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Kanotix Live-CD: Gentle Intro for Beginners - OP/ED

   Kanotix Live-CD: Gentle Intro for Beginners
From our "Linux is for Total Newbies" series, courteousy of Edvin Fajic for

You may also find this related article beneficial: Linux Works Even for Newbies

Have you ever wondered what Linux is all about? Are you curious to see what everyone keeps referring to? Would you like a gentle and easy way to try out Linux without losing any of your Windows programs and files?

There is indeed an alternative for your current operating system and the cost is less than one dollar, depending on how much you pay for empty CD's. I know that we were all all taught to view free things as "cheap" and that nothing is truly free, especially software. However, years ago, there was a group of dedicated, talented programmers armed with a vision to provide free functional software for everyone in the world. It was a difficult beginning.

Only skilled users were able to cope with Linux and the many commands needed to perform tasks and use the operating system. Nevertheless, Linux proved to be a flexible and powerful solution for many tasks. Within time, what began as a few applications and programs for use expanded to over seventy two thousand applications and tools for research, training, business, and home use.

Today, Linux development is at the stage where a beginner does not need to learn commands or toil in the complex world of technical speak. Instead the GUIs (graphical user interfaces) help new users perform almost any task with simple mouse clicks. You want to see examples, then look at Linux GUIs like:   this one, this one, and or this!  

Moreover, giants like IBM, Nokia and H&P are contributing useful device drivers and applications to ensure Linux is effective even for home PCs. Thanks to easy to learn and use GUIs like the KDE Desktop (there is also Gnome and Xfce among others) a Windows user will have an easy time making the adjustment.

But most importantly, another excellent option for Windows users has emerged. Now you can try Linux using Live-CDs without removing your Windows or installing Linux on to a hard disk. You can discover, explore and enjoy the power of Linux through such Live-CDs by simply inserting into the drive and rebooting your PC. There are many excellent Linux CD images (iso's) that can be downloaded from:    Linux Distribution Watch

For a look at what they are like, you can check many desktop images shown at If you want to try other live CDs then go to: These distributions (distros) are designed for downloading and installing directly over the Internet. The speed of the download depends on your server and your connection.

Therefore, if you are on a dial-up, I really don't recommend downloading Linux. Instead, there are many organizations and companies that offer the distribution of your choice preloaded on CDs for a small fee (often less than ten dollars). I recommend this method for someone who is just getting started or wants to try out Linux. Among many good places to buy a pre-burned Linux CD for a few dollars, one option is:

Of the many Live-CD versions, I have personally found Kanotix to be one of the more versatile and functional. Based on the significant work of Debian, Kanotix offers not only a very broad range of useful programs pre-configured and ready, it also provides a very simple method of fully installing Linux if you later decide to do so.


First, we need to get Kanotix CDs or to download the correct version from:

In order to load Linux from a Live-CD, you need to set your PC BIOS to boot from the CD drive. In most cases pressing a key like F12, or F2, or the Delete key on your PC prior to Windows starting, gets you to the BIOS menu. The boot order, which specifies what gets loaded first, can be changed (to floppy, hard drive, CD-ROM, or network). Inserting the Live-CD into the drive and then choosing the BIOS boot option of CD-ROM will begin loading your Linux.

During the boot-up, you may encounter strange terms like GRUB. No, I assure you this is not something you dig up. GRUB is the boot-loader or program for booting Linux. You will usually be given a menu choice with the option of loading Debian or Kanotix. Choose the Kanotix option, which although not recommended on older systems, runs beautifully even on a 550MHz PC with plenty of RAM.

After a few moments you will see an introductory menu. It's important to choose your language, because by default Kanotix boots in German. Just more evidence of the world-wide expanse of Linux and the vast community of engineers who create and support these useful tools.

If you have an Internet connection through a DSL or Cable modem, you should go ahead and ensure the connection is on and ready. After reboot, you end up with a fully operational Debian Linux loaded with many goodies.

EDITORS NOTE: The full CD version of Kanotix comes pre-installed with many of the well know packages. However, the new preview version does not include applications like Firestarter or You can adjust the package manager repositories to grab the latest versions from the Internet.

Fear not, Debian Linux is the version that Kanotix is based on and uses. For years now, the Debian Foundation has allowed this very versatile and powerful version of Linux to grow and improve. Today the Debian version runs some of the most popular Linux installations both free, like Kanotix and commercial like Xandros.

Beginners and advanced users alike learn to use Kanotix very fast. The interface is easy to understand and use, and there are many icons and other features to help you along the way.

Kanotix offers an easy to navigate desktop that includes many useful features for beginners.

Best of all, if you're using Kanotix on a Windows system, your Windows disk drive will show up on desktop as a little icon on the left. You can browse it, recover data from it if Windows fails to load, get help through the Linux Firefox web-browser or even send messages with AMSN, an MSN type clone, if your Windows has let you down.

The most powerful option of course, is to be able to use your Windows documents and files from Linux programs. For instance, you can view your PDF files or graphics images with Linux programs straight from your Windows disk. You can also edit your Word or Excel documents from Linux using the programs.

One word of caution is that because of HOW Windows writes files to a hard disk, editing files and then writing them back to your Windows hard disk may not be advisable.

