by August 2, 2011 0 comments

Anil Chopra, Rahul Sah, Shikhar Mohan Gupta, Shumpy Saini, Sufyan Bin Uzayr

The whole beauty of Linux is that it can be modifed and be put to use for just about every application you can imagine. Moreover, you can run them off a USB or a CD drive, without having to install anything on your system. This makes it convenient to try out a distro before putting it on a production system.

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Presented here are some of the best special function Linux distros, which you can use in various parts of your IT setup. We’ve also given 20 of them on this month’s DVD for you to try out. Since these are all ISOs, you can burn them on a CD or DVD using an ordinary software like Nero Burning ROM, or even your local CD burning software in Windows. Once burnt, boot your system from it, and you’ll have a full-fledged Linux distro at your finger tips. To create a bootable USB flash drive, please read an article we wrote on the subject here:

In the pages to follow, we bring you the best special function Linux distros that are out there.

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Data Cloning and Imaging
Sufyan Bin Uzayr

Clonezilla is an open source clone system solution that supports both unicasting and multicasting. In simple terms, it lets you do data backup and recovery. It is comparable to Norton Ghost, just that it is free! Clonezilla comes in two versions — Clonezilla Live and Clonezilla Server Edition, the former being for single machine data recovery and restore while the latter has capabilities for handling as many as 40 machines simultaneously!

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Clonezilla is licenced under GPL and it supports all major file systems types including ext3, ext4, UFS, FAT, NTFS, reiserfs, reiser4, jfs, xfs and even VMFS. Thus, you can use it to clone machines running Linux, Windows, Mac or even BSD or VMWare. Finally, the cloned image file can be stored on the local disk, SSH, Samba server or NFS server.

Clonezilla does not yet support differential or incremental backups or online imaging and cloning (as a result, the partition being cloned needs to be unmounted). Software RAID is also not yet supported by default.

Overall, Clonezilla offers a decent cloning and imaging solution for SMEs and with the added advantage of being open source, it surely contributes to cost savings!


A Live CD Like No Other!

KNOPPIX is a free and Open Source Live Linux CD/DVD based distro that can be used as a Live CD, demo purposes or even as a rescue disk. It has support for most graphics cards, sounds cards, SCSI and USB devices as well as other hardware.

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KNOPPIX comes with a plethora of software on the disk itself, including all the leading Desktop Environments such as KDE, GNOME, xfce, LXDE, enlightenment and other smaller ones. It also includes the latest builds of Libre Office and multiple music players, desktop utilities, graphic apps such as, GIMP and Inkscape as well as web browsers like Chromium, Mozilla Firefox, SeaMonkey and Konqueror. Clearly, KNOPPIX may not be the daily user’s choice for his or her desktop, and the gigantic amount of software shows that the primary aim of the distro is to be run via the CD or DVD rather than copying such huge amounts of data on to the hard drive (KNOPPIX does not have a defined installer either, there is only a work-around method to copy the data on the local disk).

For an enterprise, KNOPPIX can be useful for data recovery as it can get the system up and running within a matter of seconds. Besides, it also offers out of the box support for most hardware, so booting the system and recovering the data becomes an easy task.


Productivity and Stability at Your Fingertips

PCLinuxOS is a very popular Linux distro that can be used both in the form of a Live CD or DVD as well as installed on the system. It supports RPM as the default method of installing packages and has well established its reputation of being one of the most stable Linux distros out there.

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PCLinuxOS strives to be a user centric operating system. It is released with support for multiple desktop environments (the DVD version has almost all of them bundled, while there are specialized CD versions for each desktop environment). Apart from that, it also has the leading software packages installed such as Libre Office, Music Players, Web Browsers and Messengers, etc.

Since PCLinuxOS offers a stable architecture as well as user friendly interface, it has grown in popularity both for personal as well as enterprise usage. It is probably not the Linux distro that an enterprise will employ for data recovery purposes. However, it surely can serve as the default installed Operating System across the machines of the enterprise.

