A Taste of Linux

If you want to give Linux a spin, eWEEK.com Linux & Open-Source Center Editor Steven Vaughan-Nichols thinks that live Linux CDs are the best way to go.

You say you want to try Linux, but it just seems like too much trouble? Well, worry no more because theres a slew of new "Linux on a disc" distributions."

These are distributions that come on a CD, or in an ISO image that you can burn to a CD, and you can use them to run Linux on a PC without actually having installed Linux on the system. This way, users can give Linux a trial run while never touching their existing Windows systems.

You can find many of these distributions at DistroWatch where theres a section devoted to nothing but CD-based live Linux distributions. Another great source for this kind of Linux distribution is LinuxISO.org , but it doesnt seem to be updated as often as DistroWatch.

Knoppix was the first of these burn and run Linux distributions, but there are now more than two dozen of them including such popular distributions as LindowsOS, Slackware and SuSE. Considering how popular these lightweight distributions have become, I wont be surprised if every Linux distributor ends up offering one.

No matter the vendor, the name of the game is always the same. Either you buy the disc or you download a single ISO image of the file, burn it to CD, pop it into a computer and reboot. A minute later you have a working Linux. Thats all there is to it.

As with everything in life, there are a few gotchas to look out for... First, you need to make sure you can burn the ISO successfully to the disk. Some burner programs automatically recognize an ISO and burn it the right way without you having to do anything except feed the CD drive a blank writable CD. Others, however, require you to manually set it to make an ISO disc. Typically, youll find these commands to have the word "Image" in them. The LinuxISO site has instructions (http://www.linuxiso.org/viewdoc.php/howtoburn.html) for Linux and several Windows burning programs.

Next, youll need to make sure your system is set to boot from the CD-ROM drive before looking to the hard drive. Typically, a setting in your computers BIOS enables you to make this change.

If all has gone right, youll be running Linux on the next reboot. If theres a better way of giving someone a taste of Linux, I dont know where youd find it.

If youre trying to convert people to Linux, I think youll do more good by showing people Linux with a couple of these insert and run CDs than you ever will by simply preaching the gospel of Linus. A working system is worth a thousand words.

The distributions though arent just for taking Linux out for a test drive. Several of them, like Plan B and Linux Bootable Business Card (LNX-BBC) are designed for emergency system rescue work. Others, such as Sentry Firewall, let you run a network application from a CD. In Sentry Firewalls case thats a firewall plus an Intrusion Detection System. Still others, such as Gentoo LiveCD , can be used to as the foundation for a specific application. So, for example, you could boot from the CD straight into a game, an office suite or a customized business application.

I recommend anyone who wants to give Linux a spin to take a close look at these instant Linux distributions. Youll be glad you did.

eWEEK.com Linux & Open Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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