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How to try a free software operating system...

by Matt Lee Contributions Published on Oct 15, 2010 03:52 PM
Making the switch to a new operating system can be a daunting task, but with free software, it's a little easier thanks to what are known as "live" disks.

You can easily try a distribution of the GNU/Linux operating system by making what's called a live disk or live image, which can be written to a normal USB flash drive, or burned to a DVD-R or CD-R if that is more convenient for you. Many magazines relating to free software will often bundle live DVDs of various GNU/Linux distribution in with their issues, and there are also retailers that ship preloaded flash drives for a small fee.

Whether it's a USB drive or optical media, live images are special because they allow you try a free software operating system on your computer without installing it. This gives you real insight into how the system works for you without altering any of your existing files.

Try GNU/Linux in three easy steps.

Burning a CD or DVD

  1. Decide which version of GNU/Linux you're going to try and download it. When you download it, you will have an ISO file that is usually around 700 megabytes in size.

    If you're not sure which one to try, Trisquel is the distribution currently shipping on the Free Software Foundation live USB membership card, and is good for both beginners and experienced users alike.

  2. Burn the ISO file to a blank CD. This is not just a matter of putting the file onto the CD, so please check the instructions if you're not sure how to proceed.

  3. Reboot your computer with the CD in the drive. If the CD does not automatically load up, you may need to tell your computer to boot from a CD.

Creating a live USB

  • If your computer does not have an optical drive, or you would simply rather have the live image handy on a flash drive, the Trisquel guide on making a bootable USB disk has helpful images and instructions on how to correctly write the ISO file you downloaded.
  • After creating your bootable USB disk, you will follow similar instructions to those given above. Only this time, select your USB drive rather than your CD drive in the boot menu of your computer.

If you decide you want to keep using the system you've downloaded, there is usually an install option on the desktop, or on the screen that appears when your computer first starts up.

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