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There are many reasons people are hesitant to try Linux. The biggest of these reasons is that installing Linux generally requires people to do a list of difficult and unfamiliar tasks. However, I am going to introduce “virtualization” which is a fancy term for running Linux like any other program in Windows. The following article will guide you through the process of setting up Linux so you can run it like any other program in Windows. Don’t be intimated, these directions are designed for the absolute beginner and will not require you to do anything unfamiliar, threatening, or permanent to your computer. When you are finished you will be able to run Linux like any other program in Windows and share files between Linux and Windows.

The first step is to install VMWare Player. This is a free program and it installs just like any other Windows program. You can go to the VMWare player homepage and download it. You will have to answer a short survey.

The second step is to download Linux. There are many different kinds of Linux with varying programs and setups. Understanding this can be difficult if you have never tried Linux. You can compare the different versions of Linux to Windows XP. There is Windows XP Home, Windows XP Professional, and Windows XP Media Center Edition. When you download Linux, it will be in the format of .ISO. Don’t worry if you have never seen this file type before. I will list several different versions of Linux below. You need to download only one version. The different flavors of Linux differ in size and thus, how long they will take to download. For the remainer of this tutorial, I will be using a version of Linux known as Fedora. However, it is 682MB in size and can take a long time to download. If you do not want to wait for Fedora you can complete the remainer of this tutorial equally well with any other version of Linux. Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive and there are hunderds of other versions of Linux available. I wanted to compile a short list to make choosing easier:
Fedora (682 MB)
Ubuntu (698.4 MB)
Suse (679.3 MB)
Damn Small Linux (50.8 MB)
Puppy Linux (84 MB)

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The third step is to setup VMWare to communicate with Linux. You need to do this by downloading a file from Wolphination.The following is the direct link: OS.zip. After you download OS.zip extract its contents to your C: drive. You should now have C:OS. Inside the OS folder I want you to put your version of Linux. So on my computer, inside C:OS I have OS.VMX, OS.vmdk, and FC-6-i386-livecd-1.iso (this is shown above). We are almost ready to run Linux for the first time.

The fourth step is to setup your VMWare configuration file. This file is called OS.VMX you need to right click on this file and select “Open with…” and choose Notepad. On the line that says ide1:0.fileName “C:Your file” you need to change this to point to the Linux version you downloaded. So in my case it would get changed to C:OSFC-6-i386-livecd-1.iso. Now resave the file and you are ready to go. Click on OS.vmx and VMWare will open and Linux will start. It may take a minute or two for Linux to fire up (depending on how much RAM your computer has).

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Congratulations, you can now run Linux like any other program in Windows! In order to create a shortcut to put on your desktop, right click OS.VMX and choose Create Shortcut. Drag the shortcut to your desktop (or the location of your choice) and Linux will launch when you click it. My shortcut is shown above.

Sharing files between Linux and Windows
Using Linux on Windows will be much more helpful if you can share files between Linux and Windows. This process is really easy to set up. The first thing you need to do is to create a “New Folder” on your Windows desktop. Right click on the folder and choose “Sharing and Security…”. On the following screen, choose “Share this folder on the network” and “Allow network users to change my files.” This will let Linux read and write to the folder.

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In Linux, go to Places >> Network Servers and you should see your computer. Double click on your computer and you will see all your shared folders. Any data you would like to be used in both Linux and Windows should be saved into this folder.

Please feel free to pose any questions in the comments. We will walk you through any portion of this process if you get stuck. Enjoy!

Notes: the following notes are somewhat technical in detail:
1. The download links listed above are for “Live CDs.” Live CDs allow you to use Linux without installing anything on your hard drive.
2. If the mirrors linked to above are very slow, you can find alternative download links on the homepage of each version of Linux.
3. Since Linux will be running as a Live CD, if you powerdown and exit the virtual machine (exit VMWare) you will lose your information. However, there is a way around this. Simply choose “suspend” and VMWare will suspend and exit your virtual machine state. This will not take any memory and will allow you to “save” data to your virtual machine.
4. The above steps work equally well on Linux and Mac.

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