Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Knoppix makes a great GUI installer for Debian

Can Knoppix make the dreaded Debian install such a piece of cake that even a doddering old journalist can put it on his laptop?

(LinuxWorld) — I've gotten in trouble with some readers lately. I would prefer to think it is just age and the curmudgeonhood that often accompanies it. But the truth is sometimes I just blow it. I don't mean the angry Windows users who were in denial about Linux being a better install. Nor am I talking about the gamesters (and game resellers) who felt it unfair of me to speculate on the reasons for Epic Games' stealth release of Unreal Tournament 2003 for Linux. I'm talking about someone who was dead right to call me on what I said.

His name is Klaus Knopper. He took me to task for having referred to Knoppix as a "demo distribution." Knoppix, of course, is wildly popular for demonstrating Linux. The Austin LUG, for example, recently gave away 400 Knoppix CDs from their booth at a local computer show.

As Knopper told me, "Knoppix is a real Debian system." I've seen mention of it being used as a rescue CD, as a secure firewall, as a portable network monitor and as a traveling companion that allows you to read e-mail away from home without leaving tell-tale traces on someone else's hard drive. Others have been interested in experimenting with it as a secure Apache server. Knopper has said he is working on a project that will allow it to be used as a terminal server.

Knoppix as a Debian installer

This week, I take a closer look at Knoppix in a different role: as a GUI installer for Debian. I first heard about this use for Knoppix when Knopper mentioned it on a private news server. Then Bill Eastman, a Knoppix user in the Austin LUG, brought the subject up on the LUG's mailing list. The idea intrigued me. What if Knoppix made the dreaded Debian install such a piece of cake that even a doddering old journalist could put it on his laptop?

I scribbled down the instructions from Knopper's post (sudo /usr/local/bin/knx-hdinstall) and went off to boot my trusty Sony Vaio laptop from the Knoppix CD I had just burned from the KNOPPIX-3.1-23-10-2002-EN.iso.

I entered the knoppix desktop-gnome command at the boot prompt to get me to my preferred desktop environment and, sure enough, that is what appeared. After opening an Xterm window, I entered the sudo command noted above, and I was off to the races.

The very first thing to appear was a warning that the hard-disk installation process is very much "under development." You need to be aware that bad things might happen as a result. Do not proceed with the installation if you are at all worried about the contents of your hard drives.

Next the install script launched cfdisk to handle partitioning chores. I selected the only choice I had for the hard disk, then left the partition table as it had been under Red Hat 8. That gave me a smallish partition I could use for boot, a swap partition, and everything else to root.

After exiting cfdisk, I was asked if I wanted a swap partition. I said yes and it asked me if the 256-megabyte partition was the one I wanted to use. I said yes again.

The installer asked me which partition to use as root and showed me the small partition used as boot by Red Hat and the large partition. I chose the large one and the install script created a file system on it.

Then it was time to start copying files. I was warned that it would take 30 or 40 minutes, but in fact it only took about 15. A series of interactive questions and answers followed.

  • Start a mail server (smail) at boot? (No)
  • Start sshd at boot? (Yes)
  • Start Samba at boot? (No)
  • Start kdm at boot? (No)

Then I was asked for a host name and to select the network device. The only option for the device was eth0 so that's what I chose. I said Yes to DHCP.

Next came my Unix and user password. The default user, by the way, was Knoppix. Did I want LILO on the MBR? Yep, but skip the boot diskette if you don't mind. That was it. It took 27 minutes from booting from the CD to complete the basic installation.

I powered the Sony down, removed the CD from the drive, and powered it back up. Amazing! There was a full blown (and configured) Debian system with Internet access! However, there were also a couple of "gotchas." For one thing, everything was in German. By everything, I mean keyboard layout as well as language. For another, Gnome had been replaced with KDE.

I found Bill Eastman on the #knoppix channel on irc.openprojects.net and asked for guidance. He walked me through the language localization change. It's easy if you know where it is. I simply right-clicked on the DE in the bottom right hand corner of the screen and a menu appeared. I chose English and applied it. When I restarted X, I could read the menus and use a familiar keyboard layout again. Eastman later informed me that if I had entered Lang=us at boot time, the language/locale would not have reverted to German.

