Learning a new operating system can be a challenge, but there may be many reasons why you might want to do so. But how can you find out if learning a new operating system is right for you without spending a zillion dollars? At LockerGnome.net, The_Worm writes:

I am really interested in learning OS X, but cannot afford a new or used/refurbished Mac from the Intel era. I just got a brand new laptop that I use for all of my tasks, so I am not looking for one to be my main computer. I don’t really want to spend more than $150 total for something to just play around with the operating system and decide whether or not I should switch. How would you recommend that I go about learning a new operating system without spending too much money (or time in frustration)? Thank you very much for your time and opinion.

Learning a New Operating System
How do you go about learning a new operating system?

Thanks for the question, The_Worm. I hope you don’t mind me generalizing, but the tips and ideas that follow are useful for anyone who has an interest in learning a new operating system. Off the top of my head, I can think of three ideas that could help you decide if you should switch, but our community may have other ideas — and I welcome members to leave comments below.

As I have said before, no operating system is perfect, and leaving a familiar operating system “cold turkey” in hopes that a new one will fill in whatever was lacking in the old one isn’t really advised — at least not if you try such an experiment on your main machine. If you come up against a different file system or some other frustration, you really are more than likely going to uninstall the new operating system and go back to what’s familiar.

But, as you mentioned, you don’t plan on learning a new operating system on your main machine; my words of caution pertain mainly to those who might try walking this particular tightrope without a safety net. Here are my modest suggestions for you or anyone else thinking of learning a new operating system.

Learning a New Operating System: Borrow a Friend’s Computer

If you have a friend who owns a machine with the operating system you’d like to learn, you could ask to get some time on his or her computer. I’m sure your friend will already know that you’re considering a move to this operating system and may even be happy to help answer questions. Although I don’t think your friend would be too keen on outright lending you their main computer, they will probably allow you some time on their main machine for a few hours. The idea also works with mobile operating systems like iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, and the like.

Learning a New Operating System: Use an Old Machine

This idea may seem a little unintuitive, but if you, or a friend, have an old machine, you could easily use it as a test lab for learning a new operating system. Obviously, you’re probably not going to have much success in forcing an old Commodore 64 into service as an OS X machine (if you do, we’d love to hear about it!), but as long as the technical specs of the machine support the suggested parameters of the operating system you’re trying to learn, it’s worth a shot. A laptop that shipped with Windows XP eight years ago may be able to run certain flavors of Linux, but Windows 8 may be a little out of its league.

Learning a New Operating System: Virtual Machine

Virtual Machine technology has certainly advanced to the stage of allowing you to seamlessly run applications from any operating system within your current operating system (as long as, like the old machine mentioned above, your computer’s hardware can handle it). VMs like Parallels for OS X allow you to do such things quickly and easily. If you’re on a Windows-based PC, you can always use the free option of VirtualBox or the paid versions of VMWare Workstation or Player.

It was the virtual machine option I used on my iMac when I handed Joe, my dad, the keyboard and mouse to test drive Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

I am sure that there are more ways for you to play with, get used to, or acclimatize to a new operating system that I’ve not mentioned here. I’m also sure that there are more creative ways or even cheaper ways. An example may be going into your local computer store and testing out the operating system on the latest hardware. However, you will probably get pestered by shop staff who are interested in nothing beyond making a sale (or, worse, charged a “just looking” fee). I hope this has helped you.

Community question: Do you have any ideas how to go about learning a new operating system in a way that doesn’t break the bank (or one’s sanity)? Please leave them in the comments below!