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Books Media Operating Systems Software Book Reviews Linux

Knoppix Hacks 190

norburym writes "The publishers' blurb on the back cover describes Knoppix as 'a veritable Swiss Army knife in CD form.' Knoppix Hacks by Kyle Rankin is no less astounding in revealing the hidden versatility and power inherent in this unassuming tool." Read on for the rest of Norbury-Glaser's review.
Knoppix Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tools (with CD)
author Kyle Rankin
pages 336
publisher O'Reilly
rating 10
reviewer Mary Norbury-Glaser
ISBN 0596007876
summary Knoppix Hacks

Most Linux users will recognize Knoppix even if they've never given it a whirl, but this book goes beyond the simple "how to create and boot from a Knoppix Linux Live CD." Rankin displays the raw power that lies beneath the surface of simply running a clean distro of GNU/Linux free from fear of installation issues. Proper Knoppix books are lacking in the wild, with mere chapters in general Linux volumes mostly dedicated to larger issues for both the novice and the intermediate user. One or two Knoppix books are out there (and one by Samuel Hart, Knoppix Komplete, is in press) but what sets Knoppix Hacks apart is not that it is one of the few available on the subject, but rather Rankin's skill in exposing the underutilized potential in the Knoppix tool set.

This book begins with a forward by Klaus Knopper, creator of Knoppix. It's always entertaining and enlightening to read a first-hand account of some clever soul's chance involvement with an "experiment" that turned out wildly successful and this is no exception. The "Knoppix Story" is engaging and leaves the reader with a sense of awe at the ingenuity of this dedicated and resourceful individual.

Rankin has collected a "who's who" of Linux hackers to contribute to this book: John Andrews, creator of Damn Small Linux; Fabian Franz, creator of FreeNX server; Alex de Landgraaf, creator of Morphix; Simon Peter, developer of klik; Wim Vandersmissen, creator of ClusterKnoppix and many others no less accomplished, all of whom have contributed to the future of free software/open source development.

As is expected with the O'Reilly Hacks series of books, the chapters are structured with clean typographical conventions identifying URLs, directory/folder/file names, code examples and excerpts, sample text delineation and cross-references. Tips and warnings are clearly identified with pushpin and screw graphics, respectively, and indented. There are a helpful number of tips without getting too overwhelming or annoying by breaking the flow of the text. The thermometer icons next to each hack indicate the level of expertise required: beginner, intermediate and expert. Screenshots are placed where needed but again, the reader isn't left distracted by unnecessary filler.

The nine chapters cover hacks ranging from beginner to expert: "Boot Knoppix," "Use your Knoppix Desktop," "Tweak Your Desktop," "Install Linux with Knoppix," "Put Knoppix in Your Toolbox," "Repair Linux," "Rescue Windows," "Knoppix Reloaded" and "Knoppix Remastered." The book includes a CD with v.3.4 of Knoppix (3.6 having just been released; the author wisely chooses to stay with the tried, true and debugged version).

The first two chapters are pitched to beginners, with Chapter 1, "Boot Knoppix," leaping directly into downloading Knoppix and creating a bootable CD. It then covers "cheat codes" - options passed at the boot: prompt to work around hardware detection and support failures. Tweaking X settings, desktop and laptop scenarios, language settings and optimizing the Knoppix CD are also included here. Chapter 2 introduces details of the KDE desktop and encourages the reader to become familiar with the Knoppix desktop, the applications included and connecting to the Internet (even via GPRS over Bluetooth!).

Chapter 3 concentrates on saving settings and documents, using Knoppix as a kiosk or terminal server to boot multiple computers over a network from the same Knoppix CD, and how to use the live installer feature to add extra packages directly to ramdisk.

Chapter 4 covers the inevitable situation when you will find yourself using Knoppix so often that you decide to install it onto your hard drive. Rankin includes single and dual boot system installs.

Chapter 5, "Put Knoppix in Your Toolbox," is where admins should head. The full list of 15 indispensable hacks in this chapter include running remote desktops via rdesktop or xvncviewer, running X remotely with FreeNX, browse Windows shares, create an emergency router, emergency file or web server, wardriving with Knoppix (including how to capture GPS coordinates along with data), audit network security, check for root kits, collect forensics data, clone hard drives, wipe hard drives, test hardware compatibility, and copy settings to other distributions.