Eastman doesn't use Gnome so he couldn't help me get my favorite environment back. A quick visit to the #debian channel on the same IRC gave me an easy way to fix that. All I needed to do was apt-get install gdm and restart X. Now I was cooking.

Easy updates too

I decided I would do one more thing before calling it an install. Just as I had done with the Windows and Red Hat installs, I decided to bring the new installation up-to-date with all the latest security patches. I got help again on the #debian channel on how to accomplish this.

Pretty easy, really. I added deb http://security.debian.org stable/updates main contrib non-free to my /etc/apt/sources.list, then ran apt-get update and apt-get upgrade. The whole process took me about 10 minutes.

That means the entire process took less than 40 minutes. Of course, it doesn't include configuring the USB IBM PC Camera that the other installations did, but it does include everything else, including OpenOffice 1.0. Color me impressed.

I don't know whether Knoppix made the Debian installation any faster than a knowledgeable Debian user could have done it, but it certainly saved me a lot of time. The configuration process on a normal Debian installation can be daunting. What Knoppix did was to automagically identify and configure everything for me.

I don't recommend using Knoppix this way for a complete newbie, but if you are halfway familiar with Linux and your PC, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend using Knoppix as a Debian installer. One more use of a truly amazing (and a very real) Linux distribution. My apologies to Knopper and the Knoppix project sponsors at the LinuxTag association for ever saying otherwise.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

Comments (1)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


IoT & Smart Cities Stories
René Bostic is the Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America. Enjoying her career with IBM during the modern millennial technological era, she is an expert in cloud computing, DevOps and emerging cloud technologies such as Blockchain. Her strengths and core competencies include a proven record of accomplishments in consensus building at all levels to assess, plan, and implement enterprise and cloud computing solutions. René is a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and a m...
Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
Dynatrace is an application performance management software company with products for the information technology departments and digital business owners of medium and large businesses. Building the Future of Monitoring with Artificial Intelligence. Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more busine...
Nicolas Fierro is CEO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions. He is a programmer, technologist, and operations dev who has worked with Ethereum and blockchain since 2014. His knowledge in blockchain dates to when he performed dev ops services to the Ethereum Foundation as one the privileged few developers to work with the original core team in Switzerland.
Whenever a new technology hits the high points of hype, everyone starts talking about it like it will solve all their business problems. Blockchain is one of those technologies. According to Gartner's latest report on the hype cycle of emerging technologies, blockchain has just passed the peak of their hype cycle curve. If you read the news articles about it, one would think it has taken over the technology world. No disruptive technology is without its challenges and potential impediments t...
If a machine can invent, does this mean the end of the patent system as we know it? The patent system, both in the US and Europe, allows companies to protect their inventions and helps foster innovation. However, Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be set to disrupt the patent system as we know it. This talk will examine how AI may change the patent landscape in the years to come. Furthermore, ways in which companies can best protect their AI related inventions will be examined from both a US and...
Bill Schmarzo, Tech Chair of "Big Data | Analytics" of upcoming CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York (November 12-13, 2018, New York City) today announced the outline and schedule of the track. "The track has been designed in experience/degree order," said Schmarzo. "So, that folks who attend the entire track can leave the conference with some of the skills necessary to get their work done when they get back to their offices. It actually ties back to some work that I'm doing at the University of San...
When talking IoT we often focus on the devices, the sensors, the hardware itself. The new smart appliances, the new smart or self-driving cars (which are amalgamations of many ‘things'). When we are looking at the world of IoT, we should take a step back, look at the big picture. What value are these devices providing. IoT is not about the devices, its about the data consumed and generated. The devices are tools, mechanisms, conduits. This paper discusses the considerations when dealing with the...
Bill Schmarzo, author of "Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business" and "Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science," is responsible for setting the strategy and defining the Big Data service offerings and capabilities for EMC Global Services Big Data Practice. As the CTO for the Big Data Practice, he is responsible for working with organizations to help them identify where and how to start their big data journeys. He's written several white papers, is an avid blogge...