Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Pat Romanski, Sematext Blog, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Live CD Linux Distributions

Creative solutions to your everyday problems

Many people feel that if they get something for free there is no real value in it, but that's not always the case. Free doesn't always equate to low quality or "cheap." Especially when it comes to open source and free software.

I am often fascinated by the caliber of the many open source and royalty-free applications available and useful to a variety of organizations, from business to government to education. In homage to those people who develop and donate their applications to the community, I am focusing on a collection of tools from the open source community that can be used to solve common PC problems. These solutions are not only without licensing fees, they are adaptable to different needs of various classifications of users. I chose to focus on Linux-bootable CD distributions and the utilities included with them for a range of applications from bioinformatics to rescuing PCs destined for the scrap heap or ailing due to viruses.

The best way for the new Linux user to take advantage of these tools is by virtue of a bootable Linux distribution because it won't require you to install Linux and will allow you to use an existing PC that may already have an operating system on it. Also, in many instances having a portable operating system is the key to solving your problems.

KNOPPIX: Free Operating System, Big Savings

I have mentioned on occasion the KNOPPIX Linux Distribution (www.knoppix.com), which runs from a bootable CD on a wide variety of PCs with or without all the working parts. KNOPPIX is particularly attractive because it includes a working operating system and thousands of applications, and is as easy to obtain over a broadband connection. Not only is the KNOPPIX downloadable from numerous Web sites but via the Bit Torrent (http://bitconjurer.org/BitTorrent) peer-to-peer file sharing network, an excellent and legitimate use of p2p technology. I am using for the purpose of this article the latest release, version 3.4, of KNOPPIX. (You can find out more about KNOPPIX at www.knopper.net/knoppix-info/index-en.html#description

).

Repurposing Workstations

In many businesses PCs are taken out of service as part of scheduled upgrade plans. Frequently these machines are decommissioned due to age and for purposes of standardization or because the burden of keeping them maintained is too great. What if you could turn these perfectly good though aging PCs into useful workstations for visitors or workers with relatively modest computing needs? There are many variations of how this could be useful; following are two scenarios that may be appealing.

Aging PC into a Thin-Client Machine

Imagine a company that has 20 PCs that are at the end of their useful Windows life, with the following specifications: 200MHz processor, 32MB of RAM, 2-4GB hard drives. They are constantly breaking down or needing software updates, and you're contemplating an upgrade to new hardware and the latest Windows operating system. The conventional solution is to buy 20 replacement PCs with Microsoft Windows at an average cost of $600-$800 or a total of $12,000-$16,000, and additional applications can quickly raise those figures.

An alternative Linux solution allows you to keep your existing PCs but to burn copies of the KNOPPIX CD, setting the PCs to boot from the CD. The total cost for materials for this solution is about $ .25 per PC, or $5 plus the time to complete the conversion. Then you can invest $2,000 in a file server that can save all the files and if necessary serve applications through a terminal server model, which can extend the useful life of the hardware for a number of years. This solution has limitations, but it does provide a couple of advantages. First, there are fewer moving parts at the user's desktop so there are fewer things that can break. Second, because the system is read-only users have significant protection from viruses as well as other undesirable changes that result from conventional PC configurations. Third, new applications can be pushed out to users from your central terminal server or via a Web services model that no longer requires changes on the client machine. For more information on thin-client computing, see my story in the January 2004 issue of LinuxWorld Magazine, "Desktop Linux: Think Thin" (Vol. 2, issue 1, www.linuxworld.com/story/38281.htm).

Kiosk for Web Browsing and Internet Access or Training Labs

There is an old saying, "One man's trash in another man's treasure." In the day and age when PCs are selling for less than $400, there is little incentive to keep old PCs in service and many organizations refresh their workstations often. Just because your workstations are being replaced doesn't mean you can't find new uses for your older PCs. One such use is to create kiosks for visitors to access the Web and check their e-mail when visiting your facility, or perhaps to outfit a training room that does Web-based training. These PCs, once configured to boot from CD, are impervious to most software failures. Since the file system on the PC is read-only, any problems can be fixed with a simple reboot. Because of this virtually bulletproof configuration, Linux distributions that run from a live file system CD lend themselves to a multi-user situation. Another alternative is to demonstrate this solution to a local charitable organization and donate the PCs to them - a local school will understand the value of the donation and potentially provide a tax write-off. Also, before you donate them you can use the SHRED utility mentioned later in this article to ensure that all data has been removed.

