LiveCDs and ZeroConf

The big problem with hardware failing because of the temperature is that during August, buying stuff in Italy is a real mess. The Italian Postal Service, never renown for its punctuality, is basically useless, packages arrives weeks later than scheduled, and postcards sometimes don’t arrive at all, so I will certainly not leave my new computer in their hands. My usual local shops (where I would just buy the hard disks, so that they don’t have travel all the way down from Germany) are mostly closed, and their main storage facilities are not supplied.

Basically, I’ll just wait September as I’m used to (it’s not the first time I have to change a box which died during the summer). Oh and yeah, I’m thinking of replacing Enterprise entirely. Why this? Well I was already planning to do so when I’ll receive the money for the last jobs I’ve done, and this is just moving me forward on that line of thinking. If I buy a new box I can easily get the faulty disk RMA’d, and then use Enterprise as Gentoo/FreeBSD testbox in Prakesh stead (Prakesh is not mine, it was lent to me, so I’ll feel better when I’ll give it back to its owner). In addition to this, if I get a VT-X capable machine I can start making better use of the hardware by mean of virtual machines, for NetBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris (for xine-lib) and vanilla FreeBSD (to compare con Gentoo/FreeBSD).

Although of course I’ll put my remaining money into this as I am choosing to buy something bigger than I’d just suffice (replacement disks for Enterprise), help with this is obviously welcome, as I’m currently again unemployed for now.

Anyway In the mean time I decided to at least put back Enterprise as data storage as I have a lot of Anime to watch downloaded on its disks (hopefully the good one). To do this I simply downloaded a Knoppix DVD and burnt it on a DVD-RW media. The last time I used a graphical LiveCD for more than two minutes was a few years ago, mostly at school where we got no box with Linux installed; the situation for the time was quite on par with an installed distribution, and I hoped Knoppix was still keeping up with that. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like it did.

The first thing that dropped me off was that instead of using the extension mode of Xinerama, it uses clone mode.. okay not a big deal, i don’t have to be productive on it, I just need to move stuff around, and maybe download something new. Okay not a problem. Then I looked for KWalletManager to try remembering my own passwords.. no avail, the package seems missing on Knoppix entirely. But there is Java, there are Mono development packages, and a ton of other stuff too. I don’t need them but they are there and that might be good to someone else.

But what impressed me quite badly is the fact that there is not a single ZeroConf implementation as far as I can see. Albeit you can think that ZeroConf is useless for an home network with a fixed number of boxes that you configure yourself, a LiveCD is usually used without saved configuration, and that is a tremendously good use case for ZeroConf!

On Enterprise I simply named AppleTV.local the IP address of the AppleTV on /etc/hosts, but even if I did so on Knoppix, it wouldn’t work, as the configuration files are reset at the restart; having Avahi configured would have made it possible to just ask for “AppleTV.local” and find the correct IP. Thinking about the school use case, printers, file servers, and in general services can be set up to be discovered through mdns, then you can just start from the LiveCD and you’re set. In a computer science high school like the one I attended, the performances of a LiveCD/LiveDVD distribution are quite acceptable; once you got an editor and a compiler, both present on Knoppix, you’re basically set; leaving stateless the installed harddisk is an advantage rather than a bad thing, as students are supposed to print or save on a common file server their programs to avoid losing them if they change box, or to avoid them from leaking. In these cases, it’s quite simple to transform a Windows laboratory in a Linux one by just adding a server and using multiple copies of LiveDVDs, without having to repartition or so. ZeroConf would make it quite more comfortable!

Another use case of LiveCDs/LiveDVDs is to run it on a box in a network that you don’t know, when for instance having to use someone else’s computer and you don’t want to use the installed Windows system (because most likely if you got on someone else’s box you end up having Windows installed).In this case too, having ZeroConf would be a nice way to discover eventual services present on the local network.

To sum it up, why doesn’t Knoppix come with a pre-configured ZeroConf stack?