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News and Editorials

Knoppix 3.4 Has Landed

May 12, 2004

This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar

The Knoppix live CD has justly earned a reputation of staging a mini-revolution in our Linux world. By delivering an instant and portable Linux operating system that anybody could use without having to go through a sharp learning curve, the Knoppix developers have not only provided a superb rescue tool for Linux power users, they have also created the best possible advocacy tool to entice computer users not yet familiar with Linux. And although more than a hundred Knoppix clones have sprouted all over the Internet in the last year alone, none of them has surpassed the popularity of the original king of the Linux live CDs. The much awaited Knoppix 3.4 was released last week, inclusive of all the latest software packages, and for the first time, kernel 2.6.

What's new in Knoppix 3.4? The lion's share of the development work is done by Klaus Knopper (the founder of Knoppix), Christian Perle and Fabian Franz, and much of their effort goes into one of the following four areas: software updates, hardware auto-detection, the "cloop" compressed files system, and the "knoppix-installer".

  • Software package updates. Although Knoppix releases are essentially snapshots of the Debian Sid (unstable) branch at the time of the release, it is still a pleasure to see so much up-to-date software on the CD. As an example, the latest release of Knoppix comes with some of the best desktop applications, including 1.1.1, GIMP 2.0.1, Gaim 0.77, xine-lib 1-rc4 and XMMS 1.2.10, all of which are the latest available versions at the time of writing. As for server-specific packages, their versions are just slightly behind, in line with Debian's policy of using only well-tested packages for important tasks. There is a choice of two kernels now, the default kernel remains at 2.4.26, but unless you have a problem with a particular piece of hardware, there is no reason not to boot into the shiny new 2.6.5 (by specifying "kernel26" at boot prompt). The default desktop is KDE (version 3.2.2). Back in the days of Knoppix 3.1, it was possible to fit both of the two most popular desktop environments onto the CD, but with the rapid growth of KDE and GNOME, plus the inclusion of two kernels, the choice of desktops is now limited to KDE, and a handful of low-resource ones, such as Fluxbox, IceWM, WindowMaker, and XFce (version 3.8.18). Unfortunately, some applications that were present in Knoppix 3.3 had to go; the most noticeable victims of the "downsizing" process were KOffice and TeTeX.

  • Hardware autodetection. The hardware autodetection modules were the main reason of the instant popularity of Knoppix and it is nice to see the scripts are being continuously updated to include some of the latest devices from hardware manufacturers. While the Knoppix changelog tends to be dry and skimpy on details about support for newly added hardware, you can rest assured that this is one aspect of Knoppix that won't get neglected. In those cases where a particular piece of hardware is not detected correctly, it is best to get in touch with the developers on the debian-knoppix mailing list and provide information about the specific hardware - in most cases it will be added to the hardware database rather quickly.

  • Cloop compressed file system. Cloop is a kernel module that ads support for a compressed, read-only block device. Thanks to cloop, the Knoppix CD normally holds almost 3 times as much software as is the physical capacity of the CD. This fact not only enables the developers to place more software on the disk, the compression also speeds up data transfer between the CD-reading device and RAM. Cloop was originally developed by the LNX-BBC project, but has now become an integral part of the development of Knoppix. And despite the existence of other compressed file systems (e.g. SquashFS, CramFS, JFFS2...), cloop has become a de facto standard among many Linux developers thanks to the popularity of Knoppix and Knoppix-based live CDs.

  • Hard disk installer. Although the experimental hard disk installer is not officially endorsed by the Knoppix project (after all, the primary purpose of Knoppix is to serve as a bootable live CD), many users find it hard to resist the desire to give Knoppix a permanent home on their hard disks. The curses-based menu-driven installer has undergone substantial changes since the early days and, unless one chooses the expert route, installing Knoppix on the hard disk is a very simple and straightforward procedure. The installation is largely automated; the installer even sets up lilo with the choice of either of the two available kernels, as well as Windows, if present on the hard disk. Bear in mind, though, that once you boot Knoppix from a partition on a hard disk, it effectively becomes Debian Sid, so any future requests for help should be directed to Debian mailing lists, rather than to Knoppix forums.
Knoppix 3.4 comes with several new features. One of them is a newly-added support for writing to NTFS partitions made possible with the help of the Microsoft Captive NTFS driver. Also new in this release is the "Knoppix-Live Installer", a set of scripts capable of downloading extra packages from the Internet and "installing" them into RAM (or the swap partition) so that they can be used as if the applications were present on the Knoppix CD. The current list of available software includes the NVIDIA driver, Macromedia Flash plugin, Microsoft True Type fonts, F-Prot virus scanner, Quanta Plus, Tuxracer, and a handful of other applications.

Knoppix 3.4 continues in the tradition of excellence by providing many of the latest open source packages on the Knoppix CD, by continuously adding new hardware to its extensive hardware database, and by developing interesting new features. As the undisputed leader among Linux live CDs, Knoppix is an indispensable rescue disk, a demonstration tool, and a quick Debian installer all-in-one. An already remarkable product has just gotten better.

Comments (8 posted)

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