I work on it alone with occasional help from people on the mailing lists, mostly in the form of translations or patches for shell scripts.
How does Knoppix work?
Knoppix tries to automate the steps that are normally done manually during an installation or configuration. It tries to automatically detect hardware, loads the necessary kernel modules, generates device symlinks and configuration files and then starts a graphical desktop, all without interaction and without writing anything to harddisk, working entirely in RAM.
Ideally, you should get a working KDE desktop without any interaction within 3 minutes or so, counting from the boot screen.
What was the biggest obstacle in making Knoppix?
The absence of open standards in modern hardware, and upcoming of proprietary/incompatible peripherals and failure of some hardware vendors to send specifications or source code to the kernel and XFree developers.
It could really be easy to support a very wide range of hardware if there were standards, for example definite graphics cards hardware/software APIs. Also, some modems are not really modems, you've probably heard of that before.
Some hardware cannot be autodetected or worse, reports wrong information, so in some cases the "best guess" of configuration has to be used. I get a lot of mail reporting problematic cases, and in those cases where a solution is provided, I incorporate the workarounds into the hardware detection for the next release.
So far, Knoppix boots fine on about 95% of all tested desktop PCs, and roughly 75% of notebooks (some of them have exotic graphics or sound/pcmcia chipsets, sometimes you have to use boot options to get them working).
After trying Knoppix on a dozen or so machines, I've noticed that the sound card configuration isn't nearly as bulletproof as the video or networking, is this a problematic area, or was I just unlucky?
Some boards contain "cheap" chipsets that come in so many different versions and without vendor-side specifications, that the kernel developers simply have no chance of implementing a working kernel module for them. Same problem for the so-called "winmodems".
I'm not using ALSA yet, because, as far as my tests go, the standard Linux drivers are way more stable. I would rather have no sound than a complete system freeze because of a badly supported chipset.
What custom packages did you build to make Knoppix?
The Knoppix hardware detection scripts and tables, configuration scripts, utilities (for example the knoppix-terminalserver that allows booting remotely from a PC already running Knoppix) were all written by me.
Since Knoppix is based on the Debian distribution, are there any plans of integrating Knoppix into Debian itself?
Some Knoppix-specific packages (like cloop) are already downloadable from the Debian mirrors. Whether or not parts of the hardware detection will be integrated into Debian depends on the plans of the Debian team.
What is the ultimate goal of Knoppix?
Keeping up-to-date with hard/software development and provide a stable working platform on CD.
It is not my goal to create another Distribution in concurrence to others, though you can already install KNOPPIX on hard disk using a script (which turns it back into a normal Debian installation).