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Book Review: Knoppix Hacks by Kyle Rankin

By Edgar Howell

Let's get the negative out of the way up front: to my mind the contents of this book are not hacks. O'Reilly does have a "hacks" series and insiders may well have known what to expect but I consider the title at best a misnomer. There's no real programming, no patching object code, no modifying a module to make some other piece of hardware work.

This is a book about using Knoppix, um, disaster recovery, er, fixing Linux -- Windows even -- well, about so much that almost everybody ought to read it. It would be a shame if the title were to turn off potential readers. If it hadn't been for the sub-title, "100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools", I likely wouldn't have bothered to look at it at all.

The people that won't be interested in it are those who have no interest in computers per se and just started using GNU/Linux because they want a stable environment in which to get their work done without having to "open the hood" as it were.

But even old hands ought to find this book of interest, if for no other reason than the different approach often used: booting Knoppix on a machine with some other system(s) installed and then working on it -- frozen in time -- without necessarily changing anything or otherwise impacting what is there.

Perhaps it is worth mentioning for those still unfamiliar with Knoppix that it boots a PC, determines what hardware is available, and brings up a graphics interface in which all drives and partitions are accessible in read only mode until you deliberately change that status.

Consider the following examples: do you need or want to

At current writing Knoppix version 4.0 has been out for easily two months, mine on DVD. Although the CD that comes with the book is version 3.4, this should not be a problem when you get the DVD. The "hacks" should still work as long as you watch out for changes in file structure.

The book includes the following chapters (hack numbers in parentheses):

  1. Boot Knoppix (1 - 9)
  2. Use Your Knoppix Desktop (10 - 20)
  3. Tweak Your Desktop (21 - 31)
  4. Install Linux with Knoppix (32 - 36)
  5. Put Knoppix in Your Toolbox (37 - 51)
  6. Repair Linux (52 - 70)
  7. Rescue Windows (71 - 79)
  8. Knoppix Reloaded (80 - 93)
  9. Knoppix Remastered (94 - 100)

Although the entire book is a definite re-read, at the moment my favorite chapter is 8, with introductions to numerous varieties of Knoppix such as:

I can't remember when I have had a book in my hands so consistently filled with interesting and useful information from cover to cover. It was a delight to read and is full of (mostly) short sequences of CLI commands that can be used after changing only device names. And in passing it teaches more than one might expect, e.g. the usefulness of chroot on-the-fly.

Knoppix belongs in everybody's toolbox and Kyle Rankin's "Knoppix Hacks" (O'Reilly, ISBN 0-596-00787-6) belongs on everybody's bookshelf. It is well worth the $30 price and I highly recommend it to anyone seriously interested in PCs.


[BIO] Edgar is a consultant in the Cologne/Bonn area in Germany. His day job involves helping a customer with payroll, maintaining ancient IBM Assembler programs, some occasional COBOL, and otherwise using QMF, PL/1 and DB/2 under MVS.

(Note: mail that does not contain "linuxgazette" in the subject will be rejected.)

Copyright © 2005, Edgar Howell. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 119 of Linux Gazette, October 2005

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