How To Test Out Linux

I won’t bore you with my personal journey with Linux (it’s pretty much try, give up, try again, give up, try again, distro hop, pick a distro), but based on this comment, I thought it would be worthwhile discussing how best to try Linux out and the reasons you could find it useful to do so and why you may not find it so useful…  Call it a belated Christ-/Mithras-/Horus-mas present to the world.

First, the reasons people test out Linux.  These are many and varied, but the main ones seem to be: they heard it was cool, it was sold as a major panacea for all computing ills, they are geeks and think it’s de rigeur to do so, it looked good on a friend’s PC, it solves a problem they have, they are sick of lock in and viruses.  There are other reasons, but I think these are representative.  Here’s the thing: none of these reasons are bad reasons.  I have tried various things out over the years for similar reasons – some I have stuck with and some I haven’t.  The more rabid Linux evangelists will tell you that you have to try it and that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t.  I’m not going to do that.  It would be great if the balance were tipped from proprietary OSes to the FOSS way, but I am realistic enough to know that this isn’t going to happen soon.  We are making major inroads, particularly on the server front, but by being realistic I have more chance of being persuasive.

If you are planning (however vaguely) to try out Linux I cannot stress this enough: do your research.  Look at the more popular distributions and check that your hardware is supported and won’t have any major issues.  Google is an excellent resource for this, Linux is an operating system that wouldn’t have come in to being without the internet and problems and fixes are discussed widely all over the place.  Head over to Distrowatch and see what people are looking into, hit the various websites that distributions have and see what they look like and make sure that you feel comfortable with the look and feel of the distribution.

An amazingly cool resource that will be of great help is the Live CD.  This gives you an entire operating system on either a CD or DVD.  Many distros offer this and you can use them to see whether Linux is for you and to test out what a distro will look like and get a great feel for the usage.  You can use them for diagnosing and fixing problems or as a handy and portable method for always having Linux on whichever PC you use.  They do not make changes to your hard drive and so you don’t have to install anything.  For the price of the download and a blank CD or DVD you can save yourself a lot of hassle.

Investigate dual booting.  You don’t have to wipe your current OS to test out another system, you can simply give it space on your hard drive and switch between.  This will give you the best idea of how it will work with your system and whether it will be for you on a daily basis.  Dual booting is pretty simple and straightforward.  It will also enable you to research problems on your known working OS if you do hit snags.

Don’t give up on your first failure.  I have lost count of the number of times that I have seen posts about how crap Linux is only to find that the poster has used it for a few hours and given up at the first hurdle.  Remember that Windows has a major lock in with a number of hardware vendors (and Mac restricts the hardware it will run on) and also software vendors.  This means that hardware and software will always work on those systems because the vendors will make it work.  Most of the drivers and software on Linux only run because the coders are dedicated and intelligent enough to make it work.  (I won’t go into the “Linux is a kernel not an OS” here because it’s irrelevant to the discussion)  For a good chunk of it’s life, Linux coders worked for the joy of coding and the fact that it runs so well on such varied hardware is testament to their skill and dedication.

Finally, research, research, research.  I’m going to mention this again because it is all important.  Think about what you want to run it on – if you have any obscure hardware or important hardware (webcams, scanners, ISP provided modems) look around the web to see if they are supported.  If you have a particular piece of software that you absolutely must have running look to see if there’s a Linux version or if there is a different piece of software that will run just as well.  Read Linux Is Not Windows – it may be a few years old, but it is still relevant.

None of this is rocket science.  It’s been a few years since Linux emerged from the “geeks only” state to an “anyone can get it running state.”  You can install Linux in around 20 minutes (from start to finish) and you will have a full desktop and a varied amount of software.  There are some 40,000+ software packages available for it from a variety of resources, so it’s likely that you will find the software you need.  You don’t have to reboot after each software install or update.  There are no real viruses available for it and malware just isn’t there.  Out of the box, it is more secure than Windows and will cost you a lot less in monetary terms.  You can distribute it freely and legally and this is explicit in the licence.  You don’t have to agree to EULAs or other restrictive licences.

So there you are, that’s how to do it.  If you want to know how not to do it, just don’t follow my advice.  The vast majority of people who fail to install and run Linux (or one of the BSDs or any other alternative OS) do so because they went in with the wrong attitude.  Before you can ride a bike or drive a car or do most tasks, there are steps to take before you do it – and computers are no different.  There is no magic bullet which will make you an automatic expert, despite the advertising, the only real way to do it is to research and persevere.  If you do decide to stick with it there are any number of resources that will assist you, from hard copy books to online forums to blogs like this.  If you stick with it you will be part of a community and a movement and will meet many interesting and fun people.  My first trip to the US was off the back of Linux – so how’s that, run an OS and travel the world?


