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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 Knoppix.net 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.

You can purchase Knoppix Hacks from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Knoppix Hacks

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  • so true (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @02:44PM (#10844468)
    as a camp counselor I used knoppix to save a child's movie files off a camp computer where windows had incorrectly written the boot sector.
  • Sounds comprehensive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mogrify ( 828588 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @02:47PM (#10844518) Homepage
    I've used Knoppix a few times to rescue hapless Windows installations -- seems like every time I look for some needed utility, I find it somewhere in Knoppix. I'm sure it can do things I've never thought of, so it's nice to see a user manual of sorts for what's become an indispensible tool in the ol' repair kit. Put this on my Christmas list.
  • Re:interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anubis350 ( 772791 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @02:47PM (#10844523)
    point taken, I realized that after I posted
  • by jaylee7877 ( 665673 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:03PM (#10844687) Homepage
    Take a look at How to become a hacker [catb.org] by ESR It's the basis of Oreilly's hack series. The books goals are to stimulate "hackers" and get them started. Often the hacks will offer ideas to "hack the hack" but leave it up to the reader to figure out how. I've got Linux Server Hacks [oreilly.com] and I've found it to be an invaluable resource, a reference book, but much more as it gives me all types of new ideas for my servers.... Nice job Oreilly.
  • BioKnoppix & VLinux (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FiReaNGeL ( 312636 ) <fireang3l@NoSPam.hotmail.com> on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:04PM (#10844700) Homepage
    BioKnoppix and VLinux are indispensable toolboxes for every bioinformatician out there, especially if you do lots of consulting (or need to travel from lab to lab, without having a laptop). Both distributions contains tools for sequence and protein analysis, 3D structure viewing software... etc. Very handy...
  • by Sai Babu ( 827212 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:05PM (#10844708) Homepage
    the reader isn't left distracted by unnecessary filler."

    Excessive screenshots has been one of the main reasons I stay away from the 'hacks' books, so this is good news.

    It will be worth a sawbuck if it and a knoppix CD get my 'Windows Flumoxed'(TM) brother interested enough in Linux to ditch the Mr. Softy OS product.

  • by MysticalMatt517 ( 772389 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:06PM (#10844715) Homepage
    This sounds like an interesting book, I may have to pick it up next time I'm at BN.

    I think one of the most fantastic things about Knoppix is that it provides a safe gateway for people to get into the Linux world, especially young people. At some point (around 8th grade) they realize there's more to life than Windows, but don't know enough to create a dual boot system. Knoppix is a great way for them to get their feet wet.

    It's nice to see a book out on this. Regardless of whether these are truly "hacks" or not is irrelevant. The information it brings forward is interesting.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:08PM (#10844735)
    I just started experimenting with Knoppix recently. It was extremely cool to boot into a full KDE desktop with only 128M of memory and no hard disk support. I could even launch Open Office and Mozilla, but not at the same time. Extremely refreshing to realize that I do not have to have a system with 1G of memory and a 400G hard drive to get a very useable machine.

    It also came in handy for offloading files from an unbootable Windows 2000 machine to another machine. This can easily be done even if you know nothing about Linux.
  • by mogrify ( 828588 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:09PM (#10844750) Homepage
    that everyone is happily using, how about we just buy the USB-key-equipped Swiss Army Knife and boot Feather with it? Now I can open the PC case with my Linux distro -- hmmm, no more metaphor.
  • I know kyle, IRL! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by donniejones18 ( 749882 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:12PM (#10844774) Homepage

    IRL, Kyle is the person who got me to start using linux! :-)

    Thanks kyle, I've never looked back.


  • Re:Chapter 1337 (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:13PM (#10844785)
    And, of course, how to win Final Jeopardy! [thousandrobots.com] ($1337)
  • Knoppix on a HD? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by siliconjunkie ( 413706 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:20PM (#10844843)
    Hopefully this is on topic enough:

    Ever since I saw the Mandrake Globetrotter [slashdot.org] I have been really wanting to roll my own "portable linux virtual machine". I don't want to pay for the overpirced Globetrotter, so I bought a 200GB drive with an external Firewire/USB2.0 enclosure.

    Now, I have found some excellent resources on installing Linux on an external firewire drive [ibm.com], but the thing is, this (and other articles) are written with the idea that the end result will be used on one system, my goal is to have something like the Globetrotter which is a FULL distro of Mandrake 10, with the awesome hardware detection of Knoppix at boot time (so it can used it on multiple machines with no problem, like a Knoppix disc).

    My question is, how would one go about doing this? I have considered just using the Knoppix "install to hard drive" feature, but I would rather have a more robust fully featured distro from the get go. Mandrake does not make it clear on their site if Mandrake 10 has the inherant ability to detect hardware at bootime like the version that comes on the Globetrotter does...any ideas?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:24PM (#10844883)
    "At some point (around 8th grade) they realize there's more to life than Windows, but don't know enough to create a dual boot system".

