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Before You Toss Out That Infected PC, Try Knoppix
Sunday, July 17 2005 @ 01:30 PM EDT

We have two stories this morning, and you can choose which way you want to go:

The Times says that malware in Windows has become such a serious problem that more and more users are throwing out their computers and buying new ones rather than detox their computers, now that it's possible to get a computer as cheaply as $400:

Tucker, an Internet industry executive with a doctorate in computer science, decided that rather than take the time to remove the offending software, he would spend $400 on a new machine.

"It was cheaper and faster," he said. . . .

In the face of a constant stream of pop-up ads, malfunctioning programs and performance slowed to a crawl or a crash -- the hallmarks of spyware and adware -- throwing out a computer "is a rational response," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a Washington-based research group that studies the Internet's social impact. . . .

No figures are available on the ranks of those jettisoning their computers, but the scourge of unwanted software is widely felt. The Pew group published a study this month in which 43 percent of the 2,001 adult Internet users polled said they had been confronted with spyware or adware, collectively known as malware. Forty-eight percent said they had stopped visiting Web sites that might deposit unwanted programs on their machines.

The number of viruses has more than doubled in just the last six months, while the number of adware and spyware programs has approximately quadrupled during the same period, said Vincent Weafer, a senior director at Symantec, which makes the Norton computer security programs.

Computers can be protected from infection through anti-virus and spyware-removal software and digital barriers called firewalls, but those tools are far from being completely effective.

Evidently. But I have a suggestion for you. Before you jettison your infected computer, try Knoppix Live DVD first. You have nothing to lose but your malware, which will be stopped dead. And it's free, in every beautiful sense.

Knoppix 4.0 comes as a live DVD, as well as a live CD, which means you get "instant access to 8GB of software - 5,300 programs - without the need to install a single file on your hard disk," thanks to Knoppix's decompression-on-the-fly techniqe. You'll get several browsers, including Firefox, several email clients, including Thunderbird, Evolution (my favorite), and Kmail, more than one office suite in multiple languages, OpenOffice.org, the Gnome office suite, and KOffice, as well as games, 11 different shells, or desktop environments, including KDE, Gnome, Enlightenment, and the elegant Fluxbox. Note if you are a business, it provides LAMP, because it has Linux, Apache Web server, the MySQL database, and PHP.

Not only that, you now can update the software:

It takes advantage of a system for installing, removing and updating software devised by the developers behind Debian (the version of GNU/Linux underlying Knoppix) that is so easy it makes Windows' approach look positively ham-fisted in comparison. To install or update a program under Debian, users just need to select it from a list of software available online and then let the operating system do the rest.

The fact that Knoppix comes on a read-only CD (and now DVD) might seem to pose a problem. But a clever piece of software called UnionFS, which overlays new software, held in the computer's memory on top of code burned on the disc, means you can still upgrade old programs and install new ones even when running from a live CD/DVD. A USB memory stick is all you need to make such updates and installations permanent, as well as to save your configuration and data files.

Somebody sent somebody at the Guardian a Knoppix DVD, huh? See the result? We should really send one to all reporters everywhere, I think. Give one to your mom, too. The article at the end suggests that there is no reason not to have computers come with this DVD, or preinstalled on the box (they don't know Microsoft like we know Microsoft), and then notes that on the other hand, "when you have instant access to 50,000 free programs, why bother paying extra for a proprietary operating system that only comes with 50?" Why indeed?

So you can choose, toss your computer out and pay $400 every time the malware writers defeat you, or speaking of rational responses, you might try a Knoppix DVD and let it come to your rescue. It doesn't cost $400 either. So here's my suggestion, whether you are a business, a school, a nonprofit, or an individual. Just try Knoppix on that computer you are thinking of tossing out first, and find out what you are missing. If you are thinking of throwing it away anyhow, what have you got to lose? You will find that your sick PC works just fine with Knoppix DVD, and the malware won't be able to function any more. Try out all the thousands of software programs. Just kidding. But try the ones that do what you need a computer to do.

Need things like Adobe Acrobat Reader and worry you won't have it? Stop worrying. It's on the DVD, along with several other PDF viewers and converters. Yes, there's a RSS feed aggregator. Yes, there is a spell checker. Dictionaries in French, Italian, Polish, English, German, Spanish, Bulgarian, Japanese. Yes, text editors galore, including GNU Emacs, GEdit, and my favorite, Kate.

Yes, you get Audacity, a cross-platform audio editor and player along with music utilities of all kinds, including some to help you create your own music, Bluefish, an HTML editor, firmware for Bluetooth devices and tools and daemons, including a gui for entering your pin, access software for the blind using a soft braille terminal, zip file compressors/archivers, security tools you don't have to pay extra for or install yourself separately, including an antivirus scanner (not that you are likely to need it these days), ethereal, a network analyzer, an easy dialog-based firewall configuration GUI, kismet, a wireless 802.11b monitoring tool, wipe, a secure file deletion program, and encryption, including GNU Privacy Guard (and GPGME, GnuPG Made Easy).

You also get OCR programs, printing systems and fax utilities, a flowcharting program, instant messaging, data rescue tools, file system defragmenters, a diagram editor, diff, a file comparison tool, backup tools, multimedia goodies, DVD+-RW/R tools, Eclipse, Java, including the Java development platform, compilers, mathematical tools, a calculator, gphoto2, digital camera clients, XML tools, GnomeMeeting Voice Over IP Suite, GNUCash for folks who need a finance tracking program, GNUmeric, a spreadsheet program, KDE sticky notes, a scanner program, a personal organizer, a business report maker, an image/slideshow viewer, the GIMP and other image viewers and tools, graph drawing tools, mobile phone access applications, html2text and htmldoc, for converting HTML to text, PS, or PDF, news readers, kphone, a Voice-Over-IP phone application, Palm Pilot sync tools, API for smart card readers, presentation software, web site development programs, and documentation. It even has educational games for small children.

If you can think of it, it's probably in there, including software to teach Latin. Oh, and Windows emulators like Wine, so you don't get the bends. Yes, you can open Word documents just fine. Need to make a poster? It has poster, a program that creates large posters from PostScript pages. Want physics tools? A way to transform bitmaps into vector graphics? A medical image conversion tool? A statistical analysis tool? An application for manipulating bibliographic databases? It has them all. Then for a nice change of pace when your neurons need a break, you can watch a cat chase a mouse around the screen or play chess or a tetris-like game. It's all in there. And remember, all you do is insert the DVD or CD and start your computer. It configures itself.

So unless you're made of money and you like throwing it away by paying out hundreds of dollars over and over and over to deal with a problem you shouldn't have in the first place, try Knoppix. You likely will find that you just kissed all that malware misery good bye. If you never use anything but Knoppix, forever. Even if you developed a problem, when you remove the CD, it's gone. You can save things permanently if you wish, of course. In fact, there is a built-in installer. But you don't have to. Here's how Knoppix is described on its web site:

KNOPPIX is a bootable Live system on CD or DVD, consisting of a representative collection ofGNU/Linux software, automatic hardware detection, and support for many graphics cards, sound cards, SCSI and USB devices and other peripherals. KNOPPIX can be used as a productive Linux system for the desktop, educational CD, rescue system, or adapted and used as a platform for commercial software product demos. It is not necessary to install anything on a hard disk. Due to on-the-fly decompression, the CD can have up to 2 GB of executable software installed on it (over 8GB on the DVD "Maxi" edition).

A complete list of software packages present on the KNOPPIX 4.0 DVD can be found here.


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