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Linux Live CDs: Why I love them.

Posted by bradringel on May 10, 2009

Tux: The Linux Mascot

Tux: The Linux Mascot

So I know that this blog covers mostly Mac and Apple things, such as cool apps for my Macbook or stuff for my iPhone, but this post is going to be a quick blurb about Linux. For those of you out there who don’t know what Linux is, here’s a brief explanation. Linux is an open source, free operating system, that is often run on servers. It can however be installed on any commercial computer. All the code that runs the operating system is open for development, and that leads to a large group of “distributions” of Linux. Linux is actually, technically just the kernel of the operating system, while all the parts that you actually see are part of the “distro” (such as your Graphical User Interface, or the programs that come bundled). One of the most popular distros right now is Ubuntu, as well as Fedora, Red Hat, Debian, and many many others. Now onto the main part of this post, and what I think is quite possibly the coolest part about Linux.

Right now, the Macbook I’m typing this post on has three operating systems: Mac OS X 10.5.6, Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope, and Fedora 10. But that’s not all. The CDs that I used to install both those Linux distros onto my Mac (Ubuntu and Fedora) can be used for something else. They are “Live CDs”. Now basically, a Live CD is an operating system on a disc. You don’t boot the Hard drive at all when you run Linux in a Live CD environment. Pretty neat huh? Its perfect for solving stubborn issues you are having with your computer.
In this particular situation, I was trying to reinstall Windows XP on an old laptop of mine. I had thrown the Windows 7 Beta on there for kicks just to see how it worked, but now it was time to switch it back. The only problem was, my XP install disk wouldn’t boot. Normally, the process for reinstalling the OS on a computer consists of putting the install disc in the drive and pressing a special key combination before the computer loads the operating system on the hard drive, to make the computer boot from the disc. On a Mac you can achieve this by either holding down ‘c’ while your Mac boots up, or holding ‘option’ and selecting the CD with the arrow keys when presented with the choice. On this particular Dell, you had to strike F12 as fast as you could, as soon as you saw the Dell logo. Now I did that right, and instructed the laptop to boot from the CD, but I got nothing. The stupid machine went right back into Windows 7, right where I didn’t want it to be. The issue with that is that you can’t format a partition on a hard drive that you are currently working on, so you can’t reinstall an operating system, while you are using the hard drive. When you boot to that install CD you are technically booting into a Live environment, just not the same as a Linux Live environment.
Well that sucks. Looks like Windows didn’t want me reverting to an old copy of XP for some reason. That’s not good, because now I don’t know how I’m going to reinstall XP. OH WAIT! Here’s this Linux Live CD I have lying around that I can boot into.
So I throw the Ubuntu(this one is 8.10) CD into the drive and try my F12 trick to boot to the CD again, and lo and behold, it works. Ubuntu boots up, rather slowly, but what do you expect from a CD?, and I’m staring at a desktop that has everything I need to fix my install problems. If I wanted to I could have installed Ubuntu right onto the hard drive, or I could run in the Live environment for a while and use it like I would use my computer normally. For this time around though, I’ll just fire up the partition editor and get ride of the one that has Windows 7 on it. Click the partition and click ‘delete’ and there you go, the whole hard drive is now totally blank. Well okay not totally but that is getting to technical into how computers see hard drives, for our purpose the hard drive is wiped. Now you just shut down the computer, and take out the live CD, throw in my XP install disc, and I’m greeted by the lovely bright blue tones of the Windows installer screen. Problem Solved.

So what did we learn? Linux is a very versatile operating system that can run on just about any hardware, with any configuration. Most importantly, GO GET THE LIVE CD. It will save your ass someday and you will be glad that you burned that disc. Seriously, if your hard drive ever fails or something happens to your default OS, throw that disk in there and you can start as good as new. Live CDs are also great ways to play around with a Linux OS. Linux isn’t for everyone, but its nice to be able to play around with it every now and again. Personally, there was a certain sense of satisfaction for me when I got my Linux install right on my Macbook, its just cool to be able to say that I did it. If you like the idea of Live CDs, check out the ones at the links above, or do a Google Search.
~Brad

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