As noted earlier, I've been using Knoppix to get a pair of Linux boxes up and running for my father. Both sit on a private LAN (along with his notebook and a Deskjet color printer) via an old Netgear RP114 broadband router connected to the cable modem.

He uses a "Leave it to Beaver" theme for his machines. They are:


  • ABit BP6 Motherboard with dual 500MHz Celeron (PII) CPUs
  • 512MB PC100 RAM
  • 80GB Disk
  • Soundblaster Live
  • 17" HP LCD Monitor
  • Generic keyboard and mouse


  • Pentium 4 1.8GHz CPU
  • 512MB PC2700 RAM
  • 2 250GB Disks in a Software RAID-1 configuration
  • Integrated i810 audio
  • 17" HP LCD Monitor
  • Generic keyboard and mouse

The Plan

The goal was to configure both machines with a usable desktop so he could learn Linux. June will be the play system. If it gets messed up, no big deal. Ward will be the server that runs Samba and can store a bunch of the files that are also on his Thinkpad T40.

To make life easy, I turned to Knoppix 3.6 to get things started. It detected everything flawlessly, so I just had to partition each system (and configure the software RAID on Ward--that's a separate exercise) and then install Knoppix. I selected the "beginner" install, which gives you a multi-user Debian system while still retaining the fancy hardware auto-detection that Knoppix is famous for.

Once Knoppix was installed (2.6.7 kernal and all), the remaining task was to do a bit of post-installation customization and setup.

The Tweaking

I made a checklist that contained all of the things I needed to test, install, configure, or otherwise tweak. Here's the short version, partly for my records, and partly for the benefit of anyone else trying to do something similar.

Static IP addresses. I had to add a "nodhcp" parameter to the kernel at boot time. That involved editing /etc/lilo.conf and tacking that on to the end of the "append lines" for each kernel:

append="ramdisk_size=100000 init=/etc/init lang=us apm=power-off nomce nodhcp"

Then I ran /sbin/lilo to re-install the boot loader and rebooted to verify that it worked. Then I added a few lines to /etc/network/interfaces so that each machine got an address on his 129 network:

auto lo eth1
iface lo inet loopback

iface eth1 inet static

DNS. I edited /etc/resolv.conf so that it'd search the domain using his router as the first DNS server, and one of my coloated servers as the fallback:


Update Packages. I next upgraded all the packages on the system. Luckily this is Debian, so it's easy with the magic of apt-get:

apt-get update
apt-get -dyu dist-upgrade
(marvel at the 500+ packages downloaded)
apt-get dist-upgrade
(answer occasional questions)

Firefox and Thunderbird. I needed to make sure he had the latest and greatest in the Mozilla world. Again, apt-get to the rescue:

apt-get install mozilla-thunderbird mozilla-firefox

That even added 'em to the KDE menu. :-)

Printer Setup. Both machines need to be able to print documents on the HP Deskjet 862C. Luckily, I could just use the printer config tool in the KDE Control Center to do that. It's a nice little front end to CUPS that made the process as easy as it would be on Windows (or easier?).

Numlock. For reasons that elude me, he wants the Numlock key enabled by default. Though the BIOS has this set already, something in Linux undoes that during the boot process. But the KDE Control Center makes that trivial again. The Keyboard config tool lets you adjust that as well as the key repeat delay, rate, etc.

sudo. We both need root access without having to type the root password. I used the visudo command to add two lines to /etc/sudoers:

jzawodn  ALL=(ALL) ALL
dzawodny ALL=(ALL) ALL

Clock Syncronization. The two systems didn't quite agree on time, so I manually set each using rdate and hwclock and then installed the ntp-simple package to handle keeping it in line:

rdate -s
hwclock --systohw
apt-get install ntp-simple

Of course, the ntp-simple package is pre-configured to talk to a reasonable set of outside NTP servers.

SSH. For remote access, I needed to have sshd start at boot time. The cable router was already configured to forward traffic to TCP port 22 from the outside to Ward. That simple required a few symlinks from /etc/rcX.d/S20 to /etc/init.d/ssh.

Samba. The default /etc/samba/smb.conf file in Knoppix was nearly perfect for allowing home directories to be shared. I had to tweak two lines, changing a "no" to "yes" and vice-versa:

browseable = yes
read only = no

Then I used smbpasswd to generate passwords for both of us:

smbpasswd dzawodny
smbpasswd jzawodn

Finally, we used with XP notebook to visit \\ and \\ to make sure he could map a drive to each.

Exim. I haven't done this yet, but I plan to get Exim4 running so that it can use the mail relay to send mail when necessary. It will use the existing TLS authentication which allows relaying for otherwise "unknown" hosts.

