HD Install Warning not to do it

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Knoppix is a Live CD. It is based on the Debian "distro" of Linux. To the best of my knowledge all of the packages (and many many more) that are included with Knoppix can be installed from the Debian website with the Debian package manager.

But Knoppix isn't Debian. Knoppix is a live CD (or now live DVD) and is intended to run right from the CD. Clearly Debian runs from the CD too, since the Debian installer runs under Debian when the CD boots, but the only thing that Debian is intended to do when running from the install CD is to install, where Knoppix tries to give you a rich and portable environment, and an introduction to Linux before ever having to make any change to your hard disk. But it isn't intended that you just copy things to the hard disk and run that way. Knoppix added some very cool hardware detection at a time when Debian was asking a lot of technical questions during the install; questions that some users found hard to answer, and even experienced users may have to stop the install to check their hardware or their Windows software to get the answer to. Some people were so impressed with this that they wrote scripts to "install" the software to hard disk. But in the three years I've been watching these forums I see the same problems come up over and over again. The same "this works from CD, why did it break after I installed Knoppix questions" (if they even bother to mention that they did install to hard disk). The scripts just don't get some simple things like file permissions right, and there is a much more serious problem as well:

That problem is that there are several different versions of Debian. These are sometimes called the stable, testing and unstable versions. At other times they are known by their internal code names for the different versions. Hopefully someday the testing version will become the new stable version, but the versions known as Sarge or Woody will always be Sarge and Woody, no matter if they are called stable or not. So why is this a problem? Because when you add programs or install security updates or other updates, the design of the Debian system expects that you will stay within the same version. Packages (programs) that work under Sarge are expected to stay under Sarge. They are not tested to work under other releases and indeed may not work or may even break something else when installed or updated. The same is true for the other versions of Debian as well.

Hopefully by now you are thinking "So what and, by the way, which version of Debian is Knoppix based on?" Well, Klaus made a very important choice when he built Knoppix. Knowing that it was going to be run from a CD he decided that he could mix and match between the different Debian versions, as long as he did this carefully and tested everything and manually fixed version problems. For him that was a good choice. The "stable" version of Debian is usually somewhat dated. The testing version is usually actually pretty stable, although there may be some minor issues to be worked out or just things that haven't been tested enough for Debian to classify as stable when a distro of Linux is going to be used in a large expensive mission critical application. There may be some software that is so new that it is only in the "unstable" version, even though that software itself is pretty well known to be stable and bug free (as much as any software ever is). So choosing to mix between the versions and test extensively for version issues allows Klaus to release a great live CD. It can contain some of the newest packages when needed. It can contain stable packages from a trusted version when newer versions have known problems, or have become too bloated to fit on the CD, or when there is any other good reason to stay with an older version. This works out great for a Live CD where everything has been tested to work together well. It does not work out so well when you take that conbination of carefully tested and balanced (and maybe hacked to fit) software and install it to hard disk, particularly if you ever install anything else or try to update any of the current packages. That makes the package manager do things that it is not intended to do with parts taken from the different versions. And people who do that frequently come back to these forums and bad mouth Linux as being unfit for the desktop even though they were warned not to do it and that there would be problems.

If you are a hard core experienced Linux user, then the advice to not install Knoppix may not be for you. Such people may have the experience to resolve these problems (as well as the premission problems that the install scripts seem to have and never fix), and may enjoy the challange of taking a version of Linux from a Live CD and putting it on a hard disk. But installing Knoppix to hard disk is not advised for the average user. It sure would scare the hell out of me.

The good news is that Debain and many other distros intended for install to hard disk have improved their installers greatly since Knoppix first came out. They may not be perfect, but are a lot closer to perfection than a "Knoppix hard disk install". But unfortunately many people tend to look at Knoppix as the first version of Linux that they ever get running on their system and then are not willing to look any farther when they decide to install Linux to their hard disk, and are not willing to listen to the warnings, particularly when they hear that there is a Knoppix "installer" or stumble across it.

It is sometimes said that "Knoppix, once installed to disk, basically becomes Debian". This is an unfortunate statement that I believe is often taken out of context. For people who have decided to install Knoppix anyway and have managed to get it working, then indeed Knoppix is sort of Debian since it is based on Debian, and you can turn to the Debain resources for answers to your questions (although the Debian forums are well aware of the Knoppix problems and usually will refuse to support a Knoppix on hard disk install). But it would be a disservice to users to suggest that when you get one of the Knoppix install scripts to work then you have what you would have if you had installed Debian.