How to boot a Linux Mint or Ubuntu live CD.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Now that we have burned our image of Linux we will be able to check that your existing computer is compatible with Linux by loading the Linux distribution from the CD without actually installing it. This allows you to try Linux without touching your current operating system. To check multimedia compatibility I suggest that you prepare a few audio and video files on your hard disk to test the audio and video subsystems. If you are testing with Linux Mint these can be in almost any format, but if you are using Ubuntu it is better to have then in the free OGM, OGG or WAV format, as with Ubuntu the non-free decoders have to be installed.

This will be a two part post. In the first part we see how to boot from the live CD, while in the second part we will see how to check that our computer is Linux compatible.

How to boot from the CD.

Place the linux Min or Ubuntu live CD in your drive and restart your computer. If your BIOS is correctly configured Linux should load when you restart your computer. If Windows loads instead this means that you Bios is not configured to start from the CD drive. This will need to be changed: restart your computer again, and when you see your computer manufacturer's logo press the "delete" key to enter the Bios. On some computers it's the F2 key instead. In any case you should see the mention "hit XXX to enter setup" XXX is the key you should push. Note that you may have to hit that key repeatedly, as it will only register during a specific part of the boot process. If you see the Windows logo it means that you were too slow and that you will have to restart the computer and start again.

Once in your bios try to find the "boot order" menu and ensure that CD/DVD is before (i.e. higher) than HDD. If you are using a nebook with an USB CD drive or thumb drive you may not have a CD/DVD option; If that is the case select USB instead. There should be instructions on how to navigate the menus on the screen, as this is different for various brands of computers I can hardly help much.

Once the change is done you need to "quit and save" the bios to make your changes effective. This is usually done by pressing the "F10" key.

After the changes are done restart the computer, and you should notice that it boots from the CD instead of the hard disk. You should be presented with a boot menu. Select the option to start the live CD. Let the computer boot up. This may take quite some time because a CD is not designed to be used as you boot device. Rest assured that if you actually install Linux on your hard drive it will boot much faster. If you see a login prompt with a countdown just wait for the countdown to finish and the boot will proceed. At some point you should hear the little Ubuntu or Mint "boot music" and finally be presented with the Ubuntu or Mint desktop. Congratulation, you successfully started Linux!

In the next episode we will see how to check that you computer hardware is supported by Linux.
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How to download and burn a Linux Mint or Ubuntu live CD?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Last week I told you that one of the nice things with Linux is that you do not have to buy a CD to obtain a copy to install on your computer, you can burn a Linux live CD yourself. This is a small guide on how to proceed:

1) Download the Linux live CD image

Most distributions have a site where you can download the Linux installation CD in the form of an "iso" or "img" file. The Linux Mint live CD image is around 700 Mb and may take a long time to download. The download page for the Ubuntu image is here and the one for Linux Mint is here. You can download the image file by clicking on the direct download link, but if you have a bittorrent client on your computer you are better to download the torrent version of the live CD image. Some distributions like Mandriva or the Linux Mint Universal edition also come as live DVD images. These include more software and / or languages on the disc, but the image takes a lot longer to download. I suggest you only use them if you need to install Linux in a language not included on the base CD as the other software can be downloaded afterward anyway.

2) Burn the Linux live CD Image with Nero

I will assume that most of you are currently using Windows. The most popular CD burning software that I know of is Nero Burning Rom, so I'll explain how to burn the image with that software first:

- Put a blank CD in your burner.
- Start Nero express

- Select that you want to burn a Disc image or saved project.

- Browse to your Linux live CD "iso" image (here it is Linux Mint 7) and click "OK".

- Check "Verify data on disc after burning" and click "Next" to start the burn.


3) burn the Linux image with a freeware CD burning program.

If your burner or computer did not come with Nero, you can still burn the Linux live CD image you downloaded. First try to look in your current CD burning software to see if there is an option to burn an disc image. If you can't find any you will have to download and install some software to burn your CD image:

- Go download isorecorder here. Be careful to select the right download for your version of Windows.
- Once you have the msi double click to install the program.
- Put a blank CD in your burner.
- In Windows explorer, go to the folder where you downloaded the Linux CD image.
- If the file finishes in ".img" instead of ".iso" rename it so that it finishes in ".iso".
- Right click the iso file and select "copy image to CD" and follow the instructions.

Next time we'll see how to use the live CD we burned to start a Linux session and check that our hardware compatible with Linux.
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From where do you get Linux?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
One of the questions that some beginners do worry about is "from where do I get Linux?" After all most people received their current operating system preinstalled on their computers or purchased a boxed copy of Windows at a retailer such as best buy or office depot. You can still do that with Linux, however there are also cheaper options.

