One of the great features of many Linux distributions is the ability to test them out before committing to installing them on your hard drive. Live distributions can be burned to bootable CDs, DVDs, flash drives, and more (even floppies, remember floppies?!).
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of ten popular live Linux distros as voted on over at FrozenTech. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.
Slax (41MB to 202MB)
Slax is a modern, portable, small and fast Linux operating system with a modular approach and outstanding design. Despite its small size, Slax provides a wide collection of pre-installed software for daily use, including a well organized graphical user interface and useful recovery tools for system administrators.
Kanotix (503MB to 719MB)
Kanotix is a rock-solid Linux based on Debian, which contains the newest packages and recognizes more modern hardware than any other operating system in use today…
..Kanotix will run as a LIVE-CD on practically any computer — automatically detecting and configuring virtually any piece of hardware. It is ideal for analysis, data rescue, forensic work, removal of viruses on Win-PCs – or simply for safe surfing and mailing in an internet cafe. It installs to your hard drive in just a few minutes and is ideal for use on your desktop workstation or notebook, or as a server.
NimbleX is a small but versatile operating system which is able to boot from a small 8 cm CD, from flash memory like USB pens or Mp3 players and even from the network. Because it runs entirely from a CD, USB or network it doesn’t require installation or even much hardware. NimbleX is based on Slackware with the use of linux-live scripts and it has a lot of this distribution advantages.
PCLinuxOS (299MB to 685MB)
PCLinuxOS (abbreviated also as “PCLOS”) is distributed as a LiveCD, which can also be installed to a local hard disk drive. When used as a LiveCD, it can work with a USB flash drive, where the user’s configuration and personal data are saved. The entire CD can be copied to and run from memory (if the system has sufficient RAM) increasing speed.
PCLinuxOS uses the Advanced Packaging Tool (or APT), a package management system (originally from the Debian distribution), together with Synaptic Package Manager, a GUI frontend to APT, in order to add, remove or update packages. If there is enough memory on the machine and a network connection, the LiveCD can update packages.
PCLinuxOS is also designed to be easy to remaster after installation, creating one’s own personalized CD, using the mklivecd tool.
KNOPPIX is a bootable Live system on CD or DVD, consisting of a representative collection of GNU/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).
GoblinX is a Live-CD that is based on the excellent Slackware, developed and maintained by Flavio de Oliveira a.k.a Grobsch and created by using Linuxlive scripts.
It is directed towards those users whose appreciate quality applications and a workspace that is both practical and beautiful. It contains some of the most often used and praised applications for Linux, a completely operational Linux system inside a single CD-ROM, runs from any CD-ROM drive without requiring the installation and can be easily customized by everyone. It also can be used inside a Pendrive or other bootable device.
Damn Small Linux (48MB)
Damn Small Linux is a very versatile 50MB mini desktop oriented Linux distribution.
Damn Small is small enough and smart enough to do the following things:
- Boot from a business card CD as a live linux distribution (LiveCD)
- Boot from a USB pen drive
- Boot from within a host operating system (that’s right, it can run *inside* Windows)
- Run very nicely from an IDE Compact Flash drive via a method we call “frugal install”
- Transform into a Debian OS with a traditional hard drive install
- Run light enough to power a 486DX with 16MB of Ram
- Run fully in RAM with as little as 128MB (you will be amazed at how fast your computer can be!)
- Modularly grow — DSL is highly extendable without the need to customize
SimplyMEPIS as a Live CD or DVD allows you to run the Linux operating system and all the programs from your CD or DVD drive before you install. There is no need to backup all your data, delete the whole hard disk and install the system, just to find it doesn’t meet your needs and expectations.
Insert the SimplyMepis disc in your drive and reboot your computer. Simple menu choices will quickly load SimplyMEPIS Linux allowing you to login. You’ll have a SimplyMEPIS desktop just as it would be when you install it to your hard drive. Test the included software, see if it supports all your hardware, and assure that your internet connection works. You can also use SimplyMEPIS as a recovery CD for troubleshooting computers and providing the tools to save your valuable data.
Puppy Linux (60MB)
Puppy Linux is a LiveCD Linux distribution that is very small and focuses on ease of use. The entire operating system and all the applications run from RAM, allowing the boot medium to be removed after the operating system starts. Included are applications such as SeaMonkey, AbiWord, Sodipodi, Gnumeric, and Gxine/xine.
The distribution was developed from scratch by Barry Kauler; it is not based on any other distribution.
Ubuntu (699MB to 3.5GB)
Ubuntu is a community developed operating system
that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers. Whether you use it at home, at school or at work Ubuntu contains all the applications you’ll ever need, from word processing and email applications, to web server software and programming tools...
…We issue a new desktop and server release every six months. That means you’ll always have the the latest and greatest applications that the open source world has to offer.