Project history

Finnix, the LiveCD for system administrators

Timeline

Finnix 0.03

Finnix-0.03-CD.jpg

Finnix was born in 1999. At the time, very few LiveCD distributions existed; the phrase LiveCD wasn't even coined yet. Linuxcare had released its "Bootable Toolbox", a set of utilities in a 50MB businesscard CD. However, not many people had access to this, as it was primarily given out in trade shows, and not available for download until later in its life. While working at an ISP and having access to several test machines and CD burners (back before CD burners were plentiful), I took a Red Hat 6.0 installation and modified it to be able to be run directly from a CD. Version 0.01 was only distributed to 2 other people. 0.02 had some minor modifications, and was used mostly by the office staff. Finnix 0.03 was updated to reflect Red Hat 6.1, and on March 22, 2000, it was released to the world.

By today's standards, Finnix 0.03 was rather primitive. While the distribution could use swap and set up network devices automatically, it could not "find itself". You had to tell Linux the location of your CDROM drive (IE, "finnix root=/dev/hdc"). The ISO was 320MB, which while half of a CD, it was still rather large for its purpose. The boot progress wasn't "pretty". Booting required 32MB of RAM, which was not uncommon, but still a decent amount. Nonetheless, Finnix 0.03 became a success nearly overnight. Over 10,000 confirmed copies were downloaded (5,000 from the main site, and 5,000 from SourceForge). CheapBytes, the source for people who could not burn Linux CDs themselves, carried Finnix, first as a "we'll burn it to CD for you" product, then as a full pressed CD.

Sadly, an update was never released. Finnix version 1.0 was announced, and was supposed to be based on Linux From Scratch, but that didn't get far. Over the next few years, I gave up on Finnix, and instead myself used Knoppix and/or LNX-BBC for system administration work.

The original version of the Finnix homepage, for version 0.03, has been preserved for your nostalgic pleasure.

Finnix 84

In mid-2005, frustrated that Knoppix did not have LVM2 or dm-crypt packages as part of the default CD, I followed a "Knoppix Remaster HOWTO" document and made my own version of Knoppix 3.8.1, with LVM2 and dm-crypt included. This was given the name "Finnix version 84". (84 was picked for no good reason; besides, how many projects do you know (besides Emacs) with versions above 10?)

Finnix 84 had no actual Finnix branding, since it was a straight Knoppix remaster. It was technically released to the public via finnix.org as a BitTorrent link, but was never announced, and was mainly to distribute to interested online friends. Since the Finnix project had been idle for 5 years at that point, nobody noticed. A copy of this site was not saved, and archive.org did not save it, but it was literally a single splash page that simply had a BitTorrent link.

Finnix 85.0

A couple months later, I dusted off the remastering hat, and made version 85.0, based on Knoppix 4.0.2-CD. Several "point releases" were made (but not actually released to anyone other than my friends), with the last version, 85.3, down to about 180MB and included some Finnix branding. But at that point, I hit a wall. There's only so much you can remove while chopping away at a distribution that's intended for graphical use.

Finnix 86.0

Finnix 86.0 was started by taking a fresh Debian testing installation and adding hundreds of sysadmin-related utilities to it. Then, using Knoppix as a reference (and even taking some code from Knoppix), hardware autodetection, ramdisk, and CD booting support were added. The result is the best of all worlds: a fast, small, bootable CD with excellent hardware detection and many sysadmin-releated utilities. Once booted into Finnix, you will be hard-pressed to find many differences between Finnix and a normal Debian testing computer, loaded with utilities.

Finnix 86.0 was released on October 23, 2005, 5 years since the previous (and at the time only) release.

Finnix 86.1

Finnix 86.1 was the first Finnix release to include support the PowerPC architecture, and would continue to support PowerPC for nearly every subsequent release. Today, Finnix is one of the few remaining Linux distributions to continue to support PowerPC, and is the only remaining utility LiveCD to do so.

Finnix 102

On July 23, 2011, Finnix 102 made minor history by being the first Linux distribution to release with Linux 3.0. Although Linus Torvalds maintains Linux 3.0 was a non-event and is simply a continuation of the 2.6 series (and Finnix supports this position), nonetheless this event was mentioned several times in the press.

(Gentoo had added Linux 3.0 to portage almost immediately after release, it was marked as masked, and was not unmasked until several days after the release of Finnix 102.)

Finnix 105

Finnix 105 was the first release to be produced under Project NEALE, a build system designed to build Finnix releases from the ground up. Previous Debian-based Finnix releases were assembled by hand to varying degrees, and were essentially remasters of the previous release. Project NEALE means future Finnix releases are cleaner and easier to build.

Today

Today, the current incarnation of Finnix is over 7 years old, and the Finnix project as a whole is over 12 years old. In fact, Finnix is the oldest LiveCD project still in production. Dozens of releases have been made, with new versions of Finnix being released quarterly on average. Finnix has been downloaded millions of times, is used by system administrators all over the world, and is offered by Virtual Private Server (VPS) providers as a way for customers to maintain and recover virtualized servers.

Fun facts

  • The name Finnix is a portmanteau of the author's name, Ryan Finnie, and the name Linux (which itself is a portmanteau of Linus Torvalds and Unix/Minix/etc).
  • Finnix has been distributed by several PC manufacturers over the years. For example, Psystar, the infamous Macintosh clone manufacturer, distributed Finnix as a maintenance disc with its products. (Finnix had no contact with Psystar regarding this decision, but since Finnix is distributed under the GPL, no authorization was needed.)
  • Finnix has been mentioned in several books and academic journals. For a list, please see "Finnix in the media".
  • In a school in the town of Subang Jaya, Malaysia, classrooms are named after technology terms (Pentium, Delphi, Oracle, Browser, etc). One of these classes is Finnix (1 Finnix through 5 Finnix).
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