1) purchasing a computer with Linux preinstalled

If your intention was to purchase a new computer at the same time you switched to Linux it possible to get Linux the same way that you got Windows: preinstalled on your new computer. Although Linux computer are not easy to find in brick and mortar shops, you do have a lot of choices online. Amazon sells an acceptable range of computers and netbooks pre-installed with Linux in the US. This gives you the advantage of dealing with a large retailer that you are probably familiar with, but you probably won't get much Linux support or advice from Amazon, and their range is limited.

If you would rather shop from a place that is specialized in Linux computers, there are a few online retailers that can provide you with computers designed for Linux. In the US Zareason has an excellent reputation for its Ubuntu computers, they even sell them with special Ubuntu keyboards on which the Windows key has been replaced by an Ubuntu Logo. If you live in Europe you should check out UK based : they have a decent selection of computer that can be provided with several flavors of Ubuntu or even dual booting with Windows. They ship in the whole EU and have decent shipping charges. Finally, Dell is selling some models of computers pre-installed with Ubuntu, but only in some countries. Their Linux page is sometimes hard to find though.

2) Purchasing a boxed Linux distribution

It is possible to get boxed versions of Linux in shops just like there are versions of Windows. You should be able to find Ubuntu CDs at Best Buy and on Amazon. These are much cheaper than Windows installation CDs however, as the boxed edition of Ubuntu only costs $20. The advantage of a boxed edition is that often a few days of professional phone support are included with the purchase to help you get started.

3) Getting Linux with a book or magazine

Since Linux is free the books that teach you about Linux often include the whole distribution on a CD. The advantage is that if you intend to learn to administer Linux by reading that book you are sure that you will work with the version that the book was written for. The inconvenient is that often the books are one or two Linux releases out of date, so you do not get to use the latest and greatest version of your chosen distribution. Another option is to purchase a magazine about Linux that includes a distribution on the cover CD. These are relatively easy to find in most bookstores and newsagents and an easy way to get Linux if you are" not comfortable with online shopping. Often these magazines do not include large tutorials on how to install the distribution, so expect to rely on websites, blogs and forums for assistance.

4) Downloading Linux for free.

Most distributions allow you to download their product for free as a CD or DVD image. A CD image is a file that you can burn on a blank recordable CD to create a bootable Linux CD like the one you would find in a boxed edition of Linux or with a book. You can find the latest releases of Ubuntu here, and the Linux Mint images are here. The advantages of this method is that you always get the latest version of your chosen distribution and it does not cost anything beside the blank CD. The inconvenient is that you need a broadband connection, you will need to rely on online help for assistance (though Linux Mint provides you with a downloadable manual in pdf format) and that you need to know how to burn the downloaded image to a blank CD. Do not worry though, as burning a Linux image will be the topic of next week's post.
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What is the best Linux distribution for beginners

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
One of the questions I see the most in forums and sites like Yahoo Answers is : "What is the best Linux distribution for beginners?" or "What is the easiest Linux distribution?" Well, unlike what you may think these questions are not that easy to answer, as the easiest Linux distribution is not necessarily the best for all beginners because other factors like the availability of support and commercial applications availability have to be taken into account.

For the title of easiest Linux distribution for a beginner I would suggest Linux Mint.

Linux Mint is actually based on Ubuntu Linux, but simplified for users coming from Windows. The user interface has been tweaked to look and behave more like Windows. Most common applications like the flash pligina as well as video and audio decoders come pre-installed with the base distribution, meaning less things to configure for the beginner user. Linux Mint has a very polished software installer where hundreds of applications can be downloaded and installed in one click. You can also view a screenshot of the application that you are about install so that you can see what the application is about. Furthermore all free Ubuntu applications can also be installed on Linux Mint thanks to another installation utility: the package manager. On the downside there is no possibility to buy paid support and no application store for commercial applications. A great advantage for users that come from the Windows world is that thanks to Wubi you can install Linux Mint alongside Windows: it is like installing a Windows application. Upgrading Linux Mint to the next version is less intuitive than with Ubuntu, a design decision to ensure that the user understand that there is always a risk of problems during upgrades. This is not an issue if you intend to stick with your first Linux installation for a long time, but can be a problem if you want to upgrade your software from time to time. Should you run into troubles the community is great for providing help but is smaller than the one of Ubuntu.

To get a more in-depth look at Linux Mint i suggest that you check out my review on Tech-no-media.

The second best Linux distribution for beginners is Ubuntu Linux, even if it is not the easiest.

Even if it's not the easiest distribution Ubuntu is still easy to install and configure for the beginner. Like Mint you can even install it like an application in Windows. Once installed you can easily add more applications from within the add remove programs applet of Ubuntu because this distribution has the best selection of native Linux applications available. When a new release of Ubuntu is available it is easy to upgrade to the new release thanks to the Ubuntu upgrade manager, although this is sometimes risky. Because the community is large you can also easily get support and advice should you encounter a problem, the Ubuntu forums are in my opinion the best of any distribution for beginners seeking help. If you want to buy commercial software like PowerDVD or some professional phone support these are available through Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. In the disadvantage column there is the fact that some common applications like adobe flash or video codecs must be installed manually, although it is easy to do thanks to the restricted extras package. Another thing that makes Ubuntu less desirable is that the user interface is somewhat different from Windows. Don't get me wrong, it is an excellent user interface, but for beginners this may be disturbing. Despite this I still consider Ubuntu as one of the best Linux distribution for beginners.

