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2 March 2012 Linux Live CD/DVDs

These are bootable disks that can be used to boot up a computer to one of many available Linux distributions (operating systems) without making any permanent changes to your computer. Reasons why you might want to do this include:

  • to rescue files from a failing hard disk when you cannot boot from the hard disk as you normally would
  • for greater security when carrying out banking or credit card transactions on the Internet
  • to isolate problem areas in general computer troubleshooting (if you cannot boot from the hard disk but you can successfully boot from a live cd, it means the problem lies with the hard disk or the operating system (usually Windows) stored on the hard disk)

The number of available live cd/dvds is in the hundreds so choosing one can take some time. The best starting point is probably Distrowatch and for more on the history of Linux try Wikipedia

For what it is worth the following is a list of the live cd/dvds that I have found useful (the two things that I generally look for in a Linux distribution are wireless connectivity and multimedia playback)

As a general desktop operating system

  • Linux Mint 12
  • Super OS 11.04
  • Fusion Linux 14.1
  • Sabayon 7
  • openSUSE 12.1-1
Some distributions (distros) try to offer a much more complete selection of (usually) multimedia applications, some of these are

  • ArtistX 1.2
  • AV Linux 5.0.3
  • Dream Studio 11.10
  • Ultimate Edition 3.0.1
At the other extreme, some distros are specialised for troubleshooting, data recovery and system rescue tasks, e.g.

  • RIP Linux 13.7
  • SystemRescueCD 2.5.0
  • DEFT 7

One of the characteristics of a live cd/dvd is the lack of persistence, i.e. any changes you make while in a live session, such as installing new codecs/applications, downloading files or changing the desktop appearance are lost as soon as the computer is rebooted. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that each time you boot to the live cd/dvd you are booting to the original, pristine operating system environment, untouched by any virus or malware files that you may have inadvertently downloaded during a previous session. This makes a Linux live cd/dvd a much more secure environment in which to carry out online banking and credit card transaction than a normal Windows desktop PC.

When selecting the best live cd/dvd to meet your individual needs there are a few differences between Linux distros that should be kept in mind:

  • Does wireless networking connectivity work out of the box (several years ago it was not uncommon to have to fiddle around to get things such as sound and wired networking connectivity working. Now these things do generally work out of the box but you can still come across distros that lack wireless networking connectivity).
  • Does multimedia playback work out of the box (e.g. is the flash player plugin installed in the web browser).
  • Does the distro have a "copy to ram" option. The significance of this option is that copying to ram frees up the cd/dvd drive for use by discs other than the live cd/dvd itself.
  • What user account does the live cd/dvd use for automatic login. When working with Linux distros it is good security practice NOT to login as the all powerful root account. Most general purpose live cd/dvds will automatically login as a non-root account. However there are some distros that do automatically login using the root account. To be sure what user account is being used, open a terminal window and execute the command "whoami". The output of this command should be something other than "root".
  • Is it possible to install new codecs and/or applications (packages) in ram during a live session. Many modern distros allow this so you can, for example, download and install the flashplayer plugin if it is not already installed. These new codecs or applications will be lost once the computer is rebooted.
  • What additional applications (packages) are available to be downloaded and installed and what package management system is used to do this. One of the most significant differences between the various Linux distros is the package manager that they use.


It is up to you to decide which of the above are important to your needs. It is useful when making your decision to know that various Linux distros do have the differences listed above.








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