When I started exploring Linux back in 1994-1995, there were very few resources available and many of the problems I experienced didn't have solutions. That was a long time ago. The situation has changed for the better. These days, there are plentiful resources for those new to Linux or for those of you who want to learn more. I've compiled a list, in no particular order, of ten ways to explore Linux based on my experiences. Linux, for me, has been a path to enlightenment about this Unix-like system on commodity hardware and I hope others find it as fascinating and enigmatic as I do.
1. Live CD - Live CDs are bootable CD images that you burn to a CD or DVD, place in your CD/DVD drive, reboot your computer and enjoy a full Linux-based system without installing, partitioning or altering your current system. Everything runs from CD. Some things don't work well, or at all, but you'll have a first-hand Linux encounter that's easy to use, acceptably fast and fully loaded. Go to LWN's Distribution page and search for "live" to find an extensive list of this type of Linux distribution. Notable Live CD distributions are: Fedora Spins, Knoppix and OpenSUSE.
2. Virtual Machine - You can experience a Linux-based distribution for yourself without disturbing your Windows system by using any one of the several free virtualization software programs available. Try VirtualBox, Virtual PC or QEMU. Download a CD/DVD image, install it to a virtual hard drive (a single file that represents a whole hard drive) and try Linux in a box.
3. Full Installation - Your best Linux experience will be from a fully installed system dedicated to Linux. You'll have unlimited access to every peripheral, disk and gadget when installed to a whole system. You'll be able to enjoy the performance boost and every application imaginable (more than 30,000 available at no cost). The best distribution to try for first-timers is Ubuntu. You're only five easy steps from trying it: Download, burn, boot, install, experience.
4. Remote Connectivity - This option requires very little effort from you because you connect to a remote system via some application that allows you to interact with that system. Options are SSH (Secure Shell), SCP (Secure Copy), RDP (Remote Desktop), VNC (Virtual Network Computing) or by exported display and X server. These options provide you with a Linux environment from a non-console view.
5. Dual Boot - If you have the stomach for setting up a dual boot scenario on your only computer, go for it. It's a bit tricky and can leave your Windows computer inoperable to the point of reinstallation, if you aren't careful. Linux wants to install its own boot loader (GRUB) and Windows wants to keep its boot loader intact. The Windows boot loader has to win or else you get neither operating system working. This setup is advanced so be sure to read any online instructions carefully before pursuing it. A simpler way is to use Presto Linux that sets up dual boot for you. Or try Wubi, for something completely different: A version of Ubuntu that installs like a Windows application.
6. Virtual Private Server - Several hosting companies offer Virtual Private Servers (VPS) for a very low rate. It's as if you have your very own remotely hosted system. 1and1.com, for example, offers several options--one for as little as $30 per month. If you want to learn Linux and don't have the space or desire to have another computer sitting around, this is a good option. Once you learn the system, you can turn that system into a business, since it is Internet facing and you have root access. Why not?
7. Friends - Friends who use Linux are sometimes your best resource. They can grant you access to their systems, help you build one of your own or just offer helpful advice along the way. And, these days those friends can live anywhere in the world and help you as if they were next door.
8. Online Forums - Online forums, like the ones here at DaniWeb, are excellent resources for those of you who are new to the Linux world. Even people with lots of Linux experience find them helpful. Forums are moderated so that your questions are met with knowledge and kindness instead of rants of RTFM and other such nonsense. One thing that most people have learned is that there seem to be a basic set of questions that everyone asks. This is called a FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions list. Always consult that first to avoid any virtual daggers and insults that might come your way.
9. Linux User Groups - Do an online search for Linux User Groups (LUGs) in your area. Chances are that if you live in a city of any size, you have one. Universities often have this information too. LUGs generally meet once or twice per month in a location that has computer users in mind (tables, electrical outlets, Internet access) and often feature speakers or installation rallies. These are fun meetings where all are welcome. You'll find newbies, experts and everything in between. Wear your best pocket protector and brush up on your Monty Python movie lines for the richest possible geek experience.
10. Online References - You should bookmark the home page of your chosen distribution and keep it handy. Their online documentation is your primary "go to" reference for any problems or technical information that you need. Secondary references are Linux-oriented publications and related websites that offer virtual reams of free information on just about every topic. Chances are good that you aren't the first to experience the problem you're having.
I hope you find these ten ways to explore Linux helpful and that you'll use them to further your knowledge and exploration of Linux.
Do you have any other resources that you use or recommend for people exploring Linux or trying learn more?