Using a Live CD Operating System


By: HCS Technical Staff

(Author’s Note to the Reader: If there is any jargon that you do not know, please type the word into Wikipedia.)

What if you could try a new operating system on your computer without having to wait an hour or two for the operating system to install and not erase everything on your hard drive?

Thanks to advances made over the past ten years by open source software enthusiasts you can do such a thing.

For those who may feel a little lost here, think of open source software enthusiasts as the computer world’s equivalent of American gun tinkerers and geniuses like John Moses Browning.

There are reasons that you would want to use a LiveCD operating system can basically boil down to:

  1. Using an unknown computer for work purposes (hotel business center, etc.) safely.
  2. Needing a place to quarantine a work file download (Word Document, Adobe PDF, etc.) to ensure that it is not carrying any malware (virus, trojan, worm, etc.)
  3. Examining files on a hard drive or backing up files from a disabled instance of Windows or other hard drive installed operating system.

In terms of selecting a LiveCD Operating system to use on your computer there are hundreds of “distros” or variations out there made by enthusiasts and organizations with different goals and skill levels. 

LiveCD Operating systems run completely in RAM and do not operate from the hard drive like Windows does.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to do is download an ISO Image file. ISO Image files (.iso) are needed to burn a DVD or data CD-ROM from a computer.

To burn an ISO file to CD-ROM, go here

After you have burned the ISO image file to a blank CD-R, shut down your computer and power it back on.

As your computer turns on, access the boot menu in the BIOS (the screen with the black background and white text) by pressing the appropriate button (usually ESC, F2, F8, or F9).

You will need to look up the make and model of your computer to find out how to access the boot menu.

When you are in the boot menu, select the CD-ROM and press ENTER. The LiveCD operating system will start.

Things to Remember

  1. Use a USB stick or portable hard drive to save any documents you make on your LiveCD OS.
    • If the power goes out and you didn’t save your files to a USB stick or portable hard drive, then you are SOL.
  2. Not all LiveCD Operating systems will work with all hardware. Some laptop wireless cards will not work with your LiveCD OS and hardware older than 10 years or so may not run the LiveCD OS very well.

Major LiveCD Operating Systems

  • Ubuntu Linux at
    • Pros
      • Compatible with most wireless cards and laptop hardware
      • Full software suite (Office programs, Mozilla Firefox Web Browser, etc)
    • Cons
      • Large in size (Fills up about 670 MB out of 700MB available on a CD-R)
      • Needs at least 1 GB of RAM to run smoothly.
  • DOD Lightweight Portable Security at
    • Pros
      • Small in size (about 130 MB)
      • Runs Very Fast
      • Full software suite (Office programs, Mozilla Firefox Web Browser, etc) available on 330MB .iso file version.
      • Compatible with Smart Card Readers for those who have to use them.
    • Cons
      • May not be compatible with all wireless hardware on all laptops
  • Puppy Linux at
    • Pros
      • Small in size (about 130 MB)
      • Runs very fast.
      • Full Web Browser included (Just like Internet Explorer…)
    • Cons
      • Lots of variants with odd names may be confusing to the novice. (Puppy, Racy, Murga, etc…)
      • Limited to about 3GB RAM of file space(depending on your laptop hardware)
  • Liberte Linux at
    – Pros
    – Automatically route all communications through Tor
    – Great for the “Paranoia! Paranoia! Everyone’s coming to get me!”
    – Cons
    – Slower Internet speeds due to Tor Routing
    – Flash and Javascript are a PITA to enable on it
    – Not compatible with all wireless hardware out there.
  • Temporary Amnesiac Incognito Live System at
    • Pros
      • Same Tor Functionality as Liberte Linux
      • Updated more frequently
      • Works with a lot of wireless hardware

If anyone has any questions feel free to leave them in the comments and I can answer them to the best of my knowledge.


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