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Wubi: The Easy Way To Test-Drive Linux On A Windows PC

Linux has long made life easy for tire-kickers. The latest version of Ubuntu, however, makes it simpler than ever before to take Linux for a realistic test drive -- without risking a single byte of data on an existing Windows system.
Linux has long made life easy for tire-kickers. The latest version of Ubuntu, however, makes it simpler than ever before to take Linux for a realistic test drive -- without risking a single byte of data on an existing Windows system.Most Linux distros today will run as so-called Live CDs, which install and run without loading anything permanently onto a host system. A Live CD is a great way to get a quick look at a new distro or to test its hardware support, but it is really too ephemeral to use in a realistic, day-to-day desktop environment. Since a fully functional Linux installation, however, requires its own disk partition and file system, this is a step many Windows users are reluctant to take.

Last year, three programmers came up with a new way to try out Ubuntu Linux -- not as a Live CD, but rather by installing Ubuntu from within Windows itself. The application they developed, known as Wubi, is an Unbuntu Linux installer that runs inside Windows and looks to Windows like just another application. Most of the files Wubi uses to load and run Ubuntu Linux reside in a single folder; the installer does not modify a system's disk partitions, bootloader, or any other vitals; and the whole affair uninstalls just as quickly and painlessly. (You can check out some screenshots of the Wubi/Ubuntu setup process here.)

There must be a catch, right? Not really: If you're looking for a realistic, fully functional Linux desktop experience, Wubi comes awfully close. While you will see a slight performance penalty running Ubuntu on a Windows file system rather than on a native Linux partition, keeping your Windows disk defragmented will keep the difference to a minimum.

Best of all, Wubi can even transfer a Windows-based Ubuntu installation to a dedicated partition (or to a portable device such as a USB drive) and set up a dual-boot configuration for users who choose to take this step.

Obviously, Linux is not right for everyone, just as Windows and the Mac OS aren't right for everyone. Thanks to a tool like Wubi, however, you don't have to take anyone else's word about the pros and cons of Linux -- this is an issue you can, and should, decide for yourself.

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