So you've heard about Linux, and you’re itching to try it out. Why? Maybe you want to breathe some life into an older computer that can't run Windows XP or Vista. Maybe you want to stretch your technical skills a bit. Or, maybe you're just tired of Windows and need a change.
Normally, you install Linux in a couple of ways. One way is to use it to take over an entire hard drive. Or, you can partition your hard drive and have Windows on one portion of it and Linux on another. But, if you find that a particular version of Linux (called a distribution) isn't quite right for you, getting rid of it or changing it can be a pain.
Another alternative is to use a Live CD. A Live CD, sometimes called a Live Distro, is an operating system that starts from a CD -- there is no need to install the operating system on a hard drive. A Live CD is a great way to test out Linux without worrying about what it may do to your computer.
Getting Hold of a Live CD:
Most major, and many minor, Linux distributions have Live CD versions. These include Ubuntu, Knoppix, Linspire, MEPIS, and Debian. You can find a list of Live CD distributions here and here. You can either order a Live CD from the developer -- for which, in many cases, you may have to pay a nominal fee for shipping. The folks behind Ubuntu, for example, will send you several CDs for free.
Or, you can burn your own Live CD. All you have to do is download an ISO image from the Web site of whatever distribution you plan to use. An ISO image is sometimes called a "CD image" and is literally a snapshot of the contents of a disk in a single file. The snapshot comes complete with the core operating system, the software that's bundled with it, as well as the necessary boot and disk information. An ISO image has the extension .iso, for example, ubuntu-6.10-desktop-i386.iso.
Then, you just burn the ISO image to a CD. While burning the image is relatively easy, the process differs slightly from burning your ordinary files to a CD. The instructions vary depending on which CD burning software you use. You should check the documentation for your CD burning software for details on how to burn an ISO image. Note that the CD creation features built into Windows XP can't properly write ISO images.
Or, you can go one better and use the ISO Recorder Power Toy for Windows XP and Vista. This nifty little application makes the job easy by allowing you to just drag and drop the image onto a CD.