13 Jul 2011

Knoppix 6.4: can you spot the difference?

I wonder how different is world of Linux!
Some distributions tend to simplify the interface. Others try to do their best to get users out of their way. Only few try to find golden middle.
Do you want examples? I have them.
Unity. Isn't it simplifying of interface? Yes, it is. But for some users this is over-simplifying. Something of Linux soul was lost in here. From "do whatever you want" it switched ideology to "do whatever we allow you to do".
Next example is Knoppix. What can be simpler than getting ISO image with operation system onto USB image? Having multiple methods for this, you should expect at least one of them to work. But that is not the case. I have tried both Unetbootin and dd options. Not much success. Knoppix has developed its own process of getting Live USB. And it is not the simplest for unprepared user. Knoppix is not alone in this issue. I have already written about PureDyne which has exactly the same approach.
After few failed attempt to build Knoppix Live USB I decided to try CD version.
This is not my first review of Knoppix. I wrote few words about it in one of the first posts in this blog.
Now few words about the version of Knoppix I tried. This is not the latest version. Simply because latest version 6.5 was exclusively distributed with Linux Magazine in March 2011. Previous version 6.4 is freely downloadable on official mirrors. That is the version I burned onto my CD-RW.
Disk is in the drive of Compaq C300 laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from CD. Let's go!


Once booting of Knoppix starts, you are asked with only one question. This is to specify "cheatcodes" which Knoppix has a lot of. I did not put any of them and just continued with "Enter".Total boot time of Knoppix is approximately 4 minutes for Live CD version. This is not the best result, but more or less acceptable time.
Once booted, system works more or less fast. I noticed that each time you start a new program, system reads CD. But closing and restarting of same program even after some time does not involve CD drive usage. That is quite nice feature.


Nicely enough, WiFi card Broadcom 4311 was found and activated automatically. Same was in previous version of Knoppix, so no surprises here. My network was found automatically, and I only needed to provide security key. I'm online, and this post was drafted from Knoppix.
Just for experiment, I used same CD-RW to boot my Toshiba L500 laptop with Realtek 8191 WiFi card. Result? Unsatisfactory. This card is still not working under Knoppix 6.4.


LXDE is default, but not the only, desktop environment in Knoppix 6.4, as in many other versions of this Operating system. CD version only has LXDE. If you want to have other desktops, you need to download and use DVD version. Knoppix comes with 8 diferent desktops on Live DVD: KDE, GNOME, IceWM, Fluxbox, Openbox, LarwWM, EvilWM and TWM. Some of them are rather exotc, I have never seen them before. But again, all of them are only available on Live DVD while I was running Live CD version.
Default wallpaper in Knoppix 6.4 is some kind of computer generated curve. It is the only wallpaper if distribution.
Knoppix features more or less standard desktop layout. There is a panel at the bottom and only one desktop icon.
I was surprised when I saw no button to switch virtual desktops in Knoppix. Yes, there is no button for this. Instead, moving cursor to the top-left corner allows you to switch between 4 different desktops. They share same application toolbar, not like GNOME.
Another feature of Knoppix LXDE desktop appears when you move cursor to the right-top corner. You can see all the windows on current desktop and switch between them.
Knoppix by default has lots of desktop effects, which are something I'd rather avoid. They significantly increase time required to close / minimize / restore window. That is unproductive waste of time from my perspective.


PCMan is default file manager for LXDE hence for Knoppix. It is not extremely rich in features, but enough for most tasks.
Iceweasel is default browser in Knoppix. By default is starts with lots of security restrictions. It annoys when you are viewing sites like Blogger or even Google, because these sites actively use scripts, and scripts are disabled by default. Luckily, there are just couple of clicks to allow all the scripts. Iseweasel has spellcheker activated, but English is not in dictionary for whatever reason. At least, I saw all my words underlined when I typed in draft of this post. These underlines disappeared after some time for same strange reason.
Other internet tools include Pidgin, Icedove (mail client) and Linphone (VoIP tool).
Knoppix 6.4 has LibreOffice as office package. Moreover, it is not just "core" LibreOffice products, but full package. It includes Draw, Math and Base.
There are not many graphical tools in Knoppix, but it is OK since GIMP and LibreOffice Draw are there. Other than that, scanning program and xpdf (PDF viewer) are included. I was surprised by the fact of absence of screenshot tool in Knoppix. But then I found ability to make screenshots directly in GIMP. It is quite unusual to use such a big gun for this small task, but still an option if need be.
Multimedia tools are not widely represented: GNOME Mplayer, Braser and aumix. This is full list. Not enough? I think that's enough because MPlayer is mighty combine in multimedia tasks. I would rather prefer VLC here, but that is my personal preference.
Wine is installed by default in Knoppix 6.4, if you are interested in running Windows applications.
I was slightly surprised that Knoppix includes not many applications at all. You can see much more in official list, but listed are mostly CLI-based or system (not to be run by users) packages.
If you need more, then Synaptic is at your disposal. Knoppix has repositories for all Debian branches activated (sid, testing, stable and previous version - Lenny) by default.

Network and local drives

I mentioned PCMan above as not-very-functional tool. That is true only partially. For example, PCMan includes Network Drives utility. It automatically found my external network drive, but showed folders on that drive as separate computers. Of course PCMan could not mount them.
Manual mounting with mount command also failed :
CIFS VFS: cifs_mount failed w/return code = -5
This error usually means lack of user access information (username and password), but I provided parameters guest,nolinux in mount command, so I am not sure Samba understood me correctly.
Local partitions NTFS and Ext3 were mounted by Knoppix OK automatically. Even Russian characters worked fine in PCMan.
I could play MP3 files from local NTFS partition out of the box. Initially MPlayer showed Russian characters in filenames, but after some time they disappeared for whatever reason. You can see no filename in the screenshot I took.
Opposite to MP3 codecs, there is no Flash Player in Knoppix 6.4. YouTube videos do not work out of the box, but require installation of Adobe Flash. I tried to do this, but there is no .deb version on official page.


