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Life CD An oddity of open source operating systems is the Live CD. It’s not something you’re likely to see coming out of Redmond or Cupertino any time soon, but for a few years now many Linux distros and versions of BSD have given this option. Recently, Live DVDs and Live USB have cropped up as well. These live systems are full versions of the operating system that run completely from the given medium. Which means you can carry them in your pocket and use them on other computers. They do not, by default, touch the hard drive, so they are completely safe to use.

Live CDs originally came from the old boot-disk-for-diagnosis idea. For example, Knoppix, known for its hardware detection, is often used for testing hardware. While Knoppix may not use the best driver for the hardware, if the hardware is functional it should work. If the hardware doesn’t work in Knoppix, it very likely needs to be replaced.

Some Live distros, like Helix are tuned to a special purpose. In the case of Helix, that purpose is forensics or data recovery. For penetration testing (network security), Backtrack is popular.

Test-drive a distro before installing it

Live CDs have now become a way to test-drive a distro before installing it. This can be really useful when dealing with finicky hardware. Instead of wasting time installing different distros to find one that supports your wireless card easily, you can just try the Live CD for a few minutes. These test-drive Live CDs also give you a chance to feel out how a distro functions. Different distros have different default configurations, desktop environments, and different ways of doing things. You can try a few out without going through an installation to find the one that suits your personal workflow.

You can also use a Live CD as a way of gaining familiarity with a distro before installing it. A new environment can be a bit intimidating, and that can make installation scary. Spending some time in the live environment to get your footing and “practice” your usual tasks while knowing that you can easily go back to your old system where nothing has changed can take away a lot of the anxiety associated with making such a big change to your computer.

PClinuxOS-boot-menu

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You’re secure

In addition, a desire for added security can be a good reason to use a Live CD. When using public terminals or computers whose owners you know are unlikely to ever have run a virus scan a Live CD can be very handy. What if that random computer has spyware? What if there’s a keylogger? What if someone used the USB Hacksaw on the computer? If you boot from a Live CD, none of those (well, except a hardware keylogger) will affect you. Your stuff is still secure.

Of course, a Live CD can also be a way around security. From a Live CD, you have full root access to the underlying system. This is one of the reasons they are used for system repairs. It’s like taking the hard drive out, putting it in an enclosure, and hooking it up to another running system to mess with it, except a lot more convenient, since you don’t need the other computer and the enclosure. Ways of blocking others from doing this to access your hard drive include setting the CD drive to not be bootable and then adding a BIOS password to keep anyone from changing that, but with physical access that’s easy enough to circumvent. With physical access, whether they’ve got a Live CD or an enclosure, there is no such thing as security anyway. That is why many companies and governments are requiring that their employees’ laptops use full-disk encryption nowadays.

Create your own Live CD

What’s becoming popular now is rolling your own custom Live CD. Revisor is a new tool for creating customized Fedora Live CDs and install disks.

Revisor - Create Fedora Life CD

For Ubuntu, there are Reconstructor and Remastersys, though Remastersys works for other Ubuntu-based systems like Linux Mint as well. Besides these GUI tools for creating Live CDs, those who are already using Linux can create custom Live CDs for their friends by using the mklivecd tool to make a Live replica of the installed system. You can carry a customized operating system built to suit your needs and preferences in your purse!

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Mackenzie is a college student who likes to promote Linux and Free/Libre Software. Most of her free time is spent on the computer, helping new users, or hanging out with some of the friends she’s made in the Linux community. Check out her blog, Ubuntu Linux Tips & Tricks.

  1. ANGELA ANTRIM
    July 30, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    I ANGEL ANTRIM LOVE GENAOLOGY AS MY MOTHER AND I LOVED DIGGING INTO THE FAMILY HISTORY BEFORE SHE PASSED AWAY 2 YEARS AGO

  2. Family Trees
    August 25, 2009 at 3:21 am

    Invite friends and family to view or update your Family Tree site.

  3. Patrick
    December 7, 2008 at 7:14 am

    Try Slax, it can make LiveCD with ease.

  4. Cenzo
    August 1, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Finally, someone gave the clearest advice on Ubuntu and achieving a sucessful boot on a dual OSs' setup. I have it working perfectly and will use it. Ubuntu has many options that I wanted to use, but until now I could never get full use of them...
    THANK YOU BLAKE !!!!!

  5. raja
    March 29, 2008 at 9:17 am

    yeah yaeah that is funny comments from you mate

  6. raja
    March 28, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    this is not an article there is no introduction what is livecd and just jupimng to some topic and no experience in writing articles

    • Mackenzie
      March 28, 2008 at 9:26 pm

      The first paragraph explains that a Live CD is a CD that lets you run a full operating system from the CD without touching the hard drive. That would be an introduction.

    • Mark O'Neill
      March 29, 2008 at 7:44 am

      I look forward to seeing your vastly superior articles. Please send them to mark@makeuseof.com . When I see your wonderfully written, clear, concise articles about Linux Live CD's, I will immediately call Mackenzie a fraud, fire her, make sure she never works again in this industry, offer you her job, bow to you and acknowledge your greatness, oh mighty one.

      You might want to take some classes first though in English grammar. I'm pretty sure "jupimng" is not a word. Not unless gibberish is your native language.

      • Blake Elias
        August 1, 2008 at 6:27 pm

        You tell 'em, Mark!!

  7. Flavos
    March 28, 2008 at 4:52 am

    The best livecd are built with linux live scripts. You can costumize GoblinX without install anything or use the hard disk. Ubuntu is not good neither Fedora. Slax, Wolvix, Zenlive... they are good.

  8. Visweshwar
    March 27, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    oops!!! Redmond has a live CD.. check it out guys..

    • Mackenzie Morgan
      March 28, 2008 at 7:36 am

      Microsoft makes WinPE available only to the OEMs, and it's not a full version of Windows. End users cannot legally use it. Linux Live CDs are publicly available.

  9. Mackenzie
    March 27, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Title typo is not mine.

    • Aibek
      March 27, 2008 at 5:30 pm

      It's mine. :-)
      Thanks for GTalk alert.

    • Buzz
      January 5, 2009 at 12:51 am

      I have read so much about putting Linux on a thumbdrive, and I have tried to install one, but without success. I have a Win2k computer. I like the idea of carrying my computer "in my pocket." I know you're busy, but can you or somebody create one "from scratch" and write detailed notes on each thing you do and record each reaction of the PC, device or screen ... enough to walk a older newbie through the whole process, step by step. teach me & I will teach others & give you the credit.
      Choose a not complex linux distro and add basic programs like word processor, etc. I plan to use a 2gb flashdrive for the project of duplicating the project. I may want to also use it to access a crashed system, too ... so it should be able to boot. Can you or someone help me? You can post, but please also email instructions to me.

    • john
      August 9, 2009 at 8:25 am

      thank you very much for your helpin people on ther and would like to you to sent me more idea about linux intallation cause in the WEst Afrikama here we normaly unse onle window we dont familear with linux and max so would very happy that when i see rely in my box

      thank you

  10. Picard_pwns_kirk
    March 27, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Don't forget about the Ubuntu Customization Kit.

    uck.sourceforge.net

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