Debian Linux

OS that Powers Desktops & Servers

Debian Linux is a well known and mammoth-sized operating system that powers desktops and servers alike. Just in case you’re wondering already, Debian is the parent of Ubuntu and the grand parent of Linux Mint. It is vastly employed for server and enterprise usage.

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Initially, Debian was the leading operating system for desktop users, but the scene changed with the coming of Ubuntu. Now, Debian holds importance for SMEs owing to its stability and proven performance. Debian comes with over 29,000 packages — clearly something for everyone’s liking!

Debian Linux also boasts of extensive documentation and support forums. Further more, since it is widely used by thousands of open source users around the globe, finding the cure for any issue arising with Debian is way easier as compared to any other distro.

On the downside, however, Debian appears dated and sluggish as compared to some of the other distros. Still, from an enterprise’s point of view, running Debian as the master operating system will surely not be a bad choice.

OpenDiagnostics Live CD

System Rescue, Nothing Else!

OpenDiagnostics Live CD was formerly known as Clam AV Live CD.

The aim behind developing OpenDiagnostics Live CD was to scan computers on the fly irrespective of the operating system, via SSH.

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Bluntly put, there isn’t much to talk about the concept and rather than treating it as a distro, it should ideally be considered as a utility. OpenDiagnostics Live CD comes with a conglomerate of Ubuntu and Clam AV. The CD itself ranges between 300 to 400 MB in size.

The major tools included on the CD are the ones that facilitate running memory tests, disk checks and other system restore options. All in all, OpenDiagnostics Live CD seems to be a very handy rescue disk that can be employed to cure or eliminate infected files or other flaws from an otherwise defunct machine.

Ubuntu Linux

A Complete OS

A fast, secure and easy to use intuitive interface makes it a complete desktop OS

Ubuntu is an operating system that delivers everything that a user would require on his desktop. It is easy to use and allows the user to seamlessly connect and use his existing devices like printers, cameras or music players without any hassles. In its latest release 11.04 a.k.a Natty Narwhal, it is the first Ubuntu release to be shipped with Unity interface instead of GNOME 2 shell as default. Canonical, the company which sponsors Ubuntu development has kept to the original aim of creating easy-to-use Linux desktop. Ubuntu has not only been successful to squash the myth that Linux desktops require Linux expertise to start off. It’s easier to use interface and features has made it very popular amongst the novice first time users.

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Ubuntu, being free and highly user friendly has become popular for desktop usages in the organizations as well as amongst the home users. Ubuntu is packaged with various utility applications that get installed along with the OS installation; this allows the user to get started with his routine tasks like emailing, web browsing, multi-media playing etc. You get LibreOffice as office utility suite, Banshee Media Player, Evolution Mail and Calender, Empathy IM and Firefox web browser, all pre-installed. Also, from the Ubuntu Software Center, one can download various free as well as paid applications. The move to Unity means that the Ubuntu OS will now harness the power of GPU for enhanced graphic rendering. But if you install this release on hardware that doesn’t have a GPU then the installer will prompt you to revert to the Ubuntu Classis, which has GNOME shell, for installation.

Coming to installation, it’s not rocket science and is straight forward. With Ubuntu, you get Wubi tool using which you can install Ubuntu from within Windows. So, for those who are still comfortable with Windows, but want to have a trail of Ubuntu and do not want to delete any partition of their hard-drive, then they can try this installation method. The tool called Wubi, which is a officially supported Ubuntu installer for Windows users, allows the users to to install Ubuntu within their Windows OS as an application. . It keeps most files in one folder, and if after trying Ubuntu the user wants to remove it; he can do so by simply doing uninstall of it as any other application.

Though there are alternatives like Live CD or live USB versions available to check the Ubuntu features, but they are good for trouble shooting and demonstration purposes. Meanwhile, Wubi installs Ubuntu just like any other application on Windows, and during boot up an extra option to boot into Ubuntu is created. Additionally, it does not install any special drivers on your existing Windows installation. URL: http://www.

