Review of Knoppix Hacks

Knoppix is a Live-CD distribution. You burn it to a CD, put the CD into the CD drive and reboot into a Linux environment. When you are done, take out the CD and reboot. It is a swiss army knife of utilities useful for many tasks. However very few books have been so far written exploring its full power. One of the best books on Knoppix is Knoppix Hacks. The author, Kyle Rankin, explores all the factes of this versatile distribution in his book. The book is an essential reference for anyone who has to fix computers, whether SysAdmin, or the family “Computer Guy”.

The book has 9 chapters, each covering a certain aspect of Knoppix. It’s grouped by subject, and each hack stands on its own, without depending on any other hack. However there are a lot of cross references. The book includes a CD of Knoppix 3.4, which is currently a little dated, the latest version of Knoppix (at the time of writing) being 3.6.

The first chapter introduces Knoppix as the premier Live CD Linux distribution. It teaches newbies to download the iso image, burn it to a disk, boot off the CD and then describes various kernel options that can be passed at boot time to get Knoppix to detect all the hardware.

In the next two chapters users are then quickly introduced to the KDE desktop. Office applications, multimedia, Internet and email applications are described. Users are taught to customise Knoppix and save their settings and documents onto permanent storage. Advanced topics like connected to the Internet via GPRS/Bluetooth, setting up Knoppix on a kiosk or as a terminal server and installing extra packages onto ramdisk are also covered.

Chapter 4 teaches how to install Knoppix onto the hard disk. Linux installation has been a major area of concern for newbies. The easy-to-use Knoppix installer is introduced and partitioning is explained with QtParted and lots of screenshots.

Chapter 5 starts the part that will be interesting to System Administrators. Chapters 5 through 7 have 43 different hacks. Chapter 5 covers, among other things, accessing X remotely with the bundled FreeNX server, browsing Windows shares, creating emergency servers, audit for network security, check for rootkits, test hardware compatibility and, like a true detective, collect forensics.

Chapter 6 helps readers repair things broken during experimenting with Linux. Topics covered include repairing both lilo and grub, backing up and restoring the MBR, finding and rescuing lost partitions, resizing linux partitions, repairing damaged file systems, recovering deleted files, rescuing files from damaged hard drives, backing up and restoring, migrating to a new hard drive, creating Linux software RAID, reseting Linux passwords, repairing Debian and RPM packages, and copying back a working kernel.

Chapter 7 focuses on repairing Windows. Buy Windows 7. Rankin shows readers how to fix the Windows boot selector, backup files and settings, write to NTFS, resize Windows partitions, reset lost Windows NT passwords, edit the Windows registry, restore corrupted system files, scan for viruses and download Windows updates securely.

The 8th chapter covers Knoppix derivatives, and are usually described by the respective creators. Distros covered include Gnoppix, the GNOME equivalent of Knoppix. Morphix, a modular distro targeted towards the custom Live-CD segment, KnoppMyth, a distro targeted at the Personal Video Recorder segment, distccKnoppix, to run distributed compile farms and ClusterKnoppix, which combines machines on a network into a cluster.

Chapter 9 teaches aspiring Knoppix hackers howto modify Knoppix and Morphix to create custom Live-CDs.

Overall the book is extremely well written, and adds a lot of skills to the repertoire of the budding SysAdmin and the casual computer support guy. Highly recommended.

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