Running Linux without installing it


L. Padilla


Formerly I used to write the software of my designs for the MS-DOS operating system. However MS-DOS got old and I moved to Linux which is more flexible and powerful (this statement holds true even when compared to Windows ;-). Therefore from now on all the software you will find in these pages will be specifically written for Linux, though it may compile in other UNIX operating systems with no or minimal modifications. It might be ported to Windows or other operating systems but this is your problem.

This page is made for all of you who want to use my designs but do not have linux installed and do not want to install it (because you don't have disk space or a free partition, or simply you fear the installation and don't dare to go on). If the problem is that you don't have a free partition and do not want to repartition your disk (there are tools for doing that without loosing your data) you still have the choice to install linux in your Windows partition (allowed by many linux distributions), so you will share all your disk space between both operating systems.

A good starting point if you are new to linux is The Linux Documentation Project where you can find information about distributions, installation, configuration and use of linux. There are many other linux pages you can find doing a simple search. I have no favorites.

Linux on CD

If you decide not to install linux in you hard disk the best way to run linux is from CD. I was thinking about doing such project because it is rather interesting and of course my first step was to look if somebody had already done it. Fortunately it was so. I found two projects: KNOPPIX and muLinux of which KNOPPIX is the best one.

You just have to download the ISO image of KNOPPIX, burn it in a CD (80 min) and boot your computer from that CD. You will have all the required things in order to run any software you will find in my pages (software for linux, of course, not the one for MS-DOS). In case of trouble you can try the muLinux ISO image which has the advantage of being much more smaller but you only have support for SoundBlaster sound cards and compatible ones. At least one of my designs needs to use a sound card, if your card is not SoundBlaster compatible you cannot use muLinux CD to run my software for that design, you will have to use KNOPPIX. Another limitation of muLinux is that it does not include the C-shell (csh) which is used by all of my linux scripts. Nevertheless you can download this shell from many sites, for instance here (don't forget to activate the execution permission).

If your computer has not the ability to boot from CD you still can run linux from CD. You just have to write the file boot.img of the CD (KNOPPIX or muLinux, whatever CD you want to run from) in a formatted diskette using the rawrite utility (also in the KNOPPIX CD, it is not included in the muLinux CD but you can download the utility from many sites because it is included in all linux distributions). Then boot your computer from floppy, after a while it will continue the boot from CD and you can remove the floppy, you don't need it anymore until next boot.

Linux on floppy

It is also possible to run linux from floppy but as you can imagine it will have a very restricted hardware support, number of utilities, etc. There are many pre-made floppy images from which to run linux, see The Linux Bootdisk-HOWTO, however none of them is suited for our purpose. They are designed as rescue disks and therefore focus on disk recovery utilities. They do not include the utilities needed to run my software.

The most useful of those floppy linux is the muLinux distribution, but can be a little bit complicated to install and configure for a beginner. Furthermore it lacks some utilities needed by my software, most notably the C-shell, but has the advantage of being the unique floppy linux with C compiler support, which is fundamental to compile my programs. Thus, as long as none of the floppy linux I found is suited to run my software I plan to make my own floppy linux distribution, as compact as possible, but you will have to wait until I have the time, meanwhile try to use the other options in this page.

Running the utilities

Once you have linux running on CD or in RAM disk (linux on floppy does not really runs from floppy, it would be too slow, instead it copies itself into a RAM disk and run from there) you need access to my utilities in order to run them, of course. You have two possibilities, one is to download them in your Windows partition (while running Windows), boot linux, mount your Windows partition and access my software there. The other option is to download the utilities to floppy and mount it after booting linux. Use this option if you feel unsure about accessing your hard disk from linux. To speed up the access to this utilities you can copy them from floppy to RAM disk, but remember that any changes will be lost unless you copy them back to floppy before restarting your computer.

Closing remark

I must apologize for being so concise, I realize that beginners can find hard to follow the instructions because they are not detailed (they may even ignore what concepts like mounting a disk or activate the execution permission mean). People familiar with linux will read this document easily, but is not designed for them. My only excuse is that I have no time to make an exhaust tutorial, especially having into account that there are many places devoted to linux for beginners. Read this document as an introduction which points to the things you should further learn on. If you have questions or suggestions feel free to contact me so we can improve this page little by little making some kind of FAQ.


Nowadays there are many distributions with live CD or DVD support. There are even distributions which can boot from USB pen drives. I have finally chosen to put all my linux software within a Knoppix live CD ISO image. This way you can test any of my utilities without having to install linux nor compile them. All you have to do is to download this 700 MB ISO image. Burn it on a 80 min CD if you want to boot a physical computer, or use it as is to boot a virtual machine. At boot you can choose the keyboard layout and whether you want a text or a graphical interface, among other things, like disabling certain hardware features, see included Knoppix help for details. By default it uses Spanish layout and text interface.

Once you obtain a root shell prompt type ". /cdrom/CheapHighTech/bin/setup". This will copy all my software to the /tmp directory and setup some things. Thus my applications will run faster and you will be able to edit then, recompile, etc. But don't forget that all changes and data stored will be lost at reboot, so if you want to keep them you will have to save them into a hard disk, USB pen drive, etc.

E-mail: padilla at domain "gae ucm es" (my PGP/GPG public key)
First version: 27-Jan-2003, last update: 5-Dec-2009
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