Traveling Desktop

Many people today have laptops, but it's not always convenient to carry one. Often when we visit friends they have a computer that we may borrow. These computers usually have an Internet connection and some core applications, but they don't usually have the data we need. One solution is to use KNOPPIX in conjunction with a USB memory stick. The memory stick can hold all your critical data, such as your address book and documents, and maybe a calendar or other information that you want to make sure travels with you. One way to accomplish this is to use the "persistent Knoppix home directory." To do this you can allow Knoppix to boot from your USB thumb drive and make your computing environment both lightweight and highly portable. The following recipe will give you a blueprint to accomplish this type of solution:

  1. Boot into Knoppix and insert your USB storage drive.
  2. Choose "Create a persistent KNOPPIX Home directory" by going to your K Menu > Configure.
  3. When asked if you want to create a persistent home directory, choose "Yes."
  4. Now you choose to create the partition on your USB key; usually these drives will register as /dev/sda or /dev/sda1.
  5. Next you will be offered the choice to use the ENTIRE Partition, if you are only using your USB thumb drive for Knoppix this should be fine. If you choose the FAT32 format you can access the thumb drive from both Linux and Windows.

Now you can take this CD and thumb drive to another computer and your data and settings will travel with you. Knoppix.net has a Persistent Home How-To on their Web site (www.knoppix.net/docs/index.php/PersistentHomeHowTo); their forums offer additional information for this type of configuration.

Rescue Utilities

There are tons of commercial solutions for reviving "dead" Windows PCs by numerous reputable software makers. However, the Knoppix live CD distribution includes utilities that can solve many common problems that these often-expensive solutions address.

Windows Installation Won't Boot

Sometimes Windows installations run into errors that won't boot. In these cases you have a couple of options; the first is to try your rescue disk from the operating system you have installed. If that doesn't work you can boot from your Knoppix disk to install files, edit configurations, and access your data. Sometimes it may be necessary for you to download a file and overwrite one that is corrupt so that your installation can still boot. You can use Knoppix to boot and edit your windows.sys or other system files that might prevent Windows from booting.

Rescuing Files and Moving Them to a Windows File Server

A couple of months ago a friend of mine brought me his laptop that was running Windows 98; no matter what he tried he could not get Windows to boot. After considerable time spent investigating his problem I was unable to boot Windows either. This was a huge problem for him as he had a presentation (for his son's wedding) held hostage by his laptop. I told him not to worry and pulled out my Knoppix CD. I then proceeded to successfully boot his four-year-old Gateway laptop via Knoppix. Since the presentation he needed was in PowerPoint I booted up in Windows PC and copied the files over from one PC to the other. I did this through the handy LinNeighborhood application (www.bnro.de/~schmidjo), a front end for Samba (www.samba.org) that allows Linux users to access Windows files and print services using the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol.

To solve my friend's dilemma I launched LinNeighborhood, which allowed me to browse the Windows PCs on my network. Then I entered my information for the machine I wanted to connect to (in this case it was called Hinkle-Top and I entered the IP address and the Hinkle-Top entry showed up in the LinNeighborhood window). Then I right-clicked the associated icon and chose to scan as user. The scan as user function allowed me to enter my Windows username and password. This then allowed me to see all the shared directories on that Windows PC. The next step was to right click on the share I wanted to access (in this case it was called Data) and choose mount. The directory then showed up in the lower window with the mount point (in this case /root/mnt/HINKLE-TOP/Data/); then since my friend needed to browse his drive I chose to set up Konqueror (a graphical file manager and Web browser like Windows explorer). To make sure I had full permissions to read and write to the partition I went to a command prompt and launched Konqueror by typing "su" to gain super user access, then I typed konqueror to run the graphical utility with the permissions I needed. To move the files I dragged them from one Window to another. Figure 1 shows both the local disk and the remote Windows PC. In conjunction with Konqueror file manager, this solution offers an easy way to drag and drop files from one PC to another.

