Live CD

Saturday, 13 August 2005, michuk

Live-CD is a preview version of an operating system that can be run from a CD without installing on hard drive. According to

A LiveCD is an operating system (usually containing other software as well) stored on a bootable CD-ROM that can be executed from it, without installation on a hard drive. The system returns to its previous OS when the LiveCD is ejected and the computer is rebooted. It does this by placing the files which typically would be stored on a hard drive, onto a ram disk. This however does cut down on the RAM available to applications, reducing performance somewhat.

First LiveCD distro which gained popularity was Knoppix. After its debut, lots o similar or completely different Live CD-s came out of nowhere.

The main features of Live-CDs are:

  • Possibility to test the operating systen without installing it on hard drive
  • Independence of a phicical computer on which we work (operating system run from CD, USB to save private data)
  • Specific Live-CDs may play specific roles like: a firewall, a multimedia player, or a handy set of diagnostic tools

Currently, every respectable operating system provides a Live-CD demo (to name only Slax, PLD Live CD, Aurox Live, MandrivaMove, Archie or Freesbie). It’s a great way to test the OS without messing with partitioning and wasting time for configuration. Let’s take a look at the most interesting Live-CD distros out there.


Knoppix logo
Pic 1. Knoppix logo

Uniwersal LiveCD system, based on Debian. Knoppix contains most of the tools sufficient for every day work. Knoppix can be installed on a hard drive – then it will become a full-featured, Debian-like distro similar to MEPIS or Ubuntu. Knoppix is known for great hardware detection and hotplugging system. It can be used in many ways and there are plenty of distros basing on it, naming just Gnoppix (a Gnome version of Knoppix), LinuxEduCD (for educational purposes) and Quantian (Linux for mathematicians).

Damn Small Linux (DSL)

DSL is a tiny Linux distro which can be booted from a BusinessCard CD, pendrive or even from inside MS Windows. DSL contains 50MB of compressed data with all the necessary applications for every-day use, e.g. net browsers: Dillo and Firefox, office apps: Siag Office, e-mail client: Sylpheed, etc. DSL is fast… actually it’s very fast – the whole system can be loaded into RAM and it can work even on an 486 powered machine (with GUI!). DSL can be almost effortlessly installed on a HD and thus transformed into a configured little Debian distro (on which DSL is based).


GeeXBox screenshot
Pic 2. GeeXBoX booting

A multimedia player with Linux embedded. This extraordinary mini-OS provides only an interface to MPlayer, with all the necessary codecs included. GeeXBox plays most of the DVDs, (S)VCDs, AudioCDs, DivX, Xvid and MPEG movies, MP3 and OGG music and more. You can even watch TV using GeeXBox.

All that is provided on a single 7MB mini-CD. A great solution for people using MS Windows who do not
want to pay for a DVD player and live outside of the US (where watching DVD movies on a free player is a crime).


An interesting distro which provides set of tools for manipulating, diagnosing and repairing. SystemRescueCD is one of the things one should have always in the backpack just in case of some MBR or file system failure. There are many whose lives where saved by this little CD. According to the SystemRescueCD Wiki:

SystemRescueCd is a linux system on a bootable cdrom for repairing your system and your data after a crash. It also aims to provide an easy way to carry out admin tasks on your computer, such as creating and editing the partitions of the hard disk. It contains a lot of system utilities (parted, partimage, fstools, …) and basic ones (editors, midnight commander, network tools). It aims to be very easy to use: just boot from the cdrom, and you can do everything. The kernel of the system supports most important file systems (ext2/ext3, reiserfs, reiser4, xfs, jfs, vfat, ntfs, iso9660), and network ones (samba and nfs).

More on LiveCDs: