Linux is EVERYWHERE on the web. It's easy to obtain, easy to try out, and easy to install. In many cases it's free of charge or can be purchased at a very minimal cost. I'll take you through the basic steps on getting Linux running on your computer without harming your current Windows installation.
Step one: Pick a Linux distribution to download. Linux comes in many flavors. Because of it's Open Source nature, Linux has morphed, changed and improved over the years. Folks have taken Linux and enhanced it here and there, improving and refining it AND passing these enhancements on to other Linux developers. Open Source allows developers to look inside and "get under the hood." If you think of Linux as an automobile, it has the same chassis, but the body styling is slightly different from model to model. Regardless of the flavor of Linux you select, underneath, it's all the same. A stable, secure operating system.
A good place to find different Linux flavors is Distro Watch. Distro Watch lists the most popular Linux distributions, gives a brief overview of each and has links for downloading. When you download a Linux distribution, you'll be downloading it as an iso file. This file will then be converted to disk.
Step Two: Write your iso file to a CD-ROM. Now that you have your iso downloaded, it's time to burn it onto a CD-ROM. If you're running Windows (and you probably are), simply pop a blank disk into your CD-ROM burner tray and boot your software package (Nero, Roxio, etc.). Select Burn Image to Disk (or similar wording) and select the .iso file you downloaded. Click Okay and the software will do the rest. Make sure you use a 700 megabyte CD-ROM blank. Iso files tend to be every bit that size.
Note: if you don't want to go through the procedure of downloading an iso file and burning it to disk, many distributions will send you (for a small charge) a Linux CD-ROM. There are even a few Linux distros which will send you a Linux disk for FREE.
Step Three: Drop your Linux disk in your CD-ROM tray and boot. Run in Live Mode. Okay, you've got your Linux disk and want to run it. The really neat thing about Linux is, it gives you the very helpful option of running directly off the disk without installing to your computer's hard drive. Simply drop your CD-ROM disc into your tray and reboot your system. If you are running Windows XP, your first boot device will be the CD-ROM drive. Your computer will read the disk and Linux will launch off the disk.
Note: If you're running Windows 98 or Windows 95, you may have to jump into your computer's BIOS and change the boot sequence so your CD-ROM is the first boot device. Take great care before you alter your computer's BIOS settings! Please consult your computer's user manual before making any BIOS changes.
In most cases, Linux distributions will run Live mode first, right off the disk, and give you an option to install to your hard drive directly from the desktop environment. Sometimes,when you boot a Linux disk, you are presented with a menu of either installing or running in Live mode. Select Live mode and Linux will run off the disk.
Running a Live disk gives you the chance to see how your specific computer system handles each distribution. You can try out the features, test your hardware (sound card, graphics card, etc.) and all your peripherals (scanners,printers, USB drives,etc.) You can run pe-installed software right off the disk, play with the configuration of the desktop environment and tweak things to your heart's content. All the while, your Windows hard drive will not be touched!
I recommend you try as many Linux distributions as possible. get your feet wet. Run them all in Live mode and get a feel for things before you do a final installation to your computer's hard drive.
In future posts, I'll be talking about my favorite Linux distributions.