Software / System Utilities\t\t
Linux for non-power users has come a long way. Where Linux was solely the realm of developers, network administrators and hackers, today, a number of Linux distributions offer palatable alternatives to the expensive Windows and Mac OS X environments. Not only are the vast majority of Linux distributions free, many of them tend to be much more lightweight than the sometimes cumbersome Windows and OS X-based operating systems. For this reason, Linux is a popular choice among those looking to keep an older model computer running fast without reverting back to a legacy operating system, such as Windows XP or Windows 95.
Once you’ve made the decision to give Linux a try, there are a couple different routes you can take. Perhaps the two most popular Linux installers are Wubi Installer and the Universal USB Installer, created by the folks at PenDriveLinux.com. Both of these are attractive options because they are completely foolproof—practically anyone can use these tools to install Linux on their computer. But more importantly, they give you the option to leave your current Windows operating system intact. That way, if Linux doesn’t work out for you, you can always switch back.
While Wubi Installer and Universal USB Installer have these two important features in common, the results they produce are drastically different. So, before proceeding with a Linux installation on your computer, read through this comparison and make sure you understand the differences.
Wubi Installer – A Partition-less Dual-boot Solution
Before Wubi, the way to install two operating systems on the same hard drive was to create a separate partition for each operating system. This is all well and good if you’re starting from scratch, but if you already have Windows installed, then altering your partition is risky business. It certainly can be done, but it’s best left to advanced users.
Wubi works around this by installing Ubuntu—a very friendly, graphical version of Linux—onto a loopmounted disk image. Then, it adds an entry into the Windows bootloader so you can choose which operating system you’d like to load. In this way, it’s very good at preserving your Windows installation and all of your precious data.
The drawbacks are that a Wubi-installed Linux system will run slightly slower than it would on a true partition. This is even more true if the disk image is fragmented. Also, due to the nature of the setup, both the Windows operating system and the Linux system will be more vulnerable to damage caused by hard reboots (e.g. when the computer shuts down or crashes without going through a proper shutdown process). If Windows crashes and has to shutdown without cleanly unmounting the Windows image, it could cause trouble with the Ubuntu disk image. Also, you cannot hibernate or standby with a Wubi installation. You must shutdown the entire computer whenever you are done, or leave it running. This could be an inconvenience for mobile computer users.
Universal USB Installer
The Universal USB Installer creates a Live USB device that can be booted directly into a fully functional Linux environment, or used as an installer. The intention for this installer is to create a USB, flash card or some other type of removable media from which you can run Linux. This supports Ubuntu, as well as a number of different Linux distributions.
The benefit of creating a removable media with Linux on it is that you don’t have to make any changes to your existing system at all. No hard disk space is used and no changes to the partitions or Windows boot loader are made. Depending on the speed of your USB drive and media, you may have a bit slower experience—especially when booting into the live environment. Generally, the live environment is used for testing only—but you can create a persistent live USB device that saves your changes. This is handy for technical support crew who want to bring their tools and applications with them when they work on other machines.
When you are done testing Linux, you can simply disconnect the live USB and your computer will function exactly as it did before. The live USB won’t leave a trace. If you love Linux and want to install it on your main computer, you can also use the live USB to install it on your hard disk so it can run without the removable media.
All in all, both options are better in terms of performance when compared to virtualization. Wubi is intended for testing purposes, and it’s incredibly easy to install and use. But uninstallation isn’t as clean as using a live USB, and there are some significant risks in terms of shutting down/rebooting—so you have to be careful. Get Wubi at http://www.ubuntu.com/download/ubuntu/windows-installer
If you have a spare thumbdrive, the most risk-free way to try Linux is to create a live USB with the Universal USB Installer. Get it at http://www.pendrivelinux.com/universal-usb-installer-easy-as-1-2-3/