April 9, 2009
There are already a couple of safe, easy ways to try out Linux on a Windows desktop system. But a new option could be the easiest one of all.Windows users who want to kick the tires on a Linux distro already have the option of using a Live CD. Ubuntu also offers a cool gadget called Wubi, which installs a fully functional Ubuntu Linux distro on a Windows system without reformatting or partitioning a system's hard disk.
Both methods give users a fairly complete Linux experience while posing absolutely no risk to an existing Windows setup. Yet both also have drawbacks: Running Linux from a Live CD can impose a noticeable hardware performance hit, and while Wubi runs almost as quick as a regular Ubuntu Linux desktop, it still requires a user to reboot in order to use Ubuntu. A new project called Portable Ubuntu now makes this process about as easy as it could possibly get. It actually improves upon Wubi by allowing a Windows user to run a complete Ubuntu Linux desktop setup as a regular Windows application. If you or your employees want to check out Ubuntu Linux, or if you need to get a group of desktop users ready for a move to Ubuntu, Portable Ubuntu could be the perfect learning tool. Besides running as a ordinary Windows application, Portable Ubuntu is thrifty with system resources. The installer is around 450MB, and it runs great on a USB drive or other portable storage device. I have seen claims that Portable Ubuntu requires anywhere from a little over 10MB to around 50MB of memory to run, depending upon how many applications you run within it; my own (brief) experience with it ran towards the higher end of this range. Portable Ubuntu also supports full access to Windows files and folders; if you want, for example, to try out a Linux-based word processing tool with an existing document, you'll find it easy to do so. Finally, changes to Portable Ubuntu are persistent; desktop tweaks and new or updated applications will all stick around the next time you fire up the tool. Portable Ubuntu is actually based on another Linux distro, known as Cooperative Linux or coLinux. The coLinux distro is designed to allow a LInux kernel and Windows to run simultaneously on the same system. As a result, coLinux has spawned some projects similar to Portable Ubuntu that run other distros; TopologiLinux, for example, runs Slackware, a popular community-supported Linux distro. You can download the latest version of Portable Ubuntu here. For more information on installing and using Portable Ubuntu, including some screen shots, try this introduction on Lifehacker.com or this one on Softpedia.com. Some additional screen shots are also available on the project's Sourceforge page.
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