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A sneaky Linux present for a Windows-using friend
by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (Dec. 20, 2005)

Want a really, really sneaky way to get your Windows loyalist friends to give Linux a try? Boy, does Chris Ward, an IBM software engineer, have an idea for you!

In an IBM DeveloperWorks article, Ward describes how to put together a Linux LiveCD.

What's that, you say? You've heard the "give-them-a-Linux-LiveCD-to-play-with trick" a million times, and the only thing that happened was that your LiveCDs have become more popular than AOL discs for coasters?

Ward has a better, more underhanded, way of making them give Linux a try.

In his scheme, you create a Linux LiveCD, which you can then install on your victim's -- uh, friend's -- Windows system. Then, the next time their screen saver comes up, instead of those ancient flying toasters, they'll find themselves face to face with a working Linux system.

So much for those tired old objections that Linux is too hard to install!

Ward pulls this trick off by using the QEMU PC system emulator. With this, when Windows launches the screen saver, it actually is launching a baby virtual machine.

This gives your buddy's computer just enough of a virtual machine to run a simple Linux. So, forget right now about using this as a hacking tool. This is way too low-powered for that kind of nonsense. Talk to me later about … whoops! I've said too much.

OK, so what can you do with a Linux screensaver?

Well, clearly, we're not talking about running an Apache Web server or 2.0 here. But, if you follow Ward's detailed directions, you can run a passel of games with GameKnoppix, learn something with UNESCO's freeduc, or brush up on your math and physics with Knosciences.

Of course, you can also create your own LiveCD Windows screensaver using one of the dozens of LiveCD Linux distributions.

Creating these CDs, while not trivial, isn't all that hard, either, with Ward's LiveCD recipes. He also includes copies of the appropriate scripts and batch files for those who prefer to "code" by copy and paste.

If, however, you want to get deeper into QEMU and LiveCDs, he also provides a useful list of resources.

But, again, if all you want to do is get Linux on your compadres' Windows box, without hurting anything, start up your CD burner and get ready to go. Ward gives you everything you need to give your buddy a Christmas or Hanukkah present he won't forget anytime soon.

Of course, you can also just use the CDs as an easy way to let people give various Linux distributions a try… but what's the fun in that!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've some CDs to burn.

About the author: Ziff Davis Internet senior editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about technology and business since the late '80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the

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