Live CD Operating Systems

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Computer technology has made great strides in the last decade.  We now have the ability to host operating systems such a Unix and Linux off of a CD or DVD.  However, there are drawbacks to using this method.  The current primary usage for the live CD is for users to tryout new operating systems.  You can go to some of the more popular Linux distributor websites like Fedora, Ubuntu, etc… to download the ISO image and burn the image onto a disc.  Let’s do a quick comparison of the pros and cons of using technology in this way to host the OS…

Computer Security – Pro Live CD

On a hard drive, you store the operating systems files and access them when they are needed.  If someone is able to gain access and alter any of those files in anyway, it would be difficult to catch all the changes.  In terms of security, the CD/DVD method is the clear choice.  If you were worried about someone hacking into your system and installing malicious software, they wouldn’t be able to install something on a read-only disc.  Most changes or edits are stored in temporary memory on the RAM and cleared after reboot.  That means you have a new OS after every reboot.

Lack of Proper Storage – Con Live CD

The read only option may be great for security, but creates headaches in terms of storage.  All your documents would have to be stored on external drives that may have to be mounted after each reboot.  This may be alright if you use your computer once or twice a week.  However, if you use it all the time, I think you would lose your patience fairly quickly.

It would be prudent to use systems which have drivers or processes built in to check for USB devices once they’re installed.  Make sure you have enough storage space on your drive as well.  A 2gb to 8gb thumb drive is good for light use, but ideally you’re going to want to use a portable hard drive over 100gb.  Also make sure that the type of file system on the portable drive is compatible with the operating system.

Application Restrictions – Con Live CD

The large external hard drive also allows you to store portable applications.  By not having the OS on a hard drive, you’re unable to install  applications that do not come default with the disc.  If you want to use applications like Skype or AOL Instant Messenger, you may find it difficult to fit everything into the virtual memory.  The only way around this is to use computer withthe OS is on a hard drive to customize your own ISO image with the applications you want.  However, you’re going to have to do this every time you want to add or delete a new one.

Speed/Performance – Con Live CD

Over the years, computer hardware is being designed to be smaller and faster than it’s predecessors.  In terms of drives, we went from floppy, to cd, to dvd, and to different forms of dvd like Blu-Ray and HD DVDs.  However, we had to constantly increase the read/write speeds as the amount of data increased on the media.  For the common desktop hard drive, you went from IDE to SATA, but this technology is transitioning to the solid state drives.

The two methods above are limited by how fast a physical disk can spin while a reader picks up the information accurately.  The new SSDs have no moving parts and retain it’s memory without power.  It’s many times faster than a the standard hard drive and uses less power, which is good for global green initiative.


There are obviously more benefits to using a hard drive as opposed to the Live CD.  The only time it’s useful is if you want to test drive new operating systems or have security as your first priority.  Regardless, you won’t see major corporations deploying this because it seriously lacks efficiency.  Many are also transitioning from the Live CD as well by putting them on their thumb drives instead.  Although it may be less secure than the read only CD, many are testing the new systems this way because it’s reusable and better for the environment.


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