Scott Ballew writes:

I’m looking to give Linux a try and was wondering if you had any distribution recommendations for me? I’m looking for a good distro that will take full advantage of my computer’s hardware, let me play some of my games, surf the Internet, and watch videos. I’m fairly tech-literate, so if I have to install drivers or need to install some codecs to get things up and running, that’s fine.

I still plan to run Windows along with Linux so I can still play some of my games that I can’t get running on Linux with Wine; is there a good way to do this without having to reformat my Windows 7 install?

Scott, I commend you for wanting to step outside the Windows environment. One issue you quickly run into with Linux is that there are many distributions (distros), and finding which one you want was once a daunting task. This is not like Windows where you choose between regular and home premium or maybe ultimate. Even a few years ago, I would have waffled a bit on which to recommend as a starter system. Now the choice for a newbie who wants to keep Windows alive is simple. Navigate to the Ubuntu Window Installer to download and install WUBI. This will put a full operating system with extras such as Firefox and LibreOffice on your computer in a matter of minutes. Ubuntu is straightforward and fun to use. If you feel more comfortable with a tutorial, here is one for beginners.

You should have no trouble with drivers and codecs, although you might have to activate some proprietary ones like Nvidia. Use the built-in help files if necessary. You will quickly find that navigating is easy, and LibreOffice is a powerful office suite. There is also a huge array of free optional applications to download such as Stellarium, which is a great planetarium application. Everything you might want to do in Windows, you can probably do just as well in Ubuntu. This includes playing music and videos. I have never had trouble with wireless connections.

Interested in Linux? Ubuntu is a Good StartSo what do you see after you install WUBI? Upon booting, you will be given a choice of operating systems. If you do not scroll down to Ubuntu within about 30 seconds, it will automatically boot to Windows. This is not a true dual-boot installation, but it acts like one. Later, after you become an expert, you might want to either construct a true dual-boot system, or simply dedicate a whole machine to Linux only.

When people say Linux is free, we need to remember that “free” can mean free as in “free speech” or free as in “free beer.” Ubuntu is free in both senses (note: some specialized distros and the associated support are commercial, not free). Linux generally features a terminal mode. The closest analogy in Windows would be the command prompt, but the terminal mode is much more powerful. What that means is that you can totally mess up the system or add some awesome new feature. A lot of people add new features that can make for new distros, generally optimized for some special use. Check out distrowatch to get a feeling for the range of possibilities — but do not give in to temptation to try any until you have a good feeling about plain vanilla Ubuntu. If you feel lost, try searching for help groups. The help groups associated with Linux are often very active and opinionated (but so are Apple users and some Windows fans). That said, Linux is not as bloated as its competitors, and that can have both good and bad consequences. An older machine (say an XP computer) converted to Ubuntu will seem to have new life. It will boot faster and be very stable (I have never had the equivalent of the BSOD).

You mention Wine, which is an application to enable Windows programs to run under Linux. Some people use it and are happy. I have not had good luck with it. Your plan to keep both Linux and Windows available is a better solution — at least, for me, it is a better solution.

One neat thing about using WUBI is that in essence, Ubuntu is running under Windows. That makes it particularly easy to access files and folders on the Windows side by using the Ubuntu file system (similar to Windows Explorer). I have never had occasion to go the other way, but it should be just as easy.

We could go on more about Ubuntu, but just try it and let me know how it works for you.