But don't worry there is even an easier way to address this. When I need to edit or improve my Windows Word file for example, I can boot from Kanotix, load the writer and then edit the file. To save my updated file I just insert my USB Memory stick (flashdrive) into the USB connection, and save the new version to the USB stick. Now I have a portable way to edit and work with my Windows files from any system anywhere using Kanotix Live-CD.

USB Flash drive is recognized and ready for use on the desktop.

As a word of encouragement, if you mess anything up don't worry. Remember, we are in the Live-CD program. If you need to return to Windows or restart Linux because of a problem, simply reboot your PC. You will see just how easy it is to live between the two world's and gain the benefits of the many Linux strengths. For example, with my Kanotix Live-CD I have far less security issues to worry about when surfing the Internet. I also gain some very fun and useful programs that I would have had to pay a lot of money to get similar ones in Windows. The Kanotix Live-CD comes with over 100 pre-installed programs for your use.

EDITOR NOTE: My own mother, who does not like learning computer things at all, uses this very same technique. She enjoys the many unique and fun games that come for free and pre-installed with the Live-CD. When she wants to enjoy Linux, she grabs the Linux CD and just restarts her PC.

The one weak point of running a Linux system from the CD is that it is far slower than if Linux were installed on a hard disk. Therefore, do not compare the performance of software that must load from a CD than that loading from your hard disk. But thankfully, Kanotix offers a solution for this, if you're ready to really use Linux.

Once you have spent time using Kanotix, enjoying the many useful tools and the easy interface, you may decide to do a full installation. This is a good step for someone who is serious about using Linux. If you decide to install Kanotix, the same cute desktop fish icon will take you to an intuitive and simple Kanotix installer. The menu is self explanatory, but make sure that you pick the right hard disk section (partition) to ensure you don't erase your Windows information... unless that is your intent.

On my machine, the main hard drive shows up as sda1. If you are using Windows on the system but wish to install Kanotix fully you may benefit by installing it to a Flashstick (a USB memory stick) or to a second hard disk like a USB or external hard drive. This ensures you can use both operating systems and diminishes the risk that you will accidentally erase Windows. Some of the time people wish to install Kanotix on to an older PC for exclusive use of Linux, which is a more stable and easy way to do it.

I recommend you think over the options and take it slow before you do a full install, backing up your files as a reasonable precaution to any OS install.

After creating the root (administrator) password and new user name and account, you save the installation settings. Now you may install Kanotix onto the hard drive to get access to Debian servers over the Internet. This allows you to easily and quickly add many applications like as you wish. I recommended installing this way from single CD to a full distribution, rather than downloading large multiple CDs or DVD images of the distributions and then burning them. Everyone has their preference. You should review some of the options before making your decision.

At the login prompt it is important not to login as root (we can mess up a lot if we do so, and compromise safety). Instead, please login with the user account, created during installation. The wizard will prompt you for the administrator password for crucial tasks, mostly through the GUI and you can type the password created during the installation.

Unlike Windows applications, in Linux software is managed through a package manager. The Package Manager controls how to install and un-install software from one place. The default Package Manager in Kanotix is Kpackage, a very good manager.

I personally prefer Synaptic package manager and you may wish to use it also, but it takes a bit of doing. Most people familiar with Windows and computers can install the Synaptic package manager easily enough. To do so you first need to open the console (click little black screen on the bottom task bar) and type su (superuser), you will leave the user account and be prompted for the root password. After typing it correctly, you will see a new prompt. In this superuser status you can use a powerful utility to get packages (applications, software) straight from console over the Internet. The tool is called apt-get. You would type exactly this at the prompt:

apt-get install synaptic

This will tell apt-get to go over the Internet and grab the named application straight from Debian server. Remember, Kanotix is a Debian derivative!

Once you have Synaptic or you are using Kpackage, you can request that the package manager install any software available for Linux with the ease of mouse clicks. This includes very useful software such as Firestarter, a very easy to use firewall security software. You can and should also get the latest package (word processor, spreadsheet, database, and presentation software fully compatible with MS-Office). If you want help with your installation just read this thorough beginner article.

Indeed, you can install practically anything through the Package Managers, but I recommend you not go overboard. Start out with a few of the key software you know you need and get use to the unique but reasonable way Linux handles software installation over the Internet.

One thing that will be hard to get over is that every download is FREE! The work of thousands of great programmers is made available through their generosity to you and I.

There is so much more that I wish to say to someone switching to Linux. I encourage you not to give up, that some things will be different than Windows, but often this is for the benefit of being a more stable or secure method.

If you need more help regarding Kanotix, there are many friendly Kanotix chat rooms and community boards. The chat room link from your desktop is an easy start. Many there speak English and are both knowledgeable and helpful. You can also enjoy the excellent Kanotix Screencast (requires Macromedia Flash player). Most of all you get to start an adventure into the world of Linux! Enjoy!

AUTHOR BIO: Edvin Fajic has been introducing people and organizations to the power and benefit of Open Source Software in Canada for several years. He has a broad spectrum of experience with many different flavors and variants, both for business and home use. He enjoys helping demonstrate to others that switching from Windows can be reasonably easy.

Copyright 2006 Edvin Fajic, published by with permission.

Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. All other trademarks or registered trademarks in this article belong to their respective owners.

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