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How to try Linux without removing your existing operating system (yes it’s possible)


So you’ve been hearing all the hype around Linux. It’s free, it’s open-source, it has fewer security vulnerabilities, and the mascot is cute. You want to give it a shot. But you’ve also seen a lot of pictures of scary-looking command lines and it seems that the entire user base for Linux is people based in the tech industry.

It is time to realise that there is nothing to worry about. Linux is an operating system for everyone. It has the same learning curve that you would have when switching from a familiar operating system to a new one. Other than that, it is no more difficult to use than any other general-purpose operating system. The only difference is that, unlike macOS and Windows, it usually does not come pre-installed in devices right from the factory, so you will have to install it yourself. There are a few exceptions such as the devices from System76 which come with their own flavour of Linux, PopOS preinstalled.

Check out this Instagram post to find a list of operating systems you can try as a newbie to Linux.

Now you want to try it out, but you aren’t quite ready to let go of your current OS yet. Fret not, Linux has several ways to work with your existing OS. So here are three ways to do it :

Live USB :

This method requires three things; a USB drive, an application such as Balena Etcher or Rufus to create bootable drives, and a computer to run it all on.

The advantage of doing this is that you don’t have to install anything Linux specific on your computer. It operates fully from the USB. You can try out as many Linux distros as you want without making any changes to your existing filesystem before deciding on which distro you want to stick with.

If you are using an Ubuntu live USB, you can even save files using a system called “persistent storage” on the USB, thus making it a tiny pocket-sized computer you can plug and use on any other computer. This is especially useful if you travel a lot and you don’t want to lug around a computer. You can just set up a persistent live USB and use it wherever you go.


Virtual Machine

Specialised applications such as VirtualBox lets you run standalone virtual machines of whichever OS you want simultaneously with your existing OS. You can turn the machines on and off without it affecting your primary OS.

Advantages include being able to run multiple OSes at once on the same computer, saving the data on each OS separately without it affecting your host machine, and not having to reboot the computer to switch between OSes.

Using VirtualBox however, requires more system resources and is especially taxing on system memory. The files belonging to each virtual machine are stored on your hard disk itself, unlike a persistent USB where the data is stored on the USB itself.

VirtualBox cannot be substituted for a dual booted system where you can use the OS of your choice depending on your requirements and both the OSes are installed onto your computer. It is used primarily for testing or demonstration purposes, which makes it a good choice for trying out different OSes.


Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL)

Using WSL, you get to run Linux distros as apps. They are downloadable on the Microsoft Store. You can run the distros on the command line, as well as download desktop environments for the distros and use them in a manner similar to that of VirtualBox and it uses fewer system resources making it more suitable for computers with fewer resources.

However, to go past the command line and use a desktop environment while using WSL, you will have to download and install a desktop environment of your choice such as GNOME, KDE Plasma or MATE by yourself. This might make it seem a little intimidating to new users. But I encourage those of you on Windows reading this to give it a shot, it is much easier than you think to get WSL running and there are plenty of guides on the internet to help you out with it.

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