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When, in 1999, bootable business card- sized Linux "Rescue CDs" appeared as giveaways at computer expos, I was extremely curious about how they worked. And since they were free software, I was able to look inside and try to figure out how the software worked. After I successfully made a bootable CD, I decided to make a "personal rescue CD." That way, it would be possible to use the software that I needed from a CD, rather than carry around an expensive and fragile laptop. Computers are available everywhere anyway, so why not just have the software in your pocket instead? The idea was to put in the CD and start working right away, without having to worry about installation or configuration of any kind.
But hardware is evil. (Everyone knows this, even if he's not a computer expert.) Vendors seem to create their own standards on demand, which are not standardized at all, and don't even provide technical specifications. Compatibility in hardware depends more on luck or chance than on approved norms, so I had to decide among choosing a system that was so cheap in its hardware requirements that it would work on virtually every PC (which would probably mean that graphics worked only in vesa mode, at best), installing a manual hardware selector in order to load the necessary drivers, or scripting some kind of automatic configuration. For some reason, the last option seemed the most flexible and optimized solution, so I started writing scripts that would automatically install a Linux distribution on hardware components: identify hardware components , load the matching drivers, and create configuration files that are optimized for the hardware, yet tolerant enough to work around small glitches in the hardware specification. This is still an ongoing process, because hardware manufacturers nowadays seem to be in a semipermanent fight against common standardization of hardware specification. But to my own amazement, my solution still seems to work quite well on a great number of machines, despite the sheer unlimited number of hardware configurations and intricacies.
In 2000, my friends from the LinuxTag association talked me into publishing Knoppix as a publicly available and joinable project. They also provided hosting space. The idea was to get more feedback (and possibly workarounds or code contributions) applicable to different computers and exotic hardware components that I had no access to. As new versions with added features were released, the number of downloads and, naturally, feedback (as well as questions to answer) grew tremendously. (Had I known that so many people would find this very experimental project useful, and that there is now even an O'Reilly book being published about it, I would have probably given it a more elaborate name than "Knoppix." But now it's too late, of course.)
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