To conclude I would say this: the easiest Linux distribution to install and use for beginners is Linux Mint, however if you want professional support or commercial applications the best Linux distribution for a beginner is Ubuntu. If you want an easy install "just to try Linux" you should use Linux Mint.

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5 disadvantages of Linux

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
When someone want to switch from Windows to Linux, he or she has a tendency to only think about the advantages of Linux and not think about the disadvantages. There is a bit of a "the grass is always greener at the other side of the fence" effect at play here. Most people have very good reasons to switch from Windows to Linux, but before actually switching it is important to review the disadvantages of Linux as well as the advantages. So what are the things that Linux does NOT do well?

- Linux does not run most commercial software. If you have some piece of commercial software ( i. e. software you purchased) on which you are very dependent, you may have a problem with Linux. Most software and game publishers do not yet have a Linux version of all their products, although the situation is improving. This disadvantage of Linux can be offset by two thing. First for most commercial applications there is a free equivalent application that runs on Linux. These equivalent applications are a good alternative in the vast majority of cases but they do not always have all the features of the commercial product they replace and do usually have a different interface. Initially you will need some time to get used to the new application. Another solution is to use WINE. WINE is a Linux program that allows you to use Windows applications and games under Linux. The disadvantage is that WINE is often difficult to use for new Linux users and does not work with all Windows applications or games.

- Less off-line help is available for Linux. If you look online you will find a lot of people willing to help you with any Linux problem you may have, probably more so than for Windows. Most Linux manufacturers such as canonical, the makers Ubuntu Linux, also allow you to purchase professional phone support for their version of Linux. If you require someone to pass by you house however, local Linux support is harder to find than help with Windows. In most cities there is usually at least one local company or support group close by that can help, but this can be disadvantage of Linux if you live in a rural or isolated area. On the other hand, the people supporting Linux are usually more experienced and knowledgeable than their Windows equivalent because a lot of technicians started on Windows and moved to Linux later, so once you have found help the quality of the support you get may be better than with Windows.

- Some re-training can be required. Although modern Linux distributions operate with a "point and click" interface, some of the underlying concepts can be different from the Windows world. This means that using Linux is very similar to Windows, but that maintenance tasks such as installing new applications can be somewhat different. If you have extensive Windows knowledge you may have to un-learn some habits and acquire others, which may be frustrating. Maintaining a Linux computer is actually easier than maintaining a Windows one, it is simply different, so if you had little computer maintenance knowledge to start with this may not be much of a disadvantage.

- Linux does currently not play Blu-ray discs. Well actually it's the other way around, it's the manufacturers of the Blu ray discs that forbid the creation of a Blu-ray player software like WinDVD for Linux. It is still sometimes possible to extract the file for playback on Linux but it is difficult and cumbersome! If you made an informed decision when buying your Blu-ray discs you probably knew that unlike DVDs you would only be able to play them on a very limited number of player (some Windows PCs and stand-alone Blu-ray players). Some people however assumed that they would be able to use them with the same flexibility as DVDs. This is not the case. For me this is not an inconvenient as I find Blu-ray discs too expensive and not flexible enough, so I don't buy them, but if you already have a large collections of Blu-ray discs that you wanted to play on your computer this can be a disadvantage of Linux.

- Not all hardware is supported. One of the problems of all operating systems is hardware support. Windows Vista for example does not support a lot of older peripheral. The Apple OSX operating system do not support some of the equipment designed for Windows PC. The same is true for Linux. Don't get me wrong: Linux has excellent hardware support, but that doesn't means that all your equipment is guaranteed to work. The most recent hardware is often not supported right away, so if you have a brand new computer that was designed for Windows Vista some of your equipment may prove to be too recent for Linux. Do not worry, compatibility of your existing computer is easy to check with a Linux Live CD. The same way that you need to look for and install drivers for Windows you may have to look for a solution or driver to make problematic hardware work with Linux. The good new is that most of the common hardware works out of the bow with Linux, but when something does not work it is usually harder to fix for new users than it would be under Windows.

As you can see Linux has some disadvantages over Windows, however the extent to which these disadvantages impact you will vary a lot depending on your situation and you tech savvy. If you have a lot of computer knowledge and learn new applications very fast the first 2 disadvantages will not impact you much. If you are a true beginner with little computer knowledge on the other hand then these can be real problems. In most cases these disadvantages are not a deal breaker however, but it is better that you start your journey to Linux with a basic knowledge of the trade-ins required when switching from Windows to Linux.

To get tech news for more advanced users check out Tech-no-media

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