If you came here to read a tutorial about how to try out Linux, you probably already have a good reason to do it. If that's the case, just skip to the next section. If, however, you came here by accident, out of curiosity, or a strange force made you to, then read on.
So why Linux? People talk about saving money on software, good community support, the advantages of open source, and so on. Yeah, yeah, that's all well, we've heard it before. Now consider also the following possibilities:
- You are curious.
- You need to unleash your inner geek.
- You want to enjoy your computer.
I just have one request from you. If you decide to try Linux, before you give your final verdict, give it a fair chance. Think about it: for how long have you been using Windows? One year? 3 years? More? If you try Linux for just one afternoon, would you be surprised if things would seem difficult to do with it? How well were you able to use Windows on your first day? Keep that in mind, because Linux is indeed different from Windows.
2. How to run Linux on a virtual machine
I can already hear you saying: "I really don't want to mess up my Windows system if I try Linux". Don't worry, you won't. There are multiple ways to install Linux on your computer. Some of them will not affect your Windows system. For brevity's sake, here I will only discuss one method: the virtual machine. What that means is that you will install a normal Windows application on your computer. When you run it, it will create the impression that you have multiple computers running on the same box. Those additional computers are called "virtual machines", because well, they are virtual, they don't have their own hardware. You will use one virtual machine to install Linux onto it.
Basically what you will need to do to your Widows system to try Linux are two things:
- Install the virtual machine software on your computer. This is done like any standard software installation.
- Create a folder, which will hold all the files of the Linux machine.
The Windows system will not be changed in any other way. If you later want to remove Linux, all you have to do is delete the folder with the Linux files, and uninstall the virtual machine software.
3. Download necessary software, prepare your computer
3.1. Virtual machine software
The software you will use to create the Linux virtual machine is called VMware Player. You can download it and use it for free from the VMware web site at http://www.vmware.com/products/player/. Run the installer and follow the straight-forward instructions on the screen.
3.2. Linux installation disk
You will, of course, need an installation CD or DVD with Linux on it. You can download one from the internet, and you don't even have to burn a physical disk. Just keep the disk image as a file on your computer.
There are many different flavors of Linux. Any of them should work. In the tutorial we will use the openSUSE 11.2 DVD. OpenSUSE is my personal favorite Linux distribution. If you want to use a different one, you shouldn't have trouble doing that, but you will have to figure out any differences in procedure on your own. Go to http://www.opensuse.org and download the installation DVD. Depending on your Windows system, choose either the 32 or 64 bit version. Also choose a download method. I prefer bittorrent over the direct link, as it is faster and more reliable for a large file like the DVD image.
3.3. Linux folder
In some convenient location on your computer create a folder that will hold all the Linux files. Call it for example "opensuse.11.2". Pick the location in a place that is easy for you to access. You can even choose to create the folder on a portable hard drive. In that case you can carry your Linux computer in your pocket and fire it up on any other Windows box that has the VMware Player installed.
Move the downloaded openSUSE disk image to this folder.
4. Installing Linux
4.1. Creating the Linux virtual machine
Launch VMware Player from the Windows Start menu. After accepting the license terms, click on "Create a New Virtual Machine" from the main window. The "New Virtual Machine Wizard" will open. Click through a series of windows, making the following choices:
- "Welcome": Select "Installer disk image file". Browse to the location of the "opensuse.11.2" folder and choose the image file.
- "Name the Virtual Machine". The virtual machine name will appear in the list of available machines, so choose something informative. For the location, choose the folder "opensuse.11.2". Browse to find it if necessary.
- "Specify Disk Capacity". If disk space is no problem on your computer, increase the maximum disk size, for example to 100 GB.
- "Ready to Create Virtual Machine". You can leave the default settings if you are in a hurry, as they can be changed later. If you want to tweak them now, click on "Customize Hardware". One important setting is the memory size. The default is conservative, and should be increased if possible. For example, if you have 4GB of RAM, you can choose 1-2 GB for Linux, leaving the rest for Windows. Another setting is the number of processors. If you have a dual or quad-core processor, set the number of cores to 2 or 4, respectively.
Click "Finish" to exit the wizard. The virtual machine will now boot up. From here on we'll refer to the virtual machine as "the system" or "the computer". So when I say "the system will reboot", I mean the Linux virtual machine within the VMware window, not the physical computer running Windows.
4.2. Installing the Linux software
When the virtual machine is first booted up, the openSUSE DVD will be mounted automatically and the installation process will be started. You will notice that your mouse and keyboard will either work only in the virtual machine window, or only in the Windows desktop. You will have to switch between the two as needed. To direct input to the virtual machine window, click inside it (or select the window and press Ctrl+G). To return to the Windows desktop press Ctrl+Alt.
The first menu you will be presented with contains a list of boot option. Notice that the default is to boot from the hard drive, which will not work yet. Before the default is activated, quickly switch input to the virtual machine screen. Use the arrow keys to select "Installation", then press enter. If you missed the menu selection, and went into the default, not to worry. You will have to do the analog of a reboot. In the player top menu, select VM->Power->Reset, and start over.
A series of installation options will be presented to you, such as language, time zone, etc. Choose the ones that make the most sense to you. If you don't know what an option means, leave it at the default. Some of the options you should particularly pay attention to are discussed below.
For the desktop selection, there are two main options, GNOME and KDE. Choose KDE to follow the rest of the tutorial. (Side note: This is amazing if you think about it. Not only will the Linux desktop look and feel differently from Windows, but you can choose from two entirely different desktops within the same Linux operating system!)
One screen will ask you to create a new user. The default options are to create a system administrator, who will be automatically logged in at startup. This is a poor choice in terms of security. It leaves your Linux system wide open to other people to do whatever they want with it. So let's change that. We'll create a regular user account that you will use for most of your work. We'll set a separate password for the so-called "root" user. The root account is the system super user, who has complete control over the system. You will log in as root whenever you need to make system-wide changes, such as installing and configuring applications.
To create a regular user, uncheck the two check-boxes in the lower half of the screen, called "Use this password for system administration", and "Automatic Login". Enter your full name, user name and password. The user name is not allowed to contain spaces. Choose a simple, short word. I like to use my first name in all lowercase.
The following screen asks for the root password. It is critical that you don't forget the root password. If you do, you will loose control over your Linux system. Gone forever. The only remaining option is to erase the system and start from scratch.
Before installation begins, you will see a screen containing a summary of the installation settings. You can make more changes here, but for now you can accept the defaults and click "Install".
Installation will take a while. You don't need to watch the computer during this time. Go do something else, like surfing the web in your Windows system, practicing on your guitar, or whatever. The system will reboot when its done installing and then perform some additional configurations. When you return from your break, you'll see the openSUSE login. Log in with your regular user name and password set above, and you are ready to start exploring Linux.
4.3. A useful trick
You can shut down or reboot the virtual Linux system the way you would a physical computer. However, you don't need to shut it down when you turn off the computer. Simply quit the VMware Player. Next time, the Linux system will resume from where you left it, and you don't need to wait for it to go through the boot sequence.
5. Things to try with your new Linux system
5.1. Change desktop settings
First, before you do anything else, maximize the VMware Player window, so that you can enjoy a full view of the Linux desktop. The KDE desktop, which you chose during installation, has a rich set of features that can be configured. To access the configuration panel, click on the green chameleon head in the bottom left corner of the screen (analogous to the Windows "start" button), and choose the "Configure Desktop" application.
There are a few settings I like to change. First, the default scheme for an application choosing its font sizes I find strange. To change it, select the "Appearance" settings from the "Look & Feel" category. Then click on "Fonts". There is a drop-down box labeled "Force fonts DPI". By default it is disabled. Pick one of the other options instead, and click "Apply".
A very useful feature is found under "Window behavior", also in the "Look & Feel" group. Look for a drop-down box labeled "Policy", choose "Focus Strictly Under Mouse", and click "Apply". This is a feature that Windows does not have and may take some time to get used to it. But once you got it, it becomes addictive, and you wonder how you could have lived without it. What it allows you to do is to get focus to a window on your desktop based on the location of the mouse pointer, without bringing that window to the foreground. You could be watching a movie in the top-most window, while writing email in another window that is only partially visible in the corner of your screen. No more endless window shuffling.
Another thing you should do is turn off display power management and the screen saver. You'll leave those features to be handled by your Windows operating system. The power option is found under "Display" in the "Computer Administration" group. Click on "Power Control" and uncheck the display power management check-box. Then look under "Display" settings for the "Screen Saver" option, and uncheck the "Start automatically" box.
There are many more settings you can play with. Explore them on your own.
5.2. Try out some of the applications
The default installation comes with some useful software applications. Many others are on the DVD and can be added as needed.
First, start up Firefox, by single-clicking on its icon located on the desktop. Go ahead and visit your favorite web sites, and, why not, continue reading this tutorial at DIC right from within Linux.
Also on the desktop, there is link called "Office", which will launch the OpenOffice application. It has functionality similar to Microsoft Office, and can read and write Microsoft documents. OpenOffice also exists as a Windows application, which means you have a lot of flexibility to share documents with non-Linux users.
Other applications you can reach from the chameleon bubble (officially called "Kickoff Application Launcher"). For example, try out GIMP for editing pictures. It is under "Graphics"->"Image Editor".
5.3. Install other applications
Most administrative tasks, including installing software, can be done from an application called "YaST". Start it from the chameleon bubble, tab "Computer". You will need to provide the root password you set during installation.
Select "Software"->"Software Management". There are different ways of browsing and searching available software. Let's install Inkscape, a drawing program. In the software manager window, select the "Search" tab. Type in "inkscape" and view the search result on the right. Check the first box corresponding to the main program. Notice that other 2 packages from the list are automatically added. Click "Accept" and view the list of all automatic changes that need to be made. Click "continue" and wait for the installation to complete. Find Inkscape in the "Graphics"->"Vector Drawing"->"SVG Vector Illustrator" applications menu and launch it. Try to draw a few shapes.
So what else would you like to do? Would you like to do programming in Java, C++, Python, Fortran, or any other language? Perhaps make some databases in MySQL or Postgres? Set up a web application or email server? The software is all there, ready to be installed. Just look around and try what you like.
Linux has an easy method to copy text from one place and paste it to another. To try it out, open a text document in OpenOffice and type in some words. Highlight the text you want to copy by pressing the left mouse button and dragging the mouse across. The copy operation is done. Now hover your mouse above the place where you want to paste and click the scroll wheel. The text is pasted.
5.5. Use multiple desktops
Another nice feature that Windows does not have is the use of multiple desktops. Be default there are 4 of them, but you can create more. If you work on multiple projects at the same time and have lots of windows open, it helps grouping them and keeping them separate. The desktops are accessible from the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, in an area with 4 gray rectangles. Open a few windows and switch from one desktop to another by clicking on the gray rectangles. Try moving windows across desktops, by right-clicking their title bar.
5.6. Explore the command shell
Linux is derived from UNIX, which started as as a console-based operating system. All commands had to be typed in from the keyboard, instead of using a mouse to click around. This functionality is still available. While it seems hard to learn, once you are good at it, there are many tasks that can be done much faster by typing commands in a shell window, then by clicking around in a GUI. Windows has similar, but much reduced functionality in the Command Prompt. Let's have a look at some basics.
To open a shell window start the "Terminal" application from "Applications"->"System"->"Terminal". You will get a new window, which is blank except for the prompt, which is a string that looks something like this:
The prompt indicates that it is ready to accept commands that you type in.
Let's explore the file system. Files are organized into directories and subdirectories, which are different names for folders and subfolders in Windows. There are a few commands useful for navigating the directory tree, and listing directory contents.
Enter the command "pwd" to see what directory you are currently in. You start off in your home directory, so the screen should look like this:
The left-most symbol "/" stands for the entire file system. In it there is a directory called "home", and you are now in a subdirectory of home, which bears your user name.
To see the contents of the current directory, type in "ls". You will get a list like this:
bin Desktop Documents Download Music Pictures Public public_html Templates Videos
You may want to see more details about this list. You can get them by using command-line options of the "ls" command. Type in:
and the response now will look like this:
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:30 bin/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:33 Desktop/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:32 Documents/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:32 Download/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:32 Music/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:32 Pictures/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:32 Public/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:30 public_html/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:32 Templates/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user users 4096 2010-01-23 13:32 Videos/
All available options of the ls command can be viewed by consulting its "man" page. Man stands for "manual". Type in
man 1 ls
which means "show me page 1 of the man page for command ls". Use the arrow keys to scroll up and down through the man page. When done, press "q" on your keyboard.
You can change the current directory with the "cd" command. For example, if you wanted to change to the root directory and list its contents, you could do it like this:
Return to your home directory any time by typing in
You can do lots of things from the shell. For a more detailed introduction, look for a UNIX shell tutorial on the web. One possible source is http://www2.ocean.wa...x.tutorial.html, or the DIC tutorial http://www.dreaminco...wtopic32019.htm.
6. Where to go from here
Depending on your interests, there are practically limitless possibilities to try out. You can set up your system as a development environment, using your favorite language and IDE. Or you could set up a server of some kind and network it to your Windows machine. Remember that your host Windows system and the Linux virtual machine behave like two separate computers. You can therefore do network programming on a single computer! Pick a topic you want to further explore and search the web for tutorials to help you along.