Three Easy Ways to Try Ubuntu Without Breaking Anything

Broken Windows So, you’ve heard about this Linux thing and want to learn more about it? Perhaps you have heard about its inherent security and near-impermeability to malware. Perhaps you’re still on 2000 or XP and don’t want to shell out the cash for a newer Windows OS. Hey, the economy is tough, I know. Or perhaps you’re just attracted to the idea of open source and want to worship at the feet of Richard Stallman. Just kidding about that last part, I think.

No matter the reason, if you’ve never tried Linux, but have considered it before, consider this your invitation to start treading the Linux waters. No, you won’t drown.

But, but, I’m worried about breaking Windows!

Calm down. Your Windows installation will be fine.

But, but, I don’t know which Linux to choose. There are so many!

Yes, that’s true, but there are similarities between all of them. In fact, many of the available Linux distros are just slight alterations of one another. Think of it as one person with many different sets of clothes.

While any of the major distros will work just fine, I recommend Ubuntu to people trying Linux for the first time.

But, but, what if I don’t understand any of the programs?!

Relax, I bet you will. Perhaps you already use several popular open-source programs on your Windows computer, such as Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, VLC, or The GIMP? Plus, many common closed-source programs are also available on Linux, including most of the Google programs and Nero Linux. I bet you’ll be just fine.

I generally find that newcomers to Linux are most hesitant about disk partitioning and the potential risk of losing data. Ubuntu can handle disk resizing and partitioning with aplomb, but for the ultra-risk-averse, here are three ways to give Ubuntu a shot on your computer without breaking Windows or losing any data.

Method 1 – Live CD

The first thing to do is download a copy of Ubuntu. Have a slow connection (or just don’t feel like downloading)? No problem. Ubuntu can ship a disc to you for free, although you may have to wait ten weeks for delivery. Oh well, I guess that’s better than waiting 11 weeks for download over dial-up Internet.

Not sure which edition to download? If in doubt, just go for the Desktop edition (32-bit).

Next, burn the ISO that you downloaded to a blank CD as a disk image. You should be able to do this easily in any CD-burning software. For instance, in InfraRecorder (free), look for the Write Image option.

InfraRecorder Main

Once your new Ubuntu disc is burned, just leave it in your CD drive and reboot. There’s a pretty good chance your computer will boot straight to the disc. If it does not, reboot again and go into the bios at boot, usually by pressing DEL or F2, depending on the computer manufacturer. Look around for a BOOT section and set your CD drive as the first boot option. Don’t be scared. If you have trouble with this part, ask your neighborhood geek.

When your computer successfully boots from the CD, follow the prompts to Try Ubuntu. Within a few minutes, you should be staring at your brownish Ubuntu desktop, running straight from the CD. Congrats! Feel free to play around as much as you like, and when you reboot, your Windows will be there waiting for you.

Note: running from a CD is MUCH slower than running from your hard disk.

Method 2 – Wubi

Wubi windows If you want a more permanent solution than a Live CD, you owe it to yourself to check out Wubi.

http://wubi-installer.org/

Without a doubt, Wubi is the easiest way to get a full Ubuntu installation without fear of damaging Windows. With a few clicks, Wubi will install Ubuntu within Windows, just like any other Windows application. No CDs to burn. No disk partitioning. Only good times.

To install Wubi, you can either download the installer directly, or run it straight from the Ubuntu Live CD.

Ubuntu CD Menu

When you first pop the Ubuntu CD into the drive, you will have the option to Install inside Windows. Clicking that option brings up the Wubi installer, allowing you to specify a few setup options.

Ubuntu - Wubi Setup

Choose a username and password, and off you go! Wubi will install like a typical Windows application. Go get a cup of coffee because installation will take a few minutes. When it’s done, reboot, and you will have your choice of Windows or Ubuntu to run.

At any point, if you decide to get rid of Ubuntu, just uninstall it in the Windows Control Panel (Add/Remove Programs), just like any other app.

Method 3 – Virtual Machine

The third option requires a little more nerd factor than the previous two, though not by too much. Most newcomers to Linux should stick with the first two options, but if you are a more experienced Windows user, go ahead and give method three a try – running Linux in a virtual machine.

A virtual machine allows you to run multiple operating systems simultaneously, all without conflicting or damaging one another. The only limitations are in how much RAM and disk space your host computer has.

All you need to run Linux in a virtual machine is:

  1. An ISO of a Linux distro (see Method 1 above)
  2. Free Virtual Machine server software

The titans of free virtual server software are VMware, VirtualPC, and VirtualBox. Of those three, I prefer VirtualBox.

http://www.virtualbox.org/

With VirtualBox, you can easily try Ubuntu without doing any damage to Windows, and if your computer was built within the last four years or so, the Ubuntu virtual machine should perform much faster than the Live CD as well.

Here’s a screenshot of my Macbook running Ubuntu in a virtual machine:

One cool aspect of VirtualBox is the ability to take snapshots of the current system. Scared your tinkering is about to break the virtual Ubuntu? Just take a snapshot first, then tweak to your heart’s content. You can always restore the previous snapshot with a click or two.

Want more information on setting up VirtualBox? See my previous walkthrough.

There you go – three easy ways to try Ubuntu without breaking Windows. I can’t promise it will become your favorite operating system, but now you have no excuse not to learn more about it! Enjoy.