I wrote in my previous review that Knoppix has quite strange approach to multi-lingual users. Has anything changed since then? Unfortunately, no.
There is still no option to switch keyboard layout in LXDE.


Knoppix is Live CD (DVD) system based on Debian.
Debian gives Knoppix very stable and large platform.
What has changed in Knoppix since my last review? I'd say not much.
Most of these changed are due to new version of Debian. Squeeze changed Lenny, and now Knoppix uses Squeeze as stable repository. Other that that? LibreOffice became official office manager. Then... Argh, to be honest, I can't name any other difference. Can change of default wallpaper be the one? I doubt.
From my perspective, Knoppix now simply follows the trend to update packages up to the latest version of those. Nothing significant happens in this part of Linux world.
Somebody can call it stagnation. Somebody can call it stability.

Have you tried Knoppix yourself? How do you like it? How do you use it?
If you have not tried it yet, why not Buy Linux CD with it?
Do you realize full potential of Knoppix? Have a look at books about Knoppix.


  1. been using for 7+ years now, since 3.2 and it still rocks. i feel bad for no wallpaper change but it still rocks my world.

  2. @Anonymous:
    You're from the camp of "it is stable" then. Nothing is wrong here. 8-)

  3. I installed Knoppix 6.2 on a USB stick some time ago with the built-in utility on the Live CD, and I don't recall it being a difficult process. I recently put version 6.4.3 onto a different stick by the built-in utility, and at the first boot I saw the option to create persistence. Actually I saw it too late to do anything about it, so I had to reboot and catch it before it vanished.
    Knoppix takes a bit of getting used to, but it's got a lot more features than most things that work well from a USB stick.

  4. @Emery:
    Creating USB friom within OS and externally are two different processes.
    Many distributions can create Live USB from within themselves. Ubuntu and OpenSuSE just to name a couple.
    But more interesting is to create Live USB to boot the system first. That is the lengthy process described on Knoppix Wiki. It should not be that long and difficult to get more users involved IMHO.

  5. I have a Toshiba L500D laptop with Realtek 8191 wifi also. Realtek has Linux drivers for it available from their website.

  6. @Anonymous:
    That can be OK for installed system or system which is intended to be installed. Not for Knoppix, pioneer of Live CD.
    Driver for Realtek 8191 is already available in Ubuntu and Fluppy. Why are they not in Knoppix?

  7. DarkDuck

    Thanks for your review of Knoppix.

    Knoppix 6.4 DVD offers lots of great software. e.g. file management, PCMan is the default file manager, but Dolphin is also included. I put Knoppix on a flash drive (actually a 4GB SD card in a card reader) with little effort. When running Knoppix 6.4 DVD from the DVD, the process for putting it on a flash drive amounts to clicking on a menu item...

    preferences > Install KNOPPIX to flash disk

    Yes, I know that this is far too simple for many Linux enthusiasts, but it's exactly my style. It worked first try, booting on my desktop PC with no input.

    There have been various operational issues with every distro that I've tried on my particular Aspire One model, and so with Knoppix. But the issues are small, and the polish, wide variety of software that works, stability and piece of mind that I have with Knoppix makes it my first choice (2nd choice is Kuki, which appeared to be inactive last time that I looked). Again, no input is required at boot and KNOPPIX makes the right choices.

    Running from the flash drive, I used Synaptic to install some software. I copied the deb files from the cache to an SD card. So now when I want to run the software, I right click on the deb file and choose "GDebi Package Installer" to install it (yep, way too simple).

    I don't run the persistent mode. I have some very simple scripts to restore various configuration files and such from write-protected storage. It is a bummer that Knoppix abandoned the old style configuration save system. Explanations, reasoning, and issues with various alternative ways to run Knoppix would require lengthy explanations. But I will say this... it is less than conscientious to advocate that an inexpert desktop user habitually access internet services using a persistent system as a privileged user, without cautioning and without discussion of the security issues.

  8. @Anonymous:
    Thanks for long and detailed comment. That could be separate post in the blog actually. Just like separate review.

    I have just mentioned above that there is no problem to create Live USB from within the system. But I am more interested in creation of Live USB externally without need to boot Live CD/DVD first.

  9. I have been able to create Knoppix live usb drives from windows and linux, not sure why you are having a had time with it. Check to see if you have a gpt or mbr, kill the gpt.

  10. @Anonymous: that's great. Can you share a method how to create Live USB? I could not find one.

  11. I know this is an old thread, but wanted to share that from Windows I was able to get a successful Knoppix LiveUSB without any tweaking by using YUMI (your-universal-multiboot-installer). It worked like it was supposed to, the first time!

    1. great! at least some way to put Knoppix onto USB! 8-)

  12. Sorry again late to this thread. I also find Yumi from pendrivelinux.com to be a great way to boot Knoppix and many other live ISOs (over 50 of them listed last time I checked)from a USB flash drive.

    1. I still think that Unetbootin covers more. At least, it is also available for Linux and Windows, as opposite to Win-only Yumi.

  13. After looking at Unetbootin's homepage which rarely gets updated it would appear that the number of ISOs supported is similar. I tend to use my USB flash sticks for multibooting of various ISOs (including Knoppix cd version) and rescue/data recovery purposes. Although Unetbootin can certainly be used for multiboot purposes by editing syslinux.cfg it's fiddly to do and it's a lot easier and appears to much more successful in my experience using Yumi. Yumi can also work within a Linux system using WINE.