"Repair Linux" (Chapter 6) is for those of us who spend a lot of time "breaking" things in the course of experimenting and need to recover the system. Rankin shows hacks for repairing both lilo and grub, how to: back up and restore the MBR, find lost partitions, resize linux partitions, repair damaged file systems, recover deleted files, rescue files from damaged hard drives, backup and restore, migrate to a new hard drive, create Linux software RAID, reset Linux passwords, repair Debian and RPM packages, and copy a working kernel. We will always break something along the way and these hacks help minimize the frustration.

Chapter 7, "Rescue Windows"...well, need I say more? Put these hacks into practice and you'll probably be using them every day. Use Knoppix to: fix the Windows boot selector, backup files and settings, write to NTFS, resize Windows partitions, reset lost NT passwords, edit the Windows registry, restore corrupted system files, scan for viruses and download Windows patches securely. A must for any systems administrators with Windows machines lurking everywhere.

Knoppix Reloaded, in Chapter 8, takes on Knoppix variants Morphix, Gnoppix, Mediainlinux, Freeduc, Damn, Small Linux, INSERT, L.A.S. Linux, Knoppix-STD, distccKnoppix, ClusterKnoppix, Quantian, GIS Knoppix and KnoppMyth. There is also a well-deserved pitch at the conclusion of this chapter to become a Knoppix developer and contribute to the ongoing work.

The final chapter includes seven hacks that help the reader create their own customized Knoppix CD. Knoppix Remastered walks the reader through the steps of customizing and personalizing a live CD.

This is one of the liveliest technical books I've read in a long time. A few of the easier hacks can be found on or elsewhere but I think Rankin has managed to put the majority of Knoppix related material in one book that could be subtitled the "First Knoppix Manual." The admin hacks, in particular, will add a whole new arsenal of Knoppix wonders to an admin's repertoire. Kudos to O'Reilly for publishing such an outstanding volume, to Rankin for compiling some damn useful material, and to MacGyver for inspiring many of us to look for simple solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems.

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Knoppix Hacks

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  • by 0racle ( 667029 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @02:52PM (#10844576)
    All of the '* Hacks' books are simply collections of tips with very few if any actuall hacks. I guess 'Knoppix tips' and the like just didn't make the book seem interesting enough.
  • by mogrify ( 828588 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @02:56PM (#10844623) Homepage
    Seems along the same lines of calling legitimate boot-time kernel options "cheat codes."
  • by Ehwaz003 ( 830177 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @05:05AM (#10851753) Homepage
    Since I've had to repair a couple of BSOD-prone Windowz boxes already with the help of Knoppix, I think this book can form a nice introduction to those same people who think Linux is just some sort of hacker software or who think that Windowz is the only OS on the planet!

    But, looking at it from a different perspective, I do see that when it comes to using Knoppix as a general introduction to Linux, it won't work!!!
    Most people will see Knoppix as a good way to see what Linux is all about, but they only want to see it when:
    a. they are sure that when they remove the CD and reboot the PC, they see their "trusted" Win screen again, and
    b. it can solve the problems that Win produced or when the OS messed up (again)

    I've had to reply a while ago to somebody who would like to know how to mount a NTFS partition from a rescue disc, and while he was at it, he would like to see this enabled in all Linux Live CD's, so that "people would see what Linux is all about and would eventually change OS".
    Yeah right!

    Soon after I gave him the advice to use Knoppix and gave him some links to programs and commands that made him able to mount a NTFS partition, I asked him what he was going to do after he successfully mounted the NTFS partition and recovered his data...
    Well, he was used to the OS he liked, so it was obvious that Linux wasn't going to be the only OS on his HDD after the data recovery...

    What is the conclusion to this? Well, most people will see Linux as a TOOL to clean up the mess that Win made. Some other people will actually see it as a nice introduction to Linux.
    But most people will not change OS, since they are so used to working or playing in their everyday environment, that it will demand a HUGE effort and willpower to format C it all and use Linux only.

    Migrating people to Linux is becoming a lot harder when most people just see Linux as a tool or as a nice introduction, but nothing more then that...

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan