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By mephisto786 at 2006-02-27 03:42
WHEN THE SHARK BITES..... a Closer Look at Kanotix/Debian

Unlike a number of other Debian based Live / Install distros out there, Kanotix makes no bones about being Debian based. It is a fully open source and fully Debian Sid compatible distro that some have likened to Knoppix on steroids.

In addition it is tweaked to a default 586 architecture and is one of the best currently available for hardware recognition. Unlike Knoppix however, it is intended to be installed as well, so the main developer – Joerg Schirottke, aka Kano – has added scripts and features to allow even new users to set up a standard one-disk Debian on their desktop with few, if any, headaches. In about eighteen minutes.

Although some installs of mine using Kanotix have taken as long as twenty minutes.

But why are those who actually use it raving so much about the distro? There could be several factors in the mix. As well as being in the Linux / Debian /Knoppix tradition (without the obnoxious additions of separate distro repositories, and proprietary components) it is jam packed with packages catering to Linux power users and developers. Which ensures that the forums and irc chats aren't pure newb packed “Kanotix Rulez!” gibberish. There is a hardcore earnestness to the folks working and promoting this particular Debian derivative that is refreshing if you stumbled by accident into Ubuntu forums or Mepis chats lately. Nor does it offer a free live/install cd, only in order to lure user's to pay clubhouse dues to get other package cds, in the event they don't have internet access. One guesses, that if they did offer additional cds, it would be as free as its Papa, Debian.

Permission has been given to someone to produce a Kanotix DVD which will of course contain more apps, but it is not a project promoted or maintained directly by Kano and Company. In terms of transparency, Kanotix has been exemplary. No hidden clauses, no membership dues, no nonsense.

Chief Kanotix architect, Kano, is also very frequently on hand in the irc chat and posts on the forum quite often in response to user's. I have found over and over again, that a distro where the actual developers are involved closely with the community, tends to be ahead of the pack in terms of catching and debugging problem apps, features and scripts, while giving the distro's users more of the feeling that they have a stake in the future of OS of choice.

And it's damn fast. Faster than the light and simplified Ubuntu, and faster than nearly any other full size live cd on the market. With even modest hardware, you can run Kanotix live – all 699 MB of it – and not feel the drag associated with other full sized “live” cds like Mepis or even Knoppix. It only gets better when you install.

As I alluded to earlier, Kanotix also chooses to remain in the Debian / Knoppix fold, without hiding its origins, and the benefit here is clearly seen when the granddaddy of live cds , Klaus Knopper's Knoppix, now uses the newly tweaked installer created for Kanotix. It is an ongoing experiment in open source development that is also one of it's biggest successes. With a surprisingly small amount of promotion and marketing, this distro seems to be hitting the charts as a result of user word of mouth. If you've ever run a distro hellbent on creating a community and a marketing strategy, and a membership club feel, you'll know that real distro solidarity can't be faked. Kanotix is more than usually open as well to requests for new features and helpful scripts from the user community, even reserving a forum section for a “What would you like to see in future editions of Kanotix?” type posts.

I have honestly not seen such a visible and interactive user/developer relationship on any other distro. Only Tomas at Slax and Patrick 'the Man' Volkerding at Slackware come close to this kind of grass roots commitment. Of course I haven't tried all the distros. I can only say what I see. If you want to start a useful, vibrant distro, however, the Kanotix model might be a good place to start.

In brief? Kanotix is the real thing because it is quite simply not pretending to “be” anything. A utilitarian, working distro with very few bells and whistles, that can unveil to those not sure about the whole Debian phenomenon a little of what the Debian development model is all about. Without that is, plunging them headfirst into the sometimes rough and tumble world of hardcore Debian politics. If the Debian people have yet to take a close look at Kanotix, rest assured, they will. It is one of the best promotional approaches for the Debian motherlode since, dare I say it? Knoppix. And because it adheres to its own Debian-based principles, there is the added insurance that if the developer leaves the project it can carry on as all true open source projects can and often do.

A number of users have complained that Kanotix is very German. The majority of forum postings and dialog on irc is in German. But free as in freedom means you can start your own forum, your own irc chat, and aren't there – quite simply – enough distro places to go that are essentially English only? Most of the people on Kanotix sites speak English as well. I prefer to look at as an exercise in multiculturalism. Any serious Nix addict or developer knows that the language of computing is English, but the recent surge of distros which are language based is heartening. The more that Linux can make people of all backgrounds and languages feel welcome the more it will become a serious alternative for the Microsoft monopoly.

I was a bit cautious at my first glance at Kanotix. There was this fish logo, you see, that I was nervous would reveal this great bleeding edge, new, fast distro to be some sort of born again, Pisces in the seventh House, new age, something or other. I have no problems with Christian, Wiccan, Marxist, Sufi or Masonic distros. I just want to know what I'm getting into. My relief after trying it, and looking more closely, was great. It was a piranha-like fish. A carnivorous fish. Web comments mention a former shark image as well on the Kanotix logo. And I think how appropriate the logo is...small, sharp, fast , bleeding edge.....?

Attack fish? No qualms anymore on the logo front.

Download this distro, whether the Lite version (without Open Office) or the full release. If you download the full version make sure you burn it on decent equipment at a slow speed, since it will fill 699 MB on a 700MB disk. Sometimes checking md5 checksums pays off. Download the piranha distro and be prepared to get bitten...or should I say smitten, with this very accessible, easy install Debian. You should keep in mind however, that you are using the Sid/unstable branch of Debian so you are sacrificing the stability inherent in still running 2.4 kernels and Xfree86 in favor of the latest KDE, the latest apps, and the latest, relatively untested Debian tree.

A couple of drawbacks I encountered, after installing it on two machines ( a desktop and a Fujitsu-Siemens laptop) were an odd crackling, popping sound on the default sound settings, and apt-get's refusal to ask for cds from the source list. The first problem has a number of solutions and seems to stem from the latest kernel (2.6.14) and either the alsa modules; or something in KDE. The solution was simple. Switch the default k-sound effects from the KDE circa 3.2 sounds (which it should be noted were all .wav files) to the latest defaults (which are all ogg sound files). No more sound problem. Others recommend disabling the sounds in Kcontrol, which also works, while still providing full functionality to application sounds.

Still haven't gotten either install to ask for cds when there are five Sid cds in the repo. It finds them, finds the dependencies, but no amount of tweaking thus far has gotten beyond the “can't stat cds” warning and apt-get update lists 'Ign' cds. Which may well be something I don't know about using apt tools, but no answers of a traditional Debian approach worked to date. Given all the pluses for someone wanting to run a Debian Sid with a fifteen minute install and a lively and knowledgeable community, I tend to mark this up to 'The Joys of Sid.” You do reach a point on Debian's bleeding edge where you remind yourself you asked for this extra troubleshooting.

Don't, however, run into Debian irc or chatrooms to figure out what's wrong. They will send you back to Kanotix irc. ( Remember, it's not easy running an irc chat when you spend half your time redirecting Ubuntu users to the appropriate forums. ) Running Kanotix is very much about being a part of an experimental bleeding edge distro, and there aren't always pat answers. There is however a lot of bustle and debugging, and feedback and support from loyal Kanotixers.

A lively community of knowledgeable Linuxers, a screaming fast Debian Sid variant with a twenty minute harddrive install and an impressive performance as a live disk....without having to go proprietary and start flame wars over the small stuff ? Who could ask for more?

(This review is released under a Creative Commons-Non-Attrib-Non-Commercial-No Derivs License. For more information see the http// Creative Commons site)


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