I’m writing this entry from a Linux machine…but I never installed Linux. I’ve booted my PC off a Knoppix disc, which is a bootable Linux CD. I’m in Linux now, but I just need to pop the CD and reboot, and I’m back to Windows.
There are no users on the system — you’re automatically logged on as root (this was wrong — see the comments). If you’re worried about this, don’t be — remember that you booted from a CD. If you screw something up as root, just reboot and the system will be back to normal.
While Knoppix can read everything on your hard drive, it has no write access by default, so it’s not going to do anything to your existing stuff. You can allow it to write, but it’s not advisable with an NTFS drive. Knoppix creates a ramdisk to store all the stuff it needs while running. It accesses everything else off the CD, just like it would off the hard drive normally. When you run a new program, you can hear the CD spool up. Consequently, it’s slower than a normal Linux machine, but not by much.
It’s fully functional — it detected everything on my machine, including FireWire and USB devices. I just had to get the network card to broadcast a DHCP request and I was on the network. It recognized my Lexmark E210 printer just fine, and I’m listening to MP3s on XMMS as I write this. I had more trouble with my dedicated Linux install at work, and I spent days fiddling with that.
It comes with scads of software, like most Linux distributions — KDE, Open Office, The Gimp, Mozilla, Konquerer, etc. Since it forms a ramdisk when it boots, you can save files and work with them just as if it were a normal operating system. I saved the image above off a Web site, cropped it, and converted it to JPG in The Gimp. If I wanted to keep it beyond this session, I could always FTP it somewhere (remember that KDE is FTP-aware — you can map an FTP site to a local folder, so you’d never really know the difference).
I’m fairly well stunned by this. It’s really amazing. Sure, it can’t really store or persist anything locally from session to session (this can be overcome — see comments), but most of my apps are Web-based and my email is IMAP, so I’m actually pretty functional.
If you ever wanted to try Linux but you don’t want to make any changes to your current Windows set-up, Knoppix is exactly what you’re looking for.