This post is for those who had some experience with Linux or had tried Linux before, but never made up mind to switch to it. Linux has become better and better in every aspect of the operating system, especially with the new release of Ubuntu 17.10 and Linux Mint 18.3, I think it is the right time to dive into Linux and eventually switch to Linux from Windows. However, if you think you are still not ready to switch to Linux by going cold turkey, I will show you some ways that help you to gradually ease into the Linux world. During the transition, you will be able to run Linux without changing your Windows system, to be clear, I am not talking about the dual boot method which install Linux along side with Windows. I am talking about the different ways of installing and running Linux depending on your comfortable level.
Stage 1. Running Linux without Installing Anything
All Linux distributions, such Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora Core, OpenSUSE, etc, allow users to launch the system from a bootable DVD or USB stick. Since the whole Linux is executed from the DVD or USB stick, there is nothing needs to be installed in Windows. Ubuntu has very detailed instruction on how to create a bootable DVD or USB stick, and once you have the bootable DVD or USB stick ready, you can reboot your computer and change the boot order in your BIOS to make sure the computer boots up from the DVD or USB stick. After the computer is booted, you will have a full Linux system up and running. Once you are done with the testing, you can reboot your computer normally and you will be back into Windows. You can try Linux this way as long as you want, but when you think you are getting more comfortable with the Linux system, then you can move to the next stage.
The major advantage of running Linux on Live DVD or USB is there is no need to modify your Windows system. If it turns out that Linux does not work for you, you just need to remove the DVD or USB and boot normally into Windows and there will not be nothing changed. However, the major disadvantage of this method is that you cannot save any changes you made during a Live DVD or USB session, so once a new session starts (a new reboot), you will have to start fresh. Even though you can create a bootable USB with persistence data so your data and documents will not be lost when a live session is finished, you cannot install new software in a live session.
Stage 2. Running Linux alongside with Windows without the Dual Boot
People in this stage are willing to try more Linux, but do not want to mess with their Windows system. If you are in this stage, the best option is to install and run Linux on a virtual machine, such as VirtualBox or VMWare Player. They are all free and very easy to use. For Windows users, after install VirtualBox or VMWare Player, I recommend you to download and install Zorin OS. Zorin OS is a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu and it has a Windows-like interface to make Windows users feel more comfortable. You can read my post here about Zorin OS and its installation on VirtualBox.
But if you are a Mac user and wants to give Linux a try, I recommend you to download and install elementary OS, which is a Linux distribution with macOS interface. You can read my post here about elementary OS and its installation.
The advantage of running Linux in VirtualBox is that it runs parallelly with your Windows system (or macOS) and does not interfere your normal work. It is just like you are running a stand-alone Linux system, and if you mess up the Linux system, just delete the installation from the virtual machine and reinstall a new copy to have another fresh start.
The major disadvantage of running Linux in virtual machine is that it requires your computer to have enough RAM (I recommend at least 6GB RAM, 4GB for your Windows, 2GB for Linux) and a good CPU.
The next stage is for those who have tried Linux for a long time and are very comfortable and familiar with how things work in Linux, however, occasionally they still need to use Windows for various reasons, such as some Windows-only applications, games, and so on.
Stage 3. Install Linux on USB Flash Drive
In this stage, we will install Linux on a USB flash drive and run it from the USB drive. The difference between this and the Live USB in stage 1 is that the actual Linux system is installed on the flash drive and it is a stand-alone working system, and you can customize it, install software in it, and other tasks you usually do on a computer. To accomplish this, you will need to have the following items:
1. An bland USB flash drive with at least 2GB space. We will use this flash drive to create a bootable Live USB drive.
2. Another blank USB-3 flash drive with a size of at least 32GB. The reason to use USB-3 is the speed is much faster than USB-2 so the Linux system will run smoothly. Also the large flash drive will give you enough space for your data, documents, and software.
The following tutorial will show you how to install Ubuntu 17.10 on a USB-3 flash drive.
2. Insert both USB drives into your computer, then reboot your computer into Ubuntu by using the Live USB stick.
3. Once Ubuntu is loaded, click “Install Ubuntu 17.10” icon from the left favorite bar
4. Click Continue on the Welcome screen
5. If your computer uses wireless connection, then choose your network and connect to it. Then make sure you leave all checkboxes unchecked on the next screen so the installation can be fast
6. On the Installation Type screen, make sure you choose the last option “Something else”
7. From the partition list, find your USB-3 flash drive and make sure the size is correct. Mine is a 64GB USB3 flash drive listed as /dev/sdc1.
8. Select the partition for your USB flash drive (/dev/sdc1), then click “Change” button underneath it. Select “Ext4 Journaling file system” from the drop down list, check “Format the partition” option, and choose “/” as mount point, then click OK to go back the partition list screen.
9. Make sure you choose your USB-3 flash drive from the drop down list for “Device for boot loader installation” option, then click “Install Now”.
You can see my 64GB SanDisk USB3 flash drive selected in the list.
10. Double-check the partition where Ubuntu will be installed on, then click “Continue”
10. Type your city name for location, or choose your location from the map. (You can change your location after the installation) I let the installer to detect my location and go with the default.
11. You will be prompted to create a user account. After you enter all required information, click “Continue” to start the installation.
The installation will take a while, so it is time to grab a cup of coffee and relax. Once the installation is finished, remove the Live USB stick, then restart your computer. Before your computer goes to Windows screen, hit ESC key (it is for HP computer, it might be a different depending on your computer model), then go to the boot options, then you will see an entry called “ubuntu”. Select the entry and hit Enter to boot your computer. Now you have a full-blown Ubuntu running on a USB flash drive.
The major disadvantage of Linux on USB drive is the running speed. Even though we have installed Ubuntu on a USB-3 flash drive, the read/write speed of the flash drive is much slower than the read/write speed of a hard drive, so you will notice that Ubuntu sometimes is sluggish, especially when you watch video or edit image. If you cannot stand the poor performance, then you should move up to the next stage.
Stage 4. Install Linux alongside Windows with Dual Boot
Dual boot will enable you to have Ubuntu and Windows installed on the same hard drive and to choose which system to boot into when you first start the computer. The installation is very similar as installing Linux on a USB flash drive, except in the “Installation Type” above, we need to choose the first option “Install Ubuntu alongside Windows Boot Manager”, then follow the similar installation instructions to finish the process. Another difference is every time when you start your computer, you will see a screen with boot options from which you can choose to boot into Linux or Windows, as shown below:
The major disadvantage of the dual boot is that the installation will modify your Windows boot loader. In case you decide to get rid of Linux, you will need to manually modify the Windows boot loader, otherwise you will see the boot option every time even there is no Linux on the computer.
Stage 5. Install Linux Only
Congratulations! When you reach this stage, it means you have become a hardcore Linux user and you have decided to go with Linux completely. Also when you are in this stage, you don’t need much help on how to install Linux on your computer, right? “Erase disk and install Ubuntu” is your choice from the screen above, then the rest will be a piece of cake for you.