Updated: October 28, 2011
BSD-based operating systems are considered very secure. More so than Linux, in fact. Now, there are many reasons why this may or may not be so, including the market share, the speed and quality of software validation, the release cycle, the internal security mechanism, the skill and mentality of developers, administrators and users, the deployment setup, and many other factors, all of which are highly debatable.
Politics and myth notwithstanding, choosing BSD as the foundation for an operating system that dabbles in security is not a bad thing. This is exactly what Kevin and Nancy McAleavey did, creating an operating system that bears their initials in the official project name. Formerly of BOClean and later Comodo, the pair has mostly focused on Windows security, so the leap into the world of UNIX is an interesting and intriguing choice. KNOS is designed to be a secure, live-use only operating system, which should help users avoid any security breach from now till the end of time. The concept is sound, but what about the actual software? Let's find out.
The KNOS Project is not a free product. You can trial a limited demo that does not have software updates or purchase the complete system for one cent shy of USD35, with annual subscriptions. So, the financial factor already comes into the equation. Then, there's the matter of portability. Do you really want to run from a live CD all the time? And what about your data? Finally, the security itself. Is the situation really that bad? Can you not just get along well and without any issues running Windows with a limited user or perhaps any standard Linux distribution? How do you avoid non-security problems, like social engineering and people voluntarily giving up their money or critical personal data after being sweetly and most convincingly conned? No operating system can protect from that.
Getting under way
With all these in mind, I set about testing KNOS. First, I booted it on my laptop, where it properly initiated the hardware. Wireless connectivity also worked without a hitch. But there was no screenshot utility I could grab and use, so I had to redo all of the testing in a virtual machine.
KNOS boots slowly, however you get friendly and encouraging messages that tell you the long waits, a temporary console login prompt, the flickering and all the rest of the stuff that happens on a regular UNIX/Linux-like boot is normal.
The desktop is fairly simple, Gnome 2 with blue and purple colors that feels somewhat old. There's no system area, so you won't have any icons for audio, Wireless, battery, and such, which can be frustrating.
There isn't much to do in KNOS. You have a terminal window, a text editor, a WiFi connectivity manager, which works just fine, plus some miscellaneous utilities.
Firefox worked fine, but it stuttered when loading Flash files on Youtube, complaining about scripts never quite finishing. Not nice, whatever the reason.
You can run diagnostics, but this is just an output of dmesg and boot logs. Backing up application settings will merely grab the contents of your home directory and create an archive under .var. I'm wondering about the persistence of data, since it probably would not survive a reboot. Perhaps if you go for a bootable USB, then maybe.
Moreover, there were a few tiny annoyances during my short testing. The WiFi Manager will throw up a blank prompt, telling you that no password is needed. So why display the prompt? Then, Firefox also loaded a simple HTML telling me that something went wrong with the Wireless connectivity the first time. It's ok, since I haven't connected yet. But the file remained in the browser cache and showed several times more even after I had Internet, and only a hard refresh made it disappear.
And finally, back to the look and feel, the bluish theme becomes tiring after a while. You really feel you have stepped back into the Windows 95 era, so a dire change of colors to something plain and simple like white is needed.
Does KNOS make sense?
Here's the question you've all wanted to ask. And the simple answer is, for desktops no, for educational and government institutions, yes. At home, running from a live CD with no access to your data is a pain, not a convenience. However, if you're traveling and just want to spend some time browsing and whatnot, having a live CD system is a good thing. But then, any one will do, including specially tailored distributions like Puppy.
Overall, I find the whole security affair to be overblown. The actual malware infection issue is a small one, really. The much bigger problem is with the users doing whatever they please. There's nothing in the world to prevent people from spilling coffee on their keyboard, accidentally deleting important files, never having backups of critical data, sending private information to strangers in online chats, clicking yes to promises of great wealth and nudity.
KNOS might work for organizations that already have BSD deployed and/or require support. But for common users, especially at home, the combination of a fairly locked-in experience plus the price tags makes the choice rather surplus. You're better off with a free Linux distribution.
The KNOS Project is an interesting endeavor. Personally, though, I find no value for home users. It should be targeted at multi-user environments with a relatively high infection rate, like libraries, classrooms and such. But then, there's the matter of price.
From the purely software perspective, KNOS is ok. It is fairly robust, although some of the details could be polished. Perhaps a nicer theme, a smoother experience when working with the few available utilities. Maybe an option to mount local drives and allow users more interaction or freedom. But this is probably not the intended goal.
Well, I guess this would be all. It's nice to see UNIX proliferate and even take strange new directions as a Windows-users savior live-session-only operating system. Whether KNOS can survive in the world where Linux is so free and easy to obtain and offers so much, well, it's probably the question of timing, luck, marketing skills, and definitely the pricing. For home users, KNOS should be free. Let's see how it goes. At the moment, 6.5/10.