A lot of people are curious to know about linux, but its hard for a beginner to start. Linux is really easy to use but there are a lot of prevalent myths that surround it, all of which fade away after you get to know it. There’s a popular saying in the open source world :
Linux is user friendly, it’s just picky about who its friends are.
Enough about that I’ll tell you where you should get started. For somebody who is new the best place to start is playing with linux in a virtual machine. The two most popular options for this are VMware Player and VirtualBox. This is a good way to learn about any Operating System (OS) in an isolated environment without any risk. While virtual machines are rather convenient, you’ll soon realise that they are not ideal for nothing can match the actual experience on native hardware. Its best to test drive a distros live cd/dvd before actually installing it. They are a good way to test hardware compatibility, specially for users who use laptops, hardware support for certain manufacturers is still quite shaky in some linux distros.
Before you decide to install any linux disto, you must understand the basics of partitioning your hard disk. If you get this wrong then you can say goodbye to all your precious data, Music, Movies, Pictures, Documents all gone kaboom!! Its always wise to have a backup of your important data. I have learnt this the hard way but you needn’t make the same mistakes. A typical linux distro might require various partitions but typically you can manage with just the root(/) partition, having a swap partition is also recommended but not required, instead of a dedicated partition you can use a swap file too. If you get this step right then you can install almost any distro and it’ll dual boot with your existing windows installation flawlessly.
The linux distro scene is a fragmented lot, with thousands of them around, it can be difficult to make a choice. Once you understand the basics you can move onto any distro that you prefer but as a suggestion I’d recommend that you start with Linux Mint, Ubuntu or Fedora. The reason I recommend only these and not one of the other distros is the excellent community behind them, if you run into any issue you can post on the forums and people help you out. They’re quite friendly to newbies too, I can’t say the same about all distros, on more than one occasion I’ve got the dreaded RTFM answer. That may not be pleasant but I have learnt a lot more from those distros than those that believe in spoon feeding. In the early stages its good to have someone to hold your hand and guide you through the basics.
Amongst the three go with Linux Mint for the first time as they ship the popular codecs needed to play most of the standard media files and the hardware support is excellent too, basically everything just works out of the box, here is an excellent quiz that’ll help you in choosing the distro thats right for you.
After hopping around the various distros I’ve settled down with two that i absolutely love both of them follow the rolling release pattern, they are Arch Linux and Sabayon. The latter is easier to set up and get running with. To understand the underlying components that form the backbone of each and every distro its a great adventure when you try to build one from scratch. The linux from scratch project does just that, they have an excellent manual that anyone can follow to build a fully customized linux distro, If you were to go down that road then be warned It’s going to be a bumpy ride.There are other priceless gems that you’ll discover in the linux world provided you look hard enough.
What are you waiting for? Go on become a friend of linux and let me know of your experiences with it. If you can stick through the initial stages as the learning curve is steep, then be assured that you’re going to love it.