Posted by jzawodn at December 28, 2004 09:56 PM

Reader Comments
# david said:

Hey, your dad is pretty lucky to have some IP space on NASA.. :-)

"Then I ran /sbin/lilo to re-install the boot loader and rebooted to verify that it worked. Then I added a few lines to /etc/network/interfaces so that each machine got an address on his network:"

$ whois

OrgName: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Address: AD33/Office of the Chief Information Officer
City: MSFC
StateProv: AL
PostalCode: 35812
Country: US

on December 29, 2004 12:01 AM
# Drew McLellan said:

If all you're looking to do with mail is relay to a smarthost, then I've found Simple SMTP (package name ssmtp) to be extremely useful. It only have about three options to configure, so I figure there's a lot less to break.

on December 29, 2004 02:22 AM
# Swaroop C H said:

Knoppix is a pretty neat way of setting up a Linux box.
I wonder what was the reason for creating MEPIS when it seems to me that it is very similar to Knoppix.

- Swaroop

on December 29, 2004 02:50 AM
# Ben de Groot said:

I hope you are aware that Knoppix is not meant to be installed on the harddisk and when done so, it has some serious security risks. That is the reason why there are other distro's built on Debian + Knoppix' hardware recognition...

on December 29, 2004 05:01 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

David: typo fixed. :-)

Ben: What sort of risks? The only think exposed to the outside world is SSH at this point. And the box has very few services running.

on December 29, 2004 06:42 AM
# justin said:

I'm more interested in why you picked Knoppix over other distros? The decision process involved in that would make for an interesting blogpost. What advantage did Knoppix have over other distros?

on December 29, 2004 04:04 PM
# Jim said:

Oh dear... I'm such a noob, I don't have any idea why you did this. You didn't buy a mac, even if you use them yourself, but you installed linux, so it was nothing about compatability.

Please explain why you make the choices you make... that's the only interesting thing. I can figure this crap out myself.

on December 29, 2004 04:24 PM
# jr said:

Well, I can't talk for Jeremy, but I can say that of all the distros Knoppix is THE most brain dead to configure and get running quickly. It freaking boots a full working version in the CD drive and installs to the hard drive with one command. That's far better than the others I've seen which require several archive disks and some creative juggling. (including Debian, itself.)

Granted, I didn't know that there's a new version out (Thanks Jeremy!), I wonder if this one will see my network cards. I suppose there's only one way to find out...

on December 29, 2004 05:51 PM
# Bruno Bord said:

[don't intend to be a troll, I promise...]
... why did you choose knoppix, which is a Live CD distro? (yes, you may install it, but that's not the real point)
Ubuntu Linux works very well. It's Debian-based (hence it gets its stability), and its setup is so simple that your father could do it by himself, I'm sure.
The Gnome desktop is set up by default, but you can install KDE if you like thereafter. It comes with mainstream applications, such as Openoffice, Mozilla Firefox, The Gimp etc.
It's a great choice for a "normal" desktop use, and it's apt-get-able via Synaptic front-end thus you can upgrade/install/remove it with mouse clicks.

I'm just curious. Would you give Ubuntu a try? Did you? Why not?

on December 30, 2004 03:13 AM
# jasun said:

I've been meaning to get some stuff like this sorted for myself. I built another box and put FreeBSD on it and have not done much with it, in over a year.

Now I've decided for a proper use, a nice storage unit, so I'll stick some more disks in & sort out some raid and samba action.

Well that was one of the plans from the start, only a year later and I've still not sorted it!

Job done soon, hopefully.

on December 30, 2004 01:45 PM
# Phillip said:

I think I would have switched the hard drives around and used the system with the faster processor for the 'human interactive' tasks... like throwing pixels around the screen.

Would have made "play" a bit more fun, IMHO.

on January 6, 2005 02:33 PM
# Tom Cat said:

Great post. It helped fix a problem i had in moving from DHCP to fixed IPs. Thanks for posting it!

I do have to agree with some of the commentors...why did you pick Knoppix. Running it beyond a demo or rescue disk isn't a good idea. Any non "live-CD" (or DVD) distro would be a lot better.

on January 24, 2006 07:34 AM
# jagnth said:

knoppix is a great distro for issues. I had switched out my sata controller and since have not been able to access my sata drives...kept getting superblock errors. I reinstalled slack (12 as I had 11 before) several times...once on a soft-raid (have 3 scsi on dual pent III 600MHz server) then I tried Ubuntu 7.04 and finally I tried Fedora Zod. With each of these distros I ran into issues with the superblock and inability to read them. I booted to knoppix 5 DVD and boom...all my drives are mounted and accessible. I can see a reason for using it...when all else fails...i can access my drives till I have the time to figure it out. Not sure if I would want it installed to the HD..but I can sure see the appeal.

on August 19, 2007 04:01 PM
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