10 easy ways to play with Linux without leaving Windows

While I haven’t made the switch to Linux full time, I find myself spending more and more time experimenting of late. In particular, I’m enjoying projects like Moblin and the Ubuntu Netbook Remix.

If you’re still using Windows for your primary OS there are tons of ways to get your feet wet like a true penguin without making any serious commitments. Here are ten ways to play with Linux painlessly — if you have another to share, please post it in the comments!

Virtualization

Moba LiveCD
Moba uses QEMU to boot LiveCD and LiveUSB images right from your Windows desktop. It works as a portable app and also offers context menu integration so you can right-click to launch fresh images.

Portable Ubuntu
Using Colinux, Pulseaudio for Windows, and the Xming X server, this package allows you to boot a fully-working Ubuntu environment inside Windows right from your usb flash drive. The bigger the better, obviously. I’d recommend an 8GB or 16GB if you plan on using it regularly.


VirtualBox
and VirtualboxImages.com

Sun’s VirtualBox is a very capable virtualization app, and it’s certainly priced right. Sure, you can download LiveCD ISO files, mount them, and sit through a boring install process — but why bother? Head over to VirtualBoxImages.com and grab some ready-to-use VMs.

VMWare Player and Appliances MarketplaceIf you don’t want to pony up for Workstation, VMWare’s free player is a good, free way you can experiment with loads of Linux distros. Just grab them from the Appliance Marketplace – community members are always contributing new releases.

KDE for Windows
While it’s not quite “playing with Linux,” being able to experiment with a whole slew of KDE apps on Windows is pretty slick. Download the installer, choose the KDE goodies you want to install, and wait – the process can take quite a long time depending on how much there is to download.

USB Flash Drive Utilities

Fedora LiveUSB Creator and UNetBootIn
Burning CDs and DVDs takes too long, and it usually ends up in a lot of waste. I can’t count how many time I’ve found a stack of unloved, scratched up Linux discs laying around the shop. These two utilities allow you to transfer those ISO and IMG files to a USB flash drive instead.

LiLi (formerly USBuntu Live Creator)
Unlike the previous apps, LiLi can also wrap your distro in VirtualBox for portable booting from any Windows box. LiLi can also create persistent storage areas on your flash drive for LiveUSB environments.

Others

Boot.kernel.org
This might not be the best way to play if you’re stuck on a moderate-speed DSL connection like I am, but it’s still a pretty amazing option. Grab yourself a GPXE boot image for USB, floppy, or CD, and boot your choice of Debian, Ubuntu, Damn Small, Knoppix, or Fedora – over the Internet. How cool is that?

Wubi
Download Ubuntu or any of the official variants – Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc. – and mount the ISO file in Windows using an app like Virtual Clonedrive (or your favorite alternative). You’ll find wubi.exe in the drive’s root folder – launch it, and you’ll have a Ubuntu install accessible via the Windows boot menu in a matter of minutes.

Many Ubuntu-based distros – like Mint, for example – make use of Wubi as well.

 

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