Friday, February 13, 2009

Trying out Linux via a "live cd" on your Mac

Another way to try out Linux without risking any change to your computer is to boot from a live cd. Many current distributions provide a live cd .iso that, once burned to a disk, will run linux directly, without changing your currently set-up hardware or software. You are then able to look around and get a feel for the distro and see how it behaves on your computer. You won't be able to save any changes, but if you decide you like the distro enough, you can install it directly from the live cd. For now, let's just look at what it takes to make and use a live cd on your Mac.

First, you need to download an appropriate .iso file of the distribution you would like to try. I would recommend using one of the more established and mainstream distros out there. Google for: Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Linux Mint, or Mandriva, just to name a few.

Once you have the .iso downloaded, you need to burn it to a cd. (So you need to make sure you have a computer with a cd burner, or superdrive. Sorry Macbook Air guys...) Insert a blank CD-R into your drive, and then open Disk Utility (which can usually be found in the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder.) It should look something like this:
disk utility mac linux fedora
You then need to drag the .iso file from the desktop or wherever you have it into the left side. It will show up under all your drives after a little separation line. Then simply click on the .iso, and click the "Burn" button at the top. I find that verifying the burned data is a waste of time, but feel free to do so if you'd like. Choose to either eject the disk (if you're going to use it on another Mac or PC) or to mount it on the Desktop. Then hit "Burn."
mac linux disk utility fedora
Once the disk is done burning, you're ready to try out Linux! Save and close all open applications, and Reboot your machine. As your Mac is repowering up, either hold down the "c" key on your keyboard, or hold down the "option" key. The "c" key will boot straight into the cd, while "option" will allow you to see your current operating systems and the CD, and choose which to boot from.

Once booted, the live cd will generally do everything for you automatically. If you get any options, it is usually pretty clear. I believe on Ubuntu distros you will be asked if you want to install, or if you want to try with no change to your computer. You would want to choose the latter obviously.

Using a distribution's live cd is a great way to try out several different Linux flavors before you actually install one. CD-Rs are cheap, so burn a few. The live cd then also doubles as the install cd as well, so you can have a handy little collection of Linux distros to try out. Also, they will work on a PC too, so you can get rid of that gross Windows OS that is currently taking up space there.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Installing Linux virtually using Q

Before you decide to install Linux on your machine, you need to figure out which distribution you would like to try. I could recommend different distributions, but I won't. Each has different strengths and weaknesses, and everyone is going to have their preferences. In some later posts I may go into specifics about different distros.

Partitioning the hard drive and installing something permanently on your computer is a big step, and so one good way to try out different Linux flavors is to do so through emulation. This means that you will run Linux in a window while still running OS X. The linux system will be on a virtual machine, and you can then freely check it out with no changes or risks to your computer.

Currently there is one primary way to do this on the Mac, and that is with an application called Q. You can download it here. You will also need to download a disc image of a Linux flavor (or several) that you would like to try. A good site to check out different Linux flavors is DistroWatch. Also, some very popular distributions that are available to download are: Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, and Fedora. You'll want to get a "live cd" version over a dvd, and you'll want to get a 32 bit version or x86 (not 64 bit or x86_64.)

NOTE: Once again, make sure you have an intel Mac before you try to do this.

After you have a linux .iso file downloaded, start Q. When you start the program, a little window will pop up with a yellow button in the left upper corner. Click it to make a new virtual machine. Name it whatever you'd like, but keep the operating system as "Q Standard Guest."
Q linux mac emulate

When the next window comes up, you can leave most things standard, but you will probably want to click on the hardware tab and up the RAM from 128 to at least 512 or 1056.
Q mac linux mint

After you have created your new PC, click the little arrow button on the Q Control panel. You will likely get an error message in your next window saying that booting from CD-Rom failed. Click on the yellow circle in the upper right hand corner and choose to "Load physical disk image for CD-Rom..."
.iso linux mac boot

Find your Linux .iso file, and then click the "reset" button. (Middle yellow button on the upper right hand side.) Then you should be up and running! At some point you will probably get a screen that looks like this:
booting linux mac emulate

The startup can sometimes take quite awhile, so go do something else while things load. If you are using a live cd, like most current popular distributions, you will eventually get a login screen and/or the distribution will boot automatically for you.
linux mint mac

From there you can look around at linux! Check out the menus and programs, get a general feel for it. Thing will probably run a little sluggishly, but the point is not to have a fully functional Linux OS, but to check it out before you take the full plunge.

(NOTE: If you aren't running a live cd, you will have to go through the installation of the distro. This is usually pretty straight forward, but if its not, you may want to download a more user-friendly linux. Also, while you can install a distro from a live cd on Q, it is not really worth the time.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why put linux on my mac?

First, a little background. I have grown up using macs all my life. I enjoy Apple products quite a bit, and I think they have a leading edge in hardware design and marketing appeal. I also think the software that comes on their machines is fantastic as well, especially with the progress they have made in the last decade or so. All that being said, why would I make a blog about putting linux of all things, on my mac computer?

Well, I have known about linux for some time, but have had little to no experience with it. It always seemed like something just for geeks and technophiles. There was too much weird and unfamiliar stuff, and very little to show for it. For a long time, the only thing positive about Linux (that I saw) was that it was free.

And so I had very little reason or desire to look into the little operating system with a penguin mascot. It just seemed to hard to use and install, and plus, I liked my Mac OS quite a bit. The other problem was that most linux systems were built and optimized for the x86 architecture, and for a long time Apple only used a powerpc architecture. There were distributions that worked on powerpcs, but they always seemed somehow lacking and behind the curve. And so it continued to seem less that worth the trouble to dabble in linux on my Apple machines over the years.

Well, that all changed. When Apple switched to using Intel processors, the chip architecture changed to x86, and therefore was compatible with most of the “better” linux distributions. Not only that, but by this time, linux had progressed to be a very polished and well-supported system, even in all of its open-source glory. There were many distributions available for free, many with different advantages and feels to them. It wasn’t a “one size fits all” like all the current iterations in Windows and OS X. On the contrary, there are tons of different styles and types of linux operating systems, so it is sure that most anyone could find one to adequately suit their needs.

So I decided to take the plunge. Partition the hard drive? Dual boot my mac? Why not? My little Apple iMac could do it right? Well, not only can Intel Macs do it, but they do it quite well. So to answer the question of why install linux on your machine, the simple answer is, why wouldn’t you?

Over the next several posts, I will go into detail on how this can be accomplished quite simply, even for those who are unfamiliar with Linux or other operating systems outside of OS X (or even Windows.) Hopefully these resources will allow you too to experience a fun new operating system and breathe new life into your current (or old) machine.