Knoppix: The Linux Windows Users Can't Live Without
This summer I had the pleasure of being the editor for the new O'Reilly book Knoppix Hacks. Though I had futzed with Knoppix before, and even created a customized version of it for an O'Reilly event, I was not a regular user of the live CD.
However, after seeing some of the hacks that the author Kyle Rankin put together I became much more interested. Knoppix is an incredibly versatile tool, in that it is a convenient medium for carrying a bunch of other tools that let you do some insanely useful and sometimes just fun things. Of course, that is the whole purpose of a hacks book.
The chapter I particularly enjoyed was Chapter 7: Rescue Windows. A collection of 9 hacks that showed me that even Windows users need a little bit of Linux in their life. On the strength of this chapter alone I think Knoppix Hacks (which includes a Knoppix CD) makes a great gift for the Windows geek in your life.
One useful hack tells the reader how to scan their Windows machine for viruses offline (well, from Linux running from CD actually), without fear of infecting the machine further, infecting other machines on the network, or sending keystrokes (and passwords) to someone else. If you've ever been frustrated by the need to connect an infected machine to the network to download virus definitions and had that machines infect others while you were doing this, you know why this hack is important.
A related hack tells you how to download patches from Microsoft's website and put them on the Windows partition so you can apply them from within Windows when you aren't connected on the network. This is useful because a freshly installed Windows XP machine on an unprotected network, like that which exists in most users homes, can be infected in just a few minutes. If you downloaded these patches while running the unprotected machine you could possibly get infected before the first service pack had downloaded.
Another hack allows you to restore corrupted system files. Using this hack I was able to instruct someone on how to replace a deleted explorer.exe on a Windows Me installation which was preventing Windows from booting.
One of the most useful hacks covers the ability to boot Knoppix and access a Windows hard drive to backup or retrieve important data. This is useful when you can't boot into Windows because a virus, malware, or user mistake has rendered Windows inaccessible. Windows users sometimes find themselves having to resort to the OEMs restore CDs, and by using Knoppix they can safely backup their data before they blow everything away.
With the Resize Windows Partitions hack there is no need to purchase a third party tool like Partition Magic if you need to reconfigure your hard drive partitions. Likewise, the Clone Hard Drives hack in Chapter 5 makes it easy for users to backup an entire hard drive, or migrate to a new larger one without the use of third party software that needs to be paid for.
Many of the other hacks in the book also apply to Windows and Linux users alike. And since the book starts off with several easy hacks on using the Linux desktop, it is even a mini-tutorial on capabilities of Linux as a desktop system. Which means it is a good tool for Linux evangelism to your open source deprived friends.
With Knoppix, Linux is no longer just for Linux users.