So last month we discussed the Linux operating system. This month, I want to explore Linux more and cover how to explore Linux without installing it by using a Live DVD or USB drive. I also want to touch on how you can use Linux to help in a number of common situations.
Linux is an operating system that can replace Windows on your computer. Normally, an operating system like Linux either replaces or coexists with your current operating system. Many Linux distributions offer a Linux Live capability, which allows Linux to boot and run from a USB or DVD drive without installing Linux on the computer. This is a good way to try out different Linux distributions to find one that best fits your needs.
There are several steps to creating a bootable Linux USB or DVD. Start by downloading a Linux distribution. One I recommend is Ubuntu 18.04, which can be found here: https://www.ubuntu.com/desktop. The file will be an ISO file. This is a disk image file with the type showing as "ISO File."
To create a DVD from the ISO using Windows 10, simply insert a blank DVD into the DVD drive, then right click on the .iso file and select "Burn Disk Image."
Creating a bootable USB drive is a little more complex; first, you will need a USB drive with more than 2 Gigabytes of storage space. This drive will be completely erased, so don't use a drive with data that you want to keep. Next, you will need software to create a bootable image on the USB drive. The one I will suggest is Rufus, currently preferred by the Ubuntu tutorial. Rufus can be found at https://rufus.akeo.ie/. There are alternatives, and if you want to try a different option, look at https://www.pendrivelinux.com/. Some these will even download the Linux image for you. Once the software has been downloaded, you simply need to run the software (it doesn't require installation), fill in the form, and hit start. The form needs:
1. Device: the drive letter of the USB drive. Make certain this is correct because the program will reformat the drive selected.
2. Boot Selection: the name of the .iso file downloaded previously
3. Partition Scheme: This should be MBR for Master Boot Record
4. Target System: Select BIOS for older machines or UEFI for newer ones. One way to check this is to use the Windows search bar to find msinfo, run the application, and if it says "legacy," then you are running under the old BIOS system. Otherwise, you are running UEFI.
5. Volume Name: can be anything, but I suggest using "Linux" or "Ubuntu"
6. File System: should be the default FAT32
7. Cluster Size: should be the suggested default
Pressing start will then reformat the USB drive and install the ISO. While these instructions are complete, more detailed instructions can be found here: https://tutorials.ubuntu.com/tutorial/tutorial-create-a-usb-stick-on-windows.
One last step is required to boot the Linux USB drive or DVD. The BIOS settings need to be accessed to modify the boot sequence. This is normally done by hitting F2 or F10 (depending on your brand of computer) while turning the computer on. Just make certain that the USB or DVD drive comes first. This won't affect the computer unless a bootable drive is in place. Now, with the USB or DVD in place, shutdown the computer and then power it back on. The computer should boot and run Linux from the device. It will also give you the option to install Linux on your hard drive permanently allowing Linux and Windows to coexist on the same drive. There is no need to do this, but it is available as a choice.
So What Can I Do Now?
At this point, you are running a complete Linux operating system. You can explore the system and even access the Windows drives. You can choose to install Linux alongside of Windows or just use Linux from the bootable device.
One significant use is to securely access financial accounts. Linux has the Firefox web browser built-in. Live Linux normally does not save files to the imaged device, so there is no need to worry about viruses, key loggers, or other malware being on the system. A best security practice (as promoted by our region’s own Brian Krebs) is to use a bootable Linux disk to access financial sites like banking and retirement. This eliminates many of the threats associated with the online compromise of financial data.
Another use is to help recover a computer that may have been infected with a virus. Once Linux has been booted, files can be backed up from the Windows drive even if it is unable to boot to Windows. Virus scans and other recovery tools can also be run on the Windows drive. There are even special Linux distributions just for assisting in system recovery. See http://www.system-rescue-cd.org/ for a good example.
Renewing Old Computers
I have some old computers that are too slow to run Windows 10 and not secure if running anything older than Windows 7. For these computers, I replace the old Windows software with Linux. I prefer the Ubuntu Mint release for these computers because it is smaller and uses fewer resources than the mainstream Ubuntu. It also feels more like using Windows. Running Linux on these computers feels faster than when they were brand new because, while Linux is very powerful, it requires fewer resources than Windows. The computers also start faster than when running their old operating systems. Linux normally comes with web browsers: typically, Firefox and Chromium, the open-source version of Chrome; the LibreOffice Office Suite; music and video players; and Thunderbird, an email client with a calendar option. Updates are automated and free, and security updates typically are fixed within a few days of discovery.
I hope you have enjoyed our little romp with Linux. Please feel free to suggest topics for next month.