5 ways to use bootable Linux live discs

Live CDs, DVDs or USB drives let you run Linux without actually installing it. Here are five reasons why you should.

In the almost 20 years since Linux was first released into the world, free for anyone to use and modify however they like, the operating system has been put to a lot of uses. Today, a vast number of servers run Linux to serve up Web pages and applications, while user-friendly versions of Linux run PCs, netbooks, and even Android and WebOS phones.

One incredibly useful way that Linux has been adapted to the needs of modern computer users is as a "live CD," a version of the operating system that can be booted from a CD (or a DVD or, in some cases, a USB drive) without actually being installed on the computer's hard drive. Given the massive RAM and fast CPUs available on even the lowest-end computers today, along with Linux's generally lower system requirements compared to Windows and Mac OS X, you can run Linux quite comfortably from a CD drive.

Live discs allow you to radically transform the nature of the machine you're working on -- without modifying the installed operating system and software at all. There are a number of reasons you might want to do this. The most obvious is to test a new version or different distribution of Linux before deploying it, saving yourself the surprise of incompatible software or nonfunctional hardware after installation. But even if your business does not plan to deploy Linux as a desktop or server operating system, there are still good reasons to have a live Linux CD or two on hand.

Live CDs are great for system diagnosis and recovery when disaster strikes; they're also useful for securing and testing your network. And for road warriors, the ability to boot up a familiar, customized operating system on any machine, anywhere in the world, has an obvious attraction -- as do specialized live distributions designed to provide security and anonymity for workers with sensitive data or communications to protect.

Live discs are read-only, which means they're quite secure, since malware can't make any changes to the core system. If you do get an infection, it disappears as soon as you reboot.

Here are five ways to use live Linux in your business, as well as pointers to distributions best suited to each particular task.

1. Test-drive Linux

Over the years, Linux has developed from a usability nightmare into a fairly straightforward desktop operating system. With professional-quality productivity tools like OpenOffice.org for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations and GIMP for image editing, as well as versions of familiar applications such as Firefox, Thunderbird, Adobe Reader and Flash, most common business tasks can be done pretty easily on a Linux system.

You can see how well adapted Linux is to your business by running several of the most popular desktop distributions from a live CD. Perhaps the most refined and user-friendly desktop system available right now is Ubuntu, which includes just about every application you could ever ask for, from business productivity apps to programs for multimedia editing, Web design, running databases, serving up Web pages and chatting online.

Ubuntu Linux desktop with OpenOffice.org document
Ubuntu, one of the most popular desktop Linux distros available, comes preloaded with the open-source office suite OpenOffice.org.

Ubuntu's installation disk is itself a live CD, so if you decide to install the system later you can just run the installer from the Ubuntu desktop.

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