17 Apr 2012

Six (plus one) ways to use Linux Live CDs in your business

Do you think an operating system should always be installed on the hard disk of a computer?
It was true up until a certain point. Things changed when Knoppix Live CD was released by Klaus Knopper in 2000.
Knoppix was a pioneer in Live CD for Linux, and it still remains one of the most respectable Linux distributions. Of course, Knoppix is not alone. There are many more Linux distributions available on the market now that can run in Live mode.
There are basically two types of media which you can use as your Live Linux: CD/DVD or USB. Some distributions allow you to have Live USB, some only work from optical media. In both cases, some distributions allow you to save changes you’ve made. This feature is called “Persistence.”
Here are the main ways in which Live Linux can help your business.

#1 Evaluate the features and compatibility of new releases

This is the main reason why most Linux distributions currently have the ability to run in Live mode. You can check new features, hardware compatibility, and get a general feel for a Linux distribution right away without the need to install it on your hard drive.
If your company runs Linux on desktops or servers, Live run can help you with the initial evaluation of new releases. Of course, thorough testing should be done when the OS is installed, but running Live can help you in your decision-making.

#2 Test the security of your network

There are some specific distributions on the market which aim at the niche of security specialists. The most famous and most powerful of them is Backtrack Linux (now Kali). It is a Live CD which hosts lots of tools for security specialists. Even if you have no security specialists on staff, it is worth it to periodically check your network vulnerability using the most common testing tools.
Of course, you don’t need these tools in your everyday life, that’s why having Live CD is the most convenient way to run the checks.
Another purpose of Backtrack Linux could be forensic research if you need to investigate any suspicious activity of users on your systems.

#3 Perform one-off tasks

Do you plan your office party? Do you want to invite a professional DJ or maybe just prepare your in-house mix? Or maybe you want to make a short video to show your customers or vendors, but don’t have enough budget for a professional team of multimedia creators or editors.
Live Linux can help you here. There are distributions which are oriented to the multimedia market: running your own DJ set or editing video is easier when you have the proper tools. Musix and PureDyne are good examples.
Of course, usage of multimedia-oriented Live Linux CDs is not the only area. There are many more niche-oriented distributions which host useful software for specific tasks.
Because these are one-off tasks, you don’t want and don’t need to install additional software onto your hard drive. Run it from Live CD!

#4 Secure your transactions

It is not true that you can use only pre-built Live Linux distributions. Some of them like SLAX or Puppy have a persistence option or the ability to add your own configuration steps. It can help you, for example, to secure your financial transactions. Pre-configure your SLAX, save changes as an additional module and run this operating system from a CD or from USB without saving further changes. What do you have in this case? A stable, secure system that prevents an intruder from being able to change it and activate malicious code. You may use it, for example, during access to your online bank.

#5 Impress your customers (or suppliers)

You just have finished a very important meeting with a potential customer. It’s time to say goodbye and leave a business card. Stop! Who says your business card has to be paper? You can have it on plastic with your name on one side and a recorded CD or DVD on another. Yes, modern technology allows you to record information on almost any piece of plastic.
So, your customer puts your business card into a CD reader (sounds funny, isn’t it?) and starts…your own operating system! It is branded with your name. It brings full-featured copy of your website right to the customer’s desktop. It lists all the marketing materials which you usually send by post or hand out during presentations - and all of them are in electronic format.
It’s just another application of Live Linux…
And yes…customers can install it on their own desktop or laptop computers, if they want.

#6 Use for low-maintenance computers

How many times do you see powerful computers with huge hard disks being used for trivial tasks? Let me give you some examples: print servers, routers, Internet kiosks. Do they actually need hard disks? Almost surely the answer is no. Then, why do they boot from a hard disk?
Let’s start them off Live Linux CD or USB instead. As a bonus, you have stable system which can be easily restored to initial state (and nothing else) in a matter of seconds. It is well-protected from external intruders, hackers and silly users — there is no place to record malicious code. It is easy to maintain as the only operation you may need there, if any, is reset/reboot. It is quick, because most of the time it runs from memory. It’s low in resource requirements, because Linux distributions like TCL, DSL and Puppy were built with low-resource computers in mind.
Dust off your old computer and make it a print server instead of a current quadro-core monster!
As you can see from above, there are lots of places where every company can employ Linux, and not only Linux working as a normally installed operating system, but also as small and modest Live Linux systems.
Do you use any of them in your company right now? How do you like to use Live Linux in your workplace?

This post was first published as guest post at TechRepublic. But readers of my own blog have benefit of yet one more...

Bonus reason. And the most obvious one:

#7 Save your data

When your OS fails to boot (whatever it is, Windows or Linux) or hard disk starts playing funny games... Boot your computer from Live CD or USB with Linux. It can save you lots of time and efforts to save data on computer. Once data are copied to safer place, you can think of re-installing OS or repairing the disk.


  1. One application of a liveCD that I have not seen done, is as a secure server. Like your suggestion about the kiosk which runs just in RAM anyway.

    But what I mean is that the liveCD (or DVD) has the system on it, but launches a database or other server, accessing _just_the_data_ on a HD. If compromised, or if it's suspected to have been rooted, restart it and you have your complete, known good, binaries again.

    This doesn't prevent data loss, but it does ensure that the OS and applications themselves cannot be replaced with trojans or infected with back doors.

    Need to make a change? Remaster the boot disk from known good sources on a system that never touches the network, and reboot.

    1. Yes, that's the idea behind the "kiosk" usage. Your system always remains the same after reboot, whatever was done with it before.
      By the way, it is similar to "restore the factory settings" in embedded versions of Linux (read Android).

  2. In my job as a college reference librarian, I'm also the library's computer nerd. Every once in a while, a student's flash drive won't show up on the computers here when they need to print something. When that happens, I plug in a flash drive on which I've got Bloathi (like Bodhi, except with lots of other programs added) Linux installed. I just plug 'er in, reboot, take the student's flash drive, plug it in, find the requested file, open it in LibreOffice, and print that sucker out. I've saved the bacon (and grades!) of quite a few students like that. -- Fred in St. Louis

    1. Thanks, Fred, for this unusual way to use Live Linux. 8-)
      You're really an angel for those students. Rename your USB distribution into Angel Linux! 8-)))

    2. Fred, me too! As the IT Director at small university we often rescue student computers who won't boot with a USB Live CD. There always amazed that we can do this and a few even ask if we could install it as their OS. Steve in Calgary.

    3. Yes, that is awesome to hear! Spreading the word about Linux is awesome

    4. It's not only "spreading" in this case, but also proving that Linux can be better than other OSes.

  3. I use Slax for backup and recovery work. It turns out that Slax can be started from a folder on the hard drive. I have installed Grub4Dos on all my servers and workstations company wide. Menu.lst is set to boot to windows.

    If I need to create a backup of a system, or restore a backup of a system, I can remotely edit menu.lst to boot slax and reboot the computer. At that point I can ssh into the machine with no partitions mounted on it. Mount a network share and then backup or reimage the local drive and reboot the machine back to windows.

    It is a huge time saver.

    1. It's not really "Live CD", but the idea is still the same.
      Thanks for sharing!

  4. What about secure disk scrubbing?

    1. Yes, another direction. Quite opposite to #7. 8-)

  5. /There have been times when Windows would act up on me and you know what i did? I popped in a Linux Live CD and got access to my files. It was great