posted by Alexander Antoniades on Thu 5th Dec 2002 21:58 UTC
IconItís easy to grow increasingly cynical the more you follow ďinnovationĒ in operating systems and software. New releases often turn out to be nothing more than reinventing, or repackaging, the wheel, with new icons and steeper system requirements. Yet every now and then persistence pays off and that lengthy download or poorly written web site delivers something truly amazing and faith in the future of computing is, albeit temporarily, restored. I experienced such a sensation a couple of months ago when I downloaded the CD-ROM based, Linux distribution known as Knoppix.

Without touching the hard drive, Knoppix can boot practically any PC into Linux complete with multiple GUI environments, a ton of applications, and utilities while grabbing an IP address from a DHCP server. With some modern machines booting Knoppix can sometimes be faster than booting from the installed OS.

Yet itís the little things that Knoppix does that make it stand out. It initializes PCMCIA network cards before other network functions are initialized, unlike less polished distributions such as Red Hat 8. Colored text highlights exactly what hardware is being initialized during boot up in a high resolution text screen. The software bundled with Knoppix includes many defaults overlooked by many ďdesktopĒ distributions including a graphical samba browser, a large selection of games and a wide array of other Linux goodies.

Simply put Knoppix is everything thatís great about Linux. It works with an impressive array of hardware. It challenges conventional notions of whatís possible with software. And, best of all, itís free.

The fact that this is the largely the work of one man is an encouraging sign that Linuxís often chaotic open-source approach may yet make an impact on the PC desktop. I had a virtual chat with the man behind this phenomenon, Klaus Knopper to see what Knoppix is all about.

First, why donít you tell us a bit about yourself?

Iím Klaus Knopper, born in and living in Germany since 1968. I have a diploma in electrical engineering, and I have been a self-employed IT-consultant since 1998. See my web site at for more information.

How would you define Knoppix?

Knoppix is a bootable CD with a collection of GNU/Linux software, automatic hardware detection, and support for many graphics cards, sound cards, SCSI and USB devices and other peripherals. Knoppix can be used as a Linux demo, educational CD, rescue system, or adapted and used as a platform for commercial software product demos. It is not necessary to install anything on a hard disk. Due to on-the-fly decompression, the CD can have up to 2 GB of executable software installed on it.

How did it get started?

Knoppix was started about 3 years ago as an experiment for personal use (learning how el torito boot works, and how to get access to a whole CD from a minimal ramdisk system). My friends from the LinuxTag association (http:) convinced me to make it an open project, and provided mailing lists and a forum for this purpose.

Currently, there are about 3000 downloads per day, and there are quite a few project forks in different languages maintained by independent groups.

What are some of the Knoppix project forks?

An arbitrary-OS-Installer, File&Webserver on CD, a Japanese and a Spanish version, and a mini-CD are some that I could identify as based on Knoppix.

If you do a search for "Knoppix" on google, you will most likely find more of them. Some projects don't notify me that they are doing something based on Knoppix, which is OK, but this way I have no definite list. I know that a LTSP fork is using a Knoppix version, and some user groups have developed their own versions.

Table of contents
  1. "Klaus Knopper Interview, Part I"
  2. "Klaus Knopper Interview, Part II"
  3. "Klaus Knopper Interview, Part III"
  4. "Klaus Knopper Interview, Part IV"
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