October 19, 2009, 6:39 PM — Have you ever been tempted by desktop Linux's security and stability, but you didn't want to go to all the trouble of installing two operating systems on one PC or the expense of buying a new PC? Then, you're in luck, because there are many ways to give desktop Linux a try without changing anything permanently or using a spare desktop.
It used to be that if you wanted to try desktop Linux, you had to be a confident power-user and make permanent changes to your PC or have another computer. Those days are long gone. Today, you have four different, easy ways to take Linux for a spin.
1) Hidden Built-in Linux
If you have a new PC, you may already have Linux installed on your computer. Does your PC have an instant-on setting that lets you look at the Web and check e-mail without actually booting up? If it does, congratulations, you already have Linux.
The exact name may vary, and it probably won't even give a hint that you're running Linux, but that's indeed the case. For example, newer computers from ASUS, Lenovo, HP, LG, and Sony all come with DeviceVM's Splashtop Instant-On Desktop, which is a lightweight desktop Linux.
Splashtop's not the only Linux already hiding in plain-sight on new Windows PCs. The high-end Dell Latitude Z includes a mini-motherboard just to run its instant-on Linux, a custom version of openSUSE.
2) Presto and Wubi
If your PC doesn't have one of these, the Linux vendor Xandros offers an interesting alternative, Presto. This is another fast-boot Linux, but you can install it on your existing PC. While this makes your PC a dual-boot system, Windows and Presto, to install it you don't need to do anything more than you'd need to do to install an ordinary application. Once you're done, and you reboot, you can choose to hop into Presto. This is also a handy trick for giving older PCs a new lease on life since Presto gives you all the PC operating system basics in a very fast, lightweight package.
Wubi uses the same idea as Presto but takes it in a slightly different direction. Instead of adding a small Linux and automatically making your computer into a dual-boot system, Wubi installs the full Ubuntu 9.04 distribution.
Like Presto, you install Wubi just as if it were another Windows application. It's a pretty nifty trick and it works well.