Linux in Under 5 Minutes

While the majority of web workers are Windows- and Mac-based, there are a lot of good, free ways to open up to the rich world of Linux applications, too. Some people go to the trouble of using virtualization tools to run Linux locally on the same machine they have their primary operating systems on. You don’t have to go to these lengths, though. In this post, I’ll cover ways to get into using Linux and applications for it running from nothing more than a CD or USB key.

Knoppix is a free, widely-used Live Linux CD distribution, based on Debian GNU/Linux. It bills itself as “from zero to Linux in five minutes,” because one download gets you the distribution, complete with top open source applications such as the suite of productivity applications, AbiWord, Gimp (graphics), and more.

You can also choose to run Knoppix from a USB key, or you can load it on a partition on your hard drive to keep it separate from your primary operating system. It’s designed to be snappy, and its footprint is 700MB even with the many software applications it includes. It does on-the-fly decompression, so you don’t have to have anything installed on your hard disk. I installed it in about three minutes.

As is true for many Linux distributions, the Knoppix community contributes to documentation for it. You can find lots of help at the Knoppix wiki.  Knoppix has also given rise to many knock-off versions that also run from a CD or USB key. The one that has really caught my eye is SliTaz, which can sit on your USB key at only 24.8MB, and is fully open source. You don’t get anywhere near as many applications as Knoppix gives you, but you get Firefox, an FTP client and many other useful applications for free.

If you’ve shied away from Linux until now, these are ways to start exploring in under five minutes. You’ll have fun giving a new environment a try, and might find some applications that you’ll stick with.

Do you use any Live CD versions of Linux?

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