Posted on 30 December, 2008, in Computer Stuff, Idiot's Journey, Open Source and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Ditto. Research is very important, and LiveCD can certainly save time and energy for those who are planning to switch OS. Back in the early days I failed to realise how important this is though – didn’t do any research and didn’t try the LiveCD(because I didn’t know such thing exists). Though I survived in the process of OS switching, I know I could’ve saved so much time in learning BSD if only I spared some time googling and doing some research on it. Lucky enough I didn’t give up too fast. Coming from a pure Windows background and switch to BSD is one ‘fun’ process, and I guess that explains why I love it so much. It’s like first love, and BSD is my first open source OS.

    One thing that I did when I switched to BSD is I wiped out my Windows completely off my hard drive. 2 reasons for that:
    1 – I suck when it comes to dual booting.
    2 – At that time I was thinking if I still have Windows around, it would be easier for me to give up on BSD. So by not having Windows, I gotta get my BSD working by hook or by crook. Prolly not the best approach, but it worked.

    Run an OS and travel the world? Sounds fun to me 🙂

    od´s last blog post..What’s with od?

  2. I have never been a fan of Linux. I am a mac user through and through. I respect Linux though. I love some good competition in the market.

  3. I am unclear about the live CD. Is the OS running off of the CD or do you still download it the harddrive? I think I have heard about using a CD before but I am not sure how that would work.

    Andy@mlmnetworkmarketinglead´s last blog post..MLM Network Marketing Leads Enlyten

    • The whole OS runs from the CD, nothing is saved to your hard drive unless you either mount the hard drive and make changes (useful for backing up, recovery or for getting rid of virus files) or if you install the OS from the CD. Either way you have to manually make changes, nothing is done unless you do it.

  4. Live CD’s are okay but in today’s world, if you really want to test out Linux or any OS for that matter, just download VMware or another free virtualization platform. There’s essentially never a reason to dual boot a system between OS’s any longer. 😉

  5. I do like the idea of Live CDs. At least you’re able to take an OS for a spin, without having to make any major changes to your system. I think the last one I used was Puppy Linux, after my hard drive crashed. 🙂

  6. I’m not a big fan of Microsoft or Vista, but despite the hype I’ve not seen a version of Linux that is that tempting either.

    Lbug@Make Money Be Happy´s last blog post..Big stack of dollars $$$

  7. The Ubuntu live CD sold me of Linux in a few minutes, I put it on my desktop machine about 8 months backand never looked back.

    Simon@Make Money Online´s last blog post..Website Traffic That Makes You Money

    • Excellent news Simon. If you don’t need a lot of specialist Windows software, Linux makes a very accessible and low cost alternative.

  8. That scam has infected a ton of PC’s. I just finished rebuilding my father’s box due to a nasty virus/malware loader. There are some great free tools out there that will remove a lot of this stuff though.

    Charles@Las Vegas Homes´s last blog post..Green Products Showcased at CES

  9. Ubuntu rocks and I have tested it personally. Only bad thing, it is difficult to upgrade from some versions like from feisty fan to latest. On the other hand, I like all that new live cds because they are not less than gifts.

    Ekdal from dancing for beginners´s last blog post..Salsa Dancing Video

  10. If Microsoft continues its policy of short-time support and produces unstable, buggy, overloaded with annoying features Windows (I hated Vista from the first hour of testing it), I will have to switch to Linux. Simply because my current hardware works great, but it is too insufficient for next generation Windows, and I don’t want to buy new parts to match Bill Gates’ requirements.

    Kelly Wright´s last blog post..Comment by Doc Holiday

  11. I use linux hosting, it’s very useful for me

  12. I know that over the years I have tried Linux, but it has never stuck with me. Sure, any webhosting that I would ever use would be Linux (because of reliability and compatibility with scripts I use), but I use a lot of specialized software that only works with Windows, so I am stuck at the moment.

    Marc Norris@Marc Norris´s last blog post..Where are All the Blog Posts?

  13. I know Linux is cool, and is a lot safes OS, but the problem arises when I find that many of the softwares I use works with Windows only. I think Linux has got a lot of improvements to be made.

  14. What needs to happen, in that case, is that more software users should write to the manufacturers and say “I am a paying customer that is being tied to Windows by your refusal to develop a Linux version of this software – when will you take our needs into account?

    Manufacturers won’t know they need to make a change is the customers don’t tell them!

  15. linux is good for those who wants to be come sysadmin but for average joe please stay away. Windows is much better as it knows exactly what you want, simple, easy, and appealing gui.

    • I absolutely have to disagree with that opinion. The desktop side of Linux has come along in leaps and bounds over the last few years – more devices are supported out of the box, there is far more software with a desktop focus and the user interface is continually being developed to make it easier for the user.

  16. Currently, I am using Windows. Linux is also a much better but I still prefer Windows OP as it's easier and simple to operste.

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