There are many Windows alternatives – you can use more than one different system on a single computer easily and safely
It’s easy to assume that Windows is the only practical choice for running a PC, but it isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, it’s possible to use various different operating systems on a single computer – from older versions of Windows to latest editions of Linux – and even set up your PC so that it offers a choice as soon as it’s switched on.
For instance, you might want to keep more than one version of Windows installed to preserve compatibility with older programs. Alternatively, you might fancy experimenting with the Linux operating system while ensuring that the Windows part of your PC remains safe from harm.
In this article we’ll explore various ways to set up a PC to use – or simply try – several different operating systems, easily and safely.
Back up your PC first
Before beginning, we’d strongly advise you to back up your PC. If you read our advice carefully and apply it correctly then no problems should arise but make a backup anyway, just to be safe.
Then, the simplest way to try out a new operating system is to launch – or ‘boot’ – the PC from a specially designed CD, DVD or USB memory key. These are known as ‘live’ media because, once inserted, the computer will ignore Windows altogether and simply boot from the disc or memory key.
Live discs/keys are normally intended to install the operating system so they will normally present an option to do this. Make sure that you select the option to try the operating system instead (selecting the ‘Install’ option could wipe all of your files, so read all the options carefully before clicking on any buttons).
The most popular version (or ‘distribution’) of the Linux operating system is called Ubuntu, and a live disc version of it can be downloaded from our website. Download the ISO disc image file to your computer and use a disc-burning tool (such as the Burnaware Free program) to create an Ubuntu CD or DVD.
Don’t simply copy the ISO file to the disc as it won’t work. Rather, insert a blank disc in the computer and cancel any options that might appear in the Autorun window. Now launch Burnaware and click the Burn Image icon (third down on the left-hand side of the window). Click Browse, find the Ubuntu ISO disc image and click on Open. Click on the red Burn button to create the disc.
If your PC lacks an optical drive (as many laptops now do), set up a live USB memory key. An easy way to do this is to use the Pen Drive Lunux installer tool. Now restart the PC with the disc or memory key inserted and Ubuntu should start automatically.
If it doesn’t, your computer is probably not set to look for an operating system on the optical drive or memory key before the hard disk. This can be changed in the Bios settings page, which is usually accessed by pressing F2 or Delete (Del) soon after powering the PC – look for a message along these lines when it starts up.
Once in the Bios, look for a Boot Order or Boot Sequence option and tweak it so the CD/DVD drive option is above the hard disk drive (sometimes labelled ‘HDD’) and exit saving the changes. If wishing to launch from a USB memory key, a separate option may need to be enabled (it will be called something like ‘Boot from USB flash drive’).
When an Ubuntu live disc/key starts, the first question it asks is whether you want to try or install Ubuntu. Make sure that you select the Try option. It is possible to install Ubuntu from the Try option using the icon on the Ubuntu desktop, should you wish to.
Note that Ubuntu isn’t the only distribution available to use as live media. An interesting new take on the idea is the £70 Homekey from Simplicity Computers. This live USB memory key includes a copy of Linux Mint with an overhauled interface. Designed to appeal to novice and older PC users, it is very easy to use and comes with 15 video tutorials presented by Valerie Singleton.
This simplified operating system can be used to browse the web, send and receive emails and write text documents. It is also possible to return to the standard Linux Mint desktop with a wider range of software available to run when you feel confident.
Everything – including personal emails and documents – is stored on the USB key itself, so it becomes a self-contained ‘virtual’ computer that can be used on any computer that has a USB socket.
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