With Windows 8 pushing a "touch-first" desktop interface--Microsoft's words, not ours--and with Valve's Steam on Linux beginning to bring much-needed games and popular attention to the oft-overlooked operating system, there's never been a better time to take Linux out for a test drive.
Dipping your toes into the penguin-filled waters of the most popular open-source ecosystem is easy, and you don't have to commit to switching outright to Linux. You can install it alongside your current Windows system, or even try it without installing anything at all.
Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution for desktop and laptop Linux users, so we'll focus on Ubuntu throughout this guide. For the most part, Ubuntu just plain works. It sports a subtle interface that stays out of your way. It enjoys strong support from software developers (including Valve, since Steam on Linux only officially supports Ubuntu). And you can find tons of information online if you run into problems.
To get an idea of how Ubuntu works and what it looks like on your PC without committing to anything you might later regret, you'll need to create your own Ubuntu boot device.
First, get an Ubuntu disc image from the Ubuntu website. After downloading the ISO file, right-click it, and you can then burn it to a writable CD or DVD. If you'd rather put Ubuntu on a USB drive, first take a moment to look over our guide to this procedure. If you run into any trouble creating a Ubuntu USB boot drive, consult the Ubuntu website for troubleshooting tips.
After creating your Ubuntu disc or USB drive, insert it in your PC and restart the system. It should automatically boot into the live Ubuntu environment. At this point, you can play around with Ubuntu without installing anything on your computer--though it will run slower--or you can move on to installing it. If you install Ubuntu alongside Windows, you'll see a boot menu that asks you to choose your operating system whenever you boot your computer.
For an easier way to install Ubuntu, use Wubi, the officially supported Windows Ubuntu Installer. Wubi lets you install Ubuntu from within Windows, just as you would any other program.
You'll be able to boot into Ubuntu when you start your computer. But because its files are stored on the Windows file system instead of on its own dedicated Linux partitions, Ubuntu won't run as quickly as in this setup as it would by itself. That's something to keep in mind if you plan to play demanding games or use Ubuntu all the time. On the other hand, Wubi enables you to uninstall Ubuntu very easily--directly from the Windows Add/Remove Programs control panel.
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