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Trying out Linux without giving up your Operating System

When it comes to OS's (Operating System), most people stick to what their computer comes with, be it Windows or MacOS/OSX. But there are alternatives, dozens of them, some better than others. One of the best known alternatives is Linux. The name sounds familiar to a lot of people but that's where it ends. There is a common misconception that you have to replace your existing, familiar, tailored-to-your-needs OS in order to try it out. This isn't so. Read on for a few ways to try out Linux without removing your own OS.

Linux comes in many flavors, so-called distro's, which stands for distribution. Each distro tries to do things a bit different from the rest, and each has their pro's and cons. One of the more well-known and more user-friendly distro's (esp for newcomers to Linux) is Ubuntu. This also happens to be my main OS at home. I will list a few ways of how to try out Linux using Ubuntu as the main example.

The most common way is by using the so-called live-CD. This is a CD that contains the OS with assorted applications. You put the CD in your drive and reboot your computer, and it will start the OS from the CD (when the drive preceeds the HD in the boot-order, you can adjust this in your computer's BIOS). This way you can experience the OS without it touching or altering your computer's own OS. Some live-CD's also offer the possibility to install it to the HD after trying it out. You can download an ISO file to burn on a CD yourself, or you can have Ubuntu send you a CD (or several), for free! What's not to like?! The down-side to this is that the performance of the OS you are trying out is not as good as when it is installed, since everything runs from CD and RAM, tho if you have a decent computer it is still good enough to get a good idea of the OS's look & feel. If you are interested in trying out a live-CD other than Ubuntu's, here is a *long* list of available live-CD's.

A little note about installing Linux (or most other alternative OS's). This does not mean it will automatically remove/replace your computer's existing OS! Most installers allow the user to install Linux next to the already installed OS with options to repartition the HD. It usually does replace the boot-loader tho so when the computer boots you will be presented with a screen to choose the OS you want to use at that point (incl your pre-existing OS). For instance, at one point I had about half a dozen OS's (Windows and several Linux distro's) on my computer, all of which ran without a problem.

Another way to try out Linux is to run it inside a virtual machine. This means you can run an OS *inside* an application which runs on your existing OS. Think of it as an 'operating system emulator'. This does mean the performance suffers as well since the OS is running inside an application which is running inside another OS so it can only utilize part of the computer's resources. I have very little experience with this myself, so I'll just list the most popular virtual machine today, the VMware Player and a list of available Operating Systems to try out, incl Ubuntu.

There is yet another way tho, which does not suffer from the performance hit of the previous 2 methods. This was recently introduced, again, by Ubuntu. It is a Windows based installer. It essentially installs Ubuntu *as an application* in your existing Windows (so it is just another application really) and updates the existing boot-loader so you can select Ubuntu when booting up your computer, besides Windows. This is essentially the same as the virtual machine method, except without the performance hit. And if you don't like it, you can remove it, just like a normal application, using the 'Add/Remove Software' uninstall method. How great is that?! This is not really a new method tho, since this old OS called BeOS used a similar method. The Ubuntu installer is still under development but it available for download and testing.

So all in all, there is no excuse to not try out Linux :) I will try to write more entries/articles on Linux and alternative OS related topics that might of interest to GalaxyGoo, so keep checking the blog!

Disclaimer: this entry is about explaining these concepts, not about being technically correct, so certain things are simplified a bit. Please keep this in mind before commenting about incorrect terminology and such.


This article came around at just the right time for me. I had used linux very much several years ago, but hadn't since then. Then, last fall I decided I would put it on my machine again. But, my hard drive was almost full so I waited to get a new hard drive. That's been in for a couple of months now, and I've yet to install linux. Now I'm going to because of this post. Thanks for that.

hi Edwin. Thanks for your entry. Can you please tell me or point me to a resource on how to install Ubuntu beside Windows XP. I have been running it on live cd ever since and have been afraid to install it fully in order not to wipe out my current OS, Win XP.


Sam: I'm happy to see you are going to try out Linux again. What distro are you thinking of installing?

William: You will find a pretty good guide with screenshots here: http://www.psychocats.net/ubuntu/installing
Please do backup all essential data and defrag your drive before installing tho! There's always a chance something will go wrong or some data might be overwritten, no matter how small, so better be safe than sorry. You can also create a partition for Ubuntu first using a Windows partitioning application like PartitionMagic and then point to it during install. Good luck and keep us posted! Also if you have any questions, do post em.

I was originally going to do Gnu, but I've been hearing so much about Ubuntu lately, I thought I'd start with that. Only, I've been too busy since that post! This week though, hopefully! =)