Feather Linux

A Lightweight Desktop

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As the name suggests, Feather Linux is as ‘light as a feather’, less than 128 MB. The creator has basically removed all the redundant applications from the original Knoppix distribution. So basically, there are only the essential applications that a user would require in day to day desktop usage. In fact, the distro packs 62 apps in such a small footprint. Some of these include Mozilla Firefox, Abiword, Gaim instant messenger, and VNCviewer, Ettercap, Ethereal, iptables, sqlite, etc.

The distro can boot off a CD or USB flash drive. The ISO can be run as a virtual machine directly through VirtualBox virtualization software. Owing to its small size, the distro can run on very low powered machines, e.g. it requires only 16 MB RAM to run in console mode, and only 24 MB for graphical mode. You can run the distro on diskless nodes, because the entire OS can be loaded into the RAM.

Moreover, you can even install Feather Linux on a hard disk, and owing to its lightweight, it can be used on outdated machines.

Parted Magic

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This is a possibly one of the best Linux distros out there to manage hard disks. The distro boots off a CD or USB drive, and uses Linux’s GParted utility to partition fresh drives, repair broken partitions tables, recover files, and even repartition and format hard drives on a PC. Basically, the distro makes disk partitioning a breeze. You can move, copy, create, delete, expand, and shrink hard drive partitions. You can format hard drives, test them for failures, clone and create full backup of hard drives, test memory for bad sectors, and much more.

The distro comes with the best hard disk management tools out there–cfdisk, fdisk, gdisk,gpart, GParted, Parted and sfdisk, etc. It has the best collection of other hard disk related software like Partimage.

The distro requires at least 312 MB of RAM to operate or 175 MB in “Live” mode. By default, Parted Magic boots to a live version of Linux and provides access to the GParted partition creator and editor, a system profiler, several imaging utilities, a benchmark utility, ISO image editor, a couple of file managers, etc. It provides access to the Memtest86+ memory testing utility and numerous other handy apps on board.

Trinity Rescue Kit

Rescue, Repair for Win & Linux System

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Trinity Rescue Kit is a free Live Linux distribution aimed specifically at offline operations such as rescue, repair, password resets and disk cloning for Windows and Linux systems. The Rescue Kit is mostly based on Mandriva Linux and heavily adapted start-up scripts. The distro has a graphical start up menu based on SYSLINUX and vesamenu32, which is used to select boot options, but the OS is otherwise command-line only.

TRK has an easy to use scrollable text menu that allows you to perform maintenance and repair on a computer, ranging from password resetting over disk clean-up to virus scanning. It has custom tools to easily recover deleted files, clone Windows installations over the network, perform antivirus sweeps with two different antivirus products, reset Windows passwords, read and write on NTFS partitions, edit partition layout, etc.

Trinity Rescue Kit is bootable from a CD, USB media or a network using PXE. There are tools to migrate TRK from an ISO image to a bootable USB device and vice versa. TRK has an easy to use text menu but has equally kept the command line. The distro omits the standard Linux manual command in order to conserve space.



A lightweight and portable HTPC

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GeeXboX is an embedded Linux distribution, based on the MPlayer, that aims to turning your computer into a HTPC (Home Theatre PC) or Media Centre. Being a standalone LiveCD-based distribution, it’s a ready to boot operating system that works on any Pentium-class x86 computer or PowerPC Macintosh. You can even use it on a diskless computer, the whole system being loaded in RAM. Once the OS is installed, it ejects the disk from the optical drive so you can place something else there. This would help when you’re traveling and want to use one machine temporarily and don’t want to be bothered with or can’t install Linux to play your media files. This also works for users who wish to repurpose older computers as media centers. GeeXboX is keyboard driven.

However, If you have a infrared remote control supported, you can control the desktop through GeeXboX’s LIRC (Linux Infrared Remote Control) package. Despite its tiny ISO image size, the distribution comes with complete and automated hardware detection, not requiring any driver to be added. GeeXboX can successfully play variety of media files like DVD, DivX, MP3, MP4, AVI, MPEG, 3GP and a lot more. All known codecs and containers are shipped, which allow them to be played through various physical media.

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