    That's what parents are for. My six year-old daughter is wild about her "Penguin System" (i.e Debian Sid) as long as I keep it running properly. Granted, most kids don't have parents that get up at 5 AM and do a dist-upgrade, compile a new kernel, tinker with Grub, and the like.
  • Koppix saved my ass (Score:3, Interesting)

    by goodrob ( 204257 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:25PM (#10844887)

    I once lost all data on my D:\ 80 GB drive when i reformatted my C:\ due to a virus..

    I tried so many utilities to rescue it.. Norton, partition magic and a bunch of others i had never heard of and never looked at again..

    nothing worked..

    finally i booted to knoppix and changed the flag of the partition to what it was supposed to be and presto! i had everything back again!

    i love knoppix!
  • by landimal_adurotune ( 824425 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:27PM (#10844903) Homepage
    I work at an all girl private college, and we put in a Perfigo box. Many of the students had a tough time getting windows patches and spyware was wreaking havok.

    So I modified the startup html of Knoppix to tell them how to get GAIM going and do internet browsing. Tons of these girls are happy linux users, and have gone on to 'the hard stuff' like gentoo.

    The disk is indespensible as a system rescue as well.
  • by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:30PM (#10844939) Homepage Journal
    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.

    Aha! Finally, I'll be able to create a bootable BZFlag CD-ROM [bzflag.org], and I won't have to ask permission before bringing my friends to the office on the weekend for a fragging session. Power goes out here regularly, so as long as everyone has to power up in the morning, nobody will be the wiser. Heh.

    Now, where's that "Post Anonymously" check bo
  • Re:Great Book? Yes. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by UnderScan ( 470605 ) <jjp6893@@@netscape...net> on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:42PM (#10845099)

    While the book is great, the parent copied his "review" from http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/item.asp?Item=978059 600787&Catalog=Books&N=35&Lang=en&Section=books&zx ac=1 [indigo.ca] and also links to a has a amazon.com referer account.

    If you want it cheap, addall.com (the book search engine) lists bookpool.com with the lowest price. [addall.com]

  • by NardofDoom ( 821951 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:47PM (#10845166)
    Those aren't the only definitions. [google.com]

    A hack can also mean a way of using something in a clever way, including the way it was intended. Using Knoppix to repair a Windows machine is a hack, because it uses the tool to solve the problem in a clever way.

    Kinda like using duct tape to 'resize' a metric socket to fit on a standard nut.

    It's not about 'leetness,' it's about solving the problem, and then communicating that solution to others.

  • by LarsWestergren ( 9033 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:52PM (#10845238) Homepage Journal
    When I worked as a sysadmin, I used Knoppix several times to errorcheck Windows computers. At home, I have used it to run Linux from Scratch [linuxfromscratch.org] on a clean computer. It's great to have all tools available and no fear of removing or messing up an important partition by mistake. Also you can surf and play games while compiling.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:57PM (#10845295)
    if you stopped at "all girls", i'd probably buy it.

    "all girls" + "Private college" sounds a little fishy ...

    "all girls" + "private college" + "using linux" = a typical /. poster, still living at home & daydreaming with his keyboard.
  • by sanctimonius hypocrt ( 235536 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @04:13PM (#10845469) Homepage Journal

    I've had this book for a week or so now, and I've found it pretty good. The basic 'hacks' are at least bullet resistant, and should get a newbie started right. The more advanced hacks are not recipes you can just follow and get good results.

    For example, you can boot up Knoppix, use the live installer to download the fprot virus scanner and current updates, and virus-check a windows partition. It worked, but the graphical front end to fprot kept hanging up at the same point. It was easy enough to read the man page and run the scan from the command line, but an inexperienced user wouldn't necessarily be able to 'improvise' like that.

    There are a few other hacks like that, of the half-dozen I've tried out so far. Not a knock against the book, just that it's maybe more hackish than immediately apparent. Probably the best thing about it is suggesting uses (or abuses) that I hadn't thought of.

    One criticism I will make is that the lay-flat binding doesn't, which is mildly annoying.

  • by lucidvein ( 18628 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @04:17PM (#10845501) Homepage
    I just downloaded http://www.metropipe.net/ProductsPVPM.shtml [metropipe.net] which uncompresses to an executable Knoppix environment. Runs on top of Windows or Linux so no need to even reboot the client machine.

    Could use some updating now that Firefox 1.0 is out, but overall I found it to be a very compact and usable resource. Look forward to the release that supports Mac OS X.
  • by j1bb3rj4bb3r ( 808677 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @04:20PM (#10845537)
    I think I should also add that an all girls private college is not what it's cracked up to be. I've never felt like such a complete outsider before in my life. My ex-gf and her friends were great to me, but any parties I went to, I was often the only guy. While that may sound like heaven to those social rejects who've never spent much time with girls in the first place, it's actually a very uncomfortable feeling, because you really just don't fit in, don't belong, and are pretty much just tolerated (and that's by the straight girls). Don't get me wrong... I met lots of very cool people there, it's just the social environment of an all-one-gender place is very different than coed environments.
  • by ebelloti ( 208019 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @04:49PM (#10845936)
    Knoppix was born as hack to help its creator to have a complete, quick and cheap environment he could use on the road as lab setup for programming classes.

