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5 ways to use bootable Linux live discs

Test drive the OS or recover aging hardware

Live CDs, DVDs or USB drives let you run Linux without actually installing it. Here are five ways to use them.

4. Restore failed systems and recover lost files

When Windows fails to boot, smart IT professionals reach for their live Linux CDs. Whether the problem is a corrupted operating system or a damaged hard drive, you can boot up Linux from the CD drive, allowing you to read and copy files, run diagnostics or perform other maintenance tasks like partitioning drives.

While most Linux distributions have an assortment of at least some useful diagnostic and recovery tools (and often, looking at a drive through another operating system can be immensely useful in itself), specialized distros like the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD) designed to run from discs are ideal for dealing with technical problems.

UBCD is the Swiss Army knife of recovery discs, containing more than 100 tools for performing deep sector-by-sector analysis of a hard drive's physical surface, recovering deleted or damaged files, rebuilding file tables, examining boot-sector errors and plenty more.

5. Work anonymously

Transform any computer into a paranoia-inspired privacy powerhouse using a CD-based distribution such as TAILS, The (Amnesic) Incognito Live System. With TAILS, you can surf the web in total privacy - all outgoing traffic is anonymised using the Tor service, which bounces your packets through random servers worldwide before delivering them to their destination.

In addition, the software included with TAILS is configured for privacy by default: Firefox comes with JavaScript and cookies disabled; the e-mail client, Claws, includes integrated GnuPG encryption; the Pidgin IM client is configured for Off-the-Record messaging, which encrypts and strips identifying information from your messages; and so on. Since it boots from a Live CD and saves no information on the host machine, once you remove the disc all traces of your activity simply disappear.

Find more live Linux distros

These choices only scratch the surface of the available Linux systems that can be run from a live CD - Wikipedia's 'List of Live CDs' entry names about 100 different Linux versions with live CDs, as well as live CDs based on other operating systems such as BSD, Solaris and even Windows. If you have a preferred Linux version, check the list - chances are it will run from a live CD, with all the portability and security benefits that implies.

NEXT PAGE: Creating a live USB from a CD image

  1. What live discs can do
  2. Test-drive Linux
  3. Restore failed systems
  4. Creating a live USB from a CD image

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