Pleasantly Surprised with Knoppix Linux

I’ve been trying Linux on and off for a couple of years. My first experience with Linux was with a version of Slackware (can’t remember) way back in 1996. At the time the installation was so daunting that I gave up all together. For a little background I consider myself a proficient computer user.For what is worth, I’ve administweredd Windows boxen for some time (I started with DOS 3.3). As far as Windows is concerned I’ve known all the nooks and crannies of the various incarnations of the OS. As recently as a year and a half I administered a Data Center with over 10 Windows Servers (2000, NT), and quite well I might add.

One would guess that a person like me, well versed in MS’s products, would never like Linux. Far from it. Ever since I gave up Slackware I increasingly became interested in Linux and in the OSS community. I read Slashdot,, OSNews, and other sites. I always thought that ‘those guys’ were up to something. Increasingly I became frustrated by MS’s business practices (Licensing 6.0, WPA) and by it’s weaknesses. Last year when I learned what Knoppix was, I was intrigued and downloaded the iso. Who would have imagined it? A complete Linux distribution to test! You can go back to the comfort of Windows without formatting! A whole environment to play into and no danger to your precious data!.

I first tested Knoppix 3.1 (I still have a copy around). My home computer is an IBM ThinkPad R30. When I booted from there the distro got everything, except the WinModem of course. When I went somewhere that had a LAN and connected the computer there I could surf OK. But none of my other hardware would work (USB, for example). I dropped Knoppix for a while, since I had too much work at school. Two weeks ago I visited Knoppix’s web site and found it that it had gone up to version 3.3 (as of this writing is 3.4). I downloaded and burned the .iso. Boy I was in for a surprise! Everything but two components of my hardware was recognized (more on this later). I plugged in my no-name/no-brand USB flash drive into the slot *WHAM* an icon on the desktop. I could read it OK!. I plugged in my no-name/no-brand PCMCIA 4 in 1 memory card reader *WHAM*, an icon on the desktop. I plugged in my – you guessed it – no-name/no-brand PCMCIA Wi-Fi card *WHAM* the OS started asking for a DHCP address. I was absolutely and completely amazed! All the applications where there, Mozilla, OpenOffice, mail clients, GAIM, etc. I had a mean Linux machine! Now to start using it!

I’m still on dial-up on my house and during some recent rains the line went dead. Of course I didn’t expect Knoppix to recognize the Winmodem of the R30, so I waited for the right time to test it. I took my machine to my school’s library which has Wi-Fi. I went with a colleague which had his W2K Dell PC. I plugged in my USB flash drive (Knoppix gets my preferences from there), my PCMCIA Wi-Fi card and booted. The moment I got KDE’s attention I was online and surfing. The performance was absolutely amazing! It took Mozilla less than a second to display a .jpg file. All the while my friend is struggling with his Wi-Fi card on W2K (Cisco Aironet) curses on it and changes to a D-Link Wi-Fi card. His performance on W2K was at least 50 to 60% LESS than mine! I was surfing twice or three times the speed and the pages over the same Wi-Fi connection!. I was in absolute and complete Nirvana.

As I said earlier there were just two things on my R30 that Knoppix didn’t quite get. The first one was the Winmodem, but that was expected. The second one was the sound card. Although Knoppix correctly identified that the computer indeed had a sound card, the sound was abysmally horrible at best. It sounded very low and garbled. However, I’m pretty sure that if I had the distro installed in my Hard Drive and with some prodding I can get it to work.

I have absolutely no complains about Knoppix. When I started to write this I stated that I was very knowledgeable in Windows (I hold an MCSA, for what its worth). It is my very personal opinion that we IT gents and ladies must be well round out and know everything about everything, be it Windows, Linux, Mac, etc. But that’s not the point of the statement that I’m about to make (bear with me). At work, we system administrators (please, don’t start with the religious wars after this. Windows servers need to be administered) must conform to what the company has. If the company has Unix, then we must use Unix. If the company has Windows, Windows it is then. At my job I use Windows the whole eight hours of work. I use Windows tools to administer Windows servers. But at home, I don’t need Windows tools. Heck, I don’t even have Windows servers.

Furthermore, I don’t have a desire to work at all!. All I want from my computer at home is to surf the web for my news and my accounts, check and write my email, occasionally chat with my buds, browse the newsgroups, view some pictures (*ahem*), scan and print. That’s it!. I barely turn on my computer for an hour or two at most. I wake up, get some hot Java (the drink, not the code) and plop in front of my R30 to read what’s up in the world. That includes my daily Dilbert. Some times I’ll pop a music CD and listen to it while I surf. Some times I’ll write some data on CD-R’s to take with me. But that’s about it. I don’t write code, I don’t remotely administer servers from home; I don’t want to work from home, period. For these tasks, I’ve increasingly come to the realization that Knoppix in particular, and Linux in general is there.

My increasing interest in Linux comes also from the aforementioned MS business practices and weaknesses too. After reading articles like this, and reading all around the web where MS is trying to take its customers…it’s enough to send chills down the spine of everyone. I don’t want MS knowing what CD’s I’m listening to, what files I’ve got in my computer, how many hard drives, flash drives, printers I got in my computer. I don’t want to ask MS permission every time I need to reinstall software on my computer. If I just dropped $2,000 for a rig, why do I have to ask MS permission to use it? It’s MY machine, for God’s sake! And let’s not get started with the worms, viruses, and vulnerabilities. Out of the box Windows XP comes naked as a newborn. IE will accept any and all forms of pop-ups, installs and spam. Out of the box, or download, Linux comes forth as an angry Orc. No Viruses, No Worms. Pop-ups? A thing of the past with Mozilla. Spam? Even the most basic and rudimentary Linux email client has a Spam filter. Viruses? What’s that? If as I user I were to buy all of these additional programs, I would spend well over a hundred dollars. On Linux, they’re there, they’re free.

Overall, Linux offers a very pleasant computing experience. The only thing that Linux lacks seriously is applications, but we’re getting them. As developers and companies all over the world realize Linux’s momentum, they’ll jump in. I wouldn’t mind spending $30.00 for a Quicken for Linux version if Intuit made it.

Finally, I do have to say that I couldn’t test my home printer – a Lexmark X83 – because there are no Linux drivers for it. I’m researching to see which printer I can get to substitute the Lexmark. Anyone wants a used Lexmark X83? Cheap. Inquire within.

About the Author:
I’ve been involved with computers ever since my mom took home an old WANG labs PC. I’ve learned since then from DOS 3.3 to Windows XP. I’m A+, Server+, i-Net+, MCSA and CCNA certified. I also hold a certification in ITIL foundations.

If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.


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