    Of course it can be installed to your HD. But the beauty of the thing is that you can arrive at a room full of unknown machines and a pack of CDs and have a class setup in 5 minutes.

    In that sense, yes, it is a hack. A very nice one indeed.
  • Re:Knoppix on a HD? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:05PM (#10846118)
    The review doesn't mention this, but I hope the book distinguishes between the (at least) two modes of installing Knoppix, which, since I can't recall the official terms, I'll call Knoppix Mode and Debian Mode.

    Installing in Debian Mode is basically using Knoppix to detect the hardware and then copying a fully installed Debian, configured *for your particular hardware* onto the hard drive. When you subsequently boot from the hard drive, it just boots up a normal debian that has been configured for your hardware, exactly as if you'd installed Debian and manually configured all hardware.

    Installing in Knoppix Mode includes the Knoppix hardware auto-detect stuff in the boot sequence if the installed hard drive. This means it goes through hardware auto-detection every time you boot. The downside is it might take longer to boot. The upside is you can painlessly change hardware, or even connect the hard drive to a completely different computer, and the system will boot perfectly.

    I find Knoppix Mode to be fascinating, and if all the kinks are worked out it could be great for hard drive resellers to throw a copy on the hard drive.

    Anyone have links to more information about these to modes and their pros and cons?
  • Re:Knoppix (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:09PM (#10846175)
    That won't actually work. /dev/null won't actually output anything. You probably want /dev/zero or /dev/urandom.
  • by 0racle ( 667029 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:56PM (#10846761)
    The book however isn't talking about creating Knoppix, but using it. The actual creation my fall under the realm of a hack, but using it to recover data, or to show off Linux is not. For instance looking at the 5 sample 'hacks' on at www.oreilly.com [oreilly.com]:
    Hack 5: Free Your CD to Make Knoppix Run Faster (PDF Format)

    Hack 33: Install Knoppix as a Single-Boot System (PDF Format)
    Hack 40: Create an Emergency Router (PDF Format)
    Hack 61: Migrate to a New Hard Drive (PDF Format)
    Hack 78: Scan for Viruses (PDF Format)
    These all equate to, Using your hammer, pulling nails with your hammer, removing drywall with your hammer. They are instructions on how to use the tool, not 'hacks'.
  • by CedgeS ( 159076 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:13PM (#10846986) Homepage Journal
    I made this guide [shockfamily.net], which is sadly in need of an update*. One of the most frequent email questions I get is, "Help - I lost my partition table, how do I get it back"? There's a great utility included in knoppix called gpart [uni-hannover.de] that searches the hard drive for partitions and constructs a new partition table. It also makes backups of master boot records. Its amazing all of the stuff they've thought to include.

    * If anyone wants to mail me a copy of the newest knoppix cd I'll update it. I hate downloading ISO images. My address is 888 E 18th Ave, Apt 8. Eugene, OR 97401.

  • by MrEnigma ( 194020 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:42PM (#10848055) Homepage
    Awesome link.

    I was just looking into grabbing knoppix, and look at this even better.

    I recently got a Victornox USB knife, (got it for like 15 dollars, so no comments about overpriced stuff), and loaded it up, works awesome.

    Now i'll get it all setup for when I go to Europe next week, the internet cafe's can all be the same.

    Props for the link!
  • Re:Knoppix on a HD? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bobodeclowne ( 812034 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @09:30PM (#10849142) Homepage
    I had aproblem with a laptop and Lilo and Knoppix saved me a LOT of work. The same process could work for this external drive. Boot off of the Knoppix cdrom, mount your external drive partitions, and use the chroot command. The following is what I posted in response to the person who suggested this online for MY problem. "I booted from a knoppix CD in failsafe after hitting F2 for HELP, and did the following. ctl- alt F2 (to pull up the root terminal) mount -t ext3 /dev/hda3 /mnt/hda3 chroot /mnt/hda3 (my root partition) mount -t auto /dev/hda1 /boot (/dev/hda1 was my boot partition) /sbin/lilo ctrl alt del " You could install Knoppix in "Knoppix" mode as another poster suggests, on the external, boot off the CD, mount and chroot, good to go. This could likely be set up on your own custom version of knoppix.
  • RDesktop Knoppix? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by grolschie ( 610666 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:54AM (#10850544)
    I'd love to see a Knoppix variant that will simply do the following:
    1). Grab an IP address via DHCP
    2). Configure hardware
    3). StartX
    4). Prompt for Server name
    5). Start RDesktop

    Nothing else. I am amazed it hasn't been done yet. The ultimate thin client boot CD.

Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do. -- R. A. Heinlein