Linux or GNU/Linux is a free operating system that you can use in addition to Windows or instead of it. Most of the software for it is also free.
Linux makes a great alternative to Windows because it has very few virus threats, and lots of Windows replacement software.
If you would like more background reading on Linux, visit GetGNULinux.org, or continue reading this page on how to try Linux for free.
How to Start With Linux
There are two easy ways to try Linux:
- Using a Linux live CD, or
- Installing Linux on your hard drive.
Using a Linux Live CD
A "live CD" is a type of Linux that runs directly from the CD and does not affect your hard drive. When you remove the CD the computer will go back to how it was before. A good place to start is to download the Knoppix CD. (See below for instructions on how to burn a Linux ISO file to a CD.) Knoppix Linux will run on your computer from a CD without installing anything. Knoppix is a complete operating system with web browsers, chat and messaging programs, graphics programs, and much much more. To learn about some of the uses of Knoppix I recommend checking out the book Knoppix Hacks, or searching online.
[UPDATE: With the release of Ubuntu 6.06 on June 1st, 2006, I would now recommend trying the Ubuntu live CD instead of Knoppix. If you decide that you like the live CD you can install Ubuntu next to Windows with the same live CD. Just be sure to backup your data and to defragment your hard drive before installing Ubuntu next to Windows.]
Installing Linux on Your Hard Drive
If you want to install Linux on your hard drive you can make a dual boot system so that you can choose to boot Windows or Linux at startup. Before trying to make a dual boot system with Windows and Linux, be sure to read about how to do it (search Google). If you are going to install Linux for the first time I recommend Ubuntu Linux, which is mentioned below. To make a dual boot system you first need to make an empty partition for Linux on your hard drive. This involves either reinstalling Windows to a smaller partition, or defragmenting your drive and then resizing your partition with the Ubuntu live CD. If you are feeling more adventurous you might even want to do away with Windows and just use Linux, although I would recommend trying the Ubuntu live CD first, and then trying a dual-boot system before getting rid of Windows completely.
Important Tip for Downloading Linux CDs
To get Linux for free, you download disk images (.iso files) and then burn them to CDs with a program that has the capability to burn disk images. Simply copying the .iso images to CDs won't work. Instructions can be found here. A free program for Windows XP that will burn an .iso disk image to make a bootable CD is CD Burner XP.
- Get GNU/Linux — Good introduction to GNU/Linux.
- Wikipedia on Linux — Introductory reading on Linux.
- Linux and Business — A common question is, "if Linux is free, how do people make money with it and how has it become such a big business?"
- Software Replacements for Linux — This is a comprehensive list of software that you can get for Linux to replace the software you use for Windows.
- Linux ISO — Download free Linux distributions here.
- MD5 GUI — A great little graphical MD5 sum checker for Windows. You don't even need to install anything. Just double-click on the .exe file and the program runs. Click on "Generate Checksums" and then drag-and-drop your target file into the MD5 GUI window. It takes a minute or two and your MD5 sum will appear in the window. Use it for checking that downloaded files are exactly as they are supposed to be, for example, Linux ISO files.
- Spidertools.com — If you don't want to spend time downloading Linux, you can buy inexpensive Linux disks at sites like this.
- Linux Chooser — A site that helps you figure out which distribution of Linux to try.
- Fedora 3 — I have used Fedora Core 3 but I can't recommend it as a good choice for a personal computer. It is somewhat buggy and takes an extremely long time to download updates.
- SLAX — SLAX is a great live CD Linux that is smaller than 185 MB. Easily customized.
- Ubuntu Linux — This is a good distribution to start with. They will mail you free CDs on request or you can download Ubuntu from their website. It's based on Debian.
- Knoppix — A type of Linux that boots from your CD drive and doesn't modify your computer's hard drive. This is a great way to try Linux without having to install anything. Knoppix also has many other useful features, such as the ability to access your hard drive even if Windows won't boot. For information about the many uses of Knoppix there is a great book called Knoppix Hacks.
- System Rescue CD — A live CD with system rescue tools.
- Other Live CDs — For more Linux distributions that boot from a live CD without affecting Windows, go to this page and select "Live CD" from the Category field.
- Live CD List — Another comprehensive list of live Linux CDs which is organized by function.
- Damn Small Linux — A free operating system that fits on a 50 MB mini-CD and boots directly from the CD (does not affect your Windows installation). Damn Small Linux contains a media player, web browser, ftp client, spread sheet program, word processor, games, chat program, graphics program and more.
- Puppy Linux — Another interesting small Linux live CD distribution that apparently allows you to save your settings back to the CD.
- Ultimate Boot CD — This is a Linux CD that has many tools for repairing your computer. I haven't tried it but it was recommended to me.
Open Source Software News
This section contains news about real-world applications of free open-source software around the world. Contact me if you have any news to add. If you want to try Linux without modifying your computer, get a free copy of Knoppix Linux or another "live" CD that runs on your computer without installing anything (see the Linux section above).
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