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The Linux operating system, native installations, virtual machines, live systems

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Written by   26
6 months ago

Step 1. Choosing the type of installation

Linux installation can be done in several ways. One can have it as the only operating system on the computer. Or, one can have a dual-boot machine - having two separate installations of Windows and Linux. The user chooses which operating system to boot when restarting the computer. Another option is to run a virtual machine (VM). This means that one can has a "main" operating system acting as the host, e.g., Windows. Then, there are ways of installing a virtualised Linux, so that it runs in parallel with Windows. This can be done using programs such as VirtualBox and VMware which allocate disk space for the virtual system. It allows accessing both files and the devices connected to the computer, and it's a good tradeoff to employ the best out of both worlds.

Microsoft added a major module to Windows a few years ago. It can run the Linux kernel, so that in a sense,it is better integrated into Windows than a VM. One doesn't need to create a separate disk and the programs can be seen in the Windows Task manager, for example. However, this comes with the downside that it isn't portable. While a VM can be exported as a virtual disk and loaded on another computer, running in the exact same manner as previously, this is not possible for the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). I have experience with all the methods I mentioned but routinely I use WSL on my main computer, while my file server is running a native Ubuntu. These are the options that I would recommend, really, but this is my personal opinion, so likely someone out there disagrees.

Running both Linux and Windows in parallel is a good tradeoff to benefit from the best of both worlds. (Picture: Unsplash)

Step 2. Choosing a Linux distribution

In my previous article on Linux, I mentioned that there is a number of different Linux distributions. The choice depends on the particular purpose - whether it is just an all-round computer, a server or a device with some other special purpose. The choice of available distributions is limited only in the case of WSL. The available options are Ubuntu, Debian, Kali, SUSE, a version of Fedora and something called Alpine WSL which I am not familiar with. All of these can be downloaded from Microsoft Store which comes with Windows 10 by default. Note that WSL doesn't include a GUI, so be prepared to learn Linux commands if you're a newbie.

Step 3. Trying out Linux

With all those options available, it might be difficult to make a choice what to install on your computer. Well, this is fine. You can run a Live system for a couple of days and see how you like it. What you need is an empty USB stick. Faster is better but anything will do really. Then you need to go to the download of some Linux distribution, let's say Ubuntu:

https://ubuntu.com/download/desktop

And when you press the Download button, you will get an ISO file. This is equivalent to a CD or a DVD (if you're old enough to know those ;) ). I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post a screenshot in an article for commercial purposes. I need to dig into that and I'll update later. But the Download button is big and easy to spot anyway.

Note that any changes you make on your Live system will not be saved. Once you turn it off, they're gone!

Making a bootable drive

Then you need to make a Live bootable USB stick. Note that copy-pasting directly is not enough. You need a tool to make the drive bootable. It would take long to describe what this exactly means but sometimes I could write another article if someone is interested.

A good choice for creating bootable USB sticks is Rufus.

https://rufus.ie/en/

It's a free program available both as a standard version that you just install like any other program or as a portable version which doesn't require installation. You just put the executable somewhere and start it. You won't see it in your Start menu but I find that a good thing and use the portable one. The features are all the same.

The main window of Rufus

When you plug in a USB stick, you can select it under Device. Then, you need to click on the SELECT button and choose the ISO file that you downloaded from the Linux download page. The rest of the settings can remain as they are.

NOTE! Make sure you don't have any important files on the USB stick! It will be formatted and overwritten and everything will be gone!

With that done, click the READY button and wait for the operation to finish.

Starting the live system

You can start the Linux live system by rebooting and setting the boot order to be such that first USB sticks are read and only afterwards your SSD (or HDD). This means that the computer will scan the USB and see if it's bootable. If everything went right, it should find that there is Linux on the stick and boot it. If not, it checks the next boot option which is the SSD with your already installed operating system.

Choosing the boot order depends on the model and this is something that I can't really describe in an article due to the differences of the UEFI (or BIOS in older computers). You can find out how to enter the UEFI by googling your laptop model or your motherboard model if you're using a desktop. Often one enters it by pressing the Del button or F8 or F11 but check first before trying trial and error. Then in the UEFI there will be an option to select the boot order. Again, it's manufacturer depended but it is present somewhere.

Having done that, you can exit the UEFI (or BIOS) and your computer will boot into Linux. Congratulations! Have fun trying it out.

In the next article I'll write about virtual machines.

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Comments

I am currently using the Kubuntu Linux distribution, it looks very good looking and very end user oriented. The installation is prepared with UNetbootin where I specify the ISO and the storage device that I am going to install. Linux distributions have good performance, I use it to program computer applications. As you express in your publication, there is also the Live mode, where you can test Linux distributions without having to install them, a friend has used it as an alternative when the hard disk of his computer was damaged. I have heard rumors that Windows will at some point use the ext4 file system as an option, it would be a great advantage because the partition fragmentation would disappear and the performance would increase significantly.

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6 months ago

Good to hear that you have had good experience. I haven't used Kubuntu. I have the default Unity. On CentOS and Debian I've had just GNOME. I think I tested Cinnamon for some distribution and it was pretty nice, too.

My first introduction to Linux was exactly at those good old times when Windows was crashing and breaking, and it was time to rescue my data.

I would strongly recommend against ext4. It is prone to corruption. A better option is btrfs or even zfs. I keep my important data on a zfs pool while the boot drive is in btrfs. Both of these file systems perform data scrubbing and do copy-on-write, so, e.g., if something goes wrong in the middle of copying a big file, you don't end up with corruption.

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6 months ago

A well-written article on GNU/Linux. I appreciate your effort to promote open-source software.

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6 months ago

Thank you, I appreciate that!

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6 months ago