I grew up GUI, so I've always been shy of the Linux distributions available online, even if they were free and full of promise.
A couple of years ago, I downloaded a Knoppix disc image and burned a bootable CD that let me get an idea of what Linux could do. It was slow running it off the CD, but I didn't have the disk space on my old Windows ME box (you can stop chuckling now) for a new partition and a full Knoppix install. So once the newness wore off, the CD went in the drawer, where it keeps company with a tangle of cables and a bubble-wrapped graphics card from 1999.
But now that Wal-Mart and Dell are selling Linux boxes to consumers, I decided to take a second look. And this time, I vowed to go whole hog (or at least a couple of big hams).
For Linux, I chose Ubuntu, the most popular free Linux distribution. And, since I didn't have a box I could dedicate to my Linux experiment, I decided to set up a virtual machine on my Intel Mac. If you're running Windows XP, you might want to try these instructions, though the process is nearly identical.
Step One: Go to the Ubuntu home page and check the system requirements. I had to remember that I was going to be running Ubuntu in a virtual machine, which means I could allocate only a portion of my hardware (most notably RAM) to Linux. I figured I could spare 512MB of RAM to the virtual machine, so I forged ahead.
Step Two: Download the Ubuntu disc image. Find the proper disc image and download to your desktop. The file is nearly 700MB, so it's going to take a while. When it's done, you'd normally use the ISO file to make a CD, but in this case that isn't necessary (though I did it anyway). The virtual machine software can install Ubuntu straight from the iso file.
Step Three: Download the virtual machine software. There are a number of virtual machine options, but I went with VirtualBox, since some of my co-workers use it to run Windows on Intel Macs and I'd seen it in action.
Step Four: Install the VirtualBox software and create a new virtual machine profile There are tons of options, so you can drill through the documentation if you like. I figured my biggest decisions were RAM and hard disk space, so I allocated 512MB of RAM and 40GB of hard disk (actually an image file on your hard drive that pretends to be a physical drive) to the virtual machine. I also went with VirtualBox's dynamically expanding drive option and stuck with the defaults on everything else.
Step Five: In VirtualBox, click on the CD/DVD-ROM settings and add a CD to mount. Select the Ubuntu ISO image you downloaded. Now select the virtual machine profile you've created and click start.
Step Six: Once the Ubuntu screen appears, select the "Start or Install Ubuntu" option and then select the install icon on the desktop. Follow the prompts to install.
I had a moment of trepidation when Ubuntu asked to partition my drive, but then I realized it was looking at the 40GB virtual drive and wasn't going to wipe out my Mac.
Step Seven: If all goes well, you are now running Linux in a window, but you might see some issues. At this stage, my guest OS window wouldn't resize, and the bottom of the window wouldn't consistently render. To fix this, you need to install the VirtualBox Guest Additions in Ubuntu. Being a Linux n00b, this step proved the most frustrating aspect of the project.
To prepare your machine for Guest Additions, VirtualBox recommends installing DKMS. In Ubuntu, go to Applications/Accessories and select Terminal. Once loaded, type:
sudo apt-get install dkms
After DKMS installs, exit Terminal.
Now go to the VirtualBox menu item "Devices" and select "Install Guest Additions." This will place a disk image on your Ubuntu desktop. Again in the VirtualBox menu, select "Devices" and Mount CD/DVD-ROM then CD/DVD-ROM image. Select VBoxGuestAdditions.iso.
Switch back to Ubuntu and launch Terminal (Applications/Accessories/Terminal) again. Once loaded, execute:
The command line will advise you to restart Ubuntu. Once you do, the Guest Additions will add some dandy features like mouse pointer integration, shared folders and other goodies.
Now remember, I'm a command-line n00b, and there are likely better ways to do this, but it worked for me. Your mileage may vary.
And if you're new to Ubuntu, be sure to download the Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference. The 170-page godsend is $10 in print, but the PDF is free.
The Linux philosophy is that free is good. That's right up Cheap Tech's alley.