Finnix is yet another Linux based rescue distribution, and like some of the others, such as SystemRescueCD, it boots from removable media and it’s packed with recovery tools. Unlike SystemRescueCD, it does not feature a GUI at all. It is designed to get a Linux expert to a command-line with access to tools for system recovery.
Booting up, you get a fairly standard boot menu, which defaults to AMD64 rather than (universally supported) x86, which is a bit unusual, but it’s not a huge problem. Finnix works on Intel Macs, and there is a separate ISO for PPC equipped machines. It boots very quickly, and when the process is complete, you are dumped at a command-line. This either will fill you with dread or a sense of relief depending on the type of user you are. The website isn’t a huge help, and I’m guessing that much of the old documentation relating to this venerable distro has been deprecated but not yet replaced. Typing “dpkg -l |less” to get a scrollable list of installed packages with descriptions is probably the best starting point.
The tool list is comprehensive, but limited by the fact that this is a command-line only distro. For this reason, expect to find text mode Parted rather than GUI driven GParted, for example. There are a few larger applications such as the always welcome Partimage, but most of the meat comes in the form of a myriad of smaller tools. There are tools for accessing and maintaining all of the major filesystems as well as those for restoring, backing up and repairing damaged volumes. There are fairly straightforward tools to enable normal network access and setup WiFi, and it’s possible to set Finnix up as a file server using FTP, Samba or NFS. There are also more esoteric tools for network diagnostics and monitoring. There are small utilities to cover file handling such as those for working with the major archive formats along with all of the standard GNU file tools such as Grep and Diff.
One of the custom features of the distro is a script to ease setting up netbooting of Finnix from another machine. It helps, but getting it working is a complicated business. The base distribution can be added to, to some extent, but again, it’s one for the experts as it involves altering some scripts.
I would challenge anyone to come up with a typical rescue scenario that this distro can’t handle, in the right hands, but therein lies the problem: you have to be a command-line wiz who knows exactly what they are doing. In all fairness, there is a web browser, a text-mode one, that could probably be used to find the information that you need, if in a somewhat awkward manor. Finnix might also find application with people who have to carry out the same recovery procedure over and over again and need something fast and simple.
The biggest change that 1.05 brings is a behind the scenes one, as it is now built from standard Debian and implemented by the developer using .deb packages. Thanks to not having a GUI and the fact that it uses dynamic compression, the ISO is only 114MB, useful if you need to fetch it quickly over a network.
From the start, by taking the CLI-only approach, the devs have limited their potential audience for the distro. You can’t hand this to a casual user and expect them figure it out for themselves. However, for Linux admins who prefer to work exclusively at the command-line, the small size and simplicity make Finnix an intriguing proposition.
The Debian base is a point in its favour. It feels mean to penalise what is obviously a good distro, but it’s impossible to wholeheartedly recommend Finnix as it’s so specialised. It’s one for the hardcore command-line geeks – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but it’s not a jack of all trades like SystemRescueCD.