Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Instant Linux

I had an old laptop lying around that I was curious if it could be turned into a useful piece of hardware. I was pretty sure the drive was shot on it, so I thought I'd try booting off a Live Linux CD.

For years now, I've been a fan of tools like tomsrtbt which fit an entire Linux system on a 3 1/2" floppy disk. You pop in the disk, turn on your computer, and *poof* - your computer is turned into a Linux box. This is true if you're hard drive has Linux on it, or in the case of the laptop I'm trying to revive, you have no hard drive at all.

With bootable CDs and DVDs, these Live Linux Distributions have grown to be much more powerful, as you can fit more and more on such a system. Although it wasn't until two nights ago that I got an idea for just how far things have come.

So you want to try this Linux thing, but don't want to bother wiping your Windows setup? Or you've got an old computer or two lying around, and you'd love to put them to work? My suggestion: create an Instant Linux System.

How To Setup An Instant Linux System

  1. Visit this list of Live CD distributions
  2. Download the appropriate .iso file from one of the sites
  3. Burn the ISO image to a CD
  4. Pop in the CD and reboot your computer
  5. Sit back and watch the Linuxness scroll by on your screen

For me, the hardest part of the process was waiting for the .iso image to download.

I played with two distributions two nights ago. First, I tried SLAX. Wow, what an amazing system is is - it seamlessly booted into a rich desktop environment. Everything about getting the system up and running was painless and couldn't have looked more professional.

I also played around with Damn Small Linux which, while not as polished as SLAX, was tiny (48 Meg) so it was easy to download. It also provided Firefox, so I could access all my Google tools.

These Linux CDs are really remarkable. If you want to breathe new life into old hardware, or experiment with Linux, there's no easier way to get started than popping in one of these disks and booting up.

As an educational tool, these distributions are unmatched. With a book on Linux, your current Windows box and one of these CDs, you can quickly and painlessly setup an environment where you can becomes Unix master. No worrying about drive partitioning or harming your existing system - just boot and go.

Update: To burn the ISO image that you download to a CD you'll need a program that can handle this task. Windows XP can't do this by default, but ISO Recorder, a freeware program will do the trick nicely. See the instructions on how to do this here.

While at work today, my computer at home downloaded Kanotix, yet another live Linux Distribution. Using ISO Recorder, I burned the image to a CD, and in just a few minutes I had yet another Linux On A Disk I could play with.


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  2. I remember a couple of years ago, someone showed a variant of UNIX (not Wine) which installs inside windows, any ideas?