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Linux For Absolute Beginners: 3 Easy Ways to Test-Drive Linux - page 2

Linux is Like Tortilla Chips

  • April 13, 2009
  • By Carla Schroder

Here are three ways to try Linux without spending any money and without messing up your existing system.

Wubi is a special version of Ubuntu that runs on Windows just like any other Windows application. You need about 5 gigabytes of disk space to install Wubi. It's very easy; just hit the download link, which downloads a 1-megabyte installer program, then double-click on the installer and it will download and install the rest of Ubuntu. How long this takes depends on the speed of your broadband connection. (See below for options for dialup users.)

Of course you should have current backups before you try Wubi; you should always have current backups.

LiveCDs are very cool, and most popular Linux distributions have them. These let you run Linux directly from a CD, without installing it. First you download the CD image, then burn it to a CD, and then boot to the CD instead of your hard drive. Most PCs are set up to boot from a CD when a bootable CD is present. Knoppix gets my vote for best Linux LiveCD. You should have at least 512 megabytes of of RAM and an 800MHz CPU or better.

Ubuntu and Linux Mint both have LiveCD versions, and are very user-friendly.

If you have a spare computer that you can use as a Linux test machine, that's even better. Many LiveCDs, such as Ubuntu's, also have a hard drive installation option. Just click a button, take a walk, and in 30 minutes or less it's done.

Different Mindset

You can't sit down to a Linux system and poke at it for a minute, and then expect to be instantly productive. You can't do this with any computer. All of them have learning curves, and it is a myth that a computer can be "intuitive". It is a completely artificial, abstract environment. Windows users forget how many frustrating years they spend learning their way around Windows and applications. Mac OS X is not intuitive either, and requires a lot of study just like Windows. The top-selling computers book on O'Reilly.com are for OS X and the iPhone-- if they're so intuitive, why are people buying so many howto books?

Linux is not Windows and it is not OS X, though all three are similar-- you get a graphical interface, you click on things, and you type on a keyboard. But they are organized differently and come with different applications, so if you expect Linux to be just like what you're used to you'll get frustrated. Just like an Apple user coming to Windows for the first time, or the reverse. Open your mind to doing things the Linux way and you'll pick it up a lot faster.

Dialup Users Want Linux, Too

From its inception, Linux depended on the Internet for distribution and updates. It is quite a bit larger than it was in the early 90s, so dialup doesn't work very well for downloading new Linux distributions to try out. However, you can purchase Linux CDs and DVDs inexpensively, and Ubuntu gives them away for free. OSDisc.com sells many different Linux discs starting from $1.95 plus shipping.

Next week we'll walk through installing Linux on a separate computer, and start learning how to do things.

Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Building a Digital Sound Studio with Audacity" (NoStarch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of LinuxPlanet and Linux Today.

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