Use an Existing SystemEdit
The easiest way to begin using a Linux system may be to use an already running system. For example, some systems may be available in various educational or work environments. In this case you only need to contact the appropriate administrator and obtain a user ID and password. You will only be able to explore the system to a certain extent, but the first steps can be taken without having go through the installation process.
Another trouble-free way of obtaining a Linux system is to buy a computer with Linux pre-installed. The number of vendors selling such systems is constantly increasing.
Download linux isoEdit
After choosing a distribution, you should download it. Normally this will be an ISO image. An iso is all the data on a CD - after downloading the iso file, you will burn it to disk so you can use it. Whatever distribution you chose will likely have specific instructions for how to burn the CD.
Boot from Live CDEdit
Live CD distributions allow you to "get your feet wet" by running Linux on your own PC at home without worrying about installing it or losing data.
Live CDs don't need to be installed to your hard drive for you to use them. Instead, you simply load the Live CD into your CD-ROM drive, restart your computer and a complete running Linux system should boot up with little, if any, intervention. There are some difficulties for some distributions working with certain sets of hardware, but most systems will boot with little to no problems.
A system running a Live CD often tends to be a little slow. This is because information must be fetched from the CD-ROM (which is much slower than a hard drive) and because the Live CD must store a lot of information in memory that would normally stay on the hard disk. Don't let this fool you into thinking that Linux is a slow operating system though. Linux systems are normally very fast and reliable. If you try a Live CD, it is recommended (unless you are trying a MiniLinux) that the computer you use be a relatively recent one with a generous amount of memory (256MB or more). For most people, this should provide a trouble free way to begin to get to know Linux. Sometimes the entire Live CD can be loaded into RAM if a sufficient amount is available (say around 1GB) and this will offer excellent responsiveness.
Live CDs are a great way to test whether certain hardware is likely to be compatible with Linux. Just pop the disk into the CD-ROM drive of the system in question and reboot as described above. Most hardware problems (if there are any) should make themselves obvious during normal use.
If the Live CD didn't workEdit
If your Live CD is ignored and you find yourself booting into your normal operating system, you may need to alter some settings in your BIOS. While this may sound daunting for some users, it's actually a lot easier than it sounds.
Begin by restarting your PC and when the boot process begins again you will need to strike a particular key on your keyboard. The key you need to strike will usually be displayed on the computer screen and is often the 'Del' key. Common alternatives are 'F1', 'F2', 'F10' and 'Esc'. The proper key will vary with your computers manufacturer. Once the proper key is struck your computer screen will display the 'BIOS' or 'Setup' editor. There are usually some simple instructions on the bottom of the screen, or off to one side, telling you how to navigate around the various choices and make changes. Be sure to read these before continuing, then look for something labeled 'Boot' or 'Boot order'. Using the instructions you read a moment ago, change this so that your CD-ROM is the first item in the boot order. If you think you've made a mistake, there is usually an option to 'Exit without saving changes'. If you don't see that option, holding down the 'Ctrl' and 'Alt' keys and pressing the 'Del' key should save the day. If all goes well 'Save and Exit' and your computer should boot up, checking the CD-ROM for your Live CD as it does so. If you have run a Linux Live CD and have rebooted to use your regular operating system and have arrived at a notice declaring "Missing Operating System" or "Error on System Disk", or any scary notice stopping you from loading up as normal, it is likely that the computer has "forgotten" that you normally load up from the hard drive and has started to look for your operating system in the CD Drive. To fix this, follow the instructions above accordingly to your system but instead of selecting your CD drive as the boot device, select your hard drive.
After testing the system, you'll want to install it to your hard drive permanently. This does not require you to get rid of the current operating system, even if you have only a single hard disk. We will explore this topic in more detail in the next chapter, Installation Walkthrough.