Thursday, June 17, 2010

You Can Try Linux!

It started when someone was talking to me about having an old computer and wondering what do with it since the it had so little memory (256 RAM). Well, I told her I thought a Linux operating system (OS) would be a viable option, but that I'd have look into it since I didn't know any off the top of my head.

And so I did a lot of looking, because I confess: this stuff is insanely interesting to me.

Here's what I learned:
  • Did you know you can try a Linux operating system on your computer without having to actually install it?
  • Did you know that there are some pocket size Linux operating systems that you can literally carry with you and use in any computer? --You can basically leave no trace on the computer you used. (Not that I need to be that stealthy, but it's cool).
  • Say your PC crashed and you need to get onto the internet. If you have a Linux OS image on a cd, you can, in many cases boot up your computer with it since it runs off of RAM, not the hard disk (where a virus is).
  • You can run a Linux OS without even having a hard drive on the computer too!
  • You don't even need anti-virus software for Linux! Talk about freedom.
Okay, that's all very cool and intriguing to me. If you aren't intrigued, read no further. If you are, here are the tiny Linux OS images I burned to CD and tried out this week:
You don't really need much to try these out. If you have a CD-R disc or a USB drive, you've got what you need. Now, of course, your computer has to be able to boot from either of these devices as well... so it can't be too ancient. But most computers born within the last 10 years can do this. Each website (Slax and Puppy Linux) have good documentation on how to download and burn the images to a CD or put on the USB drive.

The only really important thing that I ran into was burning the image to my CD. I have XP and it gives you only the option to write the file to a cd, which as I learned, is not the same as burning an image. To do that, I had to download a tiny file called ISO Recorder. It literally took less than a second to download. I used the handy tutorial to copy the image to a CD.

From there, it was just cool. I stuck the CD in my drive, restarted my computer and at the prompt hit F12 (different for different computers) to access the boot menu, chose option 4 (boot from CD). It took about 30 seconds for the Linux OS to boot.

At first glance, both Slax and Puppy Linux are great. Slax recognized my internet connection right away. Puppy Linux did not, but it was easy to set up. I just had to manually tell the OS to probe my computer for a connection. I haven't used either OS a whole lot, right now I think they are both great, though there is something about Puppy Linux I like more... I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's just the cute puppy. :)

Other Thoughts: I was thinking about what this new knowledge does for me. Well, I'll be less hesitant to throw out a computer. Putting a Linux OS on a older computer for my kids would be a very viable option. For someone just needing a computer with just an internet connection and an open source office suite, why spend money on and operating system when there are so many free Linux distributions out there?

Update, April 26, 2011: Since posting this, I have had a few opportunities to help other people with their computers using these live CDs. On the whole, I started to favor Slax over Puppy because it is so good at automatically recognizing an internet connection. That just makes it more user-friendly since most people that have a compromised computer are just dying to have their internet access back. Also worthy of note, if you are trying to use either of these live CDs with a computer that has a wireless connection to the internet, it can get harry. Linux doesn't play really well with wireless connections yet. I say YET. Linux will get there as the demand increases, I am sure.


  1. I had a REALLY ancient computer one from... 1995 or so, that we set up for Audrey to use paint and stuff on. I didn't go to the trouble of loading anything new on it though. Worked well, and I sort of wish we still had it, but it didn't make the move with us.

    The point here I guess is that you can do more with a computer with little memory if you have Linux on it?

  2. Yes, that's the point. A lot of people throw out old computers because they have less than a gig of RAM. But, you could run these little linux systems on them and keep that computer running for you or someone else for quite some time longer. It just saves the computer from a landfill or getting shipped to a 3rd world country where people are melting down the parts in less-than-sanitary conditions to reclaim the metals in them.


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