How to Get Started

Best Ways to Try Linux

The great news about trying Linux is you can test many distributions (called distros) without needing to change your operating system. Linux can be tested many ways without needing to install the operating system to your computer, and best part about Linux is the portability.  You can set up an external hard drive to run Linux and use that single drive on any computer capable of booting from USB, and that includes almost all modern computers.

Finding a Distro

The first thing you want to do is locate some Linux distros to look at. Different people have different preferences for layout and style. You should have a look at the Desktop Environment page to learn about how Linux desktops are setup. If you like the Mac interface, you will probably look for a distro with the GNOME3 environment. I use Fedora as a Mac lookalike for testing. In my production environment, I find myself liking a Windows-like interface.  I prefer the Cinnamon desktop to match a windows-like feel, so I use Linux Mint for my web development computer. The other environments available are Unity found in Ubuntu and XFCE which looks a lot of Windows XP, and MATE. When you have an idea about the environment you like, you will want to read some material about different Linux distros. The first place you should go to start looking at Distros is DistroWatch . The site can be daunting due to the size, but it is large because it covers practically every distro with links back to where and how to download the system. You can also check out some resources we have on our Linux Resources page where you can see our top picks for distros and other resources to learn more about Linux.

Booting Up Your Distro


The best way to try out Linux is to use VirtualBox on your existing computer. VirtualBox is a free program by Oracle allowing you to run another operating system as a program in your current operating system. This is the preferred method used by many Linux reviewers as they explore different distributions without needing to install them. Once VirtualBox is installed on your computer, you can try out many different distros simply by downloading the ‘iso’ file and loading that into the virtual machine. The down side of the virtual machine is the potential of low performance. In other words, the computer will not work as well as it might if you installed Linux or used a Live Key because two different operating systems will be sharing the resources on the computer. Despite lower performance, I would definitely use VirtualBox as the first method of testing Linux.

Get instructions for setting up VirtualBox

Live Key

The next way to review a Linux distro is to use a Live Key, which is simply a USB drive, at least 4 GB, that is programmed with an operating system as a bootable drive. Almost every modern computer can be booted from a USB drive so you can boot the computer into a Linux Live Key without actually installing the operating system on your computer. This method goes one step beyond the Virtual Box because the resources will not be shared with your primary computer, but here the downside is you cannot install, customize, configure, or save documents on a Live Key. Additionally, since you need a real piece of hardware, you would need to create separate keys for different systems or overwrite a distro if you want to try a new one. Still, this is a great way to get a better idea of how Linux would run on your computer prior to installing the operating system.

Get instructions for creating and using a USB Live Key