8 thoughts on “Three Easy Ways to Try Ubuntu Without Breaking Anything

  1. Brian,

    I have a question, when using the Install into Windows via Wubi it states that you will not be able to use the hibernation mode. Is this the case for the sleep mode also in vista, will it not work also? I am assuming that it would not I just want to know as I use the sleep mode a lot. I am not a tech savvy person by any means and would like to hear from you as to how I should proceed before I utilize wubi as a means of installing Ubuntu.

    The other question I have is will I get the latest version of Ubuntu with all the terrific desktop features? I plan on first getting an external drive and save my data to it before I proceed, is this being to cautious or could I feel confident enough to proceed without doing this step as this will delay my install time until I can purchase an external drive. I would greatly appreciate your advice as to how to proceed. The first option seemed a little confusing to me and it is probably because I am not familiar with the term ISO.

    Now as it goes with the familiarity with the programs I am fine on most if not all of them so that will not be an issue. Plus should I allow for extra space above and beyond the size of the default install file size as I have heard you can do? I can free up to 18gigs if needed.

    Thank You for any information you can give me as I am Technically Handicapped.

    Thomas

  2. 1. Wubi will not affect your Windows installation, so you can use your Sleep mode. Wubi only adds a Bootloader entry to boot from a Virtual Hard Disk.

    2. You will get the latest available stable version directly from ubuntu.com | You don’t any external disk.

    3. You need minimum 5 GB and you will be comfortable at 8 GB.

    Application Familiarity

    Windows App | Ubuntu App included by default

    Web Browsers:
    Internet Explorer/Firefox | Firefox

    Office Suite:
    MS Office | OpenOffice.org (Sun Microsystems)

    Image Editor:
    Photoshop | The GIMP

    Music Player:
    Windows Media Player | Rhythmbox

    Personal Info Management and Mail:
    MS Outlook | Evolution and few others

    if want more, goto ubuntuforums.org and ask for help

  3. Thomas – As Abhinav mentioned, Wubi won’t touch your Windows installation, so Hibernate will still work in Vista, just not in Ubuntu.

    You won’t need to buy an external drive unless you’re really paranoid. As the article implies, Wubi is designed just for people like you, who don’t want to mess with disk partitioning or the risk of data loss. If it will make you feel better, I’ve not heard any horror stories of Wubi damaging anything. You could always back up some critical files on some online storage before you install. It’s a good idea in general.

    As for install size, anywhere from 10-15 gigabytes should be more than enough for most uses. Yes, Wubi will install the latest version of Ubuntu.

    Good luck!

  4. Thank You Guys.

    I am first going to try the disk method. If I have problems in this method of trying to write it to a disk I will delete the file. Then do option #2 and see how everything goes that way. I see that you are confident that I will not experience anything adverse and that in of itself assures me that I can go ahead without any worries.

    Thank you for answering the question about sleep mode. I have seen some videos showing the difference between Vista and Ubuntu and it caught my attention. I hope that it is user friendly enough and does not require a step learning curve. Although I will try to climb one mountain at a time is it possible to load Leopard on to a PC without any major issues. Let me know if that is possible and dummy proof for someone like me. Again Thanks to the two of you.

    Thomas

  5. Thomas – Good luck with Ubuntu. You should be fine.

    Loading OS X Leopard on a PC is considerably more difficult than installing Ubuntu. Not only is it of dubious legality, the required hardware is much more select and finicky. I don’t recommend it for most people, unless you want to spend some serious time learning about it (and possibly buying some compatible hardware).

    To read more about it, check out the OSx86 project.

  6. Brian,

    I think that I will try and see how I perform on Ubuntu first before I move forward. Your advice is taken seriously and I will not attempt it without the proper geek support. I had a problem trying method #1, I attempted this twice without any success. I then tried the Wubi method and that worked very well. I have two drives on my laptop and I thought that I should put it on the one that was virtually empty. I did that and it appears that it worked fine. I can boot into either OS when I start my laptop. Now the question I have is this, I selected 10 gigs as the file size. I have plenty of more room to use on this second disk, should I erase and re-install selecting a larger file size if I am happy with Ubuntu. What are the advantages and or disadvantages of doing this. By increasing the size do I allow for more overall use such as saving files multimedia etc. For example I have saved it for ten gigs, but lets say I want to install all my music files from their originals which would exceed 20gigs themselves should I load a larger file for Ubuntu. Basically by limiting its size do I limit its overall capability in the long run.

    Also I have played a little bit with Ubuntu and like what I see. But, their seems to be a problem downloading Adobe flash player. It states that it is not compatible. One option was ubuntu 8.04 but I am sure that I am using 8.10 via Wubi. What could I expect to have problems with in terms of capadable drivers and such. I am not a gamer and really do not normally use complicated programs.

    The last question I will ask is for the desktop graphics. Is the 64 bit version of Ubuntu the only one with cube and all those wicked graphics. I checked my spec’s and I think I have only 32 bit as I went into my Vista Score and saw something there stating that. Also I have loaded the 32 bit desktop Ubuntu via Wubi. So is the 64bit the one with all the cool graphics and if not how do I access the cube I keep trying to find it, wow that must sound funny to you.

    Thank You very much for your answers as they have been clear and concise. I understand that I have many little questions here and I will continue to experiment with Ubuntu and hopefully will not have to bother you all here.

    Again Thanks Brian and Thanks Abhinav for your time

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