June 25, 2009

Linux Migration Guide: Give Linux a Try

Have you ever wanted to try Linux without having to make the commitment of installing it on your laptop or desktop? Believe it or not, giving Linux a try without installing is a snap thanks to the concept of the bootable distribution.

Bootable distributions come on CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs. The idea is that you place the disk into the drive of your desktop or laptop and then reboot the computer. As long as your computer is configured to boot from a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM when it's rebooted with a bootable disk in its drive, you then answer just a few questions (for example, what language do you want to use?) before your computer boots into a fully functional Linux desktop.

Don't worry, only a bootable CD-ROM or DVD-ROM can take over during the boot process (if you have just any old CD in the drive when you boot, you won't get any errors). Also, if you insert a bootable disk into the drive while the computer is already running it won't try to reboot things.

You configure your computer to boot from a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM in its BIOS. If you've ever watched your computer boot, you might have noticed that early on there's a chance to press a key (often a function key or the Del key) to configure something. That something is the BIOS.

The BIOS is what runs your computer from the moment you turn on the power until it hands the job off to the boot loader. The boot loader then hands the reins over to the operating system, and soon you're logging in and getting to work.

All of the distributions discussed in "Linux Migration Guide: Choosing a Linux Distribution to Replace Your Windows Desktop" offer bootable versions for those who just want to try them:

  • Fedora - Offers a Live (GNOME) and a Live-KDE option, separate from the versions that you install.
  • Kubuntu - The same CD can either install Kubuntu (KDE only) or act as a Live CD.
  • Mandriva - Offers both GNOME and KDE versions under the name Mandriva One.
  • openSUSE - Offers Live CD GNOME or Live CD KDE.
  • Ubuntu - The same CD can either install Ubuntu (GNOME only) or act as a Live CD.

Visit GNOME and KDE for more info on desktops and downloading and burning distribution CD and DVD images.

Some great uses for bootable Linux distributions include:

  • Seeing how well Linux works on your hardware.
  • Just trying Linux out.
  • Fixing a computer that refuses to boot normally.
  • Trying out specific Linux software.
  • Using Linux at a friend's when they don't use it.
  • Showing Linux to a friend.
  • Making a computer into a special-purpose box.
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