Manipulating a Hard Drive (Formatting, Partitioning, Erasing)

Knoppix includes many disk utilities for manipulating hard drives, including partitioning tools and utilities to securely delete data from the hard drive before it is thrown out or repurposed. The following tools are well suited to these types of tasks.

QTParted

QTParted (http://qtparted.sourceforge.net) is a graphical clone of the popular disk utility Partition Magic. It's written using the QT toolkit and the command line tool "parted," hence the name. What it I find it useful for in my Windows to Linux migration is to resize Windows partitions so that I can install Linux in a dual boot setup (see Figure 2).

fdisk

Many Windows users will recognize the term fdisk, which is a menu-driven program for creation and manipulation of partition tables. Partitions are logical disks on a physical device. These logical disks can be formatted with a variety of file systems. Also, fdisk can create or delete partitions and rewrite the master boot record. To use fdisk from Knoppix just launch a command prompt and make sure to su to root, then to access your disk type fdisk /dev/hda where hda is the name of your hard drive (usually this will be /dev/hda but if you have two hard drives you may see it as /dev/hdb). For more information on how to use fdisk you can type m for help at the Command: prompt. Also, you may find it useful to read the fdisk manual by typing info fdisk at a command prompt. This will bring up extended data on the fdisk partition table manipulator (see Figure 3).

Securely Deleting Data from a PC

SHRED - (Click Here !) - When you delete files from your operating system what normally happens is that you are only deleting an entry in the index of files that tells where that data is stored. Though the data is no longer visible it still exists until new data overwrites the old data. An unscrupulous user could use utilities to recover this data since files that you thought were deleted may still exist on the hard drive. That's where a utility like SHRED comes in handy. SHRED actually overwrites that data with new data so that there is little chance of recovery. By default shred will overwrite your hard drive 25 times with data and greatly reduce the risk of old data being recovered. To "shred" a hard drive with Knoppix you would simply go to a command line and type:

shred -verbose /dev/hda

where /dev/hda is the name of the hard drive you want to shred or delete all data from. In cases where sensitive data is stored on PCs it's very important to delete this data completely before repurposing or disposing of PCs and shred would be a useful means to securely wipe this data whether this be for patient data in a doctor's office or a government office that has standards for secure destruction of computer data.

Various Bootable Linux CD Distributions

There are many customized live CD Linux distributions that are useful and specialized for different purposes. The following are a few examples of special-use live CD Linux distributions.

Damn Small Linux

Damn Small Linux (www.damnsmalllinux.org) is a bootable CD Linux distribution that can fit on a 50MB CD about the size of a business card that you can carry in your wallet. Damn Small Linux doesn't have as many applications as Knoppix but it does include some critical applications including a mail client, Web browser, spreadsheet program, PDF viewer, and more.

INSERT (INside SEcurity REscue Toolkit)

INSERT (www.inside-security.de/INSERT_en.html) is a small footprint bootable Linux system that like Damn Small Linux can fit on a business card sized CD. However, INSERT includes tools that would be most useful for repairing and diagnosing computer problems.

Morphix

Morphix (www.morphix.org) is a distribution that can be "morphed" into a bootable Linux CD with your specifications. So in the likelihood that you have specific requirements for your own bootable Linux distribution you can roll your own Live CD distribution with the aid of the Morphix TROM (Total Remastering of Morphix - www.morphix.org/trom) utility.

These are a few of the specialized bootable Linux distributions that I have used in the past. For a more comprehensive list you can visit www.knoppix.net/docs/index.php/KnoppixCustomizations.

Summary

I hope you find these tips valuable in your everyday computing life. All these solutions are useful to average IT users. Users with modest knowledge of Linux can execute every one of the solutions mentioned here; with a little research and creativity you can solve these and many other inconveniences. Best of all, these applications are unencumbered by licensing fees and can be freely obtained from the Internet. The fact that they are almost all developed under an open source licenses means that it's easy for other community members to improve upon software and redistribute their improvements. It also makes it possible for unrelated parties to continue the work of the previous parties should they decide to stop developing their solution. This type of model makes a lot of sense, especially when it enables the widest possible involvement of developers and companies globally.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

Comments (1) View Comments

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.


Most Recent Comments
Arnold L. Johnson 01/20/08 09:10:49 AM EST

Your article is right on the money. I so much enjoy not being tethered to a Microsoft machine. Many friends have older PC's with borrowed copies of MS windows on them and can not get upgrades. I try to interest them in live-CD Linux, they fear not being compatible with MS business software. A live-CD says "don't take my word on this, but look here". I am so impressed.

@ThingsExpo Stories
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.
2015 predictions circa 1970: houses anticipate our needs and adapt, city infrastructure is citizen and situation aware, office buildings identify and preprocess you. Today smart buildings have no such collective conscience, no shared set of fundamental services to identify, predict and synchronize around us. LiveSpace and M2Mi are changing that. LiveSpace Smart Environment devices deliver over the M2Mi IoT Platform real time presence, awareness and intent analytics as a service to local connected devices. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Sarah Cooper, VP Business of Development at M2Mi, will d...
Thanks to widespread Internet adoption and more than 10 billion connected devices around the world, companies became more excited than ever about the Internet of Things in 2014. Add in the hype around Google Glass and the Nest Thermostat, and nearly every business, including those from traditionally low-tech industries, wanted in. But despite the buzz, some very real business questions emerged – mainly, not if a device can be connected, or even when, but why? Why does connecting to the cloud create greater value for the user? Why do connected features improve the overall experience? And why do...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
Imagine a world where targeting, attribution, and analytics are just as intrinsic to the physical world as they currently are to display advertising. Advances in technologies and changes in consumer behavior have opened the door to a whole new category of personalized marketing experience based on direct interactions with products. The products themselves now have a voice. What will they say? Who will control it? And what does it take for brands to win in this new world? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Zack Bennett, Vice President of Customer Success at EVRYTHNG, will answer these questions a...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. BMC delivers software solutions that help IT transform digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive business advantage. BMC has worked with thousands of leading companies to create and deliver powerful IT management services. From mainframe to cloud to mobile, BMC pairs high-speed digital innovation with robust IT industrialization – allowing customers to provide amazing user experiences with optimized IT per...
We’re entering a new era of computing technology that many are calling the Internet of Things (IoT). Machine to machine, machine to infrastructure, machine to environment, the Internet of Everything, the Internet of Intelligent Things, intelligent systems – call it what you want, but it’s happening, and its potential is huge. IoT is comprised of smart machines interacting and communicating with other machines, objects, environments and infrastructures. As a result, huge volumes of data are being generated, and that data is being processed into useful actions that can “command and control” thi...
Building low-cost wearable devices can enhance the quality of our lives. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Sai Yamanoor, Embedded Software Engineer at Altschool, provided an example of putting together a small keychain within a $50 budget that educates the user about the air quality in their surroundings. He also provided examples such as building a wearable device that provides transit or recreational information. He then reviewed the resources available to build wearable devices at home including open source hardware, the raw materials required and the options available to power s...
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
Collecting data in the field and configuring multitudes of unique devices is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process that can stretch IT resources. Horan & Bird [H&B], Australia’s fifth-largest Solar Panel Installer, wanted to automate sensor data collection and monitoring from its solar panels and integrate the data with its business and marketing systems. After data was collected and structured, two major areas needed to be addressed: improving developer workflows and extending access to a business application to multiple users (multi-tenancy). Docker, a container technology, was used to ...
The true value of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies not just in the data, but through the services that protect the data, perform the analysis and present findings in a usable way. With many IoT elements rooted in traditional IT components, Big Data and IoT isn’t just a play for enterprise. In fact, the IoT presents SMBs with the prospect of launching entirely new activities and exploring innovative areas. CompTIA research identifies several areas where IoT is expected to have the greatest impact.
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In this session, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, will describe how to revolutionize your architecture and...
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo, June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.