoppix run on a ramdisk?
    • It's a distro

      There are a number of distros that are based on Debian, most notably Ubuntu, but they remain separate distros.
      John L. Ries
  • Knoppix to the rescue

    I've worked for various schools and unemployment offices over the years. I've been using Knoppix for years to rescue files from unbootable systems. It's great having the chance to be the "hero for a day" when you recover files a user was just sure were lost (afterwards, there's the inevitable lecture about backing up).

    Occasionally, tools like NTFSUndelete have also come in handy.

    I'll always carry a copy of Knoppix on USB for this reason.
  • Used to always have bootable Knoppix

    I wonder if Knoppix would boot under a Chrombook like the C720? Only issue I guess would be having to enable developer mode and lose some security with that. I am definitely sick of Chrome OS already. Its worse then any linux distro I have ever tried.
  • The Debian Project also maintains live images

    Options include free/non-free, amd64/i386 and gnome/kde/lxde/rescue/standard/xfce versions ('rescue' and 'standard' are text consoles) as well as a good selection of included packages. One can also choose to install Debian on one's hard drive from the live images. See live.debian.net.

    In addition, a useful feature that speeds up using a Live CD/DVD is the boot option 'toram' which loads the OS into RAM. I've used the 'toram' boot option with the Ubuntu 12.04 live image and the option defaults with distros such as Puppy Linux and Tiny Core Linux. Probably want to avoid this option with the Knoppix Live DVD, though. And given that the Knoppix Live CD expands to 2 GB (see article), I'd also want at least 2 GB of RAM before trying the 'toram' option.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Knoppix saved us from hardware hell

    I've been a fan of Knoppix since it was introduced more than a decade ago. These were the days of hardware hell, LUGS and Installfests. Drivers for specific hardware could be hard to find and install. Sometimes they worked, sometimes not.

    Knoppix brought on-the-fly hardware detection and booted into a fully functional system on most any computer. There were live CDs back then, but they were mostly terminal tools for admins. This was the first truly live desktop and soon live cds common in the Linux world. Knoppix was not designed to be installed to the hard disk back then and took some pretty fancy hacking to get it working properly.

    I'm glad to see it still maintained and widely used as a rescue tool with all the perks of a desktop system. I think I will download the latest version to try out. Thanks much for the article and to Klaus Knopper for bringing the live cd to the desktop and rescuing us all from hardware hell.
  • Knoppix 7.2.0????

    Has been around for quite a bit, and you are either just getting to use it or re-hashing it? It IS awesome, but I wonder, why bring it up now? This Linux flavor has been reviewed many times here....have to check if this is a repeat review by same author....
    • Repeat review

      How very perceptive of you, you caught me. That's exactly what I am doing, getting rich by recycling old reviews. It's working so well that I am absolutely rolling in money...

      Now, what REALLY happened was that my previous post was about the NEW release of Kali Linux, I have been asked a few times to look at and write about Knoppix, and I have been remiss in not doing so. I know that Klaus Knopper often makes a new release specifically timed for the CeBIT exhibition, and which is available only at that exhibition; the next public release generally follows that by a few weeks or months. CeBIT this year will be at the beginning of March, and I didn't want to wait that long or longer for a new release. Most importantly, the current 7.2.0 Knoppix release is still perfectly ok, and would be a good base for either a Live system or an HD installation, so why not write about it now? Also, please note that neither the title nor the body of the post said "New", "Released" or anything else which stated or implied that this was a new or updated release.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Sorry to crash the thread...

    but I'm a newbie to Linux... a Mac user (and more recently a Windows User)... I have an old PC that my kids just keep getting virus' on so I'm going to wipe it and install Linux on.

    I was very interested in Elementary OS because it's a lot like the Mac. I've never seen this version reviewed on Zdnet (though I might have missed something)...

    How about some kind of review in the future?
    • Good place to start learning is the Knoppix live disk.

      Many use Knoppix as a tool to repair systems but it is a good for desktop too a trusty friend when in need there are issues with live vs installed. Most use Ubuntu or Mint with the other distros in close pursuit. There are no bad choices its just what works best for you the up side here is that it can boot from disk that means several things. It is difficult to corrupt and more difficult to use without installation if you want to use it for a desktop. This also means that it makes no changes to your computer (used in live mode) and its easy to find out if you like the scheme. Personally I could use it very well but right now I am using Mint and previously Ubuntu. The distros have a kind of personality. The Fedora is more cutting edge Debian is good ol' steady many want full blown and some want the skinny. There are even spin off distros from for instance Ubuntu there is a Edubuntu and several more, variations on the theme. There is not enough time to explore the further reaches of what is out there. Pick one and test it out if its live and install. I would not hesitate to suggest Ubuntu or Mint. Linux is not Windows so some things are quite different like programs use Synaptic or the Software Centre to install anything you need. There is also a gaming system from Steam. That is very new too soon to know much yet. Elementary OS is a Ubuntu Debian spin looks good to me a light weight distro (hence Elementary). You should be able to use many of the Ubuntu tips to find you way if you have trouble. I use CUPS installed through browser for the printers but I use networked printers. My tip for most I recommend Mint or Ubuntu (which I use). I have never used Elementary OS but from the Distro Watch list it suggests its very worthy by popularity its in the top ten. There are just too many points to review in a post just jump in is my advice.