May 6, 2003

Knoppix installation tips

- by Prakash Advani -
Like many Linux aficionados I've been interested in trying out Knoppix. Knoppix is a Linux distribution that boots and runs off a CD; you don't have to install it on your hard disk. It's the fastest way to demonstrate Linux or check a system for hardware compatibility. I learned a few things from booting Knoppix from CD and later installing it to the hard disk. Here are some tips I hope make your experience with Knoppix easier.

To begin testing the distribution, download the latest Knoppix image and burn it to a CD-ROM. There are several mirrors on the Knoppix Web site from where you can get the latest image in the form of an ISO file, or purchase a CD-ROM. If you choose to download, get the latest version; Knoppix has a release almost every week. A suffix of EN at the end of the file name specifies that is the English version.

The command to burn a CD out of the ISO under Linux is:

cdrecord -eject speed=16 dev=0,0,0 KNOPPIX_V3.2-2003-04-15-EN.iso

Where cdrecord is the command, -eject ejects the CD once the recording is complete, speed=16 is the speed at which to burn the CD, dev=0,0,0 is the device ID and KNOPPIX_V3.2-2003-04-15-EN.iso is the name of the ISO image. If you don't know your CD device ID, the command cdrecord -scanbus will present a list of available devices. CD burning applications on Windows, such as Ahead Software's Nero Burning ROM, Alcohol Software's Alcohol 120%, and Roxio's Easy CD Creator, also allow you to create a CD out of an ISO image.

When I first booted Knoppix from the CD, it detected every piece of hardware on my system. I have heard of people whose hardware was not completely detected even with distributions such as Red Hat 9.0, so I was impressed.

The best thing about Knoppix is that you can run it off the CD and install it only when you like it. If you do this, you can still use the hard disk to store data. An advantage of this approach is that you don't have to bother with partitioning your disk drive. You can also easily upgrade to a newer version just by changing to a new CD. A disadvantage of this approach is that it runs more slowly than an operating system installed on a hard disk, since a hard disk is faster than a CD drive.

Once you are familiar with Knoppix and start liking it, you'll be tempted to install it on the hard disk. Before you do, be sure to make a backup of the drive's contents, and know the basics about hard disk partitioning.

Installation tips

When you boot up the Knoppix CD, a browser window pops up with a link to the software's FAQ, which includes instructions for installing Knoppix on the hard disk. Don't follow them! If you do, you'll install the German version of the software even though you booted from an English version of the CD. If you follow the instructions in the FAQ you can still convert the system to English, but to do so you have to change the locale setting in a number of places using a German interface.

Instead of following the installation instructions in the FAQ, go to the Knoppix section in the menu, run the root shell and type:

knx-hdinstall

This command invokes an easy-to-understand menu that allows you to partition your disk. It asks you to select the hard disk on which you would like to install the software; hda is the first IDE hard disk and hdb is the second, while if you have SCSI hard disks it's sda and sdb. The partitioning tool, cfdisk, is fairly easy to use, but be sure you know what you're doing before you write your partition table to the disk or you may mess up your system and lose your existing data. Create a swap partition size of double the amount of memory in your machine but at least 256MB.

The installation procedure then asks you to select your swap partition, then formats it. Next, you select your root partition, where the procedure will install the operating system, and the file system type.

Tip: If you select a partition type of XFS as I did, Knoppix will not install. It will stall while coping files. A quick search on the Knoppix forum, which is the place to go if you run into problems, disclosed a bug here which was suppose to be fixed. Based on my experience, it isn't -- are you reading this, Knoppix developers?

Another glitch: if you select a partition type of EXT3, Knoppix mounts the EXT3 partition as EXT2 after installing, because the kernel shipped with Knoppix isn't compiled with EXT3. I selected EXT2 and was finally able to install the operating system. The installation takes about 2GB of disk space. Knoppix booted perfectly as a Debian system and ran much faster from the hard drive than it did from the CD-ROM.

Filling in the missing pieces

This release is not without some flaws. The Evolution mail client is missing. The Gaim client is an older version that didn't work with Yahoo Messenger. And the OpenOffice version installed was German.

Since Knoppix is based on Debian, I turned to Advanced Package Tool to fix these problems. I had heard a lot about APT but this was my first chance to try it out. APT is a great system, but it takes a little getting used to. To get the latest software you need to have an Internet connection or the latest Debian CDs.

To install Evolution and Gaim I typed:

apt-get install evolution/unstable
apt-get install gaim/unstable

And added automatic spell checking by entering the commands:

apt-get install aspell ispell gnome-spell aspell-en iamerican

If you don't specify /unstable the command still works but it gets a much older version of the software. The unstable versions are more recent and usually not literally unstable.

To change OpenOffice to English I removed the German version, installed the English version:

apt-get remove openoffice-de-en openoffice.org-bin openoffice.org-debian-files openoffice.org-l10n-en
apt-get install openoffice.org

One more tip: You can use the script install_flashplugin.sh to install the Macromedia Flash browser plug-in, but the script doesn't install the software system-wide. If you plan to have multiple users on the system, log in as root and copy the two files libflashplayer.so and flashplayer.xpt from your .mozilla/plugin directory to /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/.

Despite its shortcomings, which were relatively minor, and limited installation support, I found Knoppix a great system. I have made it my Linux distribution of choice. If you have tips on how to make it even better, share them with me and NewsForge readers by posting a comment.

Prakash Advani, senior vice president of Netcore Solutions Pvt. Ltd., has been working with Linux since 1996. He is the the founder of FreeOS.com and the co-founder of the IndLinux Project.

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