Using a Live CD

Written by Mark Sanborn: Nov 26, 2008

Let’s say you are working on an important email, document, or a critical website bug and your computer suddenly crashes and wont boot up. You have to get this work done right away what do you do? With a live CD you can be up and running in two minutes with the tools you need to finish the job. When you are done with your work you can use the live CD to actually fix your computer. Whether you are a computer techie or an average Joe, I think everyone should have a live CD next to their computer ready to go.

What is a Live CD?

A live cd is a temporary operating system that runs from a CD instead of a hard drive. This means that it doesn’t permanently effect your computer. When your computer is rebooted and the CD is ejected everything returns back to the way it was. Unless of course you want to use the Live CD to make changes to your computer, like fixing a computer that wont boot. Maybe you need to reinstall but you don’t want to loose those family pictures you saved. Maybe there is 4 minutes left on an Ebay auction and your computer wont boot.

What can you do with a Live CD?

Well you can use a live cd as a temporary operating system to get you by or use it as a tool to fix/maintain computers.

You can:

  • Transfer files to another hard drive even if your computer doesn’t work
  • Reset a Windows administrator password
  • Reset a Linux root password
  • Turn you computer into a temporary network assessment vulnerability toolbox
  • Remove spyware without waiting 25 minutes to boot
  • Scan for viruses, especially useful for when viruses take over anti-virus
  • Try out an operating system before installing it
  • Build your own Linux distribution
  • Watch a movie at a friends house without worrying about codecs and DVD player software
  • umm… You can do almost anything you could do on a regular OS

Getting a Live CD to Run

When you turn you computer on one of the first things it does it look for a medium to boot from. They have what is called a boot sequence. For example a computer could first try to boot from a floppy disk then if that fails try the cdrom then the hard drive. If all of them fail your computer will just sit at a blank screen. What we need to do in order to boot from a CD is tell the computer to first look at the cdrom before checking the hard drive. Sometimes this is done for you and all you have to do is put the CD in and restart the computer. Other times you have to hit a key like del to change the boot order.

Recommended Live CDs

So there you have it. Don’t feel intimidated if this is you first time learning about live cds. Just download one burn it to a CD and give it a whirl. You literally can’t mess up your computer without actually knowing how to. Live CDs can be a great emergency situation and a way to learn Linux without jumping into the deep end. If you are a live cd veteran check out the list of Live CDs. You might find something new.

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