Chances are, you’ve heard of Linux.

But did you ever want to give it a try?…Maybe take it for a test drive?…See if it acts well with your computer hardware?

Well, you can! And you can do so without installing it, and without tampering with your current operating system.

OK…so how is it done?

You can test drive Linux with something called a Live CD.

Basically, your computer will run the Linux operating system off a CD. And there’s no need to worry about harming your Windows OS, or any of your files for that matter. Your hard drive is totally ignored.

If you like Linux enough, you can install it from the Live CD; but, you don’t have to.

In this post, we’re not going to cover the installation process, but we will cover:

  1. Downloading an ISO file 
  2. Burning the ISO file to a CD
  3. Making sure your computer will boot from your CD-ROM drive, and finally,
  4. Test Driving Linux

Let’s begin:

Step 1 – Downloading an ISO file

First, we have to make a clarification: There are many different “versions” of Linux to choose from. It’s a bit different from Windows, where you have Windows XP, and then, years later, an upgrade to Windows Vista. With Linux, there are thousands of different “versions;” which are referred to as distributions.

Some Linux distributions provide a Live CD, while others do not. Since we’re looking to test drive Linux without having to install it, we’re going to need a distribution that does provide a Live CD.

In this post, we will focus on testing one of the most popular Linux distributions: Ubuntu.

The Ubuntu Live CD download is approximately 700 Megabytes in size. So, it is recommended you have a fast Internet connection (e.g., cable, DSL). If you do not have a fast connection, you’re not out of luck. You can order the Live CD (for free) from here. The CD may take a couple of weeks to arrive.

If you’re ready to go to the Ubuntu download page, click here. You’ll see the following: 

Click to Enlarge

  • First, choose which version of Ubuntu you’d like to download: 6.10 or 6.06,
  • Next, select the type of computer you have,
  • Then, choose the country you’d like to download from, and finally,
  • Click “Start Download.”

Save the ISO file to your Desktop and you’re ready for Step 2:

Step 2 – Burning the ISO file to a CD

Now that you have the Ubuntu ISO file on your Desktop, the next step is to burn it to a CD.

For this, you will need two things:

  1. A blank recordable CD, and,
  2. A CD/DVD burning application

If you do not have a CD/DVD burning application, you can download Infra Recorder for free!

In this post, I will show you how to use Infra Recorder to burn the Ubuntu ISO to a CD.

First, place the blank CD into your CD-ROM drive and open the Infra Recorder software.

Click on Actions > Burn Image:

Click to Enlarge


Next, select the Ubuntu ISO file located on your Desktop: 

Click to Enlarge

The next screen should look like the following…Click OK: 

Click to Enlarge

Infra Recorder will then burn the Ubuntu ISO file onto the CD: 

Click to Enlarge

When it is finished, close Infra Recorder.

Step 3 – Make sure your computer will boot from the CD-ROM drive

Now that you have your CD ready, you need to make sure that your computer will boot from your CD-ROM drive first. In other words, if your computer is configured to boot from your hard drive first, it will skip past your CD-ROM drive and load Windows like it usually does.

To have your computer boot from your CD-ROM drive, you’ll have to configure it from the BIOS setup screen. **You will have to restart your computer, so it might be best to either print out these instructions, or write them down.**

I’m going to show you how to configure a Dell desktop. If your computer is a little different, you’ll at least know what to look for.

First, when the computer first boots up, and you can see the Dell logo, hit F2 on your keyboard:

Now that you’re in BIOS, use the arrow keys on your keyboard to go to Boot Sequence:

Click to Enlarge

Hit the Enter key:

Arrange the drives so that the CD-ROM drive is first. (For example: CD-ROM, Hard Drive, Floppy)

Click to Enlarge

Hit the Enter key:

Hit the Esc key:

Step 4 – Test Driving Linux

You’re now ready to try out Ubuntu. Just restart your computer with the CD inside your CD-ROM drive.

Once Ubuntu is loaded, you can:

  • Surf the Internet with the Firefox web browser
  • Create OpenOffice documents
  • Check out how files are organized in Linux (it’s a bit different than Windows).
  • Work on multiple desktops
  • and much more!

Now that you know the process of using a Live CD, you can move beyond Ubuntu and try other Linux distributions. To see a list of distributions that provide a Live CD, click here.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Chris Rossini of Learn Firefox where he writes a visual guide to the Firefox Web Browser with how-to instructions, screenshots, and videos to guide you through the entire process!