Knoppix a tasty open source try-out

Have you ever wished that you could just try out an open source operating system, without the hassle of installing it and associated software? Well, thanks to the clever Klaus Knopper, you can with Knoppix.

Have you ever wished that you could just try out an open source operating system, without the hassle of installing it and associated software? Well, thanks to the clever Klaus Knopper, you can with Knoppix.

Herr Ingenieur Knopper of Dansenberg, Germany, has put together a bootable CD ROM disc, comprising a Debian-based Linux OS that runs on x86 computers – if the system in question cannot boot from CDs, there’s a disk image included on the disc for creating a boot floppy.

The current version of Knoppix comes with Linux kernel version 2.4.19, and uses KDE 3.0.2 as the desktop environment on top of XFree86 4.2.0; OpenOffice 1.0 is also included, ditto the xmms and Ogg-Vorbis for multimedia.

Knoppix runs on systems as low-specced as 16MB 486s, but you’ll only get text-mode with such limited resources. At least 128MB RAM is recommended if you want to run OpenOffice and other such demanding graphical applications.

I tried out a late beta of Knoppix on two systems, an Intel i850GB desktop with a 1.3GHz P4 and 384MB RDRAM, and an IBM Thinkpad 1200 series with a 600MHz Celeron and 192MB SDRAM.

In both cases, Knoppix booted up the systems quickly and neatly, having no problems recognising devices like my USB keyboard and thumbwheel mouse. After a few moments of device and services initialisation, the KDE 3 desktop came up in 1024-by-768 pixels and true colour on both systems, an impressive feat of automated hardware detection and configuration. As I am running a DHCP server on my LAN, Knoppix picked up an IP address from it, and configured the network interface to use it automatically.

The only minor gripe is that anti-aliased fonts aren’t enabled by default, so you get some hideously blocky type on the screen until you fix this manually. I also wish that Knoppix would come with a greater range of normal serif and sans serif typefaces, instead of a vast array of funky-looking, but rather unusable, fonts.

Overall, I can’t think of a better way of demonstrating the capabilities of open source software than Knoppix, and I highly recommend it; download it from the URL above, or speak to your nearest Linux-friendly software dealer.

Meanwhile, the Microsoft of open source software, Red Hat Linux (yes, that’s a lame joke), hasn’t stood still. The company is beta-testing the next release of its Linux distribution under the codename “Limbo”. Two betas have already been rolled out to eager testers (your nearest Linux ftp mirror should carry the ISO CD images), and there might be a third one soon.

As Limbo is likely to come with a major revision of GCC (the recently-released version 3.2, most probably) and glibc system libraries (2.2.90 or newer), there’s every chance Red Hat will bump the version number to 8.0 as per tradition.

Notable software upgrades compared to the existing 7.3 Valhalla include GNOME 2.0.2 (yes, it does anti-aliased fonts thanks to GTK+ 2.0.6), KDE 3.0.3, OpenOffice 1.0.1, Apache 2.0.36 (but not the latest, 2.0.40 for some reason), and ReiserFS 3.6.2 for those who use that file system alternative. The Linux kernel version is 2.4.18, but 2.4.19 might make it into the final release of Limbo.

Limbo beta testers seem very happy with Red Hat’s efforts, with no major issues reported. Plenty of work has gone into making the installation painless (anaconda’s received a rewrite) and Limbo easy to use, with configuration tools a-plenty. In fact, some of the more enthusiastic beta testers reckon Limbo’s the Linux distribution that will give Windows a run for its money, as a desktop operating system.

The major criticism has been directed at GNOME 2, which some people feel isn’t ready for prime-time yet. As I couldn’t justify busting my JetStream bill many times over to download the CD ISO images, I’m hoping Red Hat will send me a review copy of the final version for evaluation in my next column. Watch this space.

Saarinen is an Auckland IT